In Canaan Land

See Also: Balaam

And the Lord said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 

So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. 

Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10)

The Exodus Papers

Back in 1965 a group of us five guys from the the Palo Alto Think and Pray Group traveled together (at our own expense) for two weeks in Denmark and Germany. I remember getting very ill in Copenhagen and missing a lot of the action. But our time in Germany was unforgettable. We even flew into occupied Berlin to meet with some Christians there. (The Berlin Wall did not fall until November 1989). Back in free "West Germany" Gerhard Dirks took us down the Rhine River by boat, from Mannheim to Cologne. Visiting Heidelberg was amazing; we stayed overnight in "the Land of Canaan" in nearby Darmstadt. We had previously met sisters from The Sisters of Mary headquartered there, so we knew to expect superb hospitality. I wanted to stay longer. They are Lutherans, by the way, not Catholics. "It is not self-evident that there should be Protestant nuns. Yet the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary has existed in Germany for over sixty years. Why? How did the Sisterhood come to be? And what are the Sisters’ distinctive practices and beliefs? To answer these questions, George Faithful, a Dominican Scholar at Saint Louis University, provides a brief historical overview of the sisters’ founding, followed by a survey of the teachings of Mother Basilea, their preeminent founder..." See also, Canaan in the Desert (Phoenix), and Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary (Magdalene) Wikipedia, and Darmstadt Headquarters.

When the risen Lord began building His Church, He asked a single question. Not, “Do you believe in Me?” but, “Do you love Me?” For us sisters and the small group of brothers who began joining us twenty years later, how we answer this question is central to our daily lives. Love cannot be conserved. Spending time with Jesus each day renews our spiritual passion. Committing to a life of discipleship in a community like ours is definitely a challenge: a life of celibacy with no claim to personal property, income or further education. Our lifestyle runs counter to today’s consumerism and is no easy choice. But Jesus never changes. He still seeks our love. And He is the only one who can fulfil our deepest longings and give us a joy that no one can ever take from us. His forgiving love awakens our gratitude and rekindles the flame of our love whenever it is in danger of growing dim. Booklets and Fliers from the Sisters.

"Jesus’ love for you is very personal. He is waiting for you to respond to His love.
This will bring the deepest fulfillment to your life."

Postscript. The greatest influence of the ESM was not centered around the Mutterhaus in Darmstadt. It was in their sending sisters, two by two, dressed in their beautiful garments--to the four-corners of earth. Their influence is often to be seen in gardens and parks in Israel where their beautiful placards can often be seen in places like the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. If you live in the United States please visit their branch garden, Canaan in the Desert in Phoenix, Arizona.

"How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
'"Your God reigns!"”
(Isaiah 52: 7,8)

The Great Canaanite Compromise

“When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations ...
For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.”
(Deuteronomy 18:9, 12)

Thesis: The families of Japheth and Ham historically seem to have been less plagued by what amounts to demonic invasions associated with "Sex, Drugs, Rock n Roll." The Alexander Hislop thesis was that the three apostate religions in the world sprang from Ham by way of Babylon (Genesis 10:6-14). Also, How Saved are You?

Zechariah’s ephah--a lead-covered basket with a bad girl inside, ferried back to Babylon by two (female?) angels, —-comes to mind. Our nation is falling apart now from family breakdown, out-of-control sexual immorality, drugs and selfish living. Marriage is considered by many archaic and obsolete among many Millennials. Forty-two million abortions last year attests to our nation's devotion to at least three Canaanite evil angels: Molech, Asherah and Baal. The love of money is another grievous issue.

God seems to have locked down our old-paradigm churches because they were not doing anything to address the run away decline in America since the 50’s? Though "sin" collects in major cities, the Midwest (and the Bible Belt) are also in the big picture. God hates hypocrisy! Ultimate blame rests on the church! The neglected OT has what we need here rather than today’s NT legalisms which deal only with the outer man? Because Biblical illiteracy is very high, I feel it's wise to quote relevant Scriptures in full.

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?  Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator." (1 Peter 4:17-19)

Canaan, the Grandson of Noah

The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, "Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers." He also said, "Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave." After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. (Genesis 9:18-29)

The names of Noah's sons are always listed in the same order in the Bible. However Japheth was actually the oldest, Shem the middle son, and Ham the youngest. Arthur Custance has a thorough study of these three man and the contributions in history which are unique to each branch of Noah's family. See Noah's Three Sons. The above passage from Genesis makes clear that all human beings on earth today are descended from these three men and their wives (the women are unnamed in Scripture). This is yet another authentication that a universal, global flood reduced the entire human population to a total of eight individuals. Although Noah lived an additional 350 years after the Flood, he evidently had no additional children. All human beings who have ever lived on earth carry the original genetic programming God built into Adam. 

In a rather matter-of-fact manner, Genesis 9 records an incident in Noah's life which provoked a major family crisis. Noah is not called to account for getting drunk. It was probably an isolated incident, though it would certainly have been wrong as far as God is concerned. The Flood had not in any way eradicated original sin in the lives of Noah, his sons or there three wives. This was in spite of the family's devotion to God, signified by Noah's sacrifice when they all emerged from the Ark.

In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, "Go forth from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives with you. Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh --birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth--that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply upon the earth." So Noah went forth, and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him. And every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves upon the earth, went forth by families out of the ark. Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." (Genesis 8:13-22)

We are not told how long after the Flood the incident of Noah's drunkenness occurred. It must have been many years, or more likely many decades, after the Flood, so at the very least, Noah's grandchildren had been born and were probably present, probably as young adults. The infrastructure of the great civilization which existed before the Flood was all gone, farming and animal husbandry supported the family of Noah as they grew in number. They lived at first only in tents. Permanent buildings and cities came later.

The youngest son Ham happened into his father's tent when Noah was drunk, asleep, and naked. Some commentators have suggested Ham committed some sexual misdeed, such as masturbating Noah, but this is not likely. His sin was more likely that he boasted to his brothers about seeing their father naked--thus dishonoring Noah greatly. Shocked and alarmed, Japheth and Shem took a robe and walked backwards into the tent, covering their father, but not allowing themselves to see him naked.

Upon waking, Noah is made aware of Ham's behavior and he evidently makes it an occasion for a family conference. As the family Patriarch, Noah makes cryptic prophetic remarks about his sons and their futures as he sees it unfolding. Later on Jacob for instance would do a similar thing (Genesis 48-49). 

Noah says nothing about Ham, but rather he picks out one of Ham's sons, Canaan, evidently the youngest: "The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan." (Genesis 10:6).

Noah could hardly bring up the issue of Ham's transgression without indicting himself for his own drunkenness, as H.C. Leupold and Arthur C. Custance both note. But Noah has seen a weakness in Ham--Ham had taken sensual pleasure in seeing his father naked, and he was irreverent in boasting to his brothers. Noah perceived that the same weakness existed in his grandson Canaan--but probably to an even greater degree than was evident in Ham. This story seems to be a case of generational sin. A particular congenital moral weakness in a family may erupt in full measure in a later generation. History of course confirms that Canaan's offspring were indeed a grossly immoral lot.

"Altogether too much emphasis has been placed upon the idea of the curse at this point. In this section the trying to eliminate the idea of the curse, for it manifestly lies in the text, all who associate personal resentment or any form of ill will with this utterance of Noah, do the godly man a gross injustice. Further more, to hold that this word broods like a dark and inescapable fate over the future of a race, is to hold to a very grievous misunderstanding. True, the feelings of a good man have been outraged. Equally true, he gives vent to righteous indignation. But, for the most part, being a man who has the Holy Spirit, he speaks a Word of prophecy.

This prophetic word is to serve as a guide for the human race as well as for a solemn warning for all times to come. Blessings and curses of parents may be more than idle words, but a parent who stands in the fear of God would hardly venture to lay grievous disabilities upon great portions of the human race, nor would God grant their wish if they attempted it. Being so accurate a delineation of the future of the three branches of the human family as we shall find this word to be, it approves itself to the thinking man as a truly prophetic utterance. Much serious misunderstanding has grown out of a refusal to take this word at its actual face value, especially the word "Canaan." Ham is riot cursed, no matter how freely pro-slavery men may have employed this text. Canaan is the fourth son of Ham (10:6) and so may roughly be said to represent one fourth of the Hamitic race. He alone is under consideration here. The rest of the Hamitic stock ' apparently, does not come under consideration because it is neither directly blessed nor cursed. Its influence on the development of the rest of the human race is practically nil and, therefore, need not be mentioned here.

Now the descendants of Canaan, according to Genesis 10:15-20, are the peoples that afterward dwelt in Phoenicia and in the so-called land of Canaan, Palestine. That they became races accursed in their moral impurity is apparent from passages such as Genesis 15:16; 19:5; Leviticus 18 and 20; Deuteronomy 12:31. In Abraham's day the measure of their iniquity was already almost full. By the time of the entrance of Israel into Canaan under Joshua the Canaanites, collectively also called the Amorites, were ripe for divine judgment through Israel, His scourge. Sodom left its name for the unnatural vice its inhabitants practiced. The Phoenicians and the colony of Carthage surprised the Romans by the depth of their depravity. Verily cursed was Canaan!" ---H. C. Leupold, Genesis.

In his commentary on Genesis, James Montgomery Boice says this:

"According to some theology, Noah would have lost his salvation when he became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. But Noah had been sealed into one of the eternal covenants of God, and although he was uncovered physically, he was nevertheless covered over by the righteousness of Christ. He was still God's child, and God was about to use him again. He is to prophesy. "Just as Jonah was given a great task to do after his flight and his folly, so Noah is given a new opportunity to be the mouthpiece of God. The circumstances of his sin are made the framework of the prophecy which God speaks through him. The man who was drunk with wine is now filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). He is now covered with the garment of prophecy and speaks forth the will and the Word of God."

Noah's prophecy contains an outline sketch of history, focused in a general way on the descendants of Noah's three sons. As such it has three parts: (1) a curse on Canaan, the son of Ham, and blessings upon (2) Shem and (3) Japheth.

The curse on Canaan is the most difficult to understand because, as we suggested in an earlier question, it is hard to see why he should be cursed rather than his father, who actually did the wrong. But we note the following. First, it is a biblical principle (whether liked by us or not) that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children even to the third and fourth generations (Exodus 20:5). Second, the punishment, though inflicted on Canaan, was appropriate to Ham since he reaped exactly as he had sown. He sinned as a son and was punished in his son. Third, the assigning of the punishment to Canaan may have been (as is so often the case in God's judgments) a function of the mercy of God, who could have cursed Ham and all his descendants but instead restricted the punishment to only this fourth part, Canaan being only one of Ham's four sons. Whatever the reasoning may be, the judgment is nevertheless pronounced: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers" (v. 25).

...this curse was pronounced on the ancient peoples of the Near East, most of whom were later conquered by the Jews under Joshua. But notice this: they were not the Negro races. In an earlier generation prejudiced minds used this text to justify their enslaving of Africa's black populations, but this is without any biblical basis and is a proof rather of the expositors' sin. Not until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the slave trade was at its height, did anyone ever imagine that Ham was the father of the black races or that there was a curse on them.

The second part of Noah's oracle is a blessing on Shem or, as Noah actually puts it, on Shem's God. "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem" (v. 26). This is a great blessing because it is a new step in the Old Testament's unfolding messianic prophecies. The first messianic prophecy was in Genesis 3:15, in which a Deliverer was promised who should crush the serpent's head. It is evident as the story of Genesis unfolds that he will appear in the godly line of Seth rather than the ungodly line of Cain. Now, in a prophecy made following the Flood, the line of descent is narrowed to the Semitic peoples, who descended from Shem and whose story is particularly unfolded in the remainder of Genesis. In time the promise is narrowed still further to the house of David and to his descendants: Joseph (in the line of David's son Solomon) and Mary (in the line of David's son Nathan). The prophecy of blessing in Genesis is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Finally, there is a prophecy Japheth and his family. Two thing said of Japheth: first, God will extend territory (the name Japheth means "enlarge" so this is a play on words), second, he will live in the tents of Shem (v. 27). This latter promise is to be taken spiritually, meaning, not that the descendants of Japheth shall take Shem's territory, but that they enter into his spiritual blessing through association with the Semitic peoples. The descendants of Japheth have established the great nations of the world. America is in this line of descent. But our blessing does not come from extensive territory or wealth but our acquaintance with the God of Israel and our faith in Him who will yet sit upon the throne of His father David reign forever." ­James Montgomery Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary.

The enlargement of Japheth is now obvious from history. The European nations rapidly built what we like to call our great "western civilization." It rose on the foundations of Greek and Roman philosophy. Our science, economic system, educational system and style of government have allowed the development of a rich and expansive character. In due time it was the Norse, then the English, the French, the Spanish, the Italians, the Portuguese who sailed the seas to the West and to the South colonizing the New World, and Africa, India and the Far East. These expansionist moves were mostly at the expense of the Hamitic peoples who already lived in those lands. 

As Arthur Custance develops at length, Japheth represents the Intellectual side of man, Shem the Spiritual and Ham the Physical. Japheth has enjoyed a close synergistic relationship with Shem--Biblical thought has had a greater impact and more lasting effect on the descendants of Japheth than on the sons of Ham. 

God's intention of course was that all three branches would know and serve the living God with equal devotion. The wholeness of man's life as body, soul and spirit is represented only when all three sons of Noah find their place in God's plan for mankind.

Arthur Custance's "Noah's Three Sons" is wonderfully rich in developing these ideas further. Ray Stedman's excellent commentary on this section of scripture, The Three Families of Man is very helpful. Ray Stedman has also written about the Three Families of Man and the problems with Ham and Canaan:

These divisions have been already hinted at in the order of the names of the sons of Noah. It is remarkable how much significance Scripture hinges upon apparently trivial distinctions that it makes, and especially so in the matter of order. The way things are listed is often very important in the Scriptures. In Genesis 9:24 we are told that Ham was the youngest son of Noah. In the normal Hebrew listing of the names of a man's sons they would be given in chronological order, beginning with the eldest. It seems likely that Japheth was the oldest son, so the order ought to be, Japheth, Shem, Ham. But the remarkable thing is that every time these three sons are referred to in Scripture together, it is always, "Shem, Ham, and Japheth." It is important to notice that in Scripture this order is invariably found: "Shem, Ham, and Japheth." The explanation is found in the prophecy that is given a little further on in this chapter.

Notice also in these opening verses of the passage that we are told a specific thing about Ham -- that he was the father of Canaan. This is Scripture's way of turning the spotlight upon a highly significant episode in the life of Ham, an incident which has impact upon society even yet to this day.

It is essential to the understanding of society that we explore and discover what is involved in this incident recorded for us:

Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

   "Cursed be Canaan;
      a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers." (Genesis 9:20-26 RSV)

There are four things in this passage of great interest to us: the drunkenness of Noah, the strange act of Ham, Noah's son, the filial respect that is shown by Shem and Japheth; and the cursing of Canaan, Noah's grandson, in place of Ham, the son that was involved in this incident.

Notice that this is a condensed account of this event, as is evident by the fact that Noah's drunkenness occurred some considerable time after they had left the ark. There was time to plant a vineyard, time to allow it to grow to fruit-bearing (anywhere from three to five years), time to harvest a crop, to gather it and extract the juice from the grapes, time to allow it to ferment into wine, and then, at last, Noah drinks of this wine, becomes drunk, and lies uncovered in his tent.

It is difficult to know what to make of the drunkenness of Noah. There have been some scholars who suggest that it means that fermentation had never occurred before on the earth; that the conditions that prevailed before the Flood were quite different from today, and that probably there had never been fermentation before. Therefore Noah would not know what was going to happen to him when he drank so much wine, and this explains his drunkenness.

Now, there may be something to this. It is impossible, however, to be dogmatic about it. It may have been an act of innocence, or of self-indulgence. Certainly there is no blame expressed toward Noah in this account, even though, afterward, drunkenness is everywhere condemned in Scripture and regarded as sin.

Noah evidently felt warm because of the effect of the alcohol, took off his clothes and fell asleep in his tent, or, as we say of drunken persons, "he passed out" and lay exposed in the tent. Just exactly what his son did to him is also very difficult to determine. There are some Bible scholars who link this episode with the account in Leviticus 18, where, under the Law, this phrase, "to see the nakedness" of an individual is a euphemistic expression for a sexual act. There are some scholars who feel that this involved some homosexual activity on Ham's part. This may have been true. If we take the lesser implication, it is clear that Ham looked upon his father in his exposed condition, and obviously did so with a leering glance that had a sexual connotation to it. So whether or not there was outright homosexuality, or only latent, it is clear that some form of sexual perversion is present here, either in thought, or in act.

In order to understand this incident we must recall the conditions that existed before the Flood and which produced the Flood. Recall that in Genesis 6 we are told that there occurred a demonic invasion of the human race very similar to what we see also in the New Testament in the days of our Lord. The result of this was a widespread outbreak of sexual perversion. Remember that in the New Testament, Jude says, in referring to this time, that it all began with a series of unnatural acts. It is linked also in Jude with the unnatural sexual life of Sodom and Gomorrah. Recall also that Shem, Ham, and Japheth grew up in this kind of an atmosphere, that Noah and his family were an island of righteousness in the midst of a sea of perversion that had possessed society before the Flood. Though Ham perhaps is no pervert himself, nevertheless it is clear from this account that he regarded this whole matter of the exposure of his father in a lurid way, and took it lightly. He was ready to take a lewd delight in joking about this episode, even with respect to his own father. This, of course, reflects how much impact the sexually distorted society in which these boys grow up had upon them at least upon Ham.

It is also noteworthy here that Shem and Japheth would have nothing to do with this. They did not respond to their brother's implications and suggestiveness. They exemplify in action the verse in the New Testament, "Love covers a multitude of sins," (1 Peter 4:8 RSV). Literally, they covered their father and refused to look upon his shame, thus they honored their father and won the approval and blessing of God.

But perhaps the strangest thing in this whole account is that, when Noah awoke and learned what had happened to him, what Ham had done, he does not curse Ham, but rather settles the curse upon Canaan, the youngest of Ham's four sons. The question that leaps out as we read an account like this is: Why does Noah curse Canaan instead of Ham? We cannot take this as mere caprice on Noah's part. There is some reason for this. The discovery of that reason is an open door into further understanding of society. If we are right about what we believe is the answer here, it reveals that Noah knew a great deal more about human society than most people do today...

We must realize that the Bible understands us much better than we do ourselves. The one area in which we consistently fail to understand society is in recognizing the links between human beings, and especially between parents and children; the effect of one generation upon another. This the Bible views most realistically, therefore it is made clear here that Noah knows that, though in Ham this may not manifest itself in any more open way than a mere tolerance and acceptance of this sort of thing, yet in his son it will be greatly intensified. Therefore the curse rests upon Canaan.

Now all this is proved in the book of Joshua (and also in First Kings) where we are told that the Canaanite tribes are all descendants of Canaan. They are listed for us in Genesis 10, Verse 15:

Canaan became the father of Sidon his first-born, and Heth, and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. (Genesis 10:15-18a RSV)

You who are familiar with the Old Testament know how many times the names of these tribes appear throughout Old Testament history. These were the inhabitants of the land of Canaan when Israel came up out of Egypt. It was because of the moral turpitude of this people, who lived in sexually perverted ways and became a moral cancer upon society, that God gave command to the children of Israel to exterminate them when they came into the land. This bothers a great many people when they study the Old Testament. They ask, How can God order a whole people wiped out? Well, there was good reason for it. These people were a moral blight upon society, and it was necessary for them to be totally eliminated in order to preserve society from the deterioration and degradation that they represented. When Israel failed to do this, they became, as the curse of Canaan here suggests, "hewers of wood and carriers of water," a servant of servants to the people of Israel, as recorded in Joshua 9:23.

All this answers a very widespread distortion of this passage that has been accepted for many, many years which says that the curse fell on the Black people. The mark of it was a black skin, and therefore they are destined to be servants among mankind. But the Canaanites, as far as we know, were not black-skinned people. The curse was wholly fulfilled in Joshua's day when these descendants of Canaan, morally perverted through this evil strain which had survived the Flood and now breaks out again in human history, were left alive by Israel. Thus there was loosed in society an evil element which has spread throughout the entire race since, and breaks out in sexual perversions from place to place. This is the biblical explanation for these things.

There is, however, a grain of truth in applying this passage to the Black people. Most powerful lies gain their power from having at least a modicum of truth about them. It is true that the colored peoples of the earth are descendants of Ham, Hamitic people. They come in varying shades: the yellow of the Chinese, the brown of the Indians, the black of the Africans, and even including some that are white-skinned.

(Note that all the sons and daughters of Adam are fallen, and not all sin is sexual sin!)

Now we turn to the prophetic words uttered by Noah about his sons as to the destiny of their descendants.

He also said [notice how he deliberately sets this apart from what he said about Canaan],
   "Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem;
      and let Canaan be his slave.
   God enlarge Japheth,
      and let him dwell in the tents of Shem;
      and let Canaan be his slave."

After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. (Genesis 9:26-28 RSV)

Here we have the three families of mankind. The family of Ham is represented by Canaan, although not limited to his descendants. In certain of the old versions, in these two verses referring to Canaan, the account reads, "Ham, the father of Canaan," which is probably the more accurate rendering. Now this is a most important passage. We can hardly overrate its importance in understanding the world of our day. I can only touch upon it now but we will go further into it in looking at Chapter 10.

Notice that Shem is given religious primacy among mankind. The Semitic people, the descendants of Shem, were responsible under God to meet the spiritual needs of mankind. That is their role in humanity. It is most striking, isn't it, that the three great religions of earth, which can properly be called religions, all come from the Semitic family: Judaism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity. There is much distortion of truth in these, granted, but the sense of mission by the Semitic families of earth is very evident. This family includes the Jews, the Arabs, certain ancient peoples, as well as other modern groups.

Japheth was promised enlargement. The Japhetic people are, in general, the peoples of India and Europe, the Indo-European stock, with which any demographer is familiar. It is largely from this family that we Americans come. It is most interesting that history has recorded their geographical enlargement. The entire Western hemisphere of our globe is settled by Japhetic peoples, and the Indians (Hindus) are of the same stock. But there is much to suggest in history that the enlargement that is promised here to Japheth is also intellectual. Historically, all the great philosophers are Japhetic. The Greeks, who began modern philosophy, are descendants of Japeheth, as we will see in the very next chapter, also the Hindus. The Greeks and the Hindus are the two truly great philosophic races of earth.

Some of you may say, "Well, what about Confucius?" He was a Hamite, but Confucius was not a philosopher; he was a teacher of practical ethics. Anyone who studies him will realize how true this is.

There is a very astute Christian scholar, whose writings are privately distributed, who has been a great help to me in various fields of Bible study. His name is Dr. Arthur Custance, from Toronto, Ontario, to whom I am greatly indebted for some of these concepts. He takes the phrase, "let him [Japheth] dwell in the tents of Shem" as predictive of the Cross, when the spiritual guidance of humanity passed from the Jews to the Gentiles, i.e., to the Japhetic family. To Shem was given the primacy of religious teaching, but there comes a time when Japheth enters that field ("dwells in the tents of Shem"), and philosophy (which is essentially Japhetic) was married to theology. This has been the case since the dispersion of the Jews around the world.

There is much more we will say on this as we go on into Chapter 10, but let me speak briefly about Ham. Ham is given the role of a servant in relation to both of these other families of earth. But, notice carefully, not a servant in the sense of enslavement. That role was limited to the descendants of Canaan. "A slave of slaves," is the Hebrew way of emphasizing, of intensifying a statement. Canaan was to be that, but not the rest of the sons of Ham. However, they were to fulfill a servant relationship, not in the sense of enslavement, but as the practical technicians of humanity. If you study ancient history and technological achievements which were in many ways the equal of, or superior of, much that we have today, were founded and carried to a high technological proficiency by Hamitic people. This is the role in history given by God to the descendants of Ham. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Mayans, the Aztecs, all were Hamitic people. They were the great inventors of mankind.

It may come as a shock to some, who boast in Aryan superiority, and think of Americans as the most inventive people on the earth, to know that almost every basic invention can be traced to the Hamites, rather than to the Japhethites, which we represent. All that Japhetic people do is to develop the philosophy of science and apply technology, but the discovery of these are largely traceable to the Hamitic peoples of the earth.

Now, to bring this introduction of the subject to a conclusion, all of this is reflected most interestingly in the New Testament. We have, for instance, the so-called Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which are very similar to one another and quite different from the Gospel of John. Yet Matthew, Mark, and Luke are not copies of one another but they represent differences of approach. It has often been pointed out that they are aimed at different types of people. The interesting thing is that, when you inquire who these people are, you find that they are Shem, Ham, and Japheth, in that order:

Matthew is aimed at the Semitic people. It is the Gospel for the Jews, above all others. Mark is clearly the Gospel of the Servant. This is stressed by Bible teachers whenever they teach Mark; his Gospel is profoundly the presentation of the servant, the practical mind, the Hamitic mind. Luke is clearly aimed at the Greek, or the Japhetic mind.

It is also interesting that three groups are recorded in the New Testament as specifically coming to seek the Lord Jesus. They are the shepherds, the wise men, and the Greeks. Here you have again the order: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

The shepherds were Israelites, Semitic. Most Bible scholars feel that the Magi, the wise men from the East, were really not from the East (that was a general term) but from Arabia, and represent the Hamitic peoples. The Greeks are clearly Japhethites. So there again, always in the same order, we have Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Also, the gospel was first preached in this order: In the book of Acts we are told that, on the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and said, "Ye men of Israel," and addressed the gospel to them. Then in the next section we find Philip called to leave a revival in Samaria and go down to preach to a single individual in the desert, who is a Hamite, an Ethiopian, the treasurer of Ethiopia. Then, a little bit later on, Peter is sent to the Japhethites, preaching the gospel to Cornelius, a centurion of Rome.

Furthermore, all three of these groups are represented at the crucifixion. Each branch of mankind took part in the crucifixion:

The moral responsibility for it fell upon the Jews. It is they who said, "His blood be upon us and upon our children," (Matthew 27:25). The physical burden of bearing the cross fell upon a Hamite, Simon of Cyrene, a stranger in Jerusalem who was impressed into the task of bearing the cross for our Lord on the Via Dolorosa. Finally, as you know, executive responsibility for the crucifixion rested with the Romans, who gave the official order for the death of our Lord.

Now, we shall see much more of this in Chapter 10, but I think this is enough to show how accurately the Bible previews history, and how it deals realistically with these matters. There are often hidden in these biblical passages amazing truths which, when we one begin to trace them, carry us into vast and exciting fields of discovery. We have looked at enough to confirm to us this fact: that the race, the whole race, is but the individual written large. There are three divisions of mankind, as there are three divisions in man, in you. To each of these divisions is given the responsibility for meeting one of the basic needs of man:  spiritual, physical, and intellectual.

In each one of us these same three divisions are found: we each have a capacity to worship; we each have a capacity to reason; and each has a capacity to create.

These are the things that distinguish us from the animals. This is the image of God in man. Each of them needs to be held in perfect balance. The world is in a state of confusion, uncertainty, and despair because the balance God intended has been left unfulfilled, so, in your individual life, you are in a state of confusion, despair, frustration, weakness, or whatever it may be, because you have neglected to fulfill the three-fold capacities of your own nature. You can only do so as they are kept in perfect harmony, one with the other.

It is wrong to think of man as essentially spiritual. He is also intellectual and physical. It is wrong to think of him as being essentially physical, and to develop the athletic abilities to the neglect of the others; he is also spiritual and intellectual. The interesting thing is that, in the Bible, the intellectual is put last. If the order of Scripture obtains for the individual as well as for the race, the order within us is also Shem, Ham, and Japheth: First the spiritual, then the physical, then the intellectual.

In that order mankind finds its complete fulfillment. If we understand ourselves we will also understand the world around us. The glory of the gospel is that it addresses itself to mankind exactly on those terms. We find ourselves entering into fulfillment, into excitement, into a dramatic sense of being what we were intended to be, when we open our lives to God through Jesus Christ, making that our first priority; then developing the physical life, taking care of physical needs, physical demands; and through these two working together, developing the intellect to an understanding of ourselves.

Surely we can echo these words of David in the eighth Psalm:

O LORD, our Lord,
   how majestic is thy name in all the earth!

Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted
   by the mouth of babes and infants,
thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes,
   to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
   the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
   and the son of man that thou dost care for him?

Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
   and dost crown him with glory and honor.
Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
   thou hast put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the sea.

O LORD, our Lord,
   how majestic is thy name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:1-9 RSV)

Man is to fulfill all this only as he finds fulfillment in Jesus, the Son of God. (Ray Stedman)

The Tower of Babel Affair

See Also: The Two Nimrods

Way early in human history, a pivotal, archetypal event took place in the Middle East, (probably in what is now Iraq, from whence more terrible evil is yet to come. (See The Assyrian, and Rebuild Babylon?). This is separate from our consideration of the Canaanites in the present essay. But it's about our roots--our early history. The account of the Canaanites is about lifestyles and polytheistic behavior. The Tower of Babel affair is about the roots of all false religion. Think about three wellsprings.

Ray Stedman notes, "Three main streams of this religion are discernible. One branch was taken to China and India--the fount there we now know as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the like. A second stream initiated the Egyptian Mystery Religion. Branch Three was exported into Europe via the Etruscan Mystery Religion --and from there incorporated into the Church of Rome."

Abraham and the Conquest of the Land of Canaan

The history of Israel goes back 4000+ years to a man named Abram living in Ur, Southern Iraq. He was a religious man in the line of Shem before Yahweh called him to Himself. But the surrounding religion there in Ur was polytheistic. The chief god of the land was the old Babylonian moon god, Al Illah. Please read Genesis! Start at Chapter 11 if you must, but you'll probably want to read right through the Five Books of Moses.

Yes, Moses is our author! Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy will grab your attention if you just shut off the damned TV and settle in a comfy easy-chair with that Old Family Bible your grandparents left you. If you ask Jesus to show up and teach you, He will. No need to call your preacher friend from the church you gave up on years ago.

“Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for  these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me,  “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 

He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and  I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in  the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 22:5-8)

A very important incident in the life of Abraham, known by the Jews as "the Binding of Isaac" ought not to be overlooked. Abraham's son was about 30+ years old when this took place. This is a pivotal passage for us today, as should be obvious.

"Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”

And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.  And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”

So he said, “Here I am.”

And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

 Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven,  and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba." (Genesis 22:1-19)

The New Testament fulfillment of this ominous passage should be familiar to many:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:16-21)

Israel's Problems with Compromise with Canaanite Religion

The Compromise of Solomon (About 970 BC)

"But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites—-from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.

So the Lord became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the Lord had commanded." (1 Kings 11:1-10)

Jeremiah Prays for Understanding (about 590 BC)

“Now when I had delivered the purchase deed to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to the LORD, saying:

 ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You. ‘You show lovingkindness to thousands, and repay the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them—the Great, the Mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts. ‘You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for Your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings.  ‘You have set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, to this day, and in Israel and among other men; and You have made Yourself a name, as it is this day. ‘You have brought Your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terror; ‘You have given them this land, of which You swore to their fathers to give them—“a land flowing with milk and honey.”  ‘And they came in and took possession of it, but they have not obeyed Your voice or walked in Your law. They have done nothing of all that You commanded them to do; therefore You have caused all this calamity to come upon them.

‘Look, the siege mounds! They have come to the city to take it; and the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword and famine and pestilence. What You have spoken has happened; there You see it!  ‘And You have said to me, O Lord GOD, “Buy the field for money, and take witnesses”!—yet the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ ”

God’s Assurance of the People’s Return

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me? “Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it.‘And the Chaldeans who fight against this city shall come and set fire to this city and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs they have offered incense to Baal and poured out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke Me to anger; ‘because the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth. For the children of Israel have provoked Me only to anger with the work of their hands,’ says the LORD. ‘For this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My fury from the day that they built it, even to this day; so I will remove it from before My face  ‘because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their princes, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. ‘And they have turned to Me the back, and not the face; though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not listened to receive instruction.

‘But they set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. ‘And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.’

 “Now therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence’: ‘Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. ‘They shall be My people, and I will be their God;  ‘then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. ‘And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. ‘Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’

 “For thus says the LORD: ‘Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them. ‘And fields will be bought in this land of which you say, “ It is desolate, without man or beast; it has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.” ‘Men will buy fields for money, sign deeds and seal them, and take witnesses, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South; for I will cause their captives to return,’ says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 32:18-44)

Idolatry and The Kings of Israel and Judah

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah.  And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; he raised up altars for Baal, and made a wooden image, as Ahab king of Israel had done; and he worshiped all he host of heaven and served them. He also built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put My name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. Also he made his son pass through the fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. He even set a carved image of Asherah that he had made, in the house of which the Lord had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever; and I will not make the feet of Israel wander anymore from the land which I gave their fathers—only if they are careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that My servant Moses commanded them.” But they paid no attention, and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord-had destroyed before the children of Israel. (2 Kings 21:1-9)

A motley lot those kings! Nineteen kings ruled in the Northern Tribes (all "bad"); 20 kings ruled in Jerusalem, only 8 were "good."

The Indictment of Israel 722 BC

For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the Lord had cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made.  Also the children of Israel secretly did against the Lord their God things that were not right, and they built for themselves high places in all their cities, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. There they burned incense on all the high places, like the nations whom the Lord had carried away before them; and they did wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger, for they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.”

Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets.” Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God. And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them; they followed idols, became idolaters, and went after the nations who were all around them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them that they should not do like them. So they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone.

Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight. For He tore Israel from the house of David, and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. Then Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them commit a great sin.  For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day.

Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities. And it was so, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, “The nations whom you have removed and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the rituals of the God of the land; therefore He has sent lions among them, and indeed, they are killing them because they do not know the rituals of the God of the land.” Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, “Send there one of the priests whom you brought from there; let him go and dwell there, and let him teach them the rituals of the God of the land.” Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord.

However every nation continued to make gods of its own, and put them in the shrines on the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities where they dwelt. The men of Babylon made Succoth Benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. So they feared the Lord, and from every class they appointed for themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods—according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away.

To this day they continue practicing the former rituals; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel, with whom the Lord had made a covenant and charged them, saying: “You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them; but the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, Him you shall worship, and to Him you shall offer sacrifice. And the statutes, the ordinances, the law, and the commandment which He wrote for you, you shall be careful to observe forever; you shall not fear other gods.  And the covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods.  But the Lord your God you shall fear; and He will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.” However they did not obey, but they followed their former rituals. So these nations feared the Lord, yet served their carved images; also their children and their children’s children have continued doing as their fathers did, even to this day. (2 Kings 17:7-41)

Fertility Cults of Canaan

Only recently have scholars begun to unravel the complex religious rituals of Israel's Canaanite neighbors. Much of our knowledge of the origins and character of these fertility cults remains tentative and widely debated. What we do know reveals dark, seductive practices that continued to entice the people God had chosen to be his witnesses.


The people of Israel developed their faith in the wilderness. Abraham lived in the Negev desert, where God made his covenant of blood with him and sealed it with circumcision. Moses met God in a burning bush in the desert, where he learned the greatness of God's name and received his commission to bring the Hebrews out of Egypt. God spoke to his people on Mount Sinai and reestablished his covenant with them in the Ten Commandments. Throughout the Israelites? 40-year journey in the wilderness, their Lord accompanied them, protected them, fed them, and guided them to the Promised Land. There was no doubt that Yahweh was God of the wilderness.


When the Israelites entered Canaan, they found a land of farmers, not shepherds, as they had been in the wilderness. The land was fertile beyond anything the Hebrew nomads had ever seen. The Canaanites attributed this fertility to their god Baal,and that is where the Israelites problems began. Could the God who had led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness also provide fertile farms in the Promised Land? Or would the fertility god of Canaan have to be honored? Maybe, to be safe, they should worship both;Yahweh and Baal.

An intense battle began for the minds and hearts of God's people. The book of Judges records the ongoing struggle: the Israelites attraction to, and worship of, the Canaanite gods; God's disciplinary response; the people's repentance; and God's merciful forgiveness until the next time the Israelites reached for Baal instead of Yahweh.

Under the kings, this spiritual battle continued. By the time of Ahab and Jezebel, the fertility cults appeared to have the official sanction of Israel's leaders. Ahab, with his wife's encouragement, built a temple to Baal at his capital, Samaria. All the while, prophets like Elijah (which means ? Yahweh is God?), Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah thundered that Yahweh alone deserved the people?s allegiance. It took the Assyrian destruction of Israel and the Babylonian Captivity of Judah to convince the Israelites that there is only one omnipotent God.

This struggle to be totally committed to God is of vital importance to us today as well. We don't think of ourselves as idol worshipers, yet we struggle to serve God alone in every part of our lives. It is easy (and seductive) to honor possessions, fun, relationships, fame, money, and a host of other potential "gods."

We need to learn from Israel's experience and respond to Jesus' command for total allegiance. One way we can accomplish this is to study the gods that attracted Yahweh's people 3,000 years ago.



The earliest deity recognized by the peoples of the ancient Near East was the creator god El. His mistress, the fertility goddess Asherah, gave birth to many gods, including a powerful god named Baal ("Lord"). There appears to have been only one Baal, who was manifested in lesser Baals at different places and times. Over the years, Baal became the dominant deity, and the worship of El faded.

Baal won his dominance by defeating the other deities, including the god of the sea, the god of storms (also of rain, thunder, and lightning), and the god of death. Baal's victory over death was thought to be repeated each year when he returned from the land of death (underworld), bringing rain to renew the earth's fertility. Hebrew culture viewed the sea as evil and destructive, so Baal?s promise to prevent storms and control the sea, as well as his ability to produce abundant harvests, made him attractive to the Israelites. It's hard to know why Yahweh's people failed to see that he alone had power over these things. Possibly, their desert origins led them to question God's sovereignty over fertile land. Or maybe it was simply the sinful pagan practices that attracted them to Baal.

Baal is portrayed as a man with the head and horns of a bull, an image similar to that in biblical accounts. His right hand (sometimes both hands) is raised, and he holds a lightning bolt, signifying both destruction and fertility. Baal has also been portrayed seated on a throne, possibly as the king or lord of the gods.


Asherah was honored as the fertility goddess in various forms and with varying names (Judges 3:7). The Bible does not actually describe the goddess, but archaeologists have discovered figurines believed to be representations of her. She is portrayed as a nude female, sometimes pregnant, with exaggerated breasts that she holds out, apparently as symbols of the fertility she promises her followers. The Bible indicates that she was worshiped near trees and poles, called Asherah poles (Deuteronomy 7:5, 12:2-3; 2 Kings 16:4, 17:10; Jeremiah 3:6,13; Ezekiel 6:13).


Baal's worshipers appeased him by offering sacrifices, usually animals such as sheep or bulls (1 Kings 18:23). Some scholars believe that the Canaanites also sacrificed pigs and that God prohibited his people from eating pork in part to prevent this horrible cult from being established among them. (See Isa. 65:1-5 for an example of Israel's participating in the pagan practices of the Canaanites.) At times of crisis, Baal's followers sacrificed their children, apparently the firstborn of the community, to gain personal prosperity. The Bible called this practice "detestable" (Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:9-10). God specifically appointed the tribe of Levi as his special servants, in place of the firstborn of the Israelites, so they had no excuse for offering their children (Numbers 3:11-13). The Bible's repeated condemnation of child sacrifice shows God's hated of it, especially among his people.

Asherah was worshiped in various ways, including through ritual sex. Although she was believed to be Baal's mother, she was also his mistress. Pagans practiced "sympathetic magic", that is, they believed they could influence the gods' actions by performing the behavior they wished the gods to demonstrate. Believing the sexual union of Baal and Asherah produced fertility, their worshipers engaged in immoral sex to cause the gods to join together, ensuring good harvests. This practice became the basis for religious prostitution (1 Kings 14:23-24). The priest or a male member of the community represented Baal. The priestess or a female members of the community represented Asherah. In this way, God's incredible gift of sexuality was perverted to the most obscene public prostitution. No wonder God's anger burned against his people and their leaders.


Many, if not all, of the Old Testament gods had disappeared, at least in name, by the time of Jesus. Beelzebub, based on the Philistine god Baalzebul, had become a synonym for the prince of demons, Satan. Many of the ancient pagan deities lived on, however, now identified with the gods of the Greeks and Romans, the nations who controlled the people of Israel before and during New Testament times. It is not appropriate here to discuss all the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman pantheon; however, a few of them were significant in the first century, and some are even mentioned by name in the Bible.

The leader of the gods, Zeus (Jupiter to the Romans), took on the role of Baal, the god of weather or storms. Artemis, the goddess of childbirth and fertility, and Aphrodite, the goddess of love, continued the Asherah cults under a new name (Acts 19:35), but with worship practices that were as immoral as ever. It is said that in Corinth alone, there were more than 1,000 prostitutes in Aphrodite's temple. Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, became the namesake for the place of the dead and even for hell itself. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus referred to the gates of Hades, or the underworld, believed by some to be the grotto at Caesarea Philippi, from which one of the sources of the Jordan River came. The grotto itself was part of a temple complex used in the worship of the Greek god Pan.

Pan was depicted as an ugly man with the horns, legs, and ears of a goat. Most stories about him refer to sexual affairs. The worship practices of his followers were no different. Pan was associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and orgies, whose worshipers continued many of the sexual rites of the Old Testament gods of the Baal cult. Dionysus was worshiped in the pagan Decapolis across the Sea of Galilee from the center of Jesus' ministry. Clearly, though the names of the gods had changed, the people?s worship practices had not. Only the child sacrifice of the Baal cult came to an end with the Greeks and Romans.


Many ancient peoples practiced magic. They foretold the future by examining animal entrails or by watching flights of birds. The Greeks had oracles, shrines where gods supposedly communicated the future to priests and priestesses. Demon possession was a topic of much fascination. Many sorcerers claimed to have the ability to cast out demons (Acts 8:9-24, 13:6-12), as did some Pharisees. Because the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, recognized the reality of the demonic world and condemned all of its practices (Deuteronomy 18:10-12,20; Micah 5:2; 1 Cor. 10:20-21), we can be sure these practices continued and were a temptation to many.

Jesus provided the ultimate solution to resisting the seductiveness of pagan idol worship. He showed that he alone held power over the demons, sending them into the Abyss (Luke 8:31). He promised his disciples that his church would overcome all evil, even the gates of Hades itself.

CONCLUSION: Though today our gods--such as money, power, and possessions, are less "personalized" than in ancient times, the temptations for us are no less enticing. We would do well to remember the complete powerlessness of the pagan gods, from Baal, Canaan's bloodthirsty fertility god, to Hades, Greek god of the underworld, to prevail against the one true God and his Son, Jesus Christ. (That the World May Know, Ray Van Der Laan)

"Judah’s syncretistic worship was reflected in the practice of swearing by the Lord and, at the same time, by Milcom,
who may be either the Ammonite deity of 1 Kings 11:5, 33 or Molech, the worship of whom included child sacrifice,
astrology and temple prostitution (cf. Leviticus 18:21; 2 Kings 17:16; Ezekiel 23:37; Amos 5:25, 26; Acts 7:40-43)."
---The MacArthur Bible Commentary, John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2005, p. 1038.

Canaan Culture

by Susan C. Anthony

We know from the Bible and from experience that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. The Bible tells us that again and again.

A question I’ve been asked is, “How could a good God command the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman, child, and even animal in the cities of the Canaanite nations? Isn't this the same God that listed ‘Thou shalt not kill?’ in the 10 Commandments?” 

In Deuteronomy 20:16-17, God gives these instructions to Israel:

In the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the LORD your God has commanded you. 

I think it’s important to be able to answer to this question for our neighbors. As most of you know, the sixth commandment is actually, “Thou shalt not murder” rather than “Thou shalt not kill.” There is a difference. God does not call all killing “murder”.

But what about infants and tiny babies? The command says to kill everything that breathes. This is a judgment on the people of Canaan, similar to the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah. What was going on in Canaan that was so bad that God ordered even children killed? People who want reasons to reject the Bible often point to this as an immoral command. But we know God is perfectly righteous. How do you explain it?

First of all, we need to remember that God created us. He gave life and it is His right to take it back. He is not accountable to us for what He chooses to do. We are accountable to Him.

Second, recall that the Canaanites had seen Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed completely. This was a warning that God would judge wickedness. So many horrible things were happening in Sodom that the angel of the Lord said in Genesis 18:20-21, 

...the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin is so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.

It was.

Ancient stories give hints about the evil in Sodom. Strangers and travelers who came into the city would be robbed, stripped, and held captive within the city. They would wander the streets slowly starving to death, to the great amusement of the citizenry. One account relates that visitors to Sodom were offered a bed according to the Middle Eastern laws of hospitality, but it was a bed of torture. Short people were stretched. Tall people had their legs cut off. If a traveler had no money, he would be given bricks of gold and silver with his name on them! But nobody would sell him bread and water, even for all that gold and silver, so the traveler slowly died of starvation. The Sodomites gathered around the corpse and took back the gold and silver. The people in Sodom were not just evil, they were proud of being evil. Imagine being a child in a place like that!

These stories give us a hint of how bad things had gotten in Sodom. It was probably worse than our imaginations can conceive. The Canaanites knew about the destruction of Sodom. They knew that God would judge evil. They also knew about Melchizedek and Abraham. They had access to truth. They weren’t ignorant or innocent. Egypt and other nations, despite their great sin, were not completely destroyed, so the sin of the Canaanites must have been more serious. God restricted Israel from attacking Edom, Moab and Ammon, so despite their sins, they must not have deserved such a severe judgment.

Leviticus 18 and 20 list some of the detestable religious practices of the Canaanites and says that these acts caused the land to become defiled, so that its inhabitants were "vomited out." This comes with the warning that if the Israelites copy those practices, the land will also vomit them out. That is exactly what happened after the Israelites adopted the practices of Canaan.

Archeology gives some hints about what the Canaanites did. On one High Place, archaeologists found several stone pillars and great numbers of jars containing remains of newborn babies. When a new house was built, a child would be sacrificed and its body built into the wall to bring good luck to the rest of the family. Firstborn children were often sacrificed to Molech, a giant hollow bronze image in which a fire was built. Parents placed their children in its red hot hands and the babies would roll down into the fire. The sacrifice was invalid if a parent displayed grief. Mothers were supposed to dance and sing. The Israelites later copied this practice in a valley near Jerusalem called Gehenna. Hundreds of jars containing infant bones have been found there.

This seems horrible. But is our culture superior? I was shocked to learn that in the United States, there are more than 3600 abortions every day, day after day. The number of legal abortions every year far exceeds the number of U.S. soldiers killed in every war since the nation began! 

There was a great deal of sexual sin among the Canaanites. They believed that cultic prostitution was important to encourage their gods, Baal and Ashtoreth to mate so that the land would be fertile and rain would come. VD may have been rampant. Many young people forced into prostitution were abused to the point of death. Even the surrounding pagan nations were appalled by Canaanite religious practices.

Yet God did not hurry to judge the Canaanites. In Genesis 15:16, God tells Abraham:

In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. 

God gave the Canaanites 400 years while Israel was in Egypt. After Israel passed through the Red Sea, He waited 40 more years while Israel wandered in the wilderness. The people of Canaan knew Israel was coming, and that God had given the land to them, according to the Rahab, a Canaanite, in Joshua 2:9:

“I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you."

Jericho had six additional days to repent while Israel did laps around it. The day judgment finally came to Jericho, Israel marched around the city seven times. God judges swiftly when He finally acts, but He patiently warns and allows time for repentance.

Families who wished could have migrated out of the land and settled in nearby areas. God said repeatedly that he would drive out the inhabitants of the land before Israel. Those who wished to leave had time and opportunity. The point was to destroy the evil Canaanite culture rather than the individual Canaanite people. Only individuals who stubbornly refused to leave were destroyed with military force, along with their children, who could not have survived without parents. God gave no instructions to hunt down and kill Canaanites who left the land peacefully. Later in the Bible, Canaanite individuals like Uriah the Hittite show up as righteous characters. Rahab herself was a Canaanite harlot who repented before Jericho was destroyed. She is an ancestor of Jesus Himself. God’s judgment was not based on racism or favoritism. 

God is never arbitrary or unjust, despite how some events appear at first glance. The same people who are angry because God doesn’t do anything about all the evil in the world are the first to cry foul when He exacts judgment. But those of us who know Him trust that His perfect justice. He knows all the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.  We do not.  His patience and forgiveness are immense. He waits for repentance. He gives people an opportunity to choose between salvation and judgment. He won't wait forever. Judgment, at some point, is certain.

A Few Extra Resources

The Pure in Heart

Baal, Ashtoreth and Molech – God’s Old Testament rivals

Baal - Ancient Deity - Britannica

Ba'al Worship: Jewish Virtual Library

The Largest Ba'al Worship in America

Worshiping the god of Sex

Ba'al Worship Comes to America

Is Ba'al Worship Going on in the United States?

Asherah and Ashterim: Goddess or Cult Symbol?

Phallic Worship

Sex and Phallus Worship

The Meaning of Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah: Canaanite Cities which Abraham Visited

In popular culture dying and going to heaven has been considered as traveling to Canaan Land when one dies.


Marching to Zion

On My Way to Canaan Land

Sweet Beulah Land

On Jordan's Stormy Banks

On Jordan's Stormy Banks (Bluegrass)

The Holy City (Jessye Norman)

Canaan in the Desert (Phoenix)

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January 6, 2021, September 25, 2022. July 14, 2023.