Tag Archives: Canaanites



“At Mount Sinai God entered into an agreement with the people of Israel. This agreement or covenant we know as the Old Testament. We call it the “Old” Testament to distinguish it from the New Testament established by Jesus Christ. At the time the Old Testament was made between God and the Israelites the people did not clearly understand that it was to be but the forerunner for a new and lasting covenant between God and all the nations of the world.


They did understand that God had chosen them from all the peoples of the world to be His own peculiar people. ‘… Thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God. The Lord thy God hath chosen thee, to be his peculiar people of all the peoples that are upon the earth’ (Deuteronomy 7:6). They were told also that it was not their own merit which explained God’s choice. ‘Not because you surpass all nations in number, is the Lord joined to you, and hath chosen you: for you are the fewest of any people’ (Deuteronomy 7:7). They were told that they were chosen simply because God loved them with a special love: ‘because the Lord hath loved them’ (Deuteronomy 7:8).

On their part they entered into the covenant because they had faith in God. He had shown them His almighty power. He has redeemed them from bondage in Egypt and had protected them against the wrath of the Pharaoh. He had fed them miraculously in the wilderness. He had let them hear His voice. He had come to dwell in their midst. As a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night He led them through the desert. In acknowledgement of His power and His presence, in gratitude for His blessings and in anticipation of the land He had promised to them, the people of Israel entered into their covenant with God.


It would be pleasant to report that the Israelites remained completely faithful to their bargain. Unfortunately this was not the truth. The divine will for man’s salvation was still to engage in a long struggle with the weak rebellious will of man before the glory of God’s plan could be more clearly revealed. The subsequent history of the Israelites presents us with the picture of this struggle.


At first, as always, it was the desire for material comfort which weakened the fidelity of the people. They complained of the hardships of their march from Mount Sinai.

They began to remember with longing the delights of the land of Egypt where they had dwelt. Their slavery in Egypt appeared to them more pleasant than their God-given freedom in the wilderness. Discouraged by the bleakness of their lives they were only too ready to believe that the land of Canaan was too strongly defended for them to conquer it. Their lack of faith in God’s promise to them brought swift punishment. God decreed that no man over twenty, except Caleb and Josue (Joshua), who had trusted His word, should enter the promised land.


As a result of this punishment the Chosen People spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. Little is told us of the happenings of these years. Who can imagine truly the feelings of these men who knew that their own lack of faith had condemned them to long years of fruitless wandering?


But memory is short, and children are impatient both of the sins and the wisdom of their elders. Sacred Scripture tells us how even during this time of punishment the growing generation rebelled against the divine authority.

Some, like Core, refused to recognise the divinely instituted priestly authority of Aaron and his descendants. ‘Let it be enough for you,’ they said to Aaron, ‘that the multitude consists of holy ones, and the Lord is among them. Why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord?’ (Numbers 16:3). Others, like Dathan and Abiron, would not acknowledge the civil authority of Moses.


Toward the end of the period of forty years of wandering the people were encamped near Cades. The time had come to enter the land of promise. Moses requested the permission of the Edomites for the Israelites and their flocks to pass peacefully through Edom on their way to Canaan. But the permission was refused. Choosing not to fight with the Edomites, the people went south, intending to move eastward farther south, and then ascend northward, thus going around the land of the Edomites.


During this march toward Canaan a curious incident occurred. Balac, king of the Moabites, fearing the advancing Israelites, sent for Balaam, a soothsayer or magician from Mesopotamia. He desired Balaam to curse the Israelites. But, moved by Jahweh, Balaam blessed them instead, saying: ‘A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel’ (Numbers 24:17). In this way God renewed His promise to His Chosen People.


When the people were within sight of the Promised Land, Moses, their great leader, died. His authority passed on to Josue [Joshua]. Josue led the invasion of the land of Canaan. His military career opened with the dramatic and surprising capture of the walled town of Jericho.


Before proceeding to the siege of Jericho the people renewed the practice of circumcision, the sign which bound the people to God. They also celebrated the feast of the Pasch and the unleavened bread, recalling to themselves how the power of God had saved them in Egypt. After this Josue invested the city of Jericho. At God’s command the Israelites sent their soldiers to march around the city.

On the seventh day of the siege, as the soldiers were marching round the walls, the priests sounded the trumpets, the soldiers cried out, and the walls of Jericho fell. It is probable that the walls were shaken down by an earthquake. The finger of God is to be seen in the fact that the earthquake occurred at the moment when the Israelites were calling upon their God to deliver the city into their hands.


After the conquest of Jericho and Hai, Josue defeated an alliance of five Canaanite kings. Then he successfully destroyed the city states of Maceda, Lebna, Lachis, Eglon, Hebron and Dabir. The defeat of the kings of the northern part of Canaan completed the conquest of the Promised Land.

The conquered land was then distributed to the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribes of Ruben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasses received the lands already given them on the other side of the Jordan. To the other tribes were given allotments on the western side of the Jordan, with the exception of the Levites, to whom no special territory was assigned, because they were to reside in the designated Levitical cities within the territories of the other tribes.

The conquest of Canaan under Josue was not secured. Many of the Canaanite towns and kings had been conquered and the land had been divided among the tribes of Israel. But much of the territory was still unsubdued. It was necessary therefore for the tribes of Israel to continue their work of conquest. At the death of Josue the Israelites had not yet succeeded in wrestling complete domination of the land from its former inhabitants.


In the Book of Judges we read the story of the efforts of the Israelites to dominate the land of Canaan. After the death of Josue the Chosen People had no real national leader who commanded the obedience and allegiance of all the people. Instead, each tribe seems to have attempted individually to achieve secure possession of its own allotted territory. Sometimes, though, several tribes united with one another to conquer the land.

Thus Juda, in allegiance with Simeon, defeated Adonibesec of Besec, set fire to Jerusalem, though without apparently destroying the Jebusites who dwelt there or gaining possession of the city, and overcame the city of Hebron. With Othoniel, the nephew of Caleb, Juda conquered Cariath-Sepher. Juda also took Gaza, Ascalon and Accaron.


Unfortunately, in these conquests the Israelites did not obey the divine command not to make a league with the idolatrous and polytheistic inhabitants of the land. Thus, the sons of Benjamin did not destroy the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem. Manasses did not destroy the inhabitants of Oethsan, Thanac, Dor, Jeblaam and Mageddo. Ephraim did not destroy the Canaanites in Gezer, but dwelt with them. The same policy was followed by Aser, Nephtali and Dan. The tribes of Israel either dwelt side by side with the Canaanites, or, when they were powerful enough, they made tributaries of them.


This policy was dangerous both from the political and the religious point of view. Politically it was unfortunate because it allowed the Canaanites opportunity to attempt to re-establish their former domination. In the field of religion it exposed the Israelites to the danger of seduction by the religious views and practices of the Canaanites. This danger was made acute by two factors in the history of Israel. In the first place severe spiritual monotheism which Moses had taught them was not as yet completely understood by them. While they recognised Jahweh as their only God, many of them probably still thought that other Gods existed and ruled, each in his own territory. This could lead them to acknowledge the supposed power of the local Canaanite divinities.


In the second place, by occupying the Promised Land, the Israelites were transforming themselves from a nomadic, wandering people into an agricultural people to whom the successful growing of crops and livestock would be of major importance. But the gods of the Canaanites were gods of fertility. What would be more natural than for the Israelites to imagine they might find prosperity by giving homage to the local gods of fertility? By not remaining faithful to their promise not to enter a league with the Canaanites the Chosen People exposed themselves to this great and grave danger.


Events proved the reality of this danger and divine retribution followed swiftly. After the death of Josue and the men of his generation many of the people began to worship Baal and Astarte, the gods of the Canaanites. God became angry with them and allowed the Canaanites to oppress them. But, even though the Israelites broke their covenant with God, god did not break His covenant with them. As often as they deserted God for Baal and Astarte He allowed them to be oppressed by their enemies. But when they repented and called upon Him He raised up military leaders who delivered them from oppression. These military leaders are known as the ‘Judges’.

The activities of the Judges was therefore sporadic, and, as far as we can tell, local. The Judges were not national leaders, like Moses and Josue. They laboured on behalf of particular tribes. The period of the Judges lasted from about 1225 to 1020 B.C.


The period of the Judges appears as one of unrest and turbulence. Politically the efforts of the Chosen People to possess securely the Promised Land were impeded by the military campaigns and conquests of the Canaanites, the Moabites, the Madianites, the Amalectites, the Ammonites and the growing threat of the Philistines. The successes of these enemies of the Chosen People at different times subjected different Israelitic tribes to their political domination. The situation was complicated by the lack of national unity and by the occasional rivalries and jealousies between the different tribes of Israel.


The tribes of Israel possessed the foundations of national unity. They had a common history from the time of Jacob and therefore a common bond of past experience. They had also in common a belief in Jahweh, the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They had, too, a belief that God had given them the Promised Land.

But in the time of the Judges these unifying factors in the life of the Chosen People were not sufficiently prized by the people to establish a national unity. Like all other nomadic people the Israelites preserved a fierce spirit of individualism and a jealous pride in tribal glory as against national interest.

Yet there are evidences that the political and military difficulties of this period were leading them to realise the benefits of united national action. This can be seen, for example, in their desire to make Jephte their king.

But the fundamental mistake of the Israelites was to neglect the strongest unifying element in their national life. This factor was their religious unity. They had all sworn to a covenant with Jahweh. They were all God’s Chosen People. They had all agreed to worship Jahweh, and Him alone. God, in His turn, had promised to protect them and to give them peaceful possession of the land of Canaan. God had cautioned His people on the danger of fraternising with the Canaanites, and the people had promised that they would not enter into a league with their enemies. What would have happened if they had kept their promises we do not know. How God would have protected them we cannot say, for unfortunately they did not keep their promises. They fraternised with the Canaanites, married their daughters and worshipped their gods. God did not desert them, as they had deserted Him. But He allowed them to become the prey of their enemies.

Yet, time after time, when they repented of their sins, God raised up Judges to liberate them. As the author of the Book of Judges intimates, God sought in this way to educate His people. He wished them to learn that they could be saved only by allegiance and obedience to Him.


As the subsequent history of Israel will show, the lesson was not perfectly learned. But this history shows once again the same factors playing their respective roles in human history: human weakness and ignorance and failure to love God adequately, the subtle influence of the devil leading men into impure forms of worship, the enduring patience and love of God for man, and man’s ability to rise from his sins and seek the true God. But over all we perceive the faithfulness of God to man, of God Who has sworn that He will redeem man through Israel. God has sworn, and He will not repent.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959


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“The covenant and the Mosaic code are God’s instruments for the forging of the Chosen People of God. Through them God will make for Himself a people fit to represent Him to the world.

As God’s people the Israelites are bound to worship Him only. Their worship must be founded and spring from love. ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul and with thy whole strength’ (Deuteronomy 6:5). The first three Commandments established God as the centre of the lives of the Israelites. All their actions, all their daily living is to be transformed by, informed by their loving worship of God.


This loving union with God will be the foundation of the love of men for one another. The Israelite must honour his father and mother, respect the rights of his neighbour, neither envying him his possessions nor coveting them.

The love of neighbour which the Commandments give as a guide for human behaviour highlights the fact that all men belong to the same family, they are all equally the descendants of Adam and, more importantly, they are all made in the image and likeness of God; they are all alike God’s erring children, children whom God loves, children whom God wills to save.


But at Mount Sinai this universal law of love cannot be extended universally and simply to all men. God tells the Israelites that they must not intermarry with the Canaanites when they enter the land of Canaan. They must destroy the Canaanite temples to false gods and, if necessary, destroy the Canaanites themselves.


This strong attitude toward the Canaanites might seem shocking to minds already accustomed to the fullness of Christian love. But in its historical circumstances it can be seen as prudent. It was made necessary by the weakness of man. As a people of God the Israelites were still children. Their defection to the Golden Calf proves this. If they were to intermarry with the Canaanites they would be in danger of deserting the true God for false gods. The Canaanites, in their turn, with minds darkened by polytheism and idolatry and even cultural immorality, would strive to draw Israel away from its loyalty to Jahweh. Granting the real weakness of the Israelites and the real ignorance and wickedness of the Canaanites, and granting the importance to the human race of belief in the one true God, the Mosaic attitude toward the Canaanites seems a practical necessity. The necessity is founded not only on the divine justice, on the divine severity toward the crime of polytheism and idolatry, but also on the weakness of men.

In pursuit of man God has chosen to Himself a people. But the people must be trained, they must be educated in the knowledge and the worship of the true God. They must be taught to worship God in the way which God Himself desires. The core, the heart of this training is to be found in the ritual legislation of the Mosaic code.


The first lesson of the ritual prescriptions of the code is the dominion of God. God is the omnipotent creator of the universe. Everything in the universe, even man himself, belongs to God. Man must recognise this primary, fundamental fact. The Mosaic code calls attention to this in several ways. First of all there is the great Commandment to adore God alone. God’s ownership of the universe is made real to the people by the law commanding that the first-fruits of their labours must be given to God.

‘Thou shalt carry the first-fruits of the corn of thy ground to the house of the Lord thy God’ (Exodus 23:19). This law extends even to man himself: ‘Thou shalt give the first-born of thy sons to me’ (Exodus 22:29). One day a week is to be devoted to God: ‘Six days shall you do work: the seventh day, because it is the rest of the sabbath, shall be called holy. You shall do no work on that day: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your habitations’ (Leviticus 23:3).

Three times a year all the men of the people must appear before God to worship Him: at the feast of the Pasch and of the unleavened bread, at the harvest of the first-fruits and at the harvest at the end of the year. In addition the first day of each month was a feast-day on which special holocausts and sin-offerings were made to God. Finally, on the day of Atonement the whole nation was to enter into the spirit of atonement for sin. In all these ritual celebrations the dominion of God was made the central theme of the life of the Israelites.


In the rites performed on these days the Israelites were reminded both of God’s dominion over them and of their sinfulness in His sight. If the sacrifice were a holocaust, or whole-burnt offering, the total consumption of the victim symbolised God’s total dominion over the offerer. To make sure that this was surely understood such offerings must be of victims ‘without blemish’ (Leviticus 1:3). Man must sacrifice to God of his best possessions; he must hold nothing back from the Lord. Moreover, his offering is made in expiation of sin: ‘… He shall put his hand upon the head of the victim: and it shall be acceptable and help to its expiation’ (Leviticus 1:4).

The ‘feast of weeks’ at the early harvest and the ‘feast of tabernacles’ at the late harvest emphasised both God’s ownership of the world and man’s duty to thank God for His benefactions to men. The ‘day of Atonement’ made the Israelites realise the need for repentance from sin. The great feast of the ‘pash and of the unleavened bread’ recalled to the Israelites the great historical fact that it was God who had rescued them from slavery in the land of Egypt, and reminded them that their trust should be only in God.

With this insistence on the dominion of God, with this persistent emphasis on the all-pervading influence of God in their lives, the Mosaic code was God’s way of reversing the course of human history. By his sin Adam had set the whole race of man marching away from God. In the Mosaic legislation God sets man back on the proper path. Through sin man seeks to be independent of God. By obeying the prescription of the Mosaic code the Israelites acknowledge their utter dependence on God.



The second great lesson of the ritual legislation is that God is present to His people. In accordance with God’s wishes and with the commands of Moses the people build an ark and a tabernacle (or tent). The ark and the tabernacle provide the people with a place to worship God. But more importantly they provide a habitation in which God Himself dwells. God Himself promises to dwell there: “And they shall make me a sanctuary: and I will dwell in the midst of them’ (Exodus 25:8). When the tabernacle is finished God comes to dwell in it: ‘The cloud covered the tabernacle of the testimony, and the glory of the Lord filled it. Neither could Moses go into the tabernacle of the covenant, the cloud covering all things, and the majesty of the Lord shining: for the cloud had covered all’ (Exodus 40:32-33).

Once again, in this covenant between God and the Israelites we see God undoing the work of Adam and the devil. Adam had dwelt in the garden of paradise and talked familiarly with God. He had lived in God’s presence. But tempted by Satan he had forsaken God, and God cast him out of the garden and out of God’s presence. Now through the covenant with Israel God returns to man to dwell with Him and to guide him.


The next great lesson of the ritual legislation is the holiness of God and the holiness required of His chosen people. ‘For I am the Lord your God. Be holy because I am holy… You shall be holy because I am holy’ (Leviticus 11:44, 46).

The holiness of God is shown in the minute prescription for the building of the ark and the tabernacle and the furnishings of the tabernacle. Only fine materials and silver and gold and bronze and jewels are to be used. The ark, the tabernacle and all its furnishings are to be anointed with ‘holy oil’ (Exodus 30:25). ‘And thou shalt sanctify all: and they shall be most holy. He that shalt touch them shall be sanctified’ (Exodus 30:29).

A special priesthood is chosen by God to minister unto Him, and the priests must be sanctified to the Lord: ‘Thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and shalt sanctify them: that they may do the office of priesthood unto me’ (Exodus 30:30).


God is so holy that his priests must wash their hands and their feet in a laver of water before they minister to Him. ‘And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Thou shalt make also a brazen laver with its foot, to wash in; and thou shalt set it between the tabernacle of the testimony and the altar. And water being put into it, Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet in it: when they are going to the tabernacle of the testimony, and when they are to come to the altar, to offer on it incense to the Lord: lest perhaps they die. It shall be an everlasting law to him, and to his seed by successions’ (Exodus 30:17-21).

God is so holy that the priests who minister to Him must be consecrated and sanctified for their work, ‘Take unto thee also Aaron thy brother with his sons, from among the children of Israel, that they may minister to me in the priest’s office… And thou shalt consecrate the hands of them all, and shalt sanctify them: that they may do the office of priesthood unto me’ (Exodus 28:1 , 41).


The thoroughness of the ceremony of consecration indicates both the holiness required in the priests who are to approach God and the holiness of God. Aaron and his sons are to be consecrated for seven days. A calf, two rams and other offerings are to be made. The priestly vestments must be anointed and sanctified. The altar must be sanctified. Aaron and his sons must be anointed on the head and hands. Their hands must be consecrated for seven days. The altar must be sanctified for seven days. A calf was sacrificed every day for seven days as an expiation for sin. The elaborate and lengthy ceremonial emphasises the holiness required in the priests of God.

The Levites, who are chosen to assist the priests, must also be purified for this service: ‘And thou shalt set the Levites in the sight of Aaron and his sons: and shalt consecrate them being offered to the Lord. And shalt separate them from the midst of the children of Israel, to be mine. And afterwards they shall enter into the tabernacle of the covenant, to serve me. And thus shalt thou purify and consecrate them for an oblation of the Lord: for as a gift they were given me by the children of Israel’ (Numbers 8:13-15).


God is so holy that no one but the High Priest may enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, where God dwells. And the High Priest may do this only once a year, on the ‘day of Atonement.’ Moreover, when he enters the Holy of Holies, he must sprinkle it with the blood of a calf ‘and may expiate the sanctuary from the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and from their transgressions and all their sins. According to this rite shall he do to the tabernacle of the testimony, which is fixed among them in the midst of the filth of their habitation’ (Leviticus 16:16). Now, since no one ever enters the Holy of Holies except the High Priest, and he only on one occasion, it is clear that the Holy of Holies itself does not need purification. The ceremony indicates rather that God is so holy that He abhors the sinfulness of the people amidst whom He dwells.

Not only is God holy, but His Chosen People must be holy: ‘You shall be holy because I am holy’ (Leviticus 11:46). The priests and Levites, as we have already seen, must be purified so that they may minister worthily in God’s sight. Since the people are really sinful, sacrifices are offered in expiation of their sins. In atonement for sin incense must be burned twice a day on the altar of incense, and ‘Aaron shall pray upon the horns thereof once a year, with the blood of that which was offered for sin: and you shall make atonement upon it in your generations’ (Exodus 30:10). The sprinkling of the blood of sacrificial victims upon the altar of holocaust has the character of atonement: ‘Because the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you, that you may make atonement with it upon the altar for your souls, and the blood may be for an expiation of the soul’ (Leviticus 17:11). The ‘day of Atonement’ was celebrated once a year to atone for the sins of the people during the preceding year.

In a more positive way the people are to seek holiness by keeping the Commandments and the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. In fact God said to the Chosen People: ‘Sanctify yourselves and be ye holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my precepts and do them. I am the Lord that sanctify you’ (Leviticus 16).


The last great lesson of the Mosaic code is the lesson of mediation. The people approach God through their priests, and God speaks to the people through his priests, through a race of priests chosen by Himself. Only the priests officiate at the altars. Only the High Priest may enter the Holy of Holies, where God Himself is present.

The High Priest represents the people in the sight of God. This role as mediator is given to the High Priest by express divine command: ‘And thou shalt take two onyx stones: and shalt grave upon them the names of the children of Israel: six names on one stone, and the other six on the other: according to the order of their birth. With the work of an engraver and the graving of a jeweller, thou shalt engrave them with the names of the children of Israel, set in gold and compassed about. And thou shalt put them in both sides of the ephod: a memorial for the children of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord upon both shoulders for a remembrance… Thou shalt make also a plate of the purest gold: wherein thou shalt grave with engraver’s work: HOLY TO THE LORD. And thou shalt tie it with a violet fillet: and it shalt be upon the mitre, hanging over the forehead of the High Priest. And Aaron shall bear the iniquities of those things which the children of Israel have offered and sanctified, in all their gifts and offerings. And the plate shall be always on his forehead, that the Lord may be well pleased with them’ (Exodus 28::9-12, 36-38).

Thus, through the law of Moses, God intends to raise up to Himself a godly people, holy as He is Holy. Through the law the people of Israel become holy, holy in principle, if not in fact. As the representative of the people, the High Priest bears on his forehead the legend HOLY TO THE LORD. At the foot of Sinai the Chosen People are not yet holy in fact. But by entering into a covenant with God, by embracing the Mosaic law, they set their feet upon the path of holiness. The law will teach them the majesty and dominion of God, the ineffable holiness of God, their own obligation to become holy, their obligation to atone for their sins.


As a pledge of the faithfulness of His promises and to encourage the Chosen People to fulfil their contract with God, God comes to dwell with them, to dwell in the tabernacle, in the Holy of Holies.

But God knows the ignorance and the weakness of men, even of the nation He has chosen to be the vehicle of salvation to the world. Consequently He appeals frequently throughout the Mosaic code to the memory of what He has already done for His people: He has rescued them from bondage in Egypt. To keep this memory of His love and power alive, to confirm their faith in God’s promises, the Chosen People must celebrate annually the feast of the Pasch and of the unleavened bread.”
– Martin J. Healy, 1959


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