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“When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” Gen. 26:34-35
We note that Esau was forty years old when he decided to marry, the same age as Isaac was when he married Rebekah. (Gen. 25:20). There are many instances in the scriptures of polygamy (multiple spouses) however we do not see any scriptures that indicate God condones it.
In Genesis 24:3, Abraham was adamant when speaking with his senior servant that the wife to be found for Isaac was not to be from among the Canaanites (of which the Hittites were part). This ideal of Abraham’s is likely at least in part why Esau’s choices brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26:35).
The Hittites were derived from Heth, who was referenced in Gen. 10:15:
“Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth”
Canaan was the son of Ham, and he was the one cursed by Noah after the incident in the tent after the flood. Later, Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah and the adjacent field from the sons of Heth to bury Sarah (Gen. 23).
“…but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” Then Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there!” Gen. 24:4-6
We note here Abraham’s specific desires to A) take a bride for Isaac from among his own family, and B) not allow Isaac to travel to Abraham’s homeland.
Concerning Not Taking A Bride From the Canaanites
Abraham has been living in different areas of Canaan for many years now, so it is safe to say he has experience with the general moral condition of the Canaanites (including his dealings with king Abimelech and his servants). Thus far God has not specifically told Abraham not to marry from among certain peoples.
We must remember that Abraham was not simply given a promise of many descendants and abundant land without anything to uphold on his part. Back in Genesis 17, the Covenant of the Circumcision, Abraham isn’t just charged with keeping the covenant himself, but “you and your descendants after you throughout their generations” (Gen. 17:9). This covenant was not just about keeping the circumcision – that was merely the outward sign of a people set apart. The covenant itself included “walk before me and be blameless”, Also in Genesis 18 when God is mulling over revealing the destruction of Sodom to Abraham, God says concerning Abraham “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice…” (Gen. 18:19, emphasis mine)
And so one of the main reasons Abraham is so vehement about choosing a bride for Isaac from his own family, and keeping Isaac on the godly path as much as he can within his lifetime is that God charged him with doing so – part of the covenant is to pass down the art of righteousness to the next generation and beyond. Abraham apparently felt this task would be much easier with someone from his family line rather than that of the Canaanites.
And we note that as with many such things, Abraham prefigures the Israelites about the prohibition of marrying the Canaanites (see Deut. 7:1-4). I believe this also is a parallel to followers of Christ in that they are called not to be “unequally yoked to unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14).
Concerning Isaac Not Returning to Mesopotamia:
The distance from Canaan to Mesopotamia would have been between 400-600 miles, so it was not a quick journey. Matthew Henry notes that Abraham didn’t want Isaac going back to his homeland so he would not be tempted to settle there. Josephus notes the perils of traveling to Mesopotamia – the depth of clay in winter; lack of water in summer; and frequent robberies committed (we note that the servant was carrying valuable gifts for the would-be bride.)
Radak tells us that Abraham did not want Isaac to leave the land because it was given to him and his descendants as part of the covenant. We also note that that Abraham just officially acquired a small plot of land in Canaan (the family burial site) which is all he will have to cling to in his lifetime. Thus Abraham is likely being overly cautious about losing any stake in the land, considering his wells have previously been stolen.
“Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”” Gen. 24:2-4
Though Abraham has lived among the Canaanites for some time now, and the land of Canaan is, in essence, the “Promised Land”, Abraham is adamant about not taking a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites. Also, God called Abraham to leave his family and his homeland, but this is where Abraham wants Isaac’s wife to be from. Why is this?
First we must realize that the scriptures do not reveal all dealings between God and humanity to us. For example, Cain and Abel brought offerings to God long before it was prescribed, and Abraham built altars before any written instruction to do so is given. Thus we can likely infer that God has, in fact, imparted such commandments to the patriarchs even though it is not recorded.
That said, the answer as to why Abraham is so vehement about Isaac’s wife being from his own people probably lies in Deuteronomy 7:
“Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. “For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” (Deut. 7:3-4)
“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deut. 7:6)
Another thing to note, however, is that Abraham’s own family dabbled in false idols. Consider that Abraham’s father Terah served other Gods (see Joshua 24:4). Also we see Laban has idols of his own (Gen. 31:19). Thus, the issue of false gods cannot be the sole problem. For one, there is a difference between serving other gods and turning someone away to follow such gods once they are already following the one true God. R’ Hirsch speaks of idolatry being an intellectual condition which can be changed, whereas in the case of the Canaanites, et. al, the overall more degeneracy was too much to overcome.
Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” Gen. 23:3-4
Abraham is about 137 years old now, and he left his homeland when he was 75 years old. This means he has lived in various areas of Canaan for approximately 62 years at this point; he has even had children here and watched them grow. But God gave this land to him and his descendants – so why does Abraham still refer to himself as a stranger and sojourner when speaking to the Sons of Heth?
The truth is that even the Sons of Heth (the Hittites), and everyone else on earth are strangers and sojourners as well; they just do not understand that “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” (Psalm 24:1).
We are all but tenants on God’s earth (Lev 25:23).
Abraham, on the other hand, acknowledges that all belongs to God (see Gen. 14:17-24). God asked Abraham to leave his father’s house, and he has had a nomadic lifestyle for many years since. And as with many such things, this prefigures the lives of the Israelites, as God even refers to them as strangers and sojourners;
According to R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, this dual role (of both resident and alien) applied to the Jews because they must exist in this world, but their allegiance is to God and His goals set forth by the Torah.
Further this applies to followers of Christ – we are called to be in the world, but not of the world (John 17) and not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). If we openly accept the ways of this world, we falsely feel we are at home in it.
“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” Gen. 12:1
Abraham left his country (which was either Ur of the Chaldeans, or Haran, depending whom you ask), but he did not leave his relatives. Probably facing a difficult decision, Abraham decided to bring his nephew Lot to Canaan. Lot was presumably younger, and was fatherless since his father Haran died. And Terah may or may not have passed away at this point. Abraham probably thought it best to adopt Lot rather than leave him to fend for himself, even if against God’s command. Besides, Abraham had a group of people already going with him.
This decision was probably not without regret. Lot caused some troubles for Abraham. For one, he took the best land, the entire valley of the Jordan (Gen. 13:11); that after infighting between his herdsmen and Abraham’s herdsmen (Gen. 13:7). Then Abraham and his men had to act as an impromptu army to save Lot, who had been taken as prisoner in the war of the kings (Gen 13:12-14). Lastly, Abraham took up argument against God Almighty for the sake of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot was living at the time – an argument which proved useful, at least for Lot, who was ultimately saved by angels and spared the destruction.
As I mentioned, it is unclear if Abraham’s father Terah died before Abraham left or not. Rambam notes that it is common in the Torah to record the death of a father before proceeding with the narrative of the son (as was the case with Noah – he was still alive at the tower of Babel though his death was already recorded.) Rashi notes that Abraham left Haran more than 60 years prior to Terah’s death. So it is unclear if Terah was truly in old age, and or bad health, if and when Abraham left. On one hand it would be considered disgraceful to leave an aging father before his death; on the other hand, the command of God to go forth and leave his relatives behind, would have superseded the traditional expectation here.
“[Noah] drank wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.” Gen. 9:21-22
No one knows for sure what happened in the tent that day, but there is certainly no lack of speculation. Unfortunately, the moral of this story may vary depending on what you think or are taught concerning this. I confess I do not know the answer, but can offer some potential explanations and their takeaways:
1) Ham acted illicitly in a sexual manner toward his father in some way; Although this sounds terrible, we must resist the urge to water down what scripture may be telling us. In this case we do not know for certain, but we cannot rule out the possibility. Alter’s commentary states this may be the case as “to see the nakedness of” in Gen. 9:22 frequently means “to copulate with”.
2) Ham merely saw Noah naked but did not quickly avert his eyes. According to Alter’s commentary this alone may have been taboo enough to earn the curse on his offspring. This is questionable considering the whole of humanity was so wicked that God wiped them out with a flood. What would have possibly been taboo at that point? Though perhaps it was with righteous Noah. I suppose the takeaway would be to keep your eyes free from such things; after all, in only a few chapters, Lot’s daughters sleep with him while he is drunk!
3) It was nothing Ham did, but rather Ham’s reaction to Noah. Telling his brothers about his father’s shameful state of drunkenness would be akin to gossip. More symbolically taken, this can be a picture of exposing another’s shame. This may have been curseworthy as it seems in direct opposition to God’s own actions of covering another’s shame – that of Adam, with clothing He made, as Adam could not effectively cover his own shame. Noah’s other sons – Shem and Japheth, followed God’s lead then, and covered their father’s nakedness, and ultimately received additional blessings.
4) Ham castrated his father. In Greek and Roman mythology, Uranus was castrated by his son Cronus – a story which may have its true origins in this story about Noah and Ham. This is also a difficult teaching, as no one likes to think about such things. However a stretch this interpretation may seem, consider this: Noah, unlike all the men preceding him in Genesis chapter 5, has no more children after the first three. Notice the pattern repeated in the text of Gen. 5:3-5:31:
_________ lived ____ years and became the father of _________. Then ________ lived ____ years afterward and had other sons and daughters.
From Adam to Lamech you can fill in the blanks, but for Noah you cannot. Gen. 5:32 starts the pattern for Noah – he lives 500 years and has Shem, Ham and Japheth. Then the entire flood story is laid out in chapters 6-9, and at the very end of chapter 9, in 9:28 the pattern appears to pick back up – but then simply ends with “and he (Noah) died.” Additionally, if Ham had some specific anger or resentment directed toward Noah, coupled with a lack of fear for God, it is not a far stretch to consider that Ham thought he could thwart God’s command to multiply, thus preventing Noah from being able to fulfill what God commanded. In turn, one can see how Noah may choose to curse the child of Ham, Canaan, if he was now prevented from having more children himself.
But why did Canaan get cursed?
In his Antiquities, Josephus tells us that Ham didn’t get cursed directly due to his ‘nearness in kin’ to Noah. Some rabbis believe that Noah thought it best not to curse Ham since Ham, along with Shem and Japheth, were already blessed by God (See Gen. 9:1).
Alternately, many believe that Canaan was actually the perpetrator, thus directly earning the curse — and that Ham did not do anything to stop his son. This itself is evidenced by Gen. 9:24, as it says “he knew what his youngest son had done to him.” Who is the youngest son? We assume Ham is by context – however the three sons are always listed as Shem, Ham and Japheth, which implies birth order. The only grandson we know of is Canaan, which Noah may simply be referring to as ‘his youngest son.’