Northwest of Eden # 7 – The Canaanites (Gen. 12-50, IDB.)

The land of Canaan played a crucial role in the evolvement of monotheism and in the role Abraham’s descendants would play in the world.  It was not a light matter for an Israelite writer to admit that it was Sarah and not God that excluded Ishmael from the covenant.  Before there was an Israel, there was a Canaan.  And before the Canaanites there were the Anakims or the giants or the Nephilims.  The Philistines, descendants of Mizraim brother to Canaan had also settled in Canaan.  Then there was the mysterious king–priest of “God Most High,” Melchizedeck.  His tribal origin is uncertain.  Abraham arrived in Canaan when many wandering tribes were relocating and the location of Canaan was ideally suited for trafficking in business and expansion between the North and the South.  The fact that Abraham, a nomad, had a stronger army than the city kings does indicate that the area was in its early development.  His offering of ten percent to the king of Salem may have been a political necessity to Canaan’s growth rather than a religious act and so was his purchase of a burial place for himself and his offspring. By the time of Moses’ first attempt to invade Canaan, the region had become too strong for an ill-organized Hebrew army.  Forty years later, the picture had changed and the cities’ power and union had declined.
In the eyes of a monotheist, the Creator God was behind Abraham’s migration to Canaan.  The land was to be allotted to Abraham’s descendants at a time when he had no children.  At least, that is what Abraham felt God was telling him in his dreams and visions.  When the couple’s age began to be against them, mighty Sara, Abraham’s wife and stepsister had her husband father a child with her Egyptian maid Hagar and they named him Ishmael.  The lad became Abraham’s hope, but not for Sarah.  She wanted one of her own and this must have plagued her husband endlessly, why his newly found God was not giving her the prince that would one day reign Canaan.  One day, three strangers appeared and were received hospitably by Abraham.  They predicted that Sarah would bear a son within a year.  Sarah regarded it as a joke; but before the year ended, Isaac was born.  Sarah had Ishmael and his mother ousted.  That senseless behavior of Sarah, and endorsed by Abraham, became the ageless enmity between two brothers.  Ishmael’s descendants remained in Canaan and then settled toward the East.  Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob.  Esau’s children stayed in Canaan and ended up settling in the South.  Keturah’s children  (Abraham’s second wife) settled to the Southeast of Canaan.  And Lot with his daughters also settles East of Canaan.  Esau honored his mother’s wishes and left the grassing land in Canaan to Jacob; only he did not stay to manage the land.  Jacob or Israel went to Egypt to be with Joseph whom the Ishmaelites bought from his brothers and sold to an Egyptian slave master.  Four hundred fifty years later, Jacob’s offspring came back to claim that was no longer theirs. 
The birth of Isaac brought a tremendous renewed faith into Abraham’s life and he became absolutely certain that God was behind everything that had happened and was happening in his life.  It was Elohim that had protected his wife from being taken by king Abimelech and king Pharaoh.  To save his nephew Lot, he had dared to argue with God over Sodom and Gomorrah.  And when he felt tested to prove his loyalty to Elohim, he did not hesitate to lay his son on an altar.  He was convinced that God would give him back his son.   That singular act became Abraham’s trademark of faith for Jews and Christians.  This took place during a time when child – sacrifices were common.  By this time Abraham was recognized and feared as a prophet of “God Most High” who was endowed with irresistible power.  Abraham had become a profound monotheist and his grandson Jacob would also convert to monotheism.  Jacob’ wives’ and children hung on to their idols until Moses became a firm believer in One Supreme God.  It happened when he lived with Jethro, a priest of “The Most High God.”  Jethro, also named Reuel, was a Midianite, a descendant of Abraham and Keturah.       
It was in Canaan, where the “One God” of Adam and of Noah confronted Abraham through Melchizedeck, a priest of God Most High and king of Salem.  There are two other incidents that suggest that faith in one God had spread from Canaan to Egypt.  A drought drove Abraham to Egypt.  Sarah had no problem displaying her beauty and had herself abducted into Pharaoh’s court.  Abraham feared for his life and had her say that Sarah was only his sister.  Abraham prospered and the Egyptians did not.  Egyptian sorrow begun with Abraham and Pharaoh instantly connected it with Abraham’s God.  The religious leaders in particular appear familiar with a God who had his hand on Abraham and helped him to return to Canaan.  Sarah was given a maid by the name of Hagar that would play one of the most significant roles in history. She would become the mother of Ishmael Gen. 12:10-20).  God promised Hagar that her son would also become a great nation (Gen. 21:17-18). 
Back in Canaan, king Abimelech too abducted Sarah for her desirability and he too was warned that she was the wife of the prophet that could cause disasters or blessings.  The king was not convinced without first experiencing a downturn in new births.  As in Egypt, the officials linked the cause with Abraham.  Again, Abraham had lied to save his life.  He had the idea that the natives did not fear God.  He was wrong.  They showed more faith in this strange and powerful God than he did.  It was his half-lie that caused him and the two kings a problem with serious consequences that could have been averted with the truth.  Pharaoh and Abimelech were actually the victims of a lie and they apologized and rewarded Abraham for his inconvenience.  It was a troubling concept and has always been.  The writer depicts a concept of a God that favors certain people, regardless of their behavior.  It is Abraham that prayed to his God and God healed Abimelech and his women (Gen. 20).  Abraham’s behavior casts suspicion on justice.
The reason, what ever it was, why women did not conceive had nothing to do with Abraham; but it was tailored for turning Abraham into some saint.  At that time, he and Sarah had no children how could they possibly cause others to share in their misfortune?  Instead it opened the door to perceive God as one that could not help liking his chosen one.  Abraham was given a license to do whatever was necessary to reach the goal he believed God had set for him.  Hereinafter, whatever mistakes Abraham or his offspring made, God would in spite of their mistakes give them what He had promised.  This concept began to show up in Canaan and became the basis of operation for Israel’s attitude and behavior toward her family members, neighbors and enemies.  Jacob, like his grandfather Abraham, caused his own dilemmas and God had to bail him and his offspring out.  The Exodus is a supreme example of cause and effect.  We are told that God had taken over but who was twisting his arm?  This special treatment by God has been adopted by Christians, Muslims and by individuals hungry for power and wealth.