When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan!  The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers”  He also said. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem!  May Canaan be the slave of Shem.” (Genesis 9:24-26)

Let’s clarify something before we get into the meat of this matter.  The “youngest son” who had offended Noah was not named Canaan.  He was named Ham.  When Noah was offended by Ham, he placed the curse of slavery on Ham’s youngest son whose name was Canaan.

Noah had three sons.  They are listed here in order of their birth:

  • Japheth
  • Shem
  • Ham

Shem is listed first in scripture because he was the son who carried forward the history of Noah in the form of the legacy of God.  In this brief study, we want to pay attention to the youngest of these three because of his offense against his father.  There is no evidence in scripture, by the way, that God reversed the curse that Noah pronounced.

At the time of the building of the Tower of Babel, these various kinships were dispersed throughout the earth through the changing of their languages.  It appears the language change affected people in family groups that were based on descent from the sons of Noah.  So, all the descendants of Canaan, for example, had languages more similar to one another than to the languages of the descendants of Shem.  It appears the patterns of migration from Babel reflected these similarities.  In other words, the descendants of Ham migrated in the same general direction, and the descendants of Japheth migrated together but in a different direction than those of Ham and so forth.

Ham had four sons.  They were:

  • Cush
  • Mizraim
  • Phut
  • Canaan

Note that Canaan was the youngest of the four and the recipient of the curse of servitude from Noah.  Scripture also tells us that Canaan had eleven sons (Genesis 10:15-18).  The passage goes on to imply the whole group stayed in close proximity as they settled down.  They settled in the area that came to be known as Canaan, probably because they all had Canaan as their common ancestor.  The eleven peoples of Canaan who are listed in scripture are:

  • Sidonians
  • Hittites
  • Jebusites
  • Amorites
  • Girgashites
  • Hivites
  • Arkites
  • Sinites
  • Arvadites
  • Zemarites
  • Hamathites

The most likely case is that each of these groups of Canaanites took its name from one of the sons of Canaan.  For example, it is clear that the Hittites took their name from a man named Heth because another biblical name for them is bnai cheth, which means sons of Heth.  While all these groups of people were Canaanites, they would distinguish among themselves by the names listed above.

Now, in the area of Hebron, it appears that some Hittites and Amorites lived together – or in close proximity (compare Genesis 14:13 to Genesis 23:7-10).  In other words, it appears that even though there were distinct family relationships, the various Canaanite groups got along okay.  Chapter 9 of the book Birth of The Holy Nation discusses certain aspects of this in relation to the man called Melchizedek.

It also appears that over time, the specific ethnic appellation applied to various of these people was somewhat flexible.  They were all Canaanites.  But, more specifically, they were sons of Heth, or sons of Amer, or sons of Sidon, and so forth.  So, while the term Canaanite was generally used of the whole country, other more specific terms were used for parts of the country dependent on which group had settled in the area or was at least the dominant group in the area.  People might even be called by the name of the city from which they came.  The men of Sodom, for example, were Sodomites.  We are not sure at all which group they were related to, only that they came from Sodom which was a city of some group of Canaanites.

God made a peculiar promise to Abraham the Hebrew some years after he arrived in the land of the Canaanites.  He said, “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Genesis 15:16, underline added)  But when the Israelites returned many years later, it was to take the entire land of Canaan.  Remember that Canaan was the father of Amer, along with at least ten other sons.  What is meant is that there was a great deal of flexibility when referring to these people.  This probably had to do with the area under discussion.  For example, Abraham was living near the Amorites when the promise was made.  See chapters 8 and 10 of Birth of The Holy Nation for more about Abraham among the various Canaanites.

While Canaanites of any group were displaced by the Israelites led by Joshua, they show up from time to time in later history.  Remember Uriah the Hittite?

It is my hope that making some of these things clear to you helps you to understand the biblical narrative somewhat better.