Biblical Nations - Perizzites


Key Scripture: Genesis 15:18-20

Figures: Adoni-bezek

After getting to know the Kenites last week, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about the inhabitants of the Promised Land prior to its conquest by Israel under the leadership of Joshua.  There are several distinct groups that are mentioned frequently as living in the land that God had promised Abraham, and to lead off the list I've chosen the Perizzites.  Very little is known for sure about this group, but they lived alongside those descended from Canaan in the family of Ham, and are never referenced separately from one or more of their Canaanite co-inhabitants.  Geographically, they occupied some of the areas where the Kenites could also be found, with the book of Joshua pointing out that they occupied some of the hill country areas that would eventually be allotted to Judah and Ephraim.  Culturally, they were associated with the worship of Phoenician deities such as Baal and Ashtoreth. 

This people group is first mentioned during the time of Abram when he separated his herds and other possessions from those of Lot, while they lived among the Perizzites near the city later known as Bethel.  It may be that they had become more influential in the region during the time of famine in the land that had driven Abram south to Egypt for a period of time.  Among the factors that make the Perizzites difficult to identify is their absence from the various genealogies listed in Scripture, so their lineage is obscure even though they share more religious similarities with the Sidonians than the Canaanites.  It is clear that they lived in relative harmony with their neighbors, however, and joined with them in the fight against Israel's conquest.  Their name seems to come from the word for "villagers", perhaps indicating that they lived in open country rather than any of the major walled cities that are described during Joshua's battles, but God later pointed out that they were more numerous than the Israelites themselves.  The Israelites were instructed not to make peace with the Perizzites, but to destroy them entirely.  This was a command that they did not complete.

After the death of Joshua, the Hebrew people continued warring against the Perizzites and other people groups.  The tribes of Judah and Simeon joined forces against an army of 10,000 at Bezek led by Adoni-bezek, a king who may have been a Perizzite himself and claimed to have conquered many other kings.  The victors did to him what he said he had done to 70 others - cut off his thumbs and big toes - before taking him as a captive to Jerusalem where he died.  In time the territory of the Perizzites was diminished to a small region to the north, but by the time of King Solomon it is clear that the group was never fully destroyed or forced out of Israel.  Those that remained of the original inhabitants were subjected to forced labor, but seem to have had an ongoing impact on the religious traditions of major cities in the north such as Bethel, Shechem, and Samaria.  The worship of the Phoenician deities and use of high places and bull statues is consistently referenced in the words of prophets in the Old Testament, and the abhorrent practices Israel adopted were significant causes for their periods of oppression and eventual destruction at the hands of their enemies.  The final Biblical reference for the Perizzites is found when Jerusalem is rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity, at which time it was noted that the priests and Levites had intermarried with many of the indigenous people, ignoring God's ban on such behavior.  Beyond the period of time marked by Ezra and Nehemiah, the Perizzite people were lost to history, either destroyed, fully integrated, or physically absent from the region covered by the Biblical narrative.


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