Biblical Nations - Amorites


Key Scripture: Genesis 48:21-22

Figures: Mamre, Og, Sihon

This week we'll delve into the history of the Amorite people, who are more recognized by historians and archaeologists than several of their neighbors across the Canaanite region.  In fact, they were well known by many nearby contemporary kingdoms, and almost universally disliked.  As nomadic tent-dwelling people, the Amorites affected or even controlled the political situations in some of the greatest ancient civilizations, and were documented in various writings that have survived from several more.  That said, however, the term "Amorite" may have had different meanings and connotations to writers - those speaking the Semitic language of the same name, those worshipping the deity known as "Amurru", or those either originating from or settling within a geographic area bearing that god's name.  With such a notable level of potential uncertainty, however, we'll try to investigate what is believed to be true about this Biblical group.

The Amorites were descended from Ham's son Canaan, like the majority of their neighbors.  They did not seem to adopt the habits, beliefs, and customs of other Semitic groups, however, and were generally considered to be outsiders.  Prior to their Biblical record they apparently controlled much of Middle and Lower Egypt for over 100 years, and were considered unwelcome aggressors by the Sumerians.  Sometime during the 18th or 19th centuries BC the king of the city of Ur attempted to prevent an Amorite incursion by constructing a defensive wall that stretched over 150 miles.  There was no physical barrier on either side of the wall and insufficient manpower to defend it, however, so it seems the Amorites simply walked around the blockade and soon destabilized the city enough that invaders from Elam were able to destroy Ur and bring the Sumerian civilization to an end.  The Amorites rebuilt the city, absorbed the remnants of the Sumerian people, and either founded or took over other major locations such as Ebla and Babylon, where their most famous king reigned - Hammurabi.  It was from this same Amorite-controlled Ur that an Aramean named Terah and his sons all ventured out on a journey to Haran, including the most significant who would eventually continue his journey even farther away - Abram. 

The first Scriptural mention of this people group can be found during the sojourn of Abram as he settled by the oak trees of Mamre the Amorite near the city of Hebron.  The coalition of kings that kidnapped his nephew Lot had also destroyed the Amorite city of Hazazon-tamar (believed to be the same city that later became known as En Gedi), and the patriarch's actions to defeat them helped reinforce his peaceful relations that had developed with the Amorites.  When God established a covenant with Abram, however, He specifically identified this nation's sinful acts as a reason for the Hebrew people to remain in Egypt for several generations.  By the time of the Exodus, Amorites controlled regions on both sides of the Jordan River in the hill country as well as the Negev.  After the negative report delivered by the majority of the 12 spies turned the people of Israel away from following God's command to invade the land, it was the Amorites from the southern hill country (including the Valley of Eshcol, which was named after the brother of Mamre) that defeated their army and caused them to retreat into the wilderness for 40 years of wandering.  The two kings that Israel defeated under the leadership of Moses before beginning their conquest of the Promised Land were Sihon and Og, who were both leaders of separate groups of Amorites.  Their land became known as Gilead and was partitioned between the descendants of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh.

After Joshua began conquering cities west of the Jordan, five Amorite kings joined forces to destroy Gibeon, one of their own cities who had used deceit to sign a treaty with the children of Israel.  Joshua led the defense of Gibeon, and once the army was routed God joined the fight by lengthening the day and throwing giant hailstones on the Amorites that had retreated, killing more than had fallen in battle.  Joshua personally had the five kings executed, hung from trees until sundown, and then thrown into a cave.  Despite their victories, however, the people of Israel did not completely destroy or remove the Amorites, and their beliefs negatively influenced the northern tribes.  It wasn't until the reign of King Saul that the remaining Amorites were either subjugated or pacified, but his zealous attempt to kill off the remnant of the Gibeonites many years later led to an unpleasant affair.  God punished Israel with a famine for three years, and when King David understood it to be related to the Amorite remnant he allowed the Gibeonites to hang seven of Saul's grandsons in retribution, at which point the famine ended.  The remaining Scriptural references to the Amorites either involve comparisons between their idolatry and that of the Hebrew kings, or calls to remember that God's faithfulness and power that gave Israel victory over their stronger foes.  The prophet Ezekiel symbolically claimed at the time of Judah's destruction (ironically at the hands of the inhabitants of the old Amorite city, Babylon) that Israel's father was an Amorite and mother was a Hittite, as they had adopted so many of the practices of the land's previous inhabitants while ignoring God's commands.  The last historical references to the Amorites were made in the 6th century BC, indicating they had lost a distinct identity by that time and had either entirely died off or been absorbed into the surrounding cultures.


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