Who Were the Amorites?

 

Craig Meyer


The terms "Amorite" and "Amorites" appear 26 and 60 times, respectively, in the American Standard Version of the Bible, totaling 86 occurrences. The Amorites are first mentioned as early as Gen. 10:16 as having descended from Canaan, the son of Ham. They, along with many other tribes, occupied the pre-conquest territory of Canaan. "Amorite" may have signified either a single ethnic clan or a loose confederacy of tribes. At times, the Amorite name seems to be synonymous with "Canaanite" and to represent all non-Israelites whom God commanded to be driven from the land (Josh. 10:5; 24:8,15; Jgs. 6:10).

The Amorite name means literally "the high one" and may refer to one (or more) of three possibilities:

  1. the mountainous terrain of the land they occupied (Num. 13:29; Deut. 1:7,19-20);
  2. their fearsome military prowess (Deut. 1:44); or
  3. their great stature (Num. 13:33).

If #1 was intended then Amorite would stand for "highlander" or "mountaineer." If #2 or #3, then the concept of "the high [and mighty] one" was implied. It is possible that a combination of more than one idea inhered in the name.

It is quite likely that at one time the Amorites were the most powerful of all the pagan clans in Palestine. The Babylonians called Syria-Palestine "the land of the Amorites" (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, I:119). In the first stage of conquest, O.T. texts label the men of Ai (Josh. 7:7), along with the armies of Sihon and Og (Num. 21:21-35), as formidable Amorite foes. Future Israelite generations would later view these events as significant turning points in their history (Neh. 9:22; Psa. 135:10-12; Amos 2:9-10).

By the time of Samuel's judgeship, "there was peace between Israel and the Amorites" (1 Sam. 7:14). Less than a century later, Solomon forced menial servitude upon the last few survivors (1 Kgs. 9:20-21). The Amorites are last mentioned by the prophet Amos (2:10), apparently either having died out as a race or absorbed into Israel. All that is left is but a memory of their great sin (cf. 1 Kgs. 21:26; 2 Kgs. 21:11).

On several occasions God reiterated His promise to give Abraham a land "flowing with milk and honey." Yet the godly patriarch did not inherit the land in his time because "the iniquity of the Amorites [was] not yet full" (Gen. 15:16). Here we see the grace and longsuffering of Jehovah even toward those who were not His covenant people. I refer the reader to this insightful observation on Gen. 15:16 from the commentary of Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown:

In closing, I believe that we can learn at least three lessons from the Amorites.


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