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Who Were the Amorites in the Bible?

Reading Bible stories about the Israelites fighting the people of Canaan, you may have heard about the Amorites. Answering "who were the Amorites?" gives us an interesting look at how the Israelites differed from other descendants of Noah.

Contributing Writer
Feb 25, 2022
Who Were the Amorites in the Bible?

When you read through the Old Testament stories about Noah, Abraham, and Moses, you’ll occasionally come across stories of the Amorites. Their history gives us an interesting look at how the Israelites' heritage differed from other descendants of Noah, and what kind of people the Israelites met when they entered the land of Canaan.

Where Do the Amorites Come From?

Genesis 10 records some of the genealogy of Noah’s three sons. One of those three sons, Ham, fathered Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.

The sons of Canaan were Sidon and Heth (Genesis 10:15). The Bible continues in Genesis 10:16-18 to say Canaan also fathered “the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward, the clans of the Canaanites dispersed.”

What Does the Word "Amorites" Mean?

We first read about the Amorites in Genesis 10. The Hebrew form of “Amorite” is a transliteration of Amurru (Babylonian). They were the prevailing peoples in their area, which the Babylonians called “the land of the Amorites.” Their name means “highlanders” or “hillmen.”

According to Genesis 10:19, the Canaanites’ territory extended from “Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.”

Later, the Assyrians called this area the “land of the Hittites,” for the Hittites had become the rulers of Syria and Canaan.

What Happened Between Abram and the Amorites?

When next we read of the Amorites, the account concerns Abram. A war had started which pitted the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam (King Chedorlaomer), and Goiim against the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar (Bela). The forces led by Chedorlaomer conquered their enemies and, in the process of pillaging, “they also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way” (Genesis 14:12).

The next verse (v.13) says, “Then the one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and Aner. These were allies of Abram” (italics added by this article’s author). 

Abram took 318 of the trained men of his house and rescued Lot, their possessions, the women, and other people (Genesis 14:14).

Genesis 15:5 is where we see God’s covenant with Abram: “Look toward heaven, and number the stars if you are able to number them…So shall your offspring be.”

Later in that passage, the Lord tells Abram, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” (Genesis 14:18-20).

In Genesis 17, The Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham and promised him and his offspring “the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” The land of Canaan, then inhabited by the Amorites and other nations mentioned above, would become Israel’s.

What Did Joshua Do to the Amorites?

The only time the Amorites were recorded as an ally is in Genesis 14:13 (listed above). 

Otherwise, most of their mention is lumped together with the other wicked nations God commanded the Israelites to overthrow (Genesis 15:21; Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17, Exodus 13:5, Exodus 23:23, Exodus 33:2; Numbers 21:34, Numbers 22:2, Joshua 3:10, etc.). God describes the Amorites’ iniquity in Genesis 15:16, and Numbers 21:25 states the Israelites lived in the land of the Amorites.

Leviticus 18:1-5 is God’s command to the Israelites through Moses that His people “shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan,” where He brought them. He went on, “You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow My rules and keep My statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God.”

The commands next issued by the Lord state one should not uncover the nakedness of family members, beginning with a father (Leviticus 18:7). This is interesting because the Amorites stem from Ham, who Noah cursed because Ham looked upon his nakedness (Genesis 9:22). 

In Leviticus 18:24, God commands the people not to make themselves unclean by doing any of their wicked acts (“for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations…”). The Amorites were people known to indulge in adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, prostitution, idolatry, and witchcraft. The Lord wanted His people to walk in His ways, not theirs.

In Joshua 1:1-6, the Lord commissioned Joshua to take the people over the Jordan to the land He promised His people. He told Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6, Joshua 1:7, Joshua 1:9) for the Lord would be with them wherever they went.

Joshua 5:1 relates: “As soon as all the kings of the Canaanites and Amorites who were beyond the Jordan heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel” (italics added).

After Joshua and the armies of Israel defeated Jericho and Ai, he built an altar to the Lord on Mount Ebal. In front of all the people, he made a stone copy of the commandments given to Moses (Joshua 8:30, 32).

After the Gibeonite deception (Joshua 9), “the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it” (Joshua 10:5).

The men of Gibeon reached out to Joshua and asked for help against the Amorite armies, and Joshua proceeded from Gilgal with “all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor.” The Lord told Joshua not to fear them because He had given them into his hands. And “not a man of them shall stand before you” (Joshua 10:7-8).

With this promise, faithful Joshua marched all night from Gilgal, and the Lord threw the Amorites in a panic. Joshua and his army struck them at Gibeon and chased them. While Joshua and his army pursued the Amorites, the Lord “threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword” (Joshua 10:10-11).

The Lord gave Joshua extra time to take vengeance on their enemies when he granted Joshua’s request for the sun to stand still at Gibeon (Joshua 10:12). Joshua then returned to the camp at Gilgal, while the five Amorite kings hid in a cave at Makkedah. Joshua had large stones rolled against the mouth of the cave and set guards over it. Others he commanded to continue pursuing their enemies so they would not return to their cities, “for the Lord your God has given them into your hand” (Joshua 10:19). Joshua and “the sons of Israel” wiped them out” to the end that “not a man moved his tongue against any of the people of Israel” (Joshua 10:20-21). Not even a war of words!

Joshua then asked that the five hidden kings be brought out from the cave and had his chiefs of the men of war put their feet on the necks of the kings. Joshua reassured the chiefs of the Lord’s provision for them against their enemies, and he then struck the five kings and put them to death. Joshua hanged the five kings on five trees until evening. At dusk, Joshua had them taken down from the trees and thrown into the cave where they had hidden and had large stones placed at the cave's mouth (Joshua 10:24-27).

Joshua then “struck the whole land and left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded” (Joshua 10:40).

Joshua captured all the kings and their land at one time “because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:42).

Why Did God Command Israel to Kill the Amorites?

In Leviticus 20:22-24, 26, the Lord told the Israelites they should not walk in the customs of the nation that He drove out before them. They were to keep all His statutes and all His rules. He told them they would inherit the land; He would give them the land of milk and honey. And they were to remember He was the Lord their God, who separated them from the peoples. They were to be holy as He is holy.

So, faithful Joshua obeyed the Lord God by being courageous as he destroyed the wicked peoples who inhabited the land of Canaan, which included the Amorites. Continued purges furthered the readiness for Israel to take possession of the land promised them by the Lord God.

Photo Credit: iStock/Zeferli

Lisa Baker 1200x1200

Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis. 

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