Abraham warned Eliezer not to seek a bride for Isaac from among the Canaanite women. Abraham knew that the Canaanites were destined to be ejected from the land and erased from history. He did not think it prudent that his seed, to whom God had promised the land, should intermarry with a race from whom the land was to be taken. The midrash imagines Abraham reasoning: “My son is blessed, and the accursed cannot unite with the blessed.”
In today’s world, there are no Canaanites. The Canaanites ceased to be an identifiable people group long ago. Nevertheless, the warning still has relevance for our outreach efforts today. The Canaanite religion became a toxic poison for the children of Israel, seducing them into idolatry and syncretism. Likewise, we must not bring the religion of Canaan into the house of Abraham. In our zeal to make converts, we should not allow the idolatrous world to exercise its influence over the Assembly of Messiah:
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? … What has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God. (2 Corinthians 6:14—16)
On the other hand, the disciple of Yeshua should have no hesitation about reaching out to the godless, the wicked, the secular, or the idolater. The transforming power of the gospel is not limited by ethnic or sociological boundaries. The good news taught by our Messiah can transform even the most reprehensible idolater into a worthy spiritual bride, sanctified “by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:26—27). Yeshua’s disciples needed to learn this lesson before they could be effective apostles. Two incidents from the New Testament illustrate the matter: the story of Yeshua’s encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4) and the story of the Peter’s encounter with Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10).
The story of the Master’s encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4 reminds readers that, in those days, “Jews had no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9). The Jewish people of the day considered Samaritans as the equivalent of Canaanites, but the Master shoved aside the conventional prejudices and engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation. His example opened the way for His disciples to present the gospel to the Samaritan people.
The story of Peter and Cornelius opened the scope of the gospel message even wider. Peter deemed Gentiles as outside the purview of God’s redemption. He regarded them as “Canaanites,” so to speak, in that he had never imagined taking the message of the gospel directly to non-Jews. He misunderstood the commission to go to all nations as a reference to the Jewish people and converts to Judaism scattered among the nations, but the vision of the sheet let down from heaven reoriented Peter’s thinking. The gospel is sufficient to save even the Gentiles.