Canaanites were the descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham. Migrating from their original home, they seem to have reached the Persian Gulf, and to have there sojourned for some time. They thence “spread to the west, across the mountain chain of Lebanon to the very edge of the Mediterranean Sea, occupying all the land which later became Palestine, also to the northwest as far as the mountain chain of Taurus. This group was very numerous, and broken up into a great many peoples, as we can judge from the list of nations (Gen. 10), the ‘sons of Canaan.'” Six different tribes are mentioned in Ex. 3:8, 17; 23:23; 33:2; 34:11. In Ex. 13:5 the “Perizzites” are omitted. The “Girgashites” are mentioned in addition to the foregoing in Deut. 7:1; Josh. 3:10.
The “Canaanites,” as distinguished from the Amalekites, the Anakim, and the Rephaim, were “dwellers in the lowlands” (Num. 13:29), the great plains and valleys, the richest and most important parts of Palestine. Tyre and Sidon, their famous cities, were the centres of great commercial activity; and hence the name “Canaanite” came to signify a “trader” or “merchant” (Job 41:6; Prov. 31:24, lit. “Canaanites;” comp. Zeph. 1:11; Ezek. 17:4). The name “Canaanite” is also sometimes used to designate the non-Israelite inhabitants of the land in general (Gen. 12:6; Num. 21:3; Judg. 1:10).
Easton’s Bible Dictionary: Canaanites