The Canaanites were the enemies within the promised land. The Israelites failed to completely exterminate them from the land on conquering, they became neighbors and this influenced Israel in their religious and political life.
“Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” EXODUS 34:11 ESV
The Canaanites were a constant aggravation to the Hebrew people.
Although the Bible does reference the names of some specific people groups (for example, the Ammonites and the Edomites), the term Canaanites seemed to be a broad name used for any of the people living in the land of Canaan. Generally, these people worshipped regional idols referred to as Baal and Asherah.
The Hebrews’ first military conflict with the Canaanites came after God’s people initially spied the land but refused to take it based on the advice of ten unfaithful spies. After seeing God’s judgment and experiencing His displeasure, the Hebrews tried to take the land with their own strength rather than follow God’s ordained plan. Though urged by Moses not to attempt the battle, the people persisted and were soundly defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites (Numbers 14:40– 45).
Later when Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, the Israelites failed to completely remove the Canaanites from the land. As a result, these enemies remained a constant threat during the time of the judges (see Joshua 3, 7, 9, and 17). In addition to their military threat, their spiritual culture exerted a negative influence on the Hebrew people.
Baal was the name given to a sun god or chief male god for a specific region, and Ashtoreth was the supreme female divinity associated with the moon. The worship of both these false gods began to influence God’s people as they took possession of the Promised Land. Because the Hebrew people never completely expelled the practice, the worship of these false gods extended through the exile of the Hebrew people (Jeremiah 7:9). While the worship of Baal included incense, sacrifice, and occasional slashing of oneself, the worship of Ashtoreth may have gone as far as to include human sacrifice and perverse sexual sins.