The Hittites were descendants from Heth, the son of Canaan, and great grandson of Noah. After migrating northwest, along the Euphrates River after the dispersal from Babel, Heth and his extended family formed a nation, calling it Hatti, based on the patriarch. They would arise as a major empire rivaling Egypt up until the days of Joseph. By the time of the conquest of the land of Canaan, the Hittites had control of only scattered tribes and cities.
The progenitor of the Hittites was Heth, a grandson of Ham. The name is from primitive root Khathath, meaning to be dismayed or afraid. The family of Canaan, having been cursed by Noah and by God, had within a century become the black sheep of the family. In naming his son Heth, Canaan may have been fearful of what was to come. As history unfolded, the same name for a time produced fear and dread in the opponents of the conquering armies of the Hittite empire.
Canaan had been born in a time of great blessing. Noah and his sons had begun to reclaim the land near Ararat. Noah had been celebrating the first harvest of his new vineyard and had drank too much. After awakening, Noah had found out how Ham had shown great disrespect to him. This resulting in young Canaan being cursed to live as subservient to his cousins. Canaan had many children and his clan must apart even in the generations leading to Babel.
Of the children of Canaan, only two are named specifically, Sidon and Heth. The rest are listed according to the tribes that developed later. The Sidon's tribe founded an important seaport in the frontier of what became the Hittite empire. In the early days, it seems that the Hittite tribe was under the thumb of its Cushite cousins as Nimrod built his empire between the rivers. After Babel fell, the Hittites vied for land with the Arameans and Assyrians, becoming the only Hamitic people in what became Asia Minor.
The area of Cilicia and Syria came under the power of the Hittites, serving as the base for their empire in the days of Abraham. Their influence extended all the way to Hebron, near where Abraham bought land to bury Sarah.
The Patriarchs and the Hittites
In the 20th century BC, Abraham had migrated to Haran with his father Terah before the empire rose to power. However, even among his Semite cousins, it is certain that he had contact with Hittites in those early days. As he migrated south, he found Hittites among the other Canaanites. It was to the "sons of Heth" that he went when he wanted to buy the only property he ever owned. Among the Hittites was a land owner named Ephron, the son of Zohar. At first the man wished to defer to the significant wealth of the sojourning cheiftain, but Abraham insisted on paying a fair price. In the end, the Hittite ended up selling not only a cave, but the adjacent land for the family burial site.
In the days of Isaac , tensions between the Hebrews and the Hittites had grown due somewhat to the intermarriage of Esau to Judith Bet-Beeri and Bashemath Bet-Elon. This was unacceptable to Rebekah, and she demanded that Jacob, her favorite son, and heir to the promised blessings of Abraham and Isaac, be sent to find a bride among her relatives near Haran. According to sources outside of Genesis, the Hittites in northern Canaan had begun to consolidate power at this time in order to conquer those of the hill country beyond Haran.
Over the course of the life of Jacob, the Hittites in Canaan seem to have fragmented, perhaps with tribes migrating north to help conquer their cousins in Cicilia. Extra-biblical records indicate that in the four centuries of Hebrew wanderings (c. 1900 BC to 1500 BC) the Hittites had built their nation into an Empire. The Egyptians controlled most of Canaan at the time, but could not advance past Kadesh in near the Sidonian border.
The Conquest of the Hittites
The glory days of ancient Egypt came to a close when neighbors took advantage of the ignominy of an army buried in the Red Sea. This allowed the Hittites to grow stronger for several centuries as the Hittites left in Canaan ran from the invasion of Hebrew armies bent on destroying them. The Hittites were a people of the hills, but they were scattered and did not make an effort to keep their lands.
By the time of the Judges, the small disjointed tribe of Dan had captured a peaceful Hittite (Sidonian) city named Laish, killing the people there. They renamed the city Dan and it became the northernmost city of Israel. The conquest of Canaan had completely dispersed the ethnic Hittites as they disappeared out of bounds of the warriors of the tribes of Israel.
The Hittites in the Kingdom Period
The people of Israel had not fared well under the judges. There had been victories, and they had subjugated many of the Canaanite peoples, but the tribes were often at odds with each other. As a result, the Hittites left behind mostly dwelt at peace with the Hebrews. As the united kingdom of arose under Saul, the conquered Canaanites, including the Hittites, were subjugated and forced to pay tribute or serve as slaves to the Israelites.
However, as David was on the run during much of Saul's reign, he picked up a band of men that included at least two Hittites: Ahimelech and Uriah. These men were trusted confidants who fought David's wars when he became king. Under Solomon, the kings of the Hittites and Syria were required to pay tribute to keep the peace. Solomon also brought Hittite women into his harem to assure political bonds.
Near the end of the kingdom of Judah, Ezekiel prophesied against Jerusalem, reminding them of the spiritual adultery that had brought about the downfall of the nation and the city. The Hittites were used as a byword for apostasy. The once great capital city was just another child of adultery, a daughter of the Hittites and the Amorites.