1. It was the land of the Hebrews before it was the Canaanites'.
Abraham is called Hebrew, then only when the difference between him and the Elamites was to be decided by war. And the reason of the surname is to be fetched from the thing itself which then was transacted.
I. The hereditary right of the Holy Land, which, by divine disposal, was Sem's land, Elam, the first-born of Sem, did deservedly claim; nor was there any of the sons of Sem upon whom, in human judgment, it was more equally and justly devolved. But the divine counsel and judgment had designed it another way; namely, that it should come to the family of Arphaxad, and Heber, of which family Abraham was. Him, therefore, God strengtheneth against the army of Elam, and declares him heir by a stupendous victory; which Sem himself likewise does, blessing him, although he had overthrown in battle his sons the Elamites, born of his first-born Elam. For that most holy man, and a very great and noble prophet withal, acknowledged the counsel of God; whom he is so far from opposing for the slaughter of his sons, that, on the contrary, he blesseth the conqueror, and yields him the choicest fruits of his land, bread and wine, not only for refreshment to him and his soldiers, but also, perhaps, for a sign rather of resignation, and investing him with the hereditary right of it, whom God, by so signal a mark, had shown to be the heir. Upon very good reason, therefore, Abraham is called Hebrew, to point as it were with the finger, that God would derive the inheritance of that land from the family of Elam to the family of Heber, from the first-born to him that was born after; which was also done afterward with Reuben and Joseph.
II. It neither ought, nor indeed can be passed over without observation, that the country of Pentapolis, and the countries adjacent, were subjects and tributaries to Chedorlaomer king of Elam. What! was there any part of the land of Canaan subject to the king of the Persians, when so many kings and countries lay between it and Persia? No idle scruple and difficulty, I assure you; nor, as far as I can see, any otherwise to be resolved, than that Elam, the first-born of Sem, or Melchisedek, by his birthright, was heir of that land, which his father Sem possessed by divine right and patent; and the sons of Elam also held after him, and his grandsons, unto Chedorlaomer. For when it is said that those cities and countries had served Chedorlaomer twelve years, the times of his reign seem rather to be reckoned than the years of the reign of the Elamites. Not that those nations were subject to the sceptre of the Elamites twelve years only, but that that year was only the twelfth of Chedorlaomer. But now God translates the inheritance to the family of Heber, called Hebrew before, but now more particularly, and more honourably, since, of all the families of Sem, that was now most eminent. Heber denotes Hebrews, as Assur denotes Assyrians, in those words of Balaam, Numbers 24:24, "and shall afflict Assur, and shall afflict Heber."
It is a dream of somebody among the Rabbins, "That, when the whole land was divided among the seventy nations at the confusion of tongues, the land of Canaan came to none: therefore the Canaanites betook themselves thither; and being found not only empty, but conferred by lot upon none, they usurped it for their own."
But what then shall we say of Melchizedek, whom now all acknowledge for Shem? Which is more probable, that he intruded among the Canaanites, now inhabiting the land, or that they intruded upon him? Was not that land hereditary to him and his, rather than usurped by wrong and intrusion? And did not he, by the direction of the Spirit of God, betake himself thither, rather than either that he, wandering about uncertainly, lighted upon that land by chance, or, acted by a spirit of ambition or usurpation, violently possessed himself of it? For my part, I scarcely believe, either that the Canaanites went thither before the confusion of tongues, or that Shem, at that time, was not there: but that he had long and fully inhabited the land of Canaan (as it was afterward called), before the entrance of the Canaanites into it: and that by the privilege of a divine grant, which had destined him and his posterity hither: and that afterward the Canaanites crept in here; and were first subjects to the family of Shem, whose first-born was Elam, but at length shook off the yoke.
When, therefore, all those original nations, from the confusion of tongues, partook of their names immediately from the fathers of their stock; as, the Assyrians from Assur, the Elamites from Elam, &c.; the same we must hold of the Hebrew nation, namely, that it, from that time, was called Hebrew from Heber: and that it was called the land of the Hebrews, before it was called the land of the Canaanites. For I can neither think that the stock of the Hebrews had no name for almost three hundred years after the confusion of tongues, until the passing of Abraham out of Chaldea found a name for it, which some would have; nor methinks is it agreeable that Abraham was therefore called Hebrew, because, travelling out of Chaldea into the land of Canaan, he passed Euphrates; when, upon the same reason, both Canaan himself, and the fathers of all the western nations almost, should be called Hebrews; for they passed over Euphrates, traveling out of Chaldea. And when the patriarch Joseph himself is called by his mistress a "Hebrew servant," Genesis 39:17, and so called by the servants of Pharaoh, chapter 41:12; and when he saith of himself, that he was stolen away "out of the land of the Hebrews," Genesis 40:15,--it is scarcely probable that that whole land was known to other countries under that name, only for one family now dwelling there; and that family a stranger, a traveller, and living in danger from the inhabitants: but rather that it was known by that name from ancient ages, even before it was called "The land of the Canaanites." Nor, if we should raise a contest against that opinion, which asserts that the language of the Canaanites and the Hebrews was one and the same, would that argument any whit move us, that the towns and cities of the Canaanites bore names which were also Hebrew; for those their Hebrew names they might receive from Shem, Heber, and their children, before they were places of the Canaanites.
Heber lived when the tongues were confounded, and the nations scattered; and when none denied that the sons of Heber were Hebrews, (yea, who would deny that that land was the land of Heber?) by what reason should not they and that nation take their name from him, after the same manner as other nations took theirs from their father, at the confusion of languages?