Heber the Kenite?

“Now, Cheber, the Qenite, was alienated from the Qenites, from the sons of Chobab, the father-in-law of Moses. And he moved his tent as far as the holy tree in Tse’anniym, which is Qedesh.”

(Judges 4:11)

What??? Now wait just one minute!!! Where did this come from? Were we reading this account for the first time, our natural response would be to think, “Wait one minute, who is this Heber guy, what is going on with this?” Most of us know the story, so we know of the foreshadowing that this verse provides, but what a nice little tidbit of what is to come, mentioned as little more than an aside here, but becoming an essential element a little later in the chapter…and all because of a family feud of some sort.

Hobab, we know, was the brother-in-law of Moses (Numbers 10:29) and thus was the son of Jethro, the Kenite (Judges 1:16) who was serving as a priest in Midian (Exodus 3:1). We don’t know for sure whether the Kenites all dwelt in the region of Midian or whether Jethro simply chose to sojourn there, but we also know that part of the land promised to Abraham was the land belonging to the Kenites (Genesis 15:19). We do know from Judges 1:16 that these Kenites went up with the sons of Judah to conquer and settle that region of Negev near Arad.

There seems to have been some sort of division amongst the sons of Hobab as they dwelt in the southern regions of Judah. We are not told as to what caused the separation, only that Heber had been alienated. The term that is used is the passive form of dårDp (parad), which means “to be scattered or separated, to be alienated, or to go to the side from the main branch.” While many of our translations presume that this was merely Heber diverging, or moving away from home, perhaps for more space, the fact that the verb is found in the passive implies that this is something that has happened to him, thus the suggestion that he has been alienated or estranged seems reasonable, though again, we do not know why, apart from God’s purposes.

And at the heart of this verse, what we must see is just that…God’s sovereign purposes. God is sovereign even in placing his people where he chooses. In this case, from the southern regions of Judah to the area around Kadesh…not that far from Hazor (where Jabin, the king under whom Sisera served, lived). So, on a human level it would seem that Heber is making a statement, separating himself from the covenant people to live on the border of Canaanite territory, yet God even uses events such as this to bring about his ends, for here, in Heber’s tent, Sisera would eventually be slain, but we get ahead of ourselves…

About preacherwin

A pastor, teacher, and a theologian concerned about the confused state of the church in America and elsewhere...Writing because the Christian should think Biblically.

Posted on May 10, 2016, in Expositions, Judges and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Why does EVERYONE assume that Judges 1:16 refers to Jethro? It says absolutely nothing about Jethro, it says “And the children of the Kenite, Moses father-in-law….” You are aware that the same Hebrew word “chathan” is used for mother-in-law, brother-in-law and father-in-law and son-in-law? Furthermore, Jethro is not once ever mentioned being a Kenite by name, no, not once. It is assumed by many that “father-in-law” in Judges 1:16 is referring to Jethro. Maybe, maybe not. Jethro went back to his own land, presumably Hobab had come with him, but we still see him (Hobab) with the children of Israel on the 20th day of the 2nd month, 2nd year from their departure from Egypt, he is specifically mentioned after the M/D/Y in Number 10:29. In Joshua 15:57 we see that one of the 10 cities is named “Cain”. This is before Judges 1:16 chronologically. So it appears that Hobab, who was initially going to return to his land and kin, went forward with Moses into the promised land for Numbers 10:33 says “they” departed. So is it not possible that Hobab settled in the city of Cain thus becoming known as Kenites by location rather than blood? And many years later in the time of Deborah the prophetess and judge of Israel we see Heber being called a Kenite and he severed himself from the Kenites. Sounds to me like he is a Kenite by location or affiliation due to living amongst them, not necessarily a bloodline line Kenite. God told Abraham in Gen 15:19 that one of the tribes that would be living in Canaan would be the Kenites. I believe Hobab settled in the city of Cain (josh 15:57), Hobab’s descendants became known as the children of the Kenite (Judges 1:16) and much, much later we see Heber, a descendant of Hobab, called a Kenite too (Judges 4:11). In the time of Saul, they are stilled call Kenites and told to separate from the Amalekites for showing kindness to Israel. I personally do not feel there is enough information to conclude Jethro was a Kenite. He is always called a priest of Midian or a Midianite and is assumed to be a Kenite based on Judges 1:16 which is speculation at best. For as I explained, Hobab could very easily be the Kenite being referred to. As for the Rechabites, those are the descendants of Cain, they do not plant and they do not have permanent homes, they live in tents. Cain was a wanderer and the ground would cease producing for him. There is the connection that ties Cain to these Recabites, Shimeathites, Suchathites and Tirathites, all descendants of Cain.

    I think the reason Heber severed himself from the Kenites was because God put it on his heart to do so. Earlier, Deborah mentioned to Barak that Sisera woukld die by a woman’s hand. Had Heber not moved to where he did, it is doubtful that Sisera would have ended up at the tent of Jael.


    • Great comment and good support for your argument. I appreciate the time you took with this and it caused me to look back at the text to check my own reading.

      With that being said, you are right that “chathan” is a verb that can be used very broadly and can refer pretty much to anyone connected through marriage.

      But in Judges 1:16, the masculine singular participle of “chathan” is used, which is “chothen.” Where this is employed, it is normally translated as “father-in-law” (see for instance, Exodus 3:1 and 4:18).

      The venerable Hebraicist, William Gesenius, commented that “chothen” refers to “the father of the wife, one who gives his daughter in marriage.”

      As a side note, “mother-in-law” would be the feminine participle, “chotheneh.”

      Great comment and thanks for reading along! Blessings,



  2. Thank you. I think Judges 4:11 connects Judges 1:16, like passages giving more information. The unnamed Kenite in 1:16 is named in 4:11. Now that being said, that does not make Jethro a Kenite. Like I said, he is never called a Kenite, but Moses’ brother-in-law is. H2245, Hobab, says that Hobab is the son of Reuel/Raguel/Jethro and brother-in-law of Moses. Chathan is used for more than father-in-law. Plus, Jethro departed back to his own land (Exodus 18:27) not long after bringing Moses his wife and sons. Hobab, on the other hand, is seen with the Israelites (Numbers 10:11) in the second year from the Israelites departure from Egypt. Unlike Jethro, he never went back, he continued with Moses to the promised land for Numbers 10:33 says “they departed” presumably speaking about Moses and Hobab and indirectly the Israelites as well. Here is the kicker, “ben” H1129 which is translated “son” has many meanings, one of which is “a member of a group”. I believe that Hobab was married to one of Jethro’s daughters which in turn would make him a the brother-in-law of Moses and a member of Jethro’s group.. Hobab is a Kenite, but Jethro is a Midianite. The Kenites were a nomadic people living in the lands of other people, much like today. Heber was, by deduction, living in the area the Kenites lived which was not where the Israelites lived. He is said to sever himself and pitch his tent in the plain of Zanaaim which is the southern most point of Judah. Sounds like he went north to me for a very devious purpose.


  3. I should say, I have changed some of my thoughts laid out in my first comment. I did so upon further study. I don’t believe now that Hobab setlted in Cain for example. Just wanted to clarify. Thanks.


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