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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…