Question Box: Was Caleb a Jew or a Gentile?

Question or Topic Scripture
Was Caleb a Jew or a Gentile? Numbers 13:3-6

"And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel. And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur. Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori. Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh." (Numbers 13:3-6)

Answer


This scripture is speaking of a certain man among the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land for the Children of Israel's intended invasion. This man was Caleb and he alone wanted Israel to go ahead in spite of the strengths of the nations in Canaan. He put his trust absolutely in God to deliver Israel but was outvoted by the rest of the people. The result was that all those over twenty, except for himself and Joshua, Moses' faithful assistant, perished in the wilderness during the 40 years of wandering.

Caleb, a Kenezite?

As we can see Caleb is spoken of as a leader of the tribe of Judah and the son of Jephunneh. This seems simple enough until we consider the other references to this man. In Numbers 32:12 he is spoken of as not only being the son of Jephunneh but also as the Kenezite. (Likewise in Numbers 34:19 and Josh. 14:6) This complicates his identification as to whether he was a Jew or a Gentile. I looked through all the dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference books that I have and could not find any definite answer to this question.

The information on his father Jephunneh was limited. He was a descendant of Kenaz and the father of Caleb. The only Kenaz that I could find any information on was in Gen. 36 where Esau's family is named. In Genesis 36:10-11 we read; "These are the names of Esau's sons; Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Bashemath the wife of Esau. And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, and Gatam, and Kenaz."

Kenaz then, was the father of one of the tribes of Esau and lived between what became southern Israel and the Sinai area. The reference books that I studied mostly agreed that this was the source of the people called the Kenezites.

Caleb's Inheritance

Caleb received an inheritance in the land as promised by God for his faithfulness to God. We are told in Joshua 15:13: "And unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh he gave a part among the children of Judah, according to the commandment of the LORD to Joshua, even the city of Arba the father of Anak, which city is Hebron." This was a sizeable inheritance that included some other towns and the surrounding area. This land was the very land which Caleb spied out when the spies went into the land (Josh. 21:12).

It was in the telling of Joshua's taking of this area that we find another connection that is interesting. He promised that whoever took the village of Kirjathsepher would receive Caleb's daughter to wife. The man that was responsible for taking it was Caleb's younger brother as we find in Joshua 15:16-17; "And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife."

Othniel

This man Othniel was later to play a very important part in Israel's history. In Judges 3:9 we find this; "And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother." By this we see that Caleb was not the only faithful one in his family. However, since Caleb and Joshua were the only adults to survive the wilderness, this brother was either younger than twenty at the time of the sentence, or he may have joined the nation of Israel after the forty years of wandering were over.

A convert?

It would seem that in view of what could be found in the related references that Caleb possibly married or was adopted into the tribe of Judah and was converted to the doctrines of God. He became a full fledged member of the tribe as he was called one of the heads of the children of Israel at the time of the spies and when the land was divided he received his inheritance with the tribe of Judah.

We must remember that when Israel came out of Egypt there was a "mixed multitude"of people that came with them. (Ex. 12:38) Surely others attached themselves to Israel as they wandered in the wilderness, if for no other reason than to partake of God's blessings being rained upon Israel so miraculously. If this had not been the case God would not have instructed Moses how to make it permissible for the "strangers" to partake of the worship of Israel (Ex. 12:48).

Another Caleb?

There is another Caleb mentioned in the tribe of Judah. He was a descendant of Pharez the son of Judah's marriage to his daughter-in-law Tamar. In my study I first thought he might be the same Caleb but no connection could be made. The descendant of Judah had two wives from whom came sons named Jeshur, Shobab, Ardon, and Hur. His geneology is found in I Chron. 2:18-19. Caleb the son of Jephunneh had sons named Iru, Elah, and Naam, completely different from the Caleb of Judah's line.

Caleb was a Gentile

Based on what I have read, I believe that Caleb the son of Jephunneh was most likely a Gentile who joined with the tribe of Judah and took up the faith in God. Interestingly, this is the same faith so many of the Israelites turned their backs on. He must have been a truly remarkable man of faith and courage. He may have influenced his brother and other family members to follow his footsteps. If this is true he is a wonderful example for all that have become adopted Israelites and sons of Abraham. We have this privileged position today. If only we can serve God as faithfully as Caleb!


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