Biblical Nations - Kenites

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Key Scripture: Judges 1:16

Figures: Jethro, Jael, Rechab

If you read last week's post, you're already acquainted with a group that continually opposed the children of Israel.  This week, let's look at a family that is related to the story of those Amalekites but maintained a long-standing friendship with the Jewish people.  Readers first encounter the Kenite people group during the exile of Moses, when he fled Egypt and stayed in Midian.  While there, he met the family of a man who is referenced by two names in Scripture - Jethro and Reuel - and married his daughter, Zipporah.  Thus the Kenite people became the third separate nation that Moses could legitimately claim as family, being born to a Hebrew couple and raised by the Egyptian princess.  Thus began a relationship that was one of the few mutually beneficial friendships that the Israelites maintained throughout their history.

Although the land of the Kenites had been referenced by God in His covenant with Abraham, Jethro is the first individual from that tribe that is named in the Bible.  He is described as a priest of Midian and during the Exodus he offers a sacrifice to God alongside Moses.  While clearly not a member of the Levitical priesthood, Jethro seems to be a worshipper of the one true God as he is also called Reuel, meaning "friend of God".  The Kenites were likely part of the people of Midian who maintained their own identity, and at least some of them joined Israel under the leadership of Moses immediately before their camp reached Mount Sinai.  When Jericho was destroyed during the conquest of Canaan, the descendants of Jethro were able to settle in the region without fear of Joshua's curse on anyone who would rebuild the city due to their nomadic tent-dwelling lifestyle.  They remained near the territory of the tribe of Judah throughout the time of the judges, with the majority eventually migrating south towards the Negev over time.  One famous instance of a Kenite supporting Israel can be found in the story of Deborah, when the opposing commander Sisera is slain by Jael, the wife of a Kenite named Heber who had separated from his family and lived at Israel's northernmost extent near Kedesh.

The Kenites maintained a separate identity within Israel until the time of the kings.  When King Saul went to war against the Amalekites he sent a message warning the Kenite people to move away, repaying the kindness their ancestors had shown to Israel.  While David was fleeing Saul and lived among the Philistines, he lied about attacking the Kenites as well as cities within Judah to gain favor and avoid suspicion, but instead shared spoil of his raids with those individuals he saw as friends.  After David's ascent to the throne of Israel, the Kenites were largely assimilated into the people of Judah except for a small group known as the Rechabites.  Seen as a relatively zealous group, they participated in an uprising alongside Jehu to seize the throne of the northern kingdom of Israel against King Joram and the other descendants of Ahab.  Rechab's son, Jonadab, commanded his offspring to live in tents and abstain from wine, which they did for numerous generations.  God praised the Rechabites to the prophet Jeremiah for their faithfulness shortly before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah, as they had followed the instructions of their ancestor for over 230 years.  He stated that the Rechabites would "never lack a man to stand before me" (Jer. 35:19) and there are several groups to this day who claim direct descent from their fervent family.


  1. This was so interesting! I never linked the Rechabites with the Kenites before. Thanks for teaching me a new lesson!


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