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Was Caleb A Jew Or A Gentile?

Numbers 13:1-6

  1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
  2.  “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.”
  3. So Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the children of Israel.
  4. Now these were their names: from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur;
  5.  from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori;
  6.  from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh;

Moses was commanded by God to send 12 men, one from each tribe of Israel, to spy out the land of Canaan.

One of the 12 spies was Caleb from the tribe of Judah. He was the son of Jephunneh.

Caleb and Joshua were the only two spies who brought back good report after their return from spying out the land for forty days.

Numbers 13:25 
And they returned from spying out the land after forty days.

But they were outvoted by the rest of the spies who were too afraid to put their trust in God and follow Him wholeheartedly.

Numbers 32:12
except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.

Numbers 34:19
These are the names of the men: from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh;
Joshua 14:6
Then the children of Judah came to Joshua in Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him: “You know the word which the LORD said to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh Barnea.

Caleb was from the tribe of Judah but he was also the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite.

There is no information in the Bible about Jephunneh, the father of Caleb. But about Jephunneh's origin being a descendant of Kenaz, there is a passage which may offer some clues.

Genesis 36:10-11
These were the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, and Reuel the son of Basemath the wife of Esau. And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz.

Kenaz was one of the grandsons of Esau. The descendants of Kenaz were known as the Kenizzites.

Because of his faithfulness to God, Caleb received an inheritance in the land as promised by God.

Joshua 15:13
Now to Caleb the son of Jephunneh he gave a share among the children of Judah, according to the commandment of the LORD to Joshua, namely, Kirjath Arba, which is Hebron (Arba was the father of Anak).

Joshua 21:12
But the fields of the city and its villages they gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as his possession.

Caleb later promised to give his daughter to become the wife of the one who attacked and took the village of Kirjath Sepher.

Joshua 15:16-17
And Caleb said, “He who attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give Achsah my daughter as wife.” So Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it; and he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife.

Interestingly, the man who was responsible for taking Kirjath Sepher was Othniel the son of Kenaz, the younger brother of Caleb.

Othniel later played a very important part in the history of Israel.

Judges 3:9
When the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the children of Israel, who delivered them: Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.

Caleb was not only faithful to God, he was also able to lead his family members to faithfully follow God .

As Caleb and Joshua were the only adults who survived the forty years in the wilderness, this younger brother of Caleb should be less than the age of twenty at the time of passing the death sentence on the rebellious and unbelieving people.

Numbers 14:28-31

  1. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: 

  2. The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. 

  3. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. 

  4. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised.

In view of these Biblical references, Caleb was possibly married or was adopted into the tribe of Judah. He became an important member and leader of the tribe of Judah as he was called to be one of the spies, representing his tribe.

Exodus 12:38
A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock.

When Israel came out of Egypt, there was a mixed multitude of people who went up with them. Some Gentiles had attached themselves to Israel as they wandered in the wilderness.

God had specially instructed Moses to make provisions for the strangers living among them to keep and partake the Passover.

Exodus 12:48
And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it.

Based on these findings, I believe that Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite was most likely a Gentile who took up his faith in God. He had married into the tribe of Judah during the time of slavery in Egypt and before God gave them the Torah at Mount Sinai.

He was truly a remarkable man of faith and courage. He had also inspired his younger brother and other family members to follow his footsteps in trusting and obeying God.

He is a wonderful and godly example for us to follow. We are also adopted into God's family. We have also become the sons of Abraham.

Galatians 3:7
Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.

Galatians 3:29
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

We too have a rich heritage and great inheritance in Christ! Let us serve God faithfully just like Caleb did!

Written on: 24 February 2016