Who Are The Kenites?

As we’ve seen several times, the order of the stories in the Torah are wisely set—but are not always in a chronological or historical order.  This can be a real strain to our non-native-to-Hebrew brains.  We are called to renew our minds to the Word rather than simply superimpose our western mindset upon the text.  It takes work, but if we truly desire to have the text transform us, we need to come to it with a tender and flexible heart, instead of a heart of stone.  Yesterday we looked at the arrival of Zipporah and how her re-introduction to the narrative was timed to hint at the creation of a “help meet” in the form of wise leaders and as as The Bride of Messiah (the ultimate help meet).  Today we’ll look at Jethro and his kin as a contrast to Amalek, and the related hope that projects to us even today. 

Let’s flash forward to Numbers 24:17-19, a highlight from the Balaam prophecy spoken over Israel while camped near the border with Midian.  This is the first outspoken prophecy of a strong king to lead Israel in battle and victory over her enemies. 

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!” Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first among the nations, but its end is utter destruction.” And he looked on the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, “Enduring is your dwelling place, and your nest is set in the rock. Nevertheless, Kain shall be burned when Asshur takes you away captive.” 

Boiled down: A Messiah will come someday, he will destroy the enemies of Israel, most especially Amalek, but the Kenites are promised safety and protection, despite Kain (their capital city and the root of the name ‘Kenite’) being destroyed by a common enemy. 

Why were are the Kenite’s given this special status?  There is a partial fulfillment of this prophecy in 1 Samuel 15:5-7“And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt.” 

So Saul separated out the Kenites from the Amalekites, like one might, for example, separate sheep from goats—he destroyed one, but spared the other—because they “showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came out of Egypt.” That 1 Samuel battle with Amalek happens pretty much right in the physical location where Israel is currently camped in Exodus 17 and 18–east of Egypt, just east of Shur (with another subtle dash of a hint of ‘Havilah’ thrown in). That event, that kindness, is happening right here before our eyes as Jethro blesses Moses with advice and as he personally recognizes the awesome power of Yah. 

It’s far from obvious, but Jethro is both the priest of Midian (Exodus 18:1) and a Kenite. It’s made plain in Judges 1:16, “And the descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near Arad, and they went and settled with the people.” Jethro’s name is mentioned exactly 7 times in Chapter 18, so just like Joshua and Amalek, we are seeing a long-reaching type being introduced here.  Jethro means “his abundance”, but he also goes by another name, “Reuel” (Exodus 2:18)—which means friend of God.  

So, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, “who are these people?” 

The Kenite city of Kain bears the same name as Cain, the firstborn to Adam and Eve—really the firstborn human ever.  Kenites, however, aren’t related by blood to Cain (only descendants of Seth survive the flood, in theory). But the name Cain means “I possess”, the same word is used in the title “YHWH, Possessor of Heaven and Earth”.  The first mention is “Now, Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten [I possess] a man with the help of YHWH.” Interesting word choices here, especially when we understand the Exodus 18 context of a “body” being given as a “helper” by Yah. 

A popular theory of historians is that “The Midianites” were actually an alliance of various individual tribes living south and east of The Land, in the same way that there was an alliance known as “Canaanites” who live within The Land itself.  If that’s the case, than Jethro could easily be both a Kenite and a priest of Midian at the same time. In the Book of Numbers, the Midianites really become highlighted as an enemy as they devise a scheme to corrupt Israel (though sexual immorality) to remove YHWH’s blessing and protection from them. This eventually leads to a war in Numbers 31 which kills every Midianite male. Just like the foretold separation of Amalek and the Kenites it seems as if the Kenites were spared in this righteous vengeance as well.  

Other famous Kenites in history include Jael—the wife of Heber the Kenite—who defeated Sisera with a tent peg while he slept (Judges 4). Despite the fact that Judges 4:17 mentions that her tent should have been a safe place due to a treaty Heber had with the enemy king, Jael chooses instead to bless Israel, and earns this line in The Song of Deborah, “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed.” 

The family of Rechab, also Kenites, gets an incredible blessing in Jeremiah 35. Rechab’s descendants are held up in verse 16 as being incredibly faithful to their own family’s creed—to abstain from wine, farming, and from building permanent houses—none of which are divine instructions, but don’t break any commands either. Nevertheless, their obedience to their human Father stands in contrast to Israel’s lack of obedience to their Holy Father. “The sons of Jonodab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people [Judah] has not obeyed me. Therefore, thus says YHWH, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that have pronounced against them because I have spoken to them and they have not listened. I have called to them and they have not answered! But to the house of the Rechabites Jeramiah said, “Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel: because you have obeyed the command of Jonadab your father and kept all his precepts and done all that he commanded you, therefore says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall never lack a man to stand before me.”” 

Unlike Edom, Moab, Midian, Philistia, and all of the Canaanites, the Kenites make faithful choices, even when surrounded by unrighteous circumstances and evil neighbors. They are the proof that the Abrahamic promise is not just meant for Abraham and his descendants of faith, but it is also very much meant for the nations who fulfill their side of the bargain. “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…” (Genesis 12:3)  A person, or even a nation, doesn’t need to be officially in covenant with Judah or with Israel to take part in YHWH’s blessing.  In Judaism the title “Righteous Gentiles” describes the spirit of the Kenites pretty well.  In the New Testament, the phrase for non-Jewish believers in Yah is simply, “God Fearer”.  

Yah, however, doesn’t just extend ‘blessings by association’ to the Nations—there remains an open invitation to JOIN Israel and leave our former nationalities behind.  Hobab, Jethro’s son, is given a personal invitation just before Israel packs up and leaves Sinai in Numbers 10:29-30, “And Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which YHWH has said “I will give it you”, come with us, and we will do good to you, for YHWH has promised good to Israel, but he said to him, “I will not go. I will depart to my own land and my kindred.”  The conversation continues, as Moses does his best to evangelize, but the text makes it intentionally unclear as to whether Hobab chooses to join, or remain as an outsider.  

That unanswered question should stand out to readers of every generation, ancient and modern, as a cliffhanger–but more importantly as a personal invitation to choose. 

It should be mentioned that the very last chapters of Revelation indicate that even the final days of eternity, in the new Heavens and the new Earth, there are STILL nations who bring offerings to YHWH in the New Jerusalem.   This is after the 1000 year reign of Messiah, after Satan and death itself are thrown into the lake of fire.  Our prime directive as Israel is to be a blessing to the nations–apparently that role lasts for eternity.   That also means that even after the White Throne Judgment, His grace remains sufficient to extend to nations that show kindness to Israel, even without a formal “conversion”.

Tomorrow we’ll look closer at three words, “Alien”, “Sojourner”, and “Israel”—to look at what membership options YHWH has made available to the Nations. 

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