Hobab, the Kenite
“And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father in law, We are journeying unto the place of which the LORD said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the LORD hath spoken good concerning Israel. And he said unto him, I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred. And he said, Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes. And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the LORD shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee.”—Num. 10:29-32
Crossing the Sinai wilderness is a formidable challenge in the best of times. When Moses led forth some two million Israelities in 1615 B.C., it was not the best of times. In addition to the natural hazards of scorching heat, stinging scorpions, dead-end valleys and razor-sharp rocks underfoot, bands of marauding Amalekites inhabiting the desert oases made the terrain even more formidable.
Directed to avoid the only well-worn trail through this wasteland, the Via del Maris, it is little wonder that Moses turned to his father-in-law for guidance along the way. As a nomadic Midianite, Hobab [or Jethro] was familiar with the stark wilderness.
As a member of the sub-division of Midianites known as the Kenites, or metal-workers, he knew where the desert hid its resources, including the most important one of water. Furthermore, though he lived in the Western Sinai near the Suez, his kinfolk were mostly encamped near the copper mines near Timnath on the northern tip of the Red Sea. Thus he was familiar with the best routes across the central Sinai.
While the Numbers account seems to indicate that Hobab turned down the offer, we find that at least some of his descendants accepted it, for we read in Jud. 1:16—
“And the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.”
A Simple Lesson
The immediate lesson from this brief story seems obvious, that those who help the Lord’s people will receive a reward for their efforts. It is a lesson summarized well by Jesus himself in Matt. 10:40-42
“He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”
Not That Simple
The lesson, however, is not that simple. There are at least three complicating factors.
FIRST, did they really need a guide? No one knew the dangers of the Sinai crossing more than did the God of Israel. After all, he created the Sinai. From his lofty vantage point, he could foresee hidden hazards better than anyone else. He had made provision for their need for a guide. Immediately after the account of Hobab we read these words:
“And they departed from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey: and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them in the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the LORD was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp. And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, LORD, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee. And when it rested, he said, Return, O LORD, unto the many thousands of Israel.”—Num. 10:33-36
The pillar of smoke by day and fire by night was God’s provision for their need for a guide. How miraculous it must have been to see a stationary cloud hovering over the tabernacle, even when the wind was blowing! How remarkable to see it move forward, pointing out the path, even if the winds were still or blowing in the opposite direction!
SECOND, Hobab was a Kenite. (Jud. 1:16) The Kenites were a branch of the Midianites. They were one of the ten tribes which God had told Abraham would have to be evicted from the promised land. “In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”—Gen. 15:18-21
This did not mean that there could be no Kenites in the land. It was certainly true that a Kenite who proselytized to the Jewish faith could be a co-inheritor. There is some indication that Hobab’s family may have been such. It wsas Jethro [Hobab] who advised Moses to appoint seventy judges—the origin of the Sanhedrin—to assist in the judging of the people.
It was Zipporah, Hobab’s daughter and Moses’ wife, who circumcised their sons, and not Moses himself.
Yet the account indicates that Hobab preferred to remain with the Midianites, rather than accompany Moses’ people to their “promised land.”
An example of a Kenite who was more faithful was Heber, whose wife, Jael, slew Sisera in the days of Deborah.
“Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.”—Jud. 4:11
It is important to notice, however, that Heber “severed himself from the Kenites” implying that the Kenites were less than faithful.
Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines the word Kenites as meaning metal-workers. The same source suggests that it is this skill which they may have passed on to Aaron in the making of the golden calf. (Ex. 32)
Israel certainly had need for metal-working skills in such projects as the tabernacle and the casting of the brazen serpent (Num. 21:8, 9). But here again God was abundantly able to provide such skills from their own midst, raising up one Bezaleel for that work, along with his assistant Aholiab.
“See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass.”—Ex. 31:2-4
THIRD, the evidence of Arad. The ancient city of Arad, meaning fugitive, was named for a fugitive Canaanite king, Arad. This king was one of the staunch foes of Israel in the battle of conquest of the promised land.
“And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners. And Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.”—Num. 21:1, 2
However, when Arad was conquered it was not destroyed according to the vow which Israel had made, but was given to the Kenites.
“And the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.”—Jud. 1:16
The Temple at Arad
The tell of Arad has been reconstructed in modern times under the leadership of Jack Campbell. During the dig, a large temple was uncovered. It bore remarkable similarity to the great temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Such a building does indeed show a sense of worship, and a respect for the God of Israel, but it was in direct violation to the laws of God.
“Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty.”—Deut. 16:16
Within some six hundred years, the small band of Kenites at Arad were instituting a parallel religion in opposition to God’s rule to worship at Jerusalem.
A good example of the reason for this rule of God’s is found in a ploy used by the rebellious King Jeroboam when he divided the country into the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, separating from the two-tribe kingdom of Judah.
“And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.”—1 Kings 12:26-30
Worshipping God in Jerusalem united the nation while having multiple places of worship polarized them. This may be well illustrated in the Psalms of Degrees (Psa. 120-134) which many scholars suppose to have been composed for singing on these thrice-annual treks to Jerusalem. As they would top the last range of mountains and see other pilgrims streaming in from all sides, they would sing the penultimate Psalm in their hymns of praise:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”—Psa. 133:1-3
These three factors, then—their lack of a need of a guide, the bringing of the Kenite into the land rather than driving them out, and the parallel worship which was set up as a result—suggest that Moses’ decision to invite his father-in-law along for the trip may have been ill-advised.
A Contrasting Lesson
In marked contrast, consider the actions of Zerubbabel and Jeshua some years later when rebuilding the city of Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. They also faced a formidable task, rebuilding a ruined city in a dry and thirsty land when confronted by numerous foes. At one point some of those who became foes offered to help in the reconstruction. How they could have used assistance! But notice their reaction.
“Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building.”—Ezra 4:1-4
These “people of the land,” like the Kenites before them, were a mixed group of people whose religion paralleled that of Israel.
“And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them. Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land. Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land. Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD. Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt.”—2Kings 17:24-29
Just a few verses later we read of the results in a terse, yet accurate description of the phrase “parallel religion.”
“They feared the LORD, AND served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence.”—2 Kings 17:33
The Samaritans were as close to Judaism as were the Kenites, yet their help was refused. Throughout the stormy history of Old Testament Israel they were repetitively tempted to make alliances with the countries around them, and these always led to difficulties. The prophet Isaiah summarizes the lesson well: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!”—Isa. 31:1
The Lesson for Today
The Christian, too, has embarked on a journey along “a narrow way” fraught with difficulties and hardships. Often times he feels the need of guidance and he finds an ample supply of these guiding aids from sources that are not antagonistic, but parallel to his beliefs. Like Moses of old, he is tempted to invite them along to assist in the journey, scarcely realizing the long-term problems of mixing a parallel Christian thought with the true.
One cannot help but appreciate the helps outstanding Christian men have given to the study of the word of God—Professors Strong and Young with their Concordances, Lange and Matthew Henry for their commentaries, and many others so dedicated. But contemporary Christianity, while containing many sincere and knowledgeable men with good communication skills, offer at best a “parallel” religion and, at worst, an antagonistic one.
Yet this seems so exclusive. On the other hand God is a “jealous God,” and as such is often exclusive.
“Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.”—Isa. 52:11
“Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.”—Ezra 10:11
God’s strict laws barring intermarriage, both of the Jew and of the Christian, also bear this ring of exclusivity.
“And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing.”—Ezra 10:2
“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”—1 Cor. 7:39
This principle is broadened by the same Apostle Paul beyond the marriage relationship in 2 Cor. 6:14-18—
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
Knowing the Mind of God
All true guidance is in finding the mind of God on a subject. It is the Apostle Paul, once again, who tells us where to find such guidance:
“For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. “—1 Cor 2:11
But, is it not bigoted to say that all God’s people are with us? It certainly would be.
As Hobab preferred to remain with the Midinites, so many of the Lord’s people who remain there prefer to stay behind rather than obey the divine injunction: “come out of her my people.” (Rev. 18:4)
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”—Rev. 3:16
These people of the Lord tend not to be the one who speak forth within the systems, but quietly accept current conditions of low spirituality as being a punishment of the Lord. It is of these that the prophet Jeremiah foretold:
“Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and be silent there, for the LORD our God hath put us to silence, and given us the water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD.”—Jer. 8:14
Yes, there may be many of the Lord’s people still in Christendom, but that is not the point. Even if there are thousands of the Lord’s people in Babylon, it is a system from which he has called his people out. Individual Christians, even those in leadership positions, may well be consecrated to God, but they are not his spokesman while working through that system.
As Hobab did not want to leave the Midianites, so the guides which many seek today do not desire to leave Christendom. And as the Kenites of old may have known well the topography of the desert, they did not know the “promised land.” So today there are those who know well the psychology of sin, but know little of the true “promised land,” the kingdom for which we so intensely pray.
The lesson of Hobab the Kenite then appears to boil down to one simple point: take not the Kenite along on your journey to the promised land, but follow the pillar of cloud and of fire.