Caleb’s dad wasn’t an Israelite

I used to wonder why Caleb, though belonging to  the tribe of Judah, didn’t feature in Christ’s lineage. But first, some background (if you watched the James Hoffmeier lecture, you can skip the next paragraph):

Exodus 12:38 offers the brief and tantalising statement that a mixed multitude of people left Egypt together with the children of Israel. From archaeological discoveries, it is known that non-Egyptians were present in the land at around the same time as the descendants of Jacob, i.e. during what historians call the New Kingdom (watch a mostly accurate history lesson on ancient Egypt).

The presence of non-native Israelites among those who came out of Egypt gives more sense to the commands in which God states that the same rules apply to the native-born as well as to the sojourner (e.g. Exodus 12:49, Leviticus 24:22, Numbers 15:16). These weren’t  just referring to some hypothetical situation, but to a reality they were already living with.

Now back to Caleb. He is described as “Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite” (Numbers 32:12; Joshua 14:6, 14). The only other mention of Kenizzites in the Old Testament is in Genesis 15:19, where they are listed among the inhabitants of Canaan that Abraham’s descendants would displace. When and why Caleb or his ancestors went to Egypt, and how he became part of the tribe of Judah are matters of conjecture. We can be certain of these two facts, however:

  • Though  he was the son of an outsider, he was an exemplary and integrated member of Israelite society so as to have been chosen as a scout a year after the events of the exodus.
  • Because of his faithfulness (Numbers 14:24, 32.12), he was one of two people spared death in the wilderness.

So what?

The apostle Paul states that God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations through him was an announcement of the gospel in advance (Galatians 3:8). God’s plan from the beginning was to include all peoples among His covenant community, and in fact the Old Testament speaks in superlative terms of the expansion of Israel:

  • Non-Israelite nations are registered in God’s city (Psalm 87)
  • They are blessed with God’s salvation (Isaiah 19:16-25)
  • They are accepted in God’s house (Isaiah 56:3-8)
  • They will be joined with God’s people (Zechariah 2:10-11)

Caleb had an unwavering faith in Yahweh and wholeheartedly followed Him, and was counted among God’s people even though he wasn’t a physical descendant of Abraham. Perhaps Paul had people like him in mind when he wrote, “So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:9, NIV84)

I may have to start paying Christopher Wright royalties. From him I learned to see the N.T. church as O.T Israel’s expansion and not its replacement.

P.S. What is it with all these Gentiles joining the tribe of Judah? Caleb, Rahab, Ruth… Moses invites his in-law to join Israel (Numbers 10:29-32), and his descendants end up settling with the Judahites (Judges 1:16). Did they know of the future and coming king from the tribe of Judah?

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