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Numbers 10:

29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the LORD said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has promised good things to Israel.”

But then in Judges 1:

16 The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.

3 Answers 3

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This is simpler that it appears. See the appendix for a few remarks about Jethro/Reuel.

Now, while Jethro was the priest of Midian (Ex 2:16, 3:1, Num 10:29), the reference in Judges 1:16 is easily misunderstood. It is highly probably that the text is slightly garbled. Note the two solutions to this problem.

Solution #1

Probably the simplest is to make "Hobab" the "brother-in-law" of Moses. Note the comments of Ellicott:

(16) The children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law.—It is difficult to disentangle the names Jethro, Reuel, or Raguel, and Hobab (Judges 4:11); but in my article on Jethro in Kitto’s Bible Cyclopœdia I have shown that Jethro and Reuel are identical, the latter name (“friend of God”) being his local title as a priest of Midian; and that he was the father of Zipporah and Hobab. When Jethro refused to stay with the Israelites (Exodus 18:27), Hobab consented to accompany them as their hybeer or caravan-guide. He is well known in the Mohammedan legends as Schocib, but is confounded with Jethro.

The Kenites were the elder branch of the tribe of Midianites. They lived in the rocky district on the shores of the gulf of Akabah (Numbers 21:1; Numbers 24:21; 1Samuel 15:6). They seem to have been named from a chieftain Kain (Genesis 15:19; Numbers 24:22; Heb., where there is a play on Kenite and Kinneka, “thy rest”). They were originally a race of troglodytes or cave-dwellers. The Targum constantly reads Salmaa for Kenite, because the Kenites were identified with the Kinim of 1Chronicles 2:55. Jethro, they say. was a Kenite, who gave to Moses a house (Beth) and bread (lehem) (Exodus 2:20-21). They identify Jethro with Salmaa, because in 1Chronicles 2:5 Salma is the father of Bethlehem. They also identify Rechab, the ancestor of the Rechabites—who were a branch of the Kenites—with Rechabiah, the son of Moses.

The Cambridge commentary is similar:

  1. The text of this verse has been badly preserved, and some details of the restoration must remain doubtful.

the children of the Kenite, Moses’ brother in law] Marg. father in law, as O.T. usage requires. A proper name and the article (inserted by RV.) have fallen out before Kenite; LXX. cod. B restores Jethro, cod. A Hobab. The traditions differ as to the name of Moses’ father in law; in J it is Hobab, Numbers 10:29, cf. ch. Jdg 4:11; in E it is Jethro, Exodus 3:1; Exodus 4:18; Exodus 18:1. As this chapter is related to J, the former is preferable: the children of Hobab the Kenite. The traditions differ again as to the tribe to which Moses’ father in law belonged; here and in Jdg 4:11 he is called a Kenite (see the note below), but in Exodus 2:15 ff; Exodus 3:1; Exodus 18:1, Numbers 10:29 he is a Midianite. Common to both traditions is Moses’ connexion by marriage with an Arab tribe. The verb went up in clause a is plur.; in clause b went and dwelt are sing., and may be corrected to the plur. (with RV., LXX. B they dwelt). But the sing, verbs in clause b perhaps imply that the text originally ran And Hobab the Kenite … went up (sing.) … and went and dwelt, omitting the children of.

The Pulpit Commentary appears to agree

Verse 16. - The children of the Kenite, etc. It appears from this verse that the invitation given by Moses to his "father-in-law," or rather "brother-in-law," Hobab, to accompany him and the Israelites to the land of promise, though at first rejected (Numbers 10:29, 30), was eventually accepted. Hobab and his tribe, a branch of the Midianites, called Kenites, from an unknown ancestor, Kain, at first settled in the city of palm trees, i.e. Jericho (Deuteronomy 34:3); but it seems that when Judah started on his expedition with Simeon to conquer the south laud, the Kenites went with him. A subsequent migration of a portion of this nomadic tribe is mentioned (Judges 4:11). Dwelt among the people, i.e. the people of Judah. For Arad see Numbers 21:1. Judges 1:16

Solution #2

This idea is provided by Benson:

Jdg 1:16. The children of the Kenite — Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, seems to have been called a Kenite from the people from whom he was descended, Numbers 24:21-22. His posterity, it appears, came into Canaan with the Israelites, and were settled there with them. Went up from the city of palm-trees — That is, from Jericho, so called, Deuteronomy 34:3; not indeed the city, which had been destroyed; but the territory belonging to it, where, it seems, they were seated in a most pleasant, fruitful, and safe place, according to the promise made by Moses to their father, Numbers 10:31-32; and whence they might remove either to avoid the neighbouring Canaanites, or out of love to the children of Judah. In the south of Arad — The southern part of the land of Canaan, where Arad was, Numbers 21:1. And dwelt among the people — Hebrew, that people; namely, those children of Judah that lived there.

Matthew Poole is similar:

Children of the Kenite, i.e. of Jethro, so called from the people from whom he descended, Numbers 24:21,22. And whatsoever he did, it is evident that his posterity came into Canaan with the Israelites, and were there seated with them. See Judges 4:11,17 5:24 1 Samuel 15:6 1 Chronicles 2:55.

APPENDIX - Jethro/Reuel

Moses' father-in-law was known by two names:

  • Reuel; This was probably his birth names and means "friend of God". It is used in several places, Ex 2:18, 21, Num 10:29
  • Jethro; This was probably a title as it means "excellency". It is used in Ex 3:1, 4:18, 18:1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12.

In the case of Judges 4:11 which calls "Hobab the father in law of Moses" is an obvious mistranslation. It should be "brother-in-law" as Ellicott observes:

(Judges 4:11) The father in law of Moses.—Rather, the brother-in-law. The names for these relationships are closely allied. (See Note on Judges 1:16.)

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  • +1 Ellicott: 'Jethro and Reuel are identical, the latter name (“friend of God”) being his local title as a priest of Midian' but you think Jethro is a title as it means "excellency"?
    – user35953
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 22:25
  • "the priest of Midian" is probably misleading. There were many priests in the area. Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 1:48
  • @DanFefferman - I am sure that many priests existed, but the comment, "priest of Midian" was presumably the priest of the true God of heaven, as distinct from the false gods.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 2:11
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Jethro seems to have been both a Midianite and a Kenite. We may understand Midianites to have been the larger grouping and Kenites to be the smaller. In Jethro's case we may also consider him a Midianite in terms of geography and a Kenite by ethnicity.

Midian was a large, ethically diverse area comprised mostly of nomadic peoples. The biblical narrative identifies five Midianite tribes, and does not mention the Kenites as one of these. While the Midianites were Israel's enemy, the Kenites:

...were a nomadic tribe of the ancient Levant, many of whom became affiliated with the Israelites. The Kenites are described as showing kindness to the Israelites during the Exodus and later settling among them in the tribal areas of Judah and Naphtali after the conquest of Canaan. They intermarried with the Israelites and are depicted in the biblical narratives as supporting Israel in its fight against the Canaanites and Amalekites.

Thus, Jethro was a "priest of Midian" in the sense that he lived and ministered in the land of Midian. His identification as a Kenite probably derives from his ethnic origins among the Kenites of Canaan, a nomadic tribe which eventually come to dwell, either as settlers or herders, in the territory of Midian. The Kenites are first mentioned in Gen. 15:18-20:

To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphra′tes, the land of the Ken′ites, the Ken′izzites, the Kad′monites, the Hittites, the Per′izzites, the Reph′aim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Gir′gashites and the Jeb′usites.”

Conclusion: Jethro was an ethnic Kenite who lived in Midian and ministered there as a priest, as well as raising flocks.

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  • +1 Wouldn't it be unusual for a foreign Kenite to minister as a priest in the land of Midian?
    – user35953
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 13:03
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Midian was one of Abraham's six sons born after Sarah's death via his concubine/wife Katurah. Jethro or Reuel was (high) priest of Midian. According to the language of the Scripture, I think it was a heritage connection to the lineage of Midian and hence, coincidentally, a geographical connection one as well. This being the case, "The Friend of God" would have had a connection to the "Presence on the Mountain Top" being the priest of such. I believe he was also a distant cousin of Moses through their common ancestor Abraham, father of both the Midians and Hebrews/Israelites. Being the father-in-law of Moses and the priest in the land where Moses sought refuge and was trained both as a shepherd and religiously in monotheism, it would be appropriate for Jethro to advise Moses to set up the Children of Israel into units and companies and appoint others to lead smaller groups and make decisions, and bring the big matters forward up the chain of command to Moses the Lawgiver--a court and multi-level appellate system after which ours is modeled today. That in itself is a prophetic contribution to the establishment of the House of Israel (in its broadest definition) and should be held in high regard.

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    Commented Mar 28 at 19:21
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