Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the children of Hobab the brother-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is by Kedesh. Bible see other translations

“the brother-in-law of Moses.” When Moses lived in Midian he married Zipporah, but there is some confusion in the text about who Moses’ relatives are. In many English versions, the names Reuel, Jethro, and Hobab are all used for Moses’ father-in-law. There are several scholarly ideas as to how to sort this out, but there is no need to delve into all the different opinions, instead, the Bible student simply needs to know the situation and the easy solution. As we will see, Reuel and Jethro are different names for the same man, while Hobab is Moses’ brother-in-law, not his father-in-law.

Moses’ father-in-law is called “Reuel” (Exod. 2:18; Num. 10:29), but he is also called “Jethro” (Exod. 3:1; 4:18; 18:1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12). We get some help as to why that is from Exodus 3:1 and 18:1, where the man is called, “Jethro, the priest of Midian.” The easy solution is that Reuel and Jethro are the same man, and “Jethro” is Reuel’s priestly name, because it is twice used with the description, “the priest of Midian.” Also, although “Jethro,” like most Hebrew words, can have more than one meaning, it is significant that it means “excellent, excellence,” and thus the name/designation “Jethro” (“Excellence”) fits with his position as the priest of Midian.

In most English versions, however, “Hobab” is also said to be the father-in-law of Moses (Judg. 4:11). However, we get help from Numbers 10:29 because it says that Hobab is the son of Reuel: “Hobab, the son of Moses’ father-in-law, Reuel the Midianite.” If Reuel and Jethro are the same person, and Hobab is the son of Reuel, then Hobab is Moses’ brother-in-law, not his father-in-law.

Obviously, Hobab cannot be both the father-in-law and brother-in-law of Moses, but there is an easy solution to this apparent contradiction. Hebrew is a consonantal language and originally it only had two vowels, aleph and ayin, both of which are pronounced as a variation of the letter “A.” The rest of the Hebrew alphabet is consonants. Many centuries later, after the time of Christ, “vowel points,” little markings, were added to the Hebrew text to help people pronounce and understand the text, which was very important since fewer and fewer people spoke Hebrew regularly. In Hebrew, the words for “father-in-law” and “brother-in-law” are based on the same consonants, and the vowel points that distinguish the two words in the current Masoretic text were added by interpreters. So the Hebrew root words are the same and the distinction between “brother-in-law” and “father-in-law” has to be concluded from the context. Since the Bible tells us that Hobab is the son of Reuel, we know that Hobab and Reuel are not the same person and Hobab is Moses’ brother-in-law.a

A number of English translations have corrected Judges 4:11 to read that Hobab is the “brother-in-law” of Moses rather than his “father-in-law” (cp. ASV; BBE; ERV; NIV; NLT).

“as far away as the oak.” Because of bandits and raiders, it was not generally considered safe for someone to pitch their tent away from the main encampment of their tribe. We do not know how far the oak of Zaanannim by Kadesh was from the main Kenite camp, but it was far enough away that it was specifically mentioned, and Sisera was able to approach Jael’s tent without being intercepted by any other men of the Kenite tribe, which would never have happened had Heber’s tent been in or close to the outskirts of the Kenite camp.

“Kadesh.” The word “kadesh” means separated, and is from the same root as kodesh (or qodesh), meaning “holy.” There were a number of cities named Kadesh in the Bible; at least 3. For Heber to be as far north as Kadesh (the one near the Sea of Galilee, south of what would be Tiberias; not the Kadesh adjacent to the Hulah Valley north and west of Lake Hulah) is very unusual, because the majority was in the area of Judah (Judg. 1:16).

Cp. Gaebelein, Expositor’s Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 3:405.

Commentary for: Judges 4:11