Jephunneh, the Kenizzite: The First Grafted Gentile
There’s been a huge resurgence of interest in family history lately with millions of people ordering services from Ancestry.com, 23andMe, amongst dozens of others. People have been delighted and oftentimes astonished by what they find in their personalized reports. Whether it’s a cultural history they didn’t know about or discovering something new about a distant family member, these revelations can help people feel closer to their past and help them understand who they are today. In this article, we’ll be exploring Bazelel’s great great grandfather: Jephunneh, the Kenizzite.
Anyone who has read the books of Chronicles understands that some parts of the Bible are kind of like the family history websites previously mentioned, with hundreds of genealogical records going back, in the case of the Bible, thousands of years. Those who have been on said websites also know the frustration of coming across dead ends in a family history. There’s a name, but not much is known about the person except maybe birth, death, and maybe children if they had any. There’s no property listings, no occupation, no mentions in local papers, or any kind of distinguishing information about who they were or how they lived.
Jephunneh is kind of like that; a random branch that comes from out of nowhere.
It’s tempting to skip Jephunneh’s name entirely and move on to his more famous son Caleb, but we’d miss out on one of the most important and often overlooked characters in the Bible. Doing a little bit of modern genealogical exploration will help better understand more about him.
Many surnames hold key information about family histories. Smith, one of the most common American names, comes from the Old English word “smite”, as in to strike something, in reference to the metal work occupation the family may have been involved with. Some last names explain what country, province, or city families immigrated from. Alemán, which is the Spanish word for German, is also a surname and though it’s tempting to think it’s a description of what Spaniards thought of Germans (i.e. ale man: people who drank beer), it’s actually the name of the Germanic people, Alemanni, before Germany united as a country.
Jephunneh was called a Kenizzite, which were one of the tribes listed living in the Promised Land when God makes His Covenant with Abram (ref Genesis 15:19). Jephunneh was most likely not a recently freed slave, but a foreigner whose ancestors once lived in the lands that Israel would soon be conquering. The word kenaz, which is the likely root of Kenizzite, means hunter, so Jephunneh and his forefathers may have roamed the regions of the Promised Land, learning intimately the different regions’ terrains during their hunts.
It’s hard not to entertain the romantic notion that Jephunneh shared stories of his hunts with his son describing the beauty of the region and the fertile lands that the plentiful populations of wildlife thrived on, inspiring Caleb to excitedly volunteer as one of the first Israelites to explore the Promised Land as a scout. Perhaps Hebron, the region Caleb asked for as an inheritance for his part in the invasion of the Promised Land (ref Joshua 14:13-14), held distinctive significance to his father Jephunneh.
Hebron stood as one of the most indispensable sites for the Israelites, as the plain of Mamre, as Hebron had been previously called, was the first piece of land purchased by Abraham in the Promised Land. Abraham had also built an altar to God there and buried his wife Sarah in the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23). The Tomb of the Patriarchs, which still stands in Hebron today, is believed to be the burial place of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. Hebron remained the first foothold the Israelites had as a legitimate claim to the land and stood as the first root Abraham planted in the region.
Granting such a historically important location to the son of a foreigner would not have been done thoughtlessly.
At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Jephunneh, the Kenizzite, as just another name amongst hundreds. But his name’s meaning is significant. Translated as “nimble” or “beholder” by Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Jephunneh perfectly exemplifies someone who saw what God was doing and who quickly ran towards it. Smith’s Bible Dictionary translates his name as “for whom a way is prepared” which not only describes his pathway to joining the Israelite tribes, but also set the model for our joining God’s Family.
Jephunneh, the Kenizzite being accepted into the Israeli community, his son Caleb representing the royal tribe of Judah as a scout into the Promised Land, and Caleb receiving perhaps the most historically valuable piece of land all served as prophetic signs of Christ’s relationship with His future Church. Not only would Gentiles be accepted, but fully grafted onto the roots that God had already established with His People. Christ’s Followers would not be second rate citizens but totally integrated Sons and Daughters representing His Royal Lineage. And His Church would not be allocated table scraps, but first choice of the best aspects of His Inheritance.
It’s fun and exciting to look back at history and explore what happened in the past. It’s also extremely important to learn from, to be able to understand what is happening today. Jephunneh’s decision to follow God’s prompting was not only rewarded with his son Caleb claiming one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the Promised Land, but his great great grandson Bezalel would serve as the chief architect of the Sacred Tabernacle.
Jephunneh recognized that God was moving in a new direction and had the wisdom and courage to leave the life he knew and embrace the blessings God had for him and his family. His family’s constant support of God’s messenger from the beginning of their journey to the Promised Land granted them a far more exciting and prosperous life than they could have ever imagined and set the precedent for our future relationship with Christ. We pray there will be many others who follow Jephunneh’s example and recognize the way God is moving in this new era and head His Calling.
Prepared by, Kent Simpson, Apostolic Prophet & Eric Sepulveda, PMT Administrator
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