Caleb

CALEB (kā'lĕb, dog)

The son of Jephunneh, the Kenezite; the prince of Judah whom Moses sent with eleven others to spy out the Promised Land (Num.13.6). Most of the spies brought back a pessimistic report. Their names are almost forgotten; but two heroes of faith, Caleb and Joshua, who encouraged the people to go up and take the land, are still remembered. Because Israel in cowardice adopted the majority report, God imposed on them forty years of “wandering” in the wilderness until that generation died out. Caleb was forty years old when the spies were sent (Josh.14.7). At the age of eighty-five, when the land of Canaan was being distributed, he asked for, and received, Hebron and the hill country. There lived the fearful Anakim who had terrorized ten of the spies. Later he became father-in-law of Othniel, the first of the “judges,” by giving him Acsah his daughter (Judg.1.12-Judg.1.15, Judg.1.20).A son of Hezron, son of Judah (1Chr.2.18-1Chr.2.19, 1Chr.2.42), probably the same as the Caleb of 1Chr.2.9 (kjv, Chelubai).


CALEB kā ləb (כָּלֵ֖ב, dog, i.e., slave), son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, one of the spies sent to survey the land of Canaan (Num 13; 14). The name is thought by some to go back to totemistic origins. It may rather speak of a man with canine qualities: the rabid one, biting, snarling. In cuneiform lit. the term “dog” is used of abject servitude. A Canaanite king may call himself the “dog” of the Egyp. Pharaoh.

Caleb the son of Jephunneh was one of the two spies (the other was Joshua) who were willing to trust the Lord and enter the land of Canaan. The others agreed that the land was good. They brought back specimens of the fruit of Canaan, but they felt that the inhabitants of the land were so much larger and stronger than the Israelites that there was no hope for Israel.

Caleb was later appointed to the commission created by Moses to assign allotments in the Promised Land to the respective tribes. Caleb represented Judah on the commission (Num 34:19). At the time of the conquest, Caleb was eighty-five years old (Josh 14:7, 10). The town of Hebron was assigned to Caleb, and he occupied it after expelling the Anakim who had previously dwelt there (Josh 14:13, 14). Caleb offered his younger daughter in marriage to the man who would attack and take the nearby town of Kiriath-sepher, or Debir (Josh 15:15-19). The town was taken and Achsah, Caleb’s daughter, was married to Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz.

Caleb’s relationship with the Kenizzites indicates the presence of non-Israelites who became identified with the people and faith of Israel. Caleb and his descendants are part of the tribe of Judah, but they appear to have come from a mixed background.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


In 1Sa 30:14 Caleb is undoubtedly the name of a clan which is, moreover, differentiated from Judah. Modern scholars therefore assume that Caleb was originally an independent clan which in historical times merged with Judah. As Caleb is called the son f Kenaz (Jud 1:13) or the Kenizzite (Nu 32:12), it is further believed that the Calebites were originally associated with an Edomite clan named Kenaz (Ge 36:11), and that they entered their future homes in the southern part of Palestine from the south. Their migration up north would then be reflected in the story of the spies.

In the genealogical tables (1Ch 2), Caleb is made a descendant of Judah through his father Hezron. He is the brother of Jerahmeel, and the "father" of Hebron and of other towns in Judah. (Chelubai, 1Ch 9:9, is apparently identical with Caleb.)

Nabal, with whom David had an encounter, is called a Calebite, i.e. one belonging to the house of Caleb (1Sa 25:3).

Max. L. Margolis