A member of a people residing in Canaan or its vicinity in the days of Abram (Abraham). The Scriptures, however, provide no definite genealogical link for determining their origin.—Gen. 15:18-21.
While some scholars, on the basis of a similar Aramaic word, consider “Kenite” to mean “smith,” this is uncertain. The Bible itself does not speak of the Kenites as smiths, but does appear to indicate that at least some of them were shepherds. (Compare Exodus 2:15, 16; 3:1; Judges 1:16.) Another suggestion links the term “Kenite” with a Hebrew word meaning “nest,” and this would fit the description of the Kenites’ dwelling place or ‘nest’ as being “set on the crag.”—Num. 24:21.
At the time Moses fled from Egypt to the land of Midian he married into a Kenite family living there. When the setting of an account involves their residence in Midian, members of this family are called Midianites; in other cases they are referred to as Kenites. This suggests that Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, “the priest of Midian,” and his brother-in-law Hobab may have been Midianites from a geographical standpoint. (Ex. 2:15, 16; 3:1; 18:1: Num. 10:29, 30; Judg. 1:16) On the other hand, if Moses’ relatives were racial descendants of Midian, then they may have been called Kenites because of belonging to a Kenite branch or family of the Midianites, thus making them racially distinct from the Kenites existing in Abraham’s time before the birth of Midian.
When the Israelites were about to leave the region of Mount Sinai, Moses requested that Hobab accompany them to serve as “eyes” or as a scout for the nation because of his knowledge of the area. Although declining at first, Hobab apparently did go along, for the Kenites are later mentioned as taking up residence in the wilderness of Judah to the S of Arad.—Num. 10:29-32; Judg. 1:16.
At a later period Heber the Kenite separated himself from the other Kenites and pitched his tent at Kedesh in the territory of Naphtali. (Judg. 4:11) When the Canaanite forces were overthrown, Sisera “fled on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the household of Heber the Kenite.”—However, there Sisera’s life ended at Jael’s hand.—Judg. 4:17-21; 5:24-27.
In the days of King Saul some Kenites were residing among the Amalekites. Therefore Saul, when about to make war against the Amalekites, urged the Kenites to separate themselves to escape calamity. This kindness was extended because the Kenites had themselves “exercised loving-kindness with all the sons of Israel at the time of their coming up out of Egypt.” (1 Sam. 15:5, 6; compare Exodus 18:8, 9; Numbers 10:29-33.) Later, David told Achish that he made a raid “upon the south of the Kenites.” (1 Sam. 27:10) But this was part of a subterfuge. Actually, the Kenites were on friendly terms with the Israelites. Thus, when David plundered Ziklag he sent some of the spoil “to those in the cities of the Kenites,” probably in the mountainous region of southern Judah.—1 Sam. 30:29.
Families of scribes residing at Jabez were Kenites “that came from Hammath the father of the house of Rechab.” (1 Chron. 2:55) They are mentioned in connection with descendants of Judah.—1 Chron. 2:3.
The fact that the Kenites lived in association with different peoples at various times and places may imply that this nomadic or seminomadic people was not entirely absorbed by any other tribe or people.
The Bible does not specifically report what happened to the Kenites, also called Kain. Balaam’s proverbial utterance concerning them posed the question: “How long will it be till Assyria will carry you away captive?” (Num. 24:21, 22) So it may be that some Kenites lived in the northern kingdom of Israel and surrounding areas and were taken captive along with them by the Assyrians.—2 Ki. 15:29; 17:6.