“Now to Caleb the son of Jephunneh he gave a share among the children of Judah, according to the commandment of the LORD to Joshua, namely, Kirjath Arba, which is Hebron.” (Joshua 15:13 NKJV)
The meaning of his name –The word translated as “Caleb” means “dog.” (Kaleb OT:3612 Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon) It may seem inappropriate to give this name to a Jew, for the Jews later referred to Gentiles as “dogs”:
Fausset's Bible Dictionary states, “The Jews regarded the Gentiles as ‘dogs,’ but by unbelief they ceased to be the true Israel and themselves became dogs.” (“DOG” - Fausset's Bible Dictionary)
The McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia states, “Throughout the whole East ‘dog’ is a term of reproach for impure and profane persons, and in this sense is used by the Jews respecting the Gentiles.” (DOG - McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia)
It is not unusual for a Jew to be named Caleb, for another Israelite from the tribe of Reuben was named Caleb: “The sons of Reuben were Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.” (Genesis 46:9 NKJV) “Caleb the son of Hezron had children by Azubah, his wife, and by Jerioth.” (1 Chronicles 2:18 NKJV)
However, some have thought that Caleb was actually not an Israelite, but was possibly a descendant of Esau:
The “Kenizzite” - “Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite” (Numbers 32:12 NKJV) The Fausset's Bible Dictionary indicated that the term Kenizzite” may indicate that he was a descendant of Esau: “If the similarity of some names among Israel and Edom be not due to their being kindred peoples, it shows that Caleb's family was an Edomite one incorporated into Judah.” (“JEPHUNNEH” Fausset's Bible Dictionary) “These are the names of Esau's sons: Eliphaz, the son of Esau's wife Adah, and Reuel, the son of Esau's wife Basemath. The sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam and Kenaz.” (Genesis 36:10-11 NIV)
Jephunneh – Some have thought that Caleb’s father Jephunneh may be a descendant of Esau. Fausset's Bible Dictionary states that the name Jephunneh is a variation of the name “Pinon”: Jephunneh is probably the same as Pinon.” (“Jephunneh” Fausset's Bible Dictionary) Pinon is listed as one of the leaders of the territory inhabited by Esau, who was also known as Edom: “The chiefs of Edom were Chief Timnah, Chief Aliah, Chief Jetheth, Chief Aholibamah, Chief Elah, Chief Pinon.” (1 Chronicles 1:51-52 NKJV) “And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.’ Therefore his name was called Edom.” (Genesis 25:30 NKJV)
Yet the plain sense is that Caleb was a direct descendant of Judah.
Representative of Judah –Caleb was chosen to represent Judah in spying out the Land of Canaan: “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them’, [the one chosen] from the tribe of Judah [was] Caleb the son of Jephunneh.” (Numbers 13:1 NKJV) This would appear to require that Caleb was a direct descendant of Judah.
Descendant of Perez, the son of Judah. The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary states, “Qanaz [Kenaz] is a descendant of Hezron the son of Pharez, as may be inferred from the fact that Caleb the son of Jephunneh, a descendant of Hezron's son Caleb, is called in Numbers 32:12 and Joshua 14:6 qaniziy, and consequently was also a descendant of Kenaz … Kenaz, therefore, can neither have been the father of Othniel nor father of Caleb (in the proper sense of the word), but must at least have been the grandfather or great-grandfather of both.” (1 Chronicles 4:13-14 Keil & Delitzsch Commentary)
Territory in Judah - The territory of Caleb is linked with the territory of Judah: “Then David said to him, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you from?’ And he said, ‘I am a young man from Egypt, servant of an Amalekite; and my master left me behind, because three days ago I fell sick. We made an invasion of the southern area of the Cherethites, in the territory which belongs to Judah, and of the southern area of Caleb.’” (1 Samuel 30:13-14 NKJV) The area surrounding Hebron in the territory of Judah belonged to Caleb: “They gave them Hebron in the land of Judah, with its surrounding common-lands. But the fields of the city and its villages they gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh.” (1 Chronicles 6:55-56 NKJV) It is difficult to imagine a person not from Judah being given land within the boundaries of the tribe of Judah.
Caleb is honored in Scripture as a faithful man who gave a good report:
“Then they told him [Moses], and said: ‘We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.’ … Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, ‘Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.’” (Numbers 13:27 NKJV)
“But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.’ And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel.” (Numbers 14:6-10 NKJV) “Then the Lord said: ‘I have pardoned, according to your word … My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it’” (Numbers 14:20-24 NKJV)
Only Caleb and Joshua were spared the judgment of God: “The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in’ … Those very men who brought the evil report about the land, died by the plague before the Lord. But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive, of the men who went to spy out the land.” (Numbers 14:29-39 NKJV) “But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest when they numbered the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, ‘They shall surely die in the wilderness.’ So there was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” (Numbers 26:64-65 NKJV) “Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed Me, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’” (Numbers 32:11-12 NKJV)