Who Were the Jebusites in the Bible?

The Jebusites aren't the best-known people group in the Old Testament, but their story leads into one of the most important events in King David's reign. Here's what you should know about them.

Contributing Writer
Published May 17, 2022
Who Were the Jebusites in the Bible?

The four-minute mile. The sports world thought no one could break that barrier. No human could run a mile in under four minutes. Or so they thought. Roger Bannister was a 25-year-old medical student in Oxford, England. He wasn’t a professional or Olympic athlete. But he thought maybe breaking the four-minute mile wasn’t impossible. So he trained and broke the barrier in 1954. Now runners and athletes routinely cover a mile in under four minutes. 

The Jebusites were a people group mentioned several times in the Old Testament. For centuries, they held an impregnable fortress city in the hill country surrounded by the Israelite tribe of Judah. The Jebusites were a remnant of the Canaanite tribes God commanded Joshua to remove when the Israelites invaded and inhabited the Promised Land. Yet those Jebusites held on through wars and conflicts, declaring that their city was impossible to conquer. 

With God, however, nothing is impossible. 

Where Does the Bible Mention the Jebusites?

The first time we read about the Jebusites, they are mentioned among the different tribes in the land of Canaan (Genesis 10) as a hint before Abraham is called from the city of Ur to begin the story of redemption. The Jebusites are associated with the city, Jebus, which many believe to be Salem, mentioned in the historic meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20). Melchizedek is identified as both a king and a priest of Salem (or “peace”). Abraham tithed from his plunder and victory to Melchizedek. We have no evidence that Melchizedek was a Jebusite, but there was some association with Abraham, the city of Jebus, and the region. 

A chapter later, in Genesis 15, God promises to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants. That land included the Jebusite tribe and the city of Jebus. God partly gave that land because of the locals’ deplorable religious practices, including idolatry and child sacrifice (Deuteronomy 20:18). Jebus is listed as one of the cities, sometimes called by its future name, Jerusalem (Numbers 13:29, Judges 19:10-11).

However, when Joshua finally led the nation of Israel through the Jordan and into the land of Canaan, the Jebusites were one group of people he couldn’t remove. Joshua defeated Adonizedek, the king of the Jebusites (Joshua 10:5). When Adonizedek gathered a confederacy of other kings (leaders of Canaanite tribes and city-states) to attack Joshua, the Israelites won that battle, too (Joshua 11:3). Ultimately, though, the Jebusites did hold on to their fortress city since it was in a hill country and had the high ground (Joshua 15:63). 

David defeats the city of Jebus and the Jebusites in 1003 BC (2 Samuel 5:6-10, 1 Chronicles 11:4), and makes Jerusalem the capital of Israel, now unified again. Araunah, a Jebusite, sold his threshing floor to David after the end of the plague sent to punish David’s pride. David saw an angel on Araunah’s property and bought the threshing floor. David then designated that site as the future place for Solomon’s Temple (2 Samuel 24:18-25). 

Finally, as documented in the Old Testament book of Ezra, the Israelite exiles returned to Jerusalem. They began to intermarry with the other Gentile tribes, and the Jebusites were still living in the area. Ezra made the Israelites repent of the intermarriage with the Gentiles (Ezra 9:1). 

What Ancestors Did the Jebusites Come From? 

After the Great Flood, Noah and his family were the only humans left. So, just as we can all trace our heritage back to Adam, every people group connects back to Noah. Noah’s son Ham had a son, Canaan, and the Jebusites descend from Canaan (Genesis 10:6-15). Many of the major clans and tribes of what became the Promised Land came from Noah’s grandson, Canaan—including the Amorites and Hittites.

Since Abraham was only a few generations from Noah, and the ages of Noah and his sons were such that Abraham could have possibly met those men, it makes sense that Melchizedek was from the same family (and possibly a Jebusite). If Melchizedek had maintained faith in the one true God from Noah, that would explain why Abraham tithed to him as an ancient king and priest. None of those exact details are in the story of Melchizedek. Still, Melchizedek was in the region where Canaan’s descendants lived and led the city that would become known as Jerusalem. 

How Were the Jebusites Connected to Jerusalem? 

David was faced with a complicated mess of politics and religion while attaining the throne of Israel. 

After King Saul and his son, Jonathan, were killed in battle with the Philistines, David was crowned king of the tribe of Judah but not the whole nation of Israel. One of Saul’s other sons, Ishbosheth, ruled the other ten tribes and the two factions were at war for years. Ishbosheth was killed, and David was made king over all twelve tribes of Israel. 

Despite the political unification, we can easily imagine the resentments between tribes after years of violence. David’s army leader, Joab, murders Saul’s old general, Abner, over the death of Joab’s brother. David can’t punish Joab too harshly, or he might alienate those loyal to him. Amid these complications, David must decide on a capital. He can’t use Saul’s capital, or he’d insult the Judeans. On the other hand, he can’t put the capital in a Judean city like Hebron and show favoritism. 

His solution? Conquer a city that belongs to neither. A city that Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, and King Saul couldn’t overcome. A city whose history goes back to Melchizedek and Abraham. Jerusalem.

The Sumero-Akkadian name was “uru-salim,” meaning “a foundation of or by the god Shalim.” In Hebrew, Jerusalem implied “to found and lay a cornerstone.” The Jebusites were so confident in their hill fortress they claimed that even the blind and the lame could defend the city. David sent Joab and his troops to attack the city, possibly through the heavily defended water system. He conquered the city of Jebus/Jerusalem, making the city his capital, also calling it the City of David (2 Samuel 5:6-10, 1 Chronicles 11:4). 

In this genius political move, David now possessed a capital that all twelve tribes could feel ownership in. He continued to confirm by bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the city (2 Samuel 6), throwing a tent up for the Ark, and worshipping there. Furthermore, Daniel proved his military prowess by achieving the impossible. He wasn’t a king anyone wanted to challenge. 

David, a man after God’s own heart, did the impossible. Much like raising from the dead. 

What Can We Learn from the Jebusites Today?

There are numerous points of symbolism here for us as Christians. Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah, king and priest. On the cross, Jesus did the impossible. He conquered the absolute barrier of death, the curse and the punishment for sin. Jesus was the literal presence of God (the purpose and function of the Ark of the Covenant) and submitted himself unto death outside of Jerusalem, rising again on the third day. 

All humanity is under sin, and therefore, every human being is subject to death as a final end. Death is a unifying problem and issue for all people (Jew or Gentile). 

Corruption by the Fall put the world under the power of Satan. Humans couldn’t change the situation; no hope, no way forward. With the Resurrection, Jesus defeated death. By extension, the resurrection wasn’t for Jews alone but for anyone who would receive Christ, ending the hostility between people groups (Ephesians 2:16). Now, living in the Messiah, where is the sting or victory of death (1 Corinthians 15)? It’s gone in Jesus. 

The Son of God defeated death, the grave, and the Devil, mocking all spiritual accusers and enemies (Colossians 2:15). Jesus proved himself God, victorious, and his message true through his death and resurrection. 

Jesus also established a New Jerusalem, what Paul calls the Jerusalem from above, the kingdom of God, contrasted with the one below (Galatians 4:26). The Jerusalem above is free, not of slavery. 

Like David, Jesus defeated a long-standing enemy that the Law couldn’t conquer (our sin nature, the world, death, the Devil). Like David, Jesus established full access to a new home for all people, no matter our background, to live together and worship the presence of God: the kingdom of heaven. 

The history of the Jebusites is central to the establishment of the Davidic rule and lineage through which God used to declare the Messianic work of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s love long had this plan in place and revealed his heart for the future even during the amazing stories of Abraham, David, and others. 

Let’s praise God for the work he has done, giving the Good News of the Kingdom, inviting all into his presence to worship him and experience the blessing of the New Jerusalem that will last forever.


Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Jacek_sopotnicki

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

This article is part of our People of Christianity catalog that features the stories, meaning, and significance of well-known people from the Bible and history. Here are some of the most popular articles for knowing important figures in Christianity:

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