The Tribe Of Benjamin
In my last blog we were close to finishing up Genesis 49.
Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob, and last time we looked carefully at the prophetic blessing given to him, which would be handed off to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, but primarily Ephraim, would be the representatives of Joseph’s tribe.
That is, within a few years of Joseph’s death, any reference to a tribe of Joseph would diminish, until the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh thoroughly replaced it.
In the future Biblical writings, where Joseph is mentioned, the words will be accompanied with the comment that the rod of authority for Joseph is in the hand of Ephraim.
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
devouring his enemies in the morning
and dividing his plunder in the evening.”
Genesis 49:27 (NLT)
Lastly, we come to Benjamin. And, a total of ONE verse is dedicated to the blessing of Benjamin. If we really need any more proof that it is the Holy Spirit guiding these blessings, then Benjamin’s should be all that we require.
For, Jacob’s second favorite, and youngest, son was given a blessing that was anything but flattering even though we have been shown in Scripture that Jacob carefully protected and fawned over Benjamin. Benjamin was characterized as a predator… a wolf… viscous and merciless. And, this would prove to be true.
Benjamin had a rather schizophrenic future. Though it would have contact with, and even play a part in, the royalty of Israel, Benjamin was also ferocious and stiff-necked.
Much of the outcome of the descendants of Benjamin had to do with their between-a-rock-and-a-hard spot territorial tribal allotment: for they were placed in the unenviable position as a buffer state between Ephraim and Judah.
Further, the rather narrow strip of land they occupied that both the major north-south, and east-west, trade route highways passed through the territory of Benjamin.
Sometimes we get these incorrect mental pictures of these multi-thousand man ancient armies scampering over hilltops like mice, and blazing new trails as they went. Not true.
As any military man can tell you, wars are fought around and over and by means of the major highways of a nation, because of the well-established roadways where the armies had to travel. The roadways were placed where they were because there was water available and the terrain was friendlier.
Even back in the days of Abraham, wagons and carts were in use, and so there needed to be a rather flat and wide trail to accommodate the rather fragile wheel and axle mechanisms of those early wooden vehicles.
Those trade routes that crossed through Benjamin also likely produced a valuable source of income for Benjamin, in the form of Benjamin attacking and plundering those merchant caravans.
For remember, one tribe pillaging another and taking what they needed to increase their own wealth and serve their own needs is the very essence of the tribal system. And, it remains so to this day.
As it might surprise you, the Holiest City in all of the land was in THEIR territory; yes, Jerusalem was originally in the territory of Benjamin, not Judah, as many assume. Many other important Israelite cities were also within the boundaries of Benjamin:
- Bethel, and even
It is now well established that these various 12 tribes of Israel had battles amongst themselves: but perhaps no tribe was considered as ferocious and self-serving as Benjamin.
One excellent example of Benjamin’s characteristics is found in the book of Judges, at a particularly bad time for Israel when the Bible says of the condition of the Holy Land: “… every man did that which was right is his own eyes”. Benjamin was right at the center of a terribly chaotic series of wars between the tribes of Israel.
In the city of Gibeah, an incident occurred that was eerily akin to when Lot was in Sodom and the townspeople wanted to have homosexual sex with the two Angels that had come to bring God’s judgment upon Sodom.
The crux of the matter was that a man from the tribe of Ephraim was temporarily staying in Gibeah, when he took in a traveler as a guest in his home. The Benjamite men in Gibeah demanded that the traveler be given to them so they could ravage him.
The elderly man from Ephraim offered his daughter and his concubine. They took his concubine, and nearly killed her. After they returned her nearly dead, the man considered his concubine so defiled as to be worthless to him.
So he allowed her to die on his doorstep, cut her corpse into 12 pieces, and sent those pieces along with a message to each tribe of Israel. And, the other tribes of Israel were so outraged, that they gathered together and sent an army against Benjamin to punish it.
Now, as a side note, we can see here the terrible, unholy condition of the tribes of Israel in the time of the Judges, that would see the mutilation by this man of his own concubine as not only a justifiable act by him, but also see that all the blame rested upon Benjamin who had ruined her as just a routine matter.
When the battle began, Benjamin devastated the coalition army for the first two days.
Interestingly, part of the reason that Benjamin was succeeding was a combination of ferocity, and that they had a group of deadly accurate stone slingers who killed 40,000 people in the ensuing battle.
By the way, all of these particular soldiers were left-handed, a trait that was common among members of the tribe of Benjamin.
In the end, the coalition army finally got the upper hand and annihilated the tribe of Benjamin… nearly to the point of extinction. The tribe of Benjamin never fully recovered.
One of the most famous O.T. men of Benjamin was Saul; often called the first King of Israel.
While I don’t want to get technical, there is disagreement among both Jewish and Christian scholars as to whether he really ought to be viewed as the first King of Israel, or whether he was simply the last Judge, albeit a centralized Judge that attempted to rule over more than his own tribe. He was never really accepted by all of Israel as a King, and his reign was absolute, never-ending turmoil.
But, more important, God anointed Saul as the kind of King the people wanted (the kind He cautioned against), so failure was the result of his reign.
Yet, towards the end of O.T. times, we find two members of the tribe of Benjamin rising above that ruinous Benjamite tribal character: Esther, the namesake of the book of Esther, and her cousin Mordecai.
The Jewish festival of Purim was established in memory of the brave acts of these two, in saving the Jews from the pagan people’s of that time, who were led by a man named Haman.
Other than for Benjamin himself, though, I doubt there is any more famous and influential Benjamite in all the tribal history, than for St. Paul; yes, the Apostle Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin.
Yet, it should also be remembered that his saying he was from that tribe was simply a family remembrance: for he also called himself a Jew, which ANY surviving Israelite living in Paul’s day would have done.
The tribe of Benjamin, as an independent and separate entity, was gone and assimilated by Paul’s day, assimilated by the tribe of Judah, and therefore these former Benjamites were called Jews.
These are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said as he told his sons good-bye. He blessed each one with an appropriate message.
Genesis 49:28 (NLT)
And, so we have now completed the blessings of all 12 sons of Jacob: the 12 tribes of Israel. And, we should bookmark Genesis 48 and 49 in our Bibles as a reference, because whether we’re studying the O.T. or the New, these blessings explain much of what was going to happen in the centuries following this event, well into a time this is still future to us.
To Be Continued…