BENJAMIN

Of all Jacob’s sons, the two born to Rachel were his favourites, Joseph and Benjamin. In giving his prophetic blessing on the future tribes of Israel, Jacob knew that the descendants of Joseph would be far more dominant than those of Benjamin (Gen 49:22-27).

Protected son

Since Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin (Gen 35:16-19), Jacob had a special concern for Benjamin. To protect Benjamin from any possible harm, Jacob would not allow him to go to Egypt the first time his sons went to buy grain (Gen 42:4). He allowed Benjamin to go on the second journey only because he had no alternative (Gen 42:38; 43:13-15). Joseph, though delighted at seeing his younger brother again (Gen 43:16,29-34), used Benjamin to test the sincerity of his brothers before inviting the whole of Jacob’s family to come and live in Egypt (Gen 44:2,12; 45:1-28).

Aggressive tribe

Little is recorded concerning Benjamin’s character, but Jacob had sufficient insight to see that the tribe to be descended from him would be fiercely aggressive (Gen 49:27). Perhaps this characteristic developed in the tribe when, after the division of Canaan, it found itself squeezed into a narrow strip of land between Israel’s two most powerful tribes, Ephraim to the north and Judah to the south (Josh 18:11-28). As a result Benjamin soon lost towns on its northern border to Ephraim (see BETHEL; GILGAL; JERICHO), and towns on its southern border to Judah (see JERUSALEM; KIRIATH-JEARIM). For other important Benjaminite towns see GIBEAH; GIBEON; MIZPAH. The tribe of Benjamin soon became famous for its skilled fighters, many of whom were left-handed (Gen 49:27; Judg 3:15; 20:15-16; 1 Chron 8:40). On one occasion, when the men of Gibeah had committed a terrible crime that brought shame on all Israel, Benjamin chose to fight against the other tribes rather than punish its guilty citizens. As a result of the war that followed, Benjamin was almost wiped out (Judg 19-21). Yet Benjamin, the smallest tribe in Israel, produced Israel’s first king, Saul (1 Sam 9:21; 10:20-24). When Saul became jealous of David, the leading men of Benjamin encouraged Saul to kill him, no doubt because they saw David, and David’s tribe Judah, as a threat to their own position (1 Sam 18:22-26; 22:7; 24:9; 26:19; Ps 7). When David later became king, some of the leading Benjaminites maintained their hostility to him (2 Sam 16:5-8; 20:1-2).

Jerusalem, on the border between Benjamin and Judah, was still under enemy control when David became king. David’s conquest of Jerusalem and his decision to make it his capital probably helped to win the allegiance of the Benjaminites (Judg 1:21; 2 Sam 5:6-7). The blessing that Moses promised the tribe of Benjamin was possibly fulfilled when Israel’s temple was built in Jerusalem, which was officially in Benjamin’s territory (Deut 33:12; Jer 20:2). When, after the death of Solomon, the northern tribes broke away from Judah, Benjamin was the only tribe in Israel to remain loyal to Judah and the Davidic throne (1 Kings 11:11-13,31-32; 12:21; 1 Chron 8:1,28). Benjamin went into captivity in Babylon with Judah, and later returned from captivity with Judah (Ezra 4:1). Mordecai and Esther, who feature in a story of post-captivity Jews in a foreign land, were from the tribe of Benjamin (Esther 2:5-7). The apostle Paul also was from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5).

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