Monday, June 6, 2011

Genesis 49:27 Jacob's Blessing: Benjamin

"Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
in the morning he devours the prey,
in the evening he divides the plunder."

Genesis 49:27 (NIV)


Benjamin is an interesting person.  Here are some facts about his life:

  • He was the second of Jacob and Rachel's sons (the other son is Joseph).
  • His mother Rachel died in childbirth.   She had named him Ben-oni ("son of my sorrow"), but his father Jacob renamed him Benjamin ("son of the right hand"), a much more positive association.
  • Another meaning of Benjamin's name could mean "son of the south", which refers to the fact that while the other brothers were born in Paddan Aram, where Jacob's uncle Laban lived, Benjamin was the only one who was born in Canaan, which was toward the south, at least in relation to where his brothers had been born.
  • Did you realize that when Benjamin went down to Egypt with his brothers, he was a grown man?  The accounts of the proposed journey make it seem like Benjamin was a child -- indeed the other brothers even refer to him as 'the boy' (Genesis 44:22,30-35), but the fact is that when Jacob and the rest of Joseph's brothers (and their families) go to live in Egypt near Joseph during the years of the famine, Benjamin brings along his ten sons. (Genesis 46:8,21,26)
  • Since this journey occurs only a short time after all the brothers go to Egypt to buy food (for the famine was to last seven years and Joseph had told the brothers that they should join him in Egypt because there were still 5 more years of famine left to endure (Genesis 45:10-11), Benjamin had to have fathered all those children beforehand.  Even if he married young and had some sets of twins, it would take some time to have had such a family before he went to Egypt.  While it is not possible to determine his exact age, we can at least agree that he was not a young child when he went down to Egypt the first time with his brothers.  However, in relation to the other brothers, who were all a bit older, we can understand that they might consider him the "baby" of the family, and even refer to him in a way that seems to indicate a child.  [I have a younger brother who I still call 'Paulie", even though he is a grown man, so I can relate!]
Now here are some summaries of the ideas which various writers have had about the prophecy which Jacob spoke about his son during his final words to Benjamin:
  • Jacob was guided by the Spirit of God when he spoke his brief blessing, otherwise he probably would have spoken more tenderly regarding his beloved son. [I think Jacob would have been much more wordy, too!] He foresees that Benjamin's tribe would be an active, strong, warlike tribe, and that they would become enriched from the spoils of these battles.  The apostle Paul was from this tribe. (Romans 16:1, Philippians 3:5)         (Matthew Henry)
  • Jacob says that the Benjamites would be like a wolf:  strength, courage, valor.  Although Benjamin was a small tribe numerically, they would prevail over greater enemies. 
         Other verses which indicate the warlike character of the Benjamites:  Judges 5:14    and 19:16, I Samuel 11:1, II Samuel 2:15-16 and 12:2, II Chronicles 14:8 and 17:16.
          Other Benjamites who were noted for their fierceness and/or strength of character:
            Ehud (Judges 3:1-22)
            Saul  (I Samuel 22:17-20)
            Paul  (Acts 9:1) before he knew Christ*
            Mordecai and Esther (OT book of Esther)
These ideas were from Mike Wells of Cornerstone Baptist Church (

*[Also, remember that they said that the apostle Paul had caused quite a stir all over the world (by his preaching the gospel) after he was saved (Acts 17:6 and 24:5).  Sounds like a Benjamite-type of enthusiasm!]
Benjamin's tribe almost got themselves wiped out at one point.  See Judges chapters 19-21 for the whole story.  The Benjamites refused to hand over the wicked men of Gibeah for punishment, so the rest of the tribes had to either attack Benjamin as well, or ignore the Lord's instructions to purge evildoers. (Deut. 17:7, 19:19-21).  In this battle, 26,700 Benjamites slew 40,000 of their fellow Israelites before eventually being decimated in an ambush.

 Keep in mind as you read this rather horrifying account that this was during the period of the judges, when "...Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." (Judges 21:25 NIV)

At the end of this battle, there were only 600 Benjamites left and the rest of the tribe, including the Benjamites' wives and children and animals had been destroyed.  They would have perished as a tribe (for the other tribes had vowed to not give them their daughters in marriage) were it not for certain provisions which were made to provide them with wives.

The men from the town of Jabesh Gilead had failed to assemble with the other tribes in this disciplinary action against Benjamin, so they were wiped out, and 400 young unmarried women from Jabesh Gilead were given to the Benjamites as wives.  This may seem like a harsh punishment against Jabesh Gilead, but the tribes were obligated to rally together as one in such times of crisis, or they would likely be wiped out by the surrounding peoples.  They didn't have the luxury of deciding that they did not want to show up to certain battles.

However, that still left 200 Benjamites without wives.  The Israelites devised a plan where they advised the remaining Benjamites to kidnap themselves an Israelite wife from among the unmarried girls dancing during an annual festival in Shiloh, and return to their towns to rebuild.  In that way, they reasoned, the Benjamites would have wives and no one had really 'given' them their daughters.  If any relatives complained about these arrangements, they would be told that they were helping to build up the decimated tribe of Benjamin so that there would be no gap made from the loss of a tribe of Israel.

I know that there is probably much more that could be written about this tribe, but I will stop here for now.  I'll update this later if other interesting things are discovered.

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