In her barrenness, Rachel had threatened Jacob: “Give me children, or else I die”, Gen. 30. 1. She extended this demanding attitude to Jehovah, who acceded to her request for a second child, 30. 24, but left her no chance to enjoy her wish. She died in child-birth. Compare Psalm 106. 15. How much wiser to pray: “not as I will, but as thou wilt”, Matt. 26. 39. As Rachel died, she understandably called the baby Benoni, meaning “Son of my sorrow”.
Jacob would not allow his wife her last pathetic decision. God had just altered his name to “Israel”, Gen. 32. 28; 35.10, and this perhaps moved him to change the boy’s name to Benjamin, meaning “Son of my right hand”. As a result, both father and son bore names indicative of strength and authority.
The title Benoni sets forth the Man of sorrows, Isa. 53. 3; “Benjamin” fore-shadowed “the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power”, Matt. 26. 64.
In Psalm 80. 2, Benjamin is set between Ephraim and Manasseh. Asaph kept this name and its meaning in his thoughts. In verse 17 we read: “Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself”. The idea of punishment lies behind this expression (see 2 Sam. 24. 17; Job 19. 21); and there is a clear allusion to the Lord Jesus. The Man at God’s right hand “was wounded for our transgressions … the chastisement of our peace was upon him”, Isa. 53. 5. If the face of God was ever to shine upon Israel, Psa. 80. 2, 7, 19, then the Seed of Jacob, Gen. 28. 14, had to spring to life amid His nation’s death-throes, and then allow Himself to be cut off in the midst of His days.
Some Sadducees wrongly thought that the Messiah was to be a descendant of Joseph, Benoni in character, suffering in meekness. Such theology conflicted with the Pharisaical belief that the Christ would be of the tribe of Judah, a Benjamin in bearing, powerful and glorious. So emphatic were the supporting arguments for each, that some Rabbis concluded that there would be two Messiahs, one who would be humiliated and the other who would reign! There can however be no mistake. The apostles were clearly advised: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner”, Acts 1. 11; cf. Acts 2. 36.
Benjamin was the only member of the family to be named by Jacob, and he was the only son to be born in the promised land. Had Jacob remained at Bethel as God had commanded, Gen. 35. 1, the boy’s birthplace would have been a sacred spot where the pillar of testimony had been erected, (and maybe Rachel’s life would have been spared). But “they journeyed from Bethel” and were near Bethlehem when the child was born. Rachel’s tomb remains close by the roadway, a sad reminder of the end of her demanding attitude.
There were other young men “out of Bethlehem”, Jud. 17. 7; e.g. Obed (worship), Ruth 4. 17; David (beloved), 1 Sam. 17. 58; and Elhanan (God is gracious), 2 Sam. 23. 24. The birth of Jesus “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting”, Mic. 5. 2, was the apex of that famous town’s sacred history.
“Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf”, Gen. 49. 27. Warlike aggressiveness was Benjamin’s chief characteristic.
Inexplicably defying all the other tribes, 26,700 Benjamites defended the wicked folk of Gibeah, Jud. 19-20, against 400,000 soldiers from the remainder of Israel. “Every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss”, 20. 16. Seven hundred of them were left-handed, which was probably an advantage in close combat. Anyhow the Benjamites accounted for 40,000 of their antagonists in two days, before God stepped in on behalf of the eleven tribes. This event affords us a good example of the wolfish nature of Benjamin. Subsequently their archery was regarded as exceptional, 1 Chron. 8. 40; 2 Chron. 14. 8. It was always for their military prowess that they were noted.
The warriors of Benjamin were apparently often on the prowl, Jud. 5. 14; 2 Sam. 2. 8; 16-11. This militant streak may have been accentuated in Benjamin by his never having enjoyed the shelter of maternal arms. A child’s domestic environment has far reaching effects.
“In the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil”. One of Israel’s judges, Ehud, was a left-handed Benjamite. (It is curious that a trait of left-handedness should be perpetuated in the family of “The son of my right hand”.) Ehud murdered Eglon, king of Moab, with a specially made dagger, Jud. 3. 12-30.
Israel’s first king, Saul the son of Kish, was a Benjamite. He and his heroic son Jonathan devoured the prey and divided the spoil as they gained the balance of power over the Amalekites and Philistines. “The bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty”, 2 Sam. 1. 22. Typical Benjamites, both were killed on the battlefield.
King Saul proved to be a failure. The people who had pressed God to give them a king “like all the nations”, 1 Sam. 8. 20, lived to regret their request — another case where it would have been much wiser to have allowed Jehovah to have His own way without protest. Do we sometimes fall into this trap of thinking that we know better than God? How merciful is our Father in withholding, so often, what it would not be good for us to have. All that is in harmony with “his unspeakable gift” is available to us. We have the promise: “He that spared not his own Son … how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”, Rom. 8. 32.
Disillusioned with Saul, some of the Benjamite militia were the first to throw in their lot with David, then an outcast at Ziklag. They were “mighty men, helpers of the war”, 1 Chron. 12. 1. These men were ambidextrous and competent with all forms of weapons. Some of the officers of this rebel brigade actually came from Saul’s home town, which must have filled the king with chagrin!
In application, Saul is a picture of the flesh, which may be very refined and of great appeal to the senses but is rejected by God. “That which is of the flesh is flesh” and cannot change its nature; so the natural man is incapable of pleasing God, Rom. 8. 8.
Mordecai and Esther were outstanding Benjamites. In the morning of the story, Mordecai determined to resist evil Haman; he clearly perceived the “prey”. At the close of the affair he and Esther divided the “spoil”.
“The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him”, Deut. 33. 12. One impressive recipient of this blessing was Saul of Tarsus, “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin”, Rom. 11. 1; Phil. 3. 5. He was another to have his name changed. As a zealous ravining Pharisee, Saul, in the morning of life, made “havock of the church”, Acts 8. 3; 9. 1. A typical Benjamite! As the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul dwelt safely under divine protection, Acts 16. 28; 27. 24-25. The citizens at Damascus, the Jews at Iconium, the demonstrators at Lystra, the council at Philippi, the tradesmen at Ephesus, the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, the snake on Malta, and even the storm tossed sea, would all have had the apostle dead. But God stood by His promise given through Moses. When the night-time of his life drew near, he could write: “I have fought a good fight”. His wolfish tenacity of purpose and earnest devotion to the cause of Christ enabled him to divide the spoil of spiritual conquest.
“The Lord shall cover him all the day long”. The verb “to cover” in the Hebrew here is unusual. The meaning is “to cover as a defence”, and explains the safety of the situation at “the right hand”. The thought may be applied to the Saviour. Never again will He be exposed to the hatred of man and demon. “The beloved of Jehovah” has been established “in safety from him that puffeth at him”, Psa. 12. 5. This place of security is ours also. “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust”, 91.4. Such is the safety of the holy place.
“He shall dwell between his shoulders”. Benjamin’s position in Canaan cannot pass unnoticed. The tribe held a small area between Judah to the south and Ephraim to the north. Judah and Ephraim became the two strongest communities, and squeezed between them was Benjamin as if nestling between powerful shoulders.
When the great schism came and Ephraim finally broke off relations with Judah, Benjamin had to decide with whom to go. They wisely chose to adhere to faithful Judah.
Benjamin’s territory included Mizpeh, Gibeon, Bethel, and, most important of all, mount Moriah. Josephus tells us that Benjamin’s “lot was the narrowest of all, by reason of the goodness of the land, for it included Jericho and the city of Jerusalem”.
If we relate this clause prophetically to the Lord Jesus, it points to the strength of His authority: “All power is given unto me”. The total strength of the Almighty is divested upon the Son to whom a new name has been given.
There is a further consideration here. A Hebrew mother would carry her child in a goat’s hair cradle slung by a band around her forehead over her head and between her shoulders. Her large veil would then shield the child from the hot sun, nasty flies, etc. The picture, therefore, is of parental care and affection, like Jacob’s attitude toward his youngest son Benjamin. It could well have been that his half brothers despised the pampered child, which would increase Joseph’s desire to protect and favour his one full brother, Gen. 43. 34.
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me”, Psa. 138. 7.
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