This morning we will finish our sermon series on “The 12 Tribes of Israel”. The last of these messages is on the tribe of Benjamin. Following our brief study of this particular tribe, we will consider some final thoughts on tribes as a whole. That said, let’s jump right in...
I. BENJAMIN - THE SON OF JACOB
Benjamin was the 12th and youngest son of Jacob. All of his older brothers were born while Jacob lived in Paddan-aram and worked for his father-in-law Laban. Eventually Jacob and his family returned to Canaan and settled for a time in Bethel. They travelled from there toward Bethlehem, but shortly before arriving Rachel went into severe labor. Sadly, she died shortly after giving birth to her second son, but before doing so Rachel named him Ben-Oni which means “son of my sorrows”. Sometime later, his father Jacob renamed him Benjamin which means “son of the right hand” indicating his favored status (Genesis 35:16-20).
Because the Bible is unclear as to exactly when Benjamin was born, there are a few different possibilities. If he was only a few years younger than Joseph, then the two brothers would have known each other well before Joseph was sold into slavery. This seems to be the most plausible theory based upon the clues in the text. That said, young Benjamin was likely not involved in the conspiracy of his older brothers against Joseph (Genesis 37:18-36). However, some suggest that Joseph was much older and was sold into slavery before Benjamin’s birth. If so, Joseph would not have known about the death of his mother Rachel or the existence of his younger brother Benjamin until years later. Perhaps seeing Benjamin for the very first time as an adult prompted Joseph’s emotional response in Egypt (Genesis 43:29-30).
Benjamin did not make the first journey to Egypt with his brothers, but he did go with them on their second trip. Jacob did not really want to send Benjamin with them, but felt that he had no other choice. For all he knew, Pharaoh was not going to assist them anymore and perhaps would keep Simeon jailed if Benjamin did not show up (Genesis 42 & 43). Fortunately, Joseph lovingly forgave his brothers and permitted them all to move to Egypt. Jacob’s entire family resettled in Goshen, including Benjamin and his sons (Genesis 46:21).
II. BENJAMIN - THE TRIBE OF ISRAEL
During their time in Egypt, the descendants of Jacob’s sons became more and more numerous and were distinguished from each other as the 12 tribes of Israel. Centuries later, when Moses led them out of Egypt, he counted the fighting men of each of these tribes. Benjamin had 35,400 soldiers at the beginning of the exodus (Numbers 1:36-37) and 45,600 by the end of it (Numbers 26:41).
There was a prescribed order in which the children of God marched during the exodus. The tribe of Benjamin was ninth in this line. Also, there was a set arrangement in which they camped. The Benjaminites were located on the western side of the tabernacle (Numbers 2:22).
The high-priest wore an ornate breastplate adorned with 12 stones that represented the 12 tribes. The exact correlation between the stones and the tribes is uncertain. Some believe that the tribe of Benjamin is depicted by the amethyst (Exodus 28:19). If this is the case, the color associated with Benjamin is purple.
The sons of Benjamin received a small inheritance of land located just north of Jerusalem (Joshua 18:11-28). It was centrally located within Israel. As such, it was an extremely important and strategic area.
Only one of the judges named in Scripture hailed from the tribe of Benjamin. His name was Ehud, the left-handed warrior who killed King Eglon of Moab (Judges 3:12-30). Years later the 12 tribes joined together to form a single nation and they anointed their first king. His name was Saul, and he too was a descendant of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9 & 10). After Israel divided, the Benjaminites became a part of the southern kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 11:1-12). The Southern kingdom was conquered by Babylon in 586 BC.
Mordecai and Esther were both from the tribe of Benjamin. Together, they saved the Jews from Haman’s genocidal edict (Esther 1-10). Following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a former Pharisee from the tribe of Benjamin became an apostle and carried the gospel to the Gentiles throughout Asia and Europe. His name was Paul (Romans 11:1).
While there are many Biblical stories involving the tribe of Benjamin, perhaps the most notorious took place during the reign of the judges (Judges 19-21). A Levite and his concubine were journeying through the territory of Benjamin and decided to stop and spend the night. The Benjamite men of the city surrounded the house where they were lodging and demanded that the Levite come out so that they could sexually assault him. The Levite refused, but fearing that more violence might occur, he sent his concubine out to appease them. The worthless men of Benjamin raped her multiple times throughout the evening and night so that she died the next morning. When the other 11 tribes learned what had happened they formed an alliance against Benjamin, attacked, and almost annihilated it completely. Only a small remnant of the Benjaminites remained to repopulate the tribe. For this reason, Benjamin is sometimes called the lost tribe due to its near extinction.
III. THE LESSON FROM BENJAMIN
The symbol for the tribe of Benjamin is a wolf (Genesis 49:27). The wolf is a ravenous predator that devours its prey. So also, the tribe of Benjamin were skilled fighters who were experts in combat. Apparently, they learned to fight left-handed in order to throw-off their adversaries (Judges 20:16; 1 Chronicles 12:2).
One of the lessons Christians can learn from the tribe of Benjamin is the despicable nature of sexual immorality. Their sin is reminiscent of that of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Benjamites were guilty of both rape and homosexuality. That said, any type of sexual relationship outside of the clearly defined limits established by God in the Bible is sinful. This includes all types of fornication, adultery, incest, beastiality, and so on. Sexual sin is particularly awful because it violates one’s own body (1 Corinthians 6:18).
As we conclude our series on “The 12 Tribes of Israel”, let us remember the major lessons from each tribe. Some were negative, while others were positive. We learned to avoid inconsistency in our faith and practice. We were warned of the dangers of excessive anger and divided loyalties. We were urged to refrain from idolatry and sexual immorality. In addition, we saw the tragedy of wasted potential. On the other hand, we were also reminded to practice humility and to show courageous leadership. We were prompted to be trustworthy promise-keepers and wise workers. Such behaviors will lead to abundant success in the LORD’s sight. Finally, we discovered that Christians are undeservedly blessed and are the chosen ministers of God.
But the even greater lesson of this series is about the faithfulness of God. Even though all of the tribes were eventually conquered and dispersed, the LORD’s promise to Israel remains intact. His covenant to restore and bless the nations of the world through Israel is eternal.
Earlier in this series, we read that God will set aside and protect a remnant of 12,000 people from each of the 12 tribes - excluding Dan and including Levi - during the Tribulation. These 144,000 believing Jews will be witnesses for Jesus Christ during these difficult years. When the Tribulation ends after 7 years Jesus will return to the earth and set up His earthly kingdom.
For 1,000 literal years, during a period called the Millennium, Jesus will reign over the entire earth from the capital city of Jerusalem (Revelation 20:2-7). The nation of Israel will be fully restored and all of God’s promises to them will be fulfilled. These will be years of great peace and comfort on the earth.
During the Millennium, the land of Israel will once again be divided among the reconstituted 12 tribes of Israel. The boundaries of these territories will be much different than they were in Old Testament times. In one of his apocalyptic visions of the future, Ezekiel described this future redistribution (Ezekiel 48). Basically, every tribe will receive a horizontal strip of land that runs east to west across Israel. From north to south the tribes will be Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, Judah, a holy district which will include the Levites and the city of Jerusalem, Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, and Gad.
God has not forgotten nor will He ever forget the the descendants of Jacob. They are His chosen nation. The 12 tribes are not just a relic of the past, but still have an important and eternal role to play in the LORD’s grand design for humanity. In the future, He will restore them and elevate them to a place of distinction and honor. In the end, the 12 tribes of Israel are a sterling testament of God’s never-ending faithfulness to His people.