Who was Benjamin?
In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Benjamin was the youngest of Jacob's sons. His mother Rachel died in giving him birth. As she felt death approaching she called him Benoni, "son of my sorrow."
Fearing, probably, that this might bode evil for the child--for names have always preserved a peculiar significance in the East--Jacob called him Benjamin, "son of the fight hand" (Gen 35:17 ff).
He alone of Jacob's sons was born in Palestine, between Bethel and Ephrath. Later in the chapter, in the general enumeration of the children born in Paddan-ar am, the writer fails to except Benjamin (Gen 35:24). Joseph was his full brother. In the history where Benjamin appears as an object of solicitude to his father and brothers, we must not forget that he was already a grown man.
At the time of the descent of Israel to Egypt Joseph was about 40 years of age. Benjamin was not much younger, and was himself the father of a family. The phrase in Gen 44:20, "a little one," only describes in oriental fashion one much younger than the speaker. And as the youngest of the family no doubt he was made much of. Remorse over their heartless treatment of his brother Joseph may have made the other brothers especially tender toward Benjamin.
The conduct of his brethren all through the trying experiences in Egypt places them in a more attractive light than we should have expected; and it must have been a gratification to their father (Gen 42 ff). Ten sons of Benjamin are named at the time of their settlement in Egypt (Gen 46:21).
At the Exodus the number of men of war in the tribe is given as 35,400. At the second census it is 45,600 (Nu 1:37; 26:41). Their place in the host was with the standard of the camp of Ephraim on the west of the tabernacle, their prince being Abidan the son of Gideoni (Nu 2:22 f). Benjamin was represented among the spies by Palti the son of Raphu; and at the division of the land the prince of Benjamin was Elidad the son of Chislon (Nu 13:9; 34:21).
The boundaries of the lot that fell to Benjamin are pretty clearly indicated (Josh 18:11 ff). It lay between Ephraim on the North and Judah on the South. The northern frontier started from the Jordan over against Jericho, and ran to the north of that town up through the mountain westward past Bethaven, taking in Bethel. It then went down by Ataroth-addar to Beth-horon the nether.
From this point the western frontier ran southward to Kiriath-jearim. The southern boundary ran from Kiriath-jearim eas tward to the fountain of the waters of Netophah, swept round by the south of Jerrus and passed down through the wilderness northern by shore of the Dead Sea at the mouth of the Jordan. The river formed the eastern boundary. The lot was comparatively small. This, according to Josephus, was owing to "the goodness of the land" (Ant., V, i, 22); a description that would apply mainly to the plans of Jericho. The uplands are stony, mountainous, and poor in water; but there is much good land on the western slopes.
The Importance of Position
It will be seen from the above that Benjamin held the main avenues of approach to the highlands from both East and West: that by which Joshua led Israel past Ai from Gilgal, and the longer and easier ascents from the West, notably that along which the tides of battle so often rolled, the Valley of Aijalon, by way of the Beth-horons. Benjamin also sat astride the great highway connecting North and South, which ran along the ridge of the western range, in the district where it was easiest of defense.
It was a position calling for occupation by a brave and warlike tribe such as Benjamin proved to be. His warriors were skillful archers and slingers, and they seem to have cultivated the use of both hands, which gave them a great advantage in battle (Jdg 20:16; 1 Ch 8:40; 12:2, etc.). These characteristics are reflected in the Blessing of Jacob (Gen 49:27). The second deliverer of Israel in the period of the Judges was Ehud, the left-handed Benjamite (Jdg 3:15).
The Benjamites fought against Sisera under Deborah and Barak (Jdg 5:14). The story told in Jdg 20:21 presents many difficulties which cannot be discussed here. It is valuable as preserving certain features of life in these lawless times when there was no details in Israel. Whatever may be said of the details, it certainly reflects the memory of some atrocity in which the Benjamites were involved and for which they suffered terrible punishment.
The election of Saul as first king over united Israel naturally lent a certain prestige to the tribe. After the death of Saul they formed the backbone of Ish-bosheth's party, and most unwillingly conceded precedence to Judah in the person of David (2 Sam 2:15,25; 3:17 ff). It was a Benjamite who heaped curses upon David in the hour of his deep humiliation (2 Sam 16:5); and the jealousy of Benjamin led to the revolt on David's return, which was so effectually stamped out by Joab (2 Sam 19 f). Part of the tribe, probably the larger part, went against Judah at the disruption of the kingdom, taking Bethel with them. 1 Ki 12:20 says that none followed the house of David but the house of Judah only.
But the next verse tells us that Rehoboam gathered the men of Judah and Benjamin to fight against Jeroboam. It seems probable that as Jerusalem had now become the royal city of the house of David, the adjoining parts of Benjamin proved loyal, while the more distant joined the Northern Kingdom. After the downfall of Samaria Judah assumed control of practically the whole territory of Benjamin (2 Ki 23:15,19, etc.). Nehemiah gives the Valley of Hinnom as the south boundary of Benjamin in his time (Neh 11:30), while westward it extended to include Lod and Ono. Saul of Tarsus was a member of this tribe (Phil 3:5).