Tribe of Benjamin: Characteristics, Symbol & History

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  • 0:04 Jacob's Blessing
  • 0:55 The Life of Benjamin
  • 2:38 The Tribe of Benjamin
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Benjamin was the youngest of the twelve sons of Jacob and had a unique experience. In this lesson, we'll explore Benjamin's life and the tribe that bore his name.

Jacob's Blessing

It has long been said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Military victory and violence go hand-in-hand. Of the Twelve Tribes of Israel described in Judeo-Christian traditions, few may have understood this as well as the Tribe of Benjamin.

In the scriptures, Jacob's twelve sons went on to found the Twelve Tribes of Israel and thus the first Israelite nation. Before he died, Jacob gave each son a prophetic blessing, describing them and the fate of their tribe. Of Benjamin, Jacob said:

''Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, devouring the prey in the morning, and dividing the spoil at night.''

It's an interesting blessing; it indicates that Benjamin (and his people) would be fierce warriors. However, the prophecy also made clear that the tribe's existence would be one of perpetual violence, day and night.

The Life of Benjamin

Benjamin holds a special place in scriptures as the youngest of Jacob's twelve sons. However, the association between Benjamin and death began from the moment of his birth. Benjamin's mother Rachel, Jacob's wife, was very old by this point and died in childbirth. According to the scriptures, she felt her life fading and wanted to name the child Ben-oni, 'son of my sorrow.' Jacob, however, decided that name would bring bad luck and instead named the baby boy Benjamin, 'son of my right hand.' From the beginning, Benjamin seemed fated to a life defined by both success and death.

As the youngest son, Benjamin took a particularly interesting role in the story of Joseph. Benjamin was still young when the famine hit their lands. The ten remaining brothers went to Egypt to ask for grain (unknowingly finding themselves at the mercy of their long-lost brother Joseph), but Jacob refused to let Benjamin go. This may have been because Benjamin was too young, but was also likely because Benjamin was Jacob's last link to his beloved Rachel. The scriptures do indicate that Benjamin was Jacob's second-favorite son (after Joseph).

Eventually, Jacob is forced to relent and Benjamin joins his brothers on their journey to Egypt. To test the other ten brothers, he has Benjamin framed for stealing a silver cup and threatens to sell him into slavery. Judah, who had promised Jacob that he would protect Benjamin, begged to be sold into slavery instead, thus sparing the youngest brother. Joseph realized that his brothers were no longer the evil men who had sold him into slavery so long ago and forgave them. Benjamin had a very strong relationship with both Joseph and Judah for the rest of his life, and that relationship was maintained by their tribes.

The Tribe of Benjamin

Later, the Israelite tribes found their way into Canaan and, having conquered it, divided the land amongst themselves. The tribe of Benjamin got a spot of land basically right in the middle, which was good for both agriculture and trade. The cities of Jericho and Jerusalem were likely part of this region at one point in time.

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