Tribe of Benjamin

BENJAMIN, TRIBE OF. Named for Jacob’s youngest son. On the basis of the first census taken after the Exodus, the tribe numbered 35,400; at the second census, it numbered 45,600 (Num.1.37; Num.26.41).

In the division of territory by Joshua among the twelve tribes, Benjamin was assigned the portion between Judah on the south and Ephraim on the north (Josh.11.18ff.). Benjamin thus occupied a strategic position commercially and militarily. Benjamin loyally participated in Deborah’s rebellion against Sisera (Judg.5.14). The civil war with Benjamin constitutes a sad and strange story (Judg.19.1-Judg.19.30-Judg.20.1-Judg.20.48).

Saul, son of Kish, came from this tribe (1Sam.9.1-1Sam.9.27.). After the death of Saul there was tension and actual fighting between the forces of David and the men of Benjamin. Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s weak son, was set up as David’s rival (2Sam.2.8). Shimei of Bahurim, who cursed David, was a Benjamite (2Sam.16.5, 2Sam.16.11). At the time of the schism after the death of Solomon, however, the Benjamites threw in their lot with the tribe of Judah and followed the Davidic house as represented by Rehoboam, against Jeroboam, the son of Nebat to the north. Benjamin was included in the restoration. Saul of Tarsus (Paul) was a member of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil.3.5).——JBG


BENJAMIN, TRIBE OF bĕn’ jə mən (בִנְיָמִֽין, or בִנְיָמִֽין, or בְּנֵ֣י יְמִינִ֑י; LXX Βενιαείν; Βενιαμίν, G1021; ςἱοὶ Βενιαμίν; Benjamin or sons of Benjamin). The tribe descended from Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob. Some have thought that the origin of the tribe is to be found in the Binu (or Maru) yamina of the 18th cent. b.c. Mari texts but that seems, on the whole, to be unlikely.

At the time of the first census under Moses, the able-bodied men available for war from the tribe of Benjamin was given as 35,400 (Num 1:37) and at the second census, 45,600 (26:41). Benjamin’s position was on the W side of the Tabernacle along with Ephraim and Manasseh, the leader of the tribe at this time being Abidan the son of Gideoni (2:22). As Benjamin’s contribution to the team of spies sent into Canaan, Palti the son of Raphu served (13:9). By the time of the division of the Promised Land, leadership of the tribe of Benjamin had fallen to Elidad the son of Chislon (34:21).

Geography.

The exact boundary lines of Benjamin’s territory are impossible to determine with certainty. The relevant passages are Joshua 15:5-11; 16:1-3, 5; 18:11-13. Generally, Benjamin’s territory lay between that of Judah on the S and that of the house of Joseph on the north. Y. Aharoni describes the southern border as turning NW from the shores of the Dead Sea, passing S of Jericho, skirting below Jerusalem leaving it in Benjamite territory, continuing past Kiriath-jearim, descending to Beth-shemesh and following the Sorek Valley to the Mediterranean. On the N the border passed from the Jordan to a spring E of Jericho and continued in a northwesterly direction to the region of Upper and Lower Bethhoron. While the description of Benjamite territory stops there, the description of the area assigned to the house of Joseph gives one more reference point to the W, namely Gezer (see The Land of the Bible [1962, 1967], 235, 236 and the map on p. 229). The E border was the Jordan River. However, it must be noticed that other authorities interpret the data in such a way that the western boundary runs more or less due N of Kiriath-jearim, sharing that border with the tribe of Dan. There seems to be no truly satisfactory resolution of the problem of the western boundary of Benjamin.

Joshua 18:21-27 gives a list of the many cities and towns contained within the territory of Benjamin and, included among them are Jebus (=Jerusalem) and Jericho.

However the question of the western border is settled, Benjamite territory was strategically located for warfare, the main highway from N to S passing through it. The tribe seems to have met the challenge of this position, becoming known for its skillful archers and slingers. A special feature of the Benjamite warriors was that they were completely ambidexterous, being able to handle the sling equally well with either hand (Judg 20:16; 1 Chron 8:40; 12:2). Thus Ehud the Benjamite, Israel’s second deliverer in the period of the Judges, was remembered for being left-handed (Judg 3:15).

History.

Under the Judges, the Benjamites participated in various battles such as that under Deborah and Barak against Sisera (Judg 5:14) and the calamitous fight with Israel recorded in Judges 20:20ff.

Israel’s first king, Saul, was a Benjamite and his appointment enhanced the prestige of the tribe. After the death of Saul, the tribe of Benjamin remained faithful to his house. The army commanded by Abner for Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, consisted mainly of Benjamites and was successful in mounting considerable opposition to the appointment of David as king (2 Sam 2:15ff.). Benjamin is given special mention as an entity separate from Israel when Abner is negotiating the kingship with David (3:17ff.). Benjamites continued their opposition to David even after he had secured the throne for himself. Thus Shimei, the son of Gera, who was of the house of Saul, when he saw David and his men fleeing from Absalom, cursed him, raining dust and stones on his head (16:5ff.). The king then understood that if his own son was seeking his life, it was no surprise if the Benjamites should behave in similar fashion (16:11). When David returned to Jerusalem an all too obvious favorite of Judah, one Sheba, a Benjamite, raised a revolt (20:1ff.). All except Judah followed him and Joab pursued him on behalf of David. He was betrayed by a woman of Abel of Beth-maachah and was slain.


There were two “Benjamin gates” in the city of Jerusalem, one in the Temple (Jer 20:2) and the other perhaps to be identified with the “sheep gate” in the N wall of the city (37:13; Zech 14:10).

In the genealogies of the restoration in the OT, in the Apoc., and in the NT, Benjamin generally is used to indicate personal descent rather than tribal territory (e.g. Neh 11:4, 7, 31; 2 Macc 3:4). Paul reminds the Jews in Pisidian Antioch of the Benjamite origin of their first king (Acts 13:21). He also supports his own Jewish credentials by reference to his descent from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5). In the Revelation, the tribe of Benjamin has its place among the eleven other tribes from each of which 12,000 servants of God were to be sealed (Rev 7:8).

Bibliography

W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (1957), passim; M. Noth, History of Israel (1958) 73f., 146, 233; GTT (1959), 164ff.; J. Bright, History of Israel (1960), 142, 189, 213-216; F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations (1963), passim.