(Benʹja·min) [Son of the Right Hand].
1. Jacob’s 12th son and the full brother of Joseph. Benjamin appears to be the only son born to Jacob in the land of Canaan, the other sons being born in Paddan-aram. (Ge 29:31–30:25; 31:18) Rachel gave birth to Benjamin, her second son, while on the way from Bethel to Ephrath (Bethlehem), achieving the difficult childbirth at the cost of her life. While dying, she called this son Ben-oni, meaning “Son of My Mourning”; but her bereaved husband thereafter named him Benjamin, meaning “Son of the Right Hand.”—Ge 35:16-19; 48:7.
From the time of his birth until after his brother Joseph’s being sold into slavery in Egypt, nothing further is told us about Benjamin. As Jacob’s youngest son by his beloved wife Rachel (Ge 44:20), Benjamin was obviously the object of great affection by his father, particularly so now that Jacob assumed that Joseph was dead. Jacob was therefore extremely reluctant to let Benjamin go with his brothers to Egypt, doing so only after much persuasion. (Ge 42:36-38; 43:8-14) It should be noted that, although Judah at this time referred to Benjamin as a “boy,” Benjamin by now was a young man. The record at Genesis 46:8, 21 presents Benjamin as the father of children at the time of Jacob’s taking up residence in Egypt. Nevertheless, he was Jacob’s beloved “child of his old age,” upon whom the elderly parent leaned in many more ways than one. (Ge 44:20-22, 29-34) Joseph also manifested deep affection for his younger brother.—Ge 43:29-31, 34.
The genealogy of Benjamin’s descendants is presented in several places, some apparently more complete than others. Genesis 46:21 lists ten persons as “sons of Benjamin,” and the absence of the names of several of these in succeeding lists has led some to suggest that certain sons may have died at an early age or may not have fathered sons who produced family lines. There are evidently some variations in spelling of the names in these lists (compare Ehi, Ahiram, Aharah), and some of those listed at Genesis 46:21 may be merely descendants. (Nu 26:38-40; 1Ch 7:6; 8:1) Objections have been raised to the possibility of Benjamin’s having so many sons or even having grandsons by this time, yet it should be kept in mind that the reference to them as among “the souls who came to Jacob into Egypt” does not necessarily require that they had to be born before actual entry into the country. They may have ‘come into Egypt’ by being born there during the 17 years of Jacob’s residence in Egypt prior to his death, even as Joseph’s two sons born there are listed among “the souls of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt.” (Ge 46:26, 27) By the time of his father’s death, Benjamin was apparently in his 40’s and hence old enough to have grandchildren.
The parental blessing pronounced upon Benjamin as one of the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel is considered below.—Ge 49:27, 28.
2. The name Benjamin also designates the tribe descended from Jacob’s son. At the time of the Exodus from Egypt, it was next to the smallest (after Manasseh) in male population of all the tribes. (Nu 1:36, 37) In the census taken later on the Plains of Moab, the tribe of Benjamin had moved up to seventh place. (Nu 26:41) When encamped in the wilderness, the tribe occupied a place on the W side of the tabernacle, along with the tribes descended from Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim, and this three-tribe division occupied third place in the order of march.—Nu 2:18-24.
Within Canaan, the territory assigned to the tribe of Benjamin lay between that of the tribes of Ephraim and Judah, while the territory of Dan bordered it on the W. Its frontier in the N ran from the Jordan River near Jericho, crossed the mountainous terrain by Bethel and continued westward to a point near Lower Beth-horon; proceeding from there, the western frontier ran down to Kiriath-jearim, then, on the S, turned eastward and passed Jerusalem through the Valley of Hinnom, wound down the rugged eastern slopes to the Jordan again at the N end of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River thus forming its eastern boundary. (Jos 18:11-20; compare Judah’s N boundary at Jos 15:5-9 and the S boundary of “the sons of Joseph” at Jos 16:1-3.) From N to S the area measured about 19 km (12 mi) and from E to W about 45 km (28 mi). With the exception of the portion of the Jordan Valley around the Jericho oasis, the territory was hilly and broken, though having some fertile areas on the western slopes. The torrent valleys running westward toward the Philistine plain and eastward toward the Jordan made this section a principal way of approach to the highland region, both for commercial and for military purposes. The warring forces of the Philistines surged up into this area during the early part of Saul’s reign, pillaging the Israelites at will from their encampment at Michmash, a short distance N of Saul’s home in Gibeah, until Jonathan’s exploit at Michmash initiated their rout and flight back down toward the coastal plains.—1Sa 13:16-18; 14:11-16, 23, 31, 46.
Among the prominent cities listed as originally assigned to Benjamin are Jericho, Bethel, Gibeon, Gibeah, and Jerusalem. The conquest of Bethel, however, was effected by the house of Joseph. At a later time Bethel became a prominent city of neighboring Ephraim and a center of idolatrous calf worship. (Jg 1:22; 1Ki 12:28, 29; see BETHEL No. 1.) While Jerusalem was also part of Benjamin’s territory, it lay on the border with Judah; and it was this tribe that initially captured and burned the city. (Jg 1:8) Neither Judah nor Benjamin was successful in driving the Jebusites out of Jerusalem’s citadel however (Jos 15:63; Jg 1:21), and it was only during King David’s reign that complete control was gained and the city made Israel’s capital.—2Sa 5:6-9.
During the period of the Judges, the tribe of Benjamin displayed a spirit of obstinacy in refusing to deliver up the perpetrators of a vile act performed in the city of Gibeah. This led to civil war with the other tribes, who were determined not to let the wrong go unpunished, and it resulted in the near extermination of the tribe of Benjamin. (Jg 19-21) Nevertheless, by the method devised by the other tribes for preserving the tribe, Benjamin recovered and grew from about 600 men to nearly 60,000 warriors by the time of David’s kingship.—1Ch 7:6-12.
The fighting ability of Benjamin’s descendants was pictured in Jacob’s deathbed prophecy in which he said of this beloved son: “Benjamin will keep on tearing like a wolf. In the morning he will eat the animal seized and at evening he will divide spoil.” (Ge 49:27) Benjamite fighters were noted for their ability with the sling, slinging stones with either the right hand or the left and hitting the mark “to a hairbreadth.” (Jg 20:16; 1Ch 12:2) Left-handed Judge Ehud, the slayer of oppressive King Eglon, was of Benjamin. (Jg 3:15-21) It may also be noted that it was “in the morning” of the kingdom of Israel that the tribe of Benjamin, though one “of the smallest of the tribes,” provided Israel’s first king, Saul the son of Kish, who proved to be a fierce fighter against the Philistines. (1Sa 9:15-17, 21) Likewise “at evening” time, as far as the nation of Israel was concerned, the tribe of Benjamin provided Queen Esther and Prime Minister Mordecai, who served to save the Israelites from annihilation under the Persian Empire.—Es 2:5-7.
Though certain men of the Benjamites supported the outlawed David while he was pursued by King Saul (1Ch 12:1-7, 16-18), when Saul died the majority of the tribe gave Saul’s son Ish-bosheth their initial support. (2Sa 2:8-10, 12-16) Thereafter, however, they acknowledged David’s kingship and thenceforth remained loyal to the kingdom of Judah, with rare exceptions. A partisan spirit continued among some, such as Shimei and Sheba, resulting in temporary alienation (2Sa 16:5; 20:1-22); but at the time of the division of the nation, in which the neighboring tribe of Ephraim (descended from Benjamin’s nephew) became the prominent tribe of the northern kingdom, the tribe of Benjamin faithfully adhered to Judah in recognition of Jehovah’s decree.—1Ki 11:31, 32; 12:21; 2Ch 11:1; Ge 49:8-10.
Following the exile in Babylon, the tribes of Benjamin and Judah were most prominent among the restored Israelites in Palestine. (Ezr 4:1; 10:9) Benjamin’s loyal association with Judah and Jerusalem doubtless contributed to its position in Ezekiel’s vision of the division of the land under the promised kingdom, in which vision the tribe of Benjamin is pictured as located right on the southern border of “the holy contribution,” while the tribe of Judah is placed on the northern border.—Eze 48:8, 21-23.
Among the loyal followers of Jesus, “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah,” was the apostle Paul, a Benjamite who proved himself a fierce fighter in the spiritual warfare against false doctrine and practice. (Re 5:5; Ro 11:1; Php 3:5) The tribe of Benjamin is rightly represented among the tribes of spiritual Israel.—Re 7:8.
Ancient letters, found at Mari on the Euphrates River and considered to be of the 18th century B.C.E., make mention of a fierce tribe of nomads called Binu-jamina. Regarding this name, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary states that some scholars “have sought here the antecedents of the biblical tribe; but the difference in time and origin makes this very uncertain.”—Edited by J. Douglas, 1980, Vol. 1, p. 185.