Benjamin

The Sovereign Hand of God

12 Of Benjamin he said,

“The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety.
The High God surrounds him all day long,
    and dwells between his shoulders.”

13 And of Joseph he said,

“Blessed by the Lord be his land,
    with the choicest gifts of heaven above,
    and of the deep that crouches beneath,
14 with the choicest fruits of the sun
    and the rich yield of the months,
15 with the finest produce of the ancient mountains
    and the abundance of the everlasting hills,
16 with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness
    and the favor of him who dwells in the bush.
May these rest on the head of Joseph,
    on the pate of him who is prince among his brothers.
17 A firstborn bull—he has majesty,
    and his horns are the horns of a wild ox;
with them he shall gore the peoples,
    all of them, to the ends of the earth;
they are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
    and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” – Deuteronomy 33:12-17 ESV

A quick comparison between the blessings given by Jacob to his 12 sons and those given by Moses to the 12 tribes of Israel reveal some interesting differences. For instance, Jacob referred to his youngest son, Benjamin, as a ravenous wolf who plunders his enemies at night.

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
    devouring his enemies in the morning
    and dividing his plunder in the evening.” – Genesis 49:27 NLT

Yet, Moses seems to refer to the tribe of Benjamin as “the beloved of the Lord.” But the words of Moses can and have been translated in two different ways. The New English Translation renders verse 12 as follows:

“Of Benjamin he said:
The beloved of the Lord will live safely by him;
he protects him all the time,
and the Lord places him on his chest.” – Deuteronomy 33:12 NET

The New American Standard Version takes a similar approach.

“May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him,
Who shields him all the day,
And he dwells between His shoulders.”

In these translations, the “beloved of the Lord” is clearly not a reference to Benjamin, but to somone or something else. It could be speaking of the tribe of Judah, the tribe from which the Messiah would come. Recall the words of Jacob’s blessing to his son, Judah.

“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.” – Genesis 49:10 NLT

The term, “the beloved of the Lord” could also be a reference to Jesus Himself. But it is seems more likely that the tribe of Judah is the focus of Moses’ words. These two tribes, Benjamin and Judah would enjoy close ties, even sharing a common border in the land of Canaan.

The first allotment of land went to the clans of the tribe of Benjamin. It lay between the territory assigned to the tribes of Judah and Joseph. – Joshua 18:11 NLT

Years later, when God split the kingdom of Israel in half, the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin would form the new southern kingdom of Judah. And the larger, more powerful tribe of Judah would provide protection for its smaller neighbor and ally. The territory alloted to Benjamin also contained the city of Jerusalem, which would become the capital of Judah, later known as the city of David, and the place where Solomon built the temple of God.

Jacob predicted that his son, Benjamin, would produce a people who were warlike and reknowned for their success in battle. But the book of Judges reveals that the Benjamites would eventually use their propensity for battle in a civil war against the other 11 tribes of Israel. It would end in their defeat at the hands of their brothers.

And the Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All these were men who drew the sword. So the people of Benjamin saw that they were defeated. – Judges 20:35-36 ESV

These were dark days for the tribe of Benjamin and for the people of God, with the 21st chapter of the book of Judges closing with the sobering words:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 21:25 ESV

But the first king of Israel came from the tribe of Benjamin, a man named Saul, who would prove to be a great warrior, but a lousy king. And God would eventually reject him as king, replacing him with a man after His own heart, a man named David. And David, from the tribe of Judah, and Jonathan, the son of Saul from the tribe of Benjamin, would become the closest of friends. So, we see this bound between these two tribes lived out over time. And eventually, the apostle Paul would come from the tribe of Benjamin.

“I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” – Romans 11:1 ESV

This small tribe would play a significant role in the history of Israel, for both good and bad. But God would use them to accomplish His divine will for His people and for the world. From this somewhat irrelevant tribe would come Saul, the first king of Israel. But hundreds of years later, there would come another Saul, the one known as the apostle Paul, whom God would use to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. And all because Paul would have his life transformed by an encounter with Jesus, the Son of God and a member of the tribe of Judah.

Next, Moses turns his attention to the tribe of Joseph. He was the son Jacob thought had been killed by wild animals, but later discovered had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. Jacob and Joseph were reunited in Egypt, where Joseph had become a powerful ruler in the kingdom of Pharaoh. And Joseph was able to use his authority to provide protection and provision for his family when the were forced to flee from the famine taking place in Canaan. So, Jacob held a special place in his heart for Joseph, as revealed in the words of the blessing he pronounced over him.

“Joseph is a fruitful bough,
    a fruitful bough by a spring;
    his branches run over the wall.
The archers bitterly attacked him,
    shot at him, and harassed him severely,
yet his bow remained unmoved;
    his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
    (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
by the God of your father who will help you,
    by the Almighty who will bless you
    with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath,
    blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
The blessings of your father
    are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
    up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
    and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.” – Genesis 49:22-26 ESV

Moses picks up on Jacob’s high honor of Joseph, referring to him as “him who is prince among his brothers” (Deuteronomy 33:16 ESV). And when Moses speaks of Joseph, he clarifies that he is really addressing the tribes of the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. Eventually, the name Ephraim would become closely associated with the ten tribes that comprised the northern kingdom of Israel. Just as Joseph was “set apart from his brothers” (Deuteronomy 49:26 ESV), Ephraim, Manasseh, and the other eight tribes would be set apart from Judah and Benjamin, dividing the once unified nation in two.

Moses pronounces a blessing on Joseph and his descendants, calling on God to provide them with “the choicest gifts of heaven above” (Deuteronomy 33:13 ESV) and:

“the choicest fruits of the sun
    and the rich yield of the months,
with the finest produce of the ancient mountains
    and the abundance of the everlasting hills,
with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness
    and the favor of him who dwells in the bush.” – Deuteronomy 33:14-16 ESV

God would continue to bless Joseph’s descendants, providing them with good land and and an abundance of blessings. But they would prove to be rebellious and spiritual unfaithful to God. They would turn their backs on God by worshiping false gods of their own making. And yet, they would enjoy great success and grow in number.

“…they are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
    and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” – Genesis 49:17 ESV

God would bless them, in spite of them. But the day would come when God would punish them for their sins, bringing judgment upon them in the form of the Assyrian army and allowing them to be defeated and deported as slaves. God would reward the descendants of Joseph for their forefather’s faithfulness while living in Egypt. But, eventually, He would punish them for their own unfaithfulness while living in the land of promise.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Déjà Vu All Over Again.

Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.

As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’”

When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord's servants.” He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city. – Genesis 44:1-13 ESV

Just when things seemed to be going so well, everything went south for the brothers. After their wonderful meal with the governor, they were sent away with their sacks filled with grain, their brother, Simeon, freed from prison, and Benjamin safely in tow. Their destination was Canaan. But they didn’t get far. Once again, Joseph had instructed that the money they bought to pay for the grain be secretly returned to their sacks. Not only that, he had an expensive goblet placed in the sack of the youngest brother, Benjamin. Then he sent his steward, most likely with an armed party, to catch up to his brothers’ caravan and expose their “treachery.”

This story has an eerie sense of déjà vu about it. Many years earlier, when Jacob was attempting to secretly get away from his uncle, Laban, and return to Canaan, his caravan was overtaken by Laban and his kinsmen. Not only had Jacob snuck away without telling Laban or giving him a chance to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren, someone in his party had stolen Laban’s household gods. Jacob explained that he had failed to tell Laban because he feared he would take his daughters back by force. As far as the stolen idols went, he claimed to know nothing about them, telling Laban:

“Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. – Genesis 31:32 ESV

Laban searched and searched, but did not find the idols because Rachel, his daughter had hidden them in her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Eventually, Laban allowed Jacob and his entourage to leave, having been warned by God in a dream not to do any harm to Jacob. Jacob had been fortunate. He had made a rash vow to kill anyone who had stolen the idols. Little had he known that his own wife was the guilty culprit.

Like father, like sons. When Joseph’s steward caught up with them, they too quickly denied the allegations, saying, “Far be it from your servants to do such a thing!” (Genesis 44:7 ESV). Sounding eerily similar to their father, Jacob, one of the sons rashly blurted out, “Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord's servants” (Genesis 44:9 ESV). They were offended by the accusation. They knew they were innocent, but they have also known better. This was not the first time they had been wrongly accused of being thieves. But their short-term memory loss seems to have prevented them from remembering how that had all turned out. The money had been in their sacks, just as had been claimed. And now, the claims of stealing proved true again. Not only was the money in their sacks, so was the governor’s prized goblet. The steward gives the goblet special value by saying it is the one the governor uses to practice the art of divination. This does not necessarily mean that Joseph, a worshiper of Yahweh, was guilty of doing divination, it was likely meant to prove to the brothers that the cup had special value and that the governor had secret powers.

Once again, Joseph was giving his brothers a test to determine their loyalty and honesty. When the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, the steward gave Joseph’s pronouncement: “he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent” (Genesis 44:10 ESV). Would they take advantage of the situation, saving their own lives by abandoning their younger brother to a life of slavery. As Joseph knew all too well, it would not have been the first time for them to do such a thing. Would they be willing to leave Benjamin behind, cutting their losses, and returning with their grain and their money in tow?

The brothers were devastated. “Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city” (Genesis 44:13 ESV). They couldn’t believe this was happening to them again. Was this all the punishment of God for their former treatment of Joseph? Was it some form of divine payback? Were they suffering under God’s curse and doomed to spend the rest of their lives making restitution for their former sins?

How easy it is to see the inexplicable and unpleasant experiences of life as a form of God’s punishment or displeasure. How quickly we assume that difficulties are signs of God’s anger for something we have done or, possibly, should have done. Perhaps God is simply testing us, revealing the true state of our heart and the condition of our faith. Rather than automatically assuming the worst, are we willing to let God reveal to us what He is trying to show us, about ourselves or about Him? Could He be trying to show us our pride and self-sufficiency? Might He be trying to prove to us our weakness and His strength?

Joseph’s brothers didn’t understand their God. They didn’t fully trust Him. Unlike King David, they didn’t realize just how much God loved them and cared for them. He had great plans for them.

O Lord, you have examined my heartand know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! – Psalm 139:1-6 NLT

It was David’s intimate understanding of God’s love that allowed him to say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT). He knew God loved him and was willing to let God expose anything about him that needed to be changed. What if Joseph’s brothers had looked at their lives with that perspective? What if they had been willing to say, “Lord, what are you trying to tell us? What are you trying to reveal about us?”

Like David, we all need to see the trials of life as opportunities to let God reveal the hidden sins and unseen weaknesses in our life. Trials tend to expose faults. They can bring out the worst and the best in us. Which is why David said: “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin” (Psalm 19:12-13 NLT).