(click for Part I) The Benjamites faced extinction in Judges 19-21. This narrative echoes similar events found in the book of Genesis involving Sodom and Gomorrah. This particular event left a black mark on
the tribe's history. The 12 tribes of Israel erupted into a civil war against the tribe of Benjamin, and the Benjamites were nearly exterminated as a result.
The dating of this event is uncertain. Many scholars feel as if it was at the very beginning of the Judges period, though the event covers the last three chapters of Joshua - the book before Judges in the Bible. This is one of the oldest narratives in the Bible. Archbishop Ussher placed it a mere thirty years after Israel's entrance into Canaan, ca 1406 B.C. Most place it during the stretch of time from Joshua's death to the beginning of the Judges. The Holman Bible Atlas dates Joshua at 1200 B.C., and the various episodes involving the Philistines around 1150 B.C., and Jephthah around 1100 B.C. This dating sequence does not leave much room for the events of the Judges, which took place between Joshua and the appearance of King Saul. An earlier date for Joshua, ca. 1400 BC, is argued by some.
This earlier date allows for a three hundred year period of The Judges. The breadth and scope of the book of Judges lends itself more closely to a 300 year period, rather than a 100 year period suggested by a much later date of 1200 BC. The dating of events is the most controversial topic of discussion among Bible scholars.
The Philistines had already arrived in Canaan by the time many of the Judges rose to prominence. Delilah was a Philistine in the epic story of Samson & Delilah. The Philistines were already present during the time of Samson. They were a thorn in Israel's side even before the Monarchy under Saul and David.
Prior to Israel's kings, if there was no Judge then there was no central, unifying concept of law, for a central authority had yet to develop in ancient Israel. God was intended to be their Law and central authority. Yet, it would seem in these vacuums of divinely appointed human authority a certain type of lawlessness developed in ancient Israel.
Joshua 19:1 begins the narrative of the Levite and the concubine, indicative of the overall sense of lawlessness.
"Now it came about in those days, when there was no king in
Israel, that there was a certain Levite staying in the remote part of
the hill country of Ephraim, who took a concubine for himself from
Bethlehem in Judah."
The first thing to note is the spiritual state of Israel. As priests, Levites
are supposed to separate themselves from the lusts and desires of the
normal Israelite. The Levites were the priestly class. Marriage
concerning a Levite was strict as to what type of priest may marry,
and what type of woman that particular priest may marry. Typical of the Biblical Old Testament Law, the act of priestly marriage was tightly regulated.
At this point in Israel's history it would seem men were more or less on their own for protection and
security. Scripture makes it plain there was "no king in Israel",
and no Judge is mentioned either. There was a vacuum of authority, thus lawlessness. The entire passage displays a
high degree of lawlessness on the part of those involved. Vs. 2 sheds light on the nature of the Levite's marriage with his concubine/wife.
"But his concubine played the harlot against him, and she
went away from him to her father's house in Bethlehem in Judah, and was
there for a period of four months."
Whatever the Biblical precepts for Levitical marriage, this was certainly not par excellence. The story in Judges holds importance for two primary reasons. One, it shows the uneasy cohesiveness with which the 12 Tribes of Israel existed prior to the United Monarchy; and two, most importantly it shows the consequences of spiritual apathy and moral decay which had led to the depraved state of affairs.
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The marriage does not appear blissful. It certainly does not reflect a Godly marriage. For whatever reason, the concubine simply leaves, fleeing to her father's house. In vs. 3 we learn she is actually the wife of the Levite. Throughout Scripture the word concubine oftentimes refers to some sort of slave, or in many cases, sex slaves, in other instances handmaidens. The handmaidens of Rachel and Leah were the concubines of Jacob. These were likely slaves.
Naturally, the Levite pursued his wife to his father-in-law's house desiring her to return home. Israelite society was very patriarchal. Women were marginalized. They were viewed, in many cases, as property. Thus the Levite set out to retrieve his rightful property. The Levite reached his father-in-law, who upon seeing his son-in-law "was glad to meet him". The Levite stayed for 3 days, then departed with his wife. It was a successful retrieval.
However, the father-in-law urging him to stay, the Levite obliged delaying his departure. On the fifth day of his
visit, the Levite turned down yet another invitation and set out with
his wife to return home. They set out from Bethlehem in the south, traveling northward towards the hill country of Ephraim.
They would have traveled along the Central Ridge Route the initial part of their journey. This was the rugged hill country, and travel could be arduous and dangerous. Jerusalem
, Jebus at the time, was 6 miles north of Bethlehem, also along the Central Ridge Route.
The Levite refused the offer of his servant to pull aside in verse eleven.
"When they were near Jebus, the day was almost gone; and
the servant said to his master, 'Please come, let us turn aside into
this city of the Jebusites and spend the night there."
Dr. Earnest Martin figures the Levite left Bethlehem around 4
o'clock in the afternoon. Their late start, due to the woman's
father-in-law, led to an ill-advised situation. The day had come to a
close and nightfall was not far off. The first city they approached, or first lodging place, would have been the logical
place to stop. Venturing further at night would have been especially risky with a woman.
However, Jebus was a Canaanite stronghold at the time and likely
not friendly to the Jewish population. The Levite, consequently,
refused to stop at Jebus and decided to travel further on to
Gibeah, or Ramah. The Levite had traveled six miles north from Bethlehem to Jebus.
Gibeah was a city of the Benjamites, and lay only three miles north of
Jebus. Naturally he thought his reception among the Benjamites, men of
Israel as he was, would be far more hospitable. Vs. 14-15 tell of the Levite and his concubine's entrance into Gibeah.
"So they passed along and went their way, and the sun set on
them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin. And they turned aside there
in order to enter and lodge in Gibeah. When they entered, they sat down
in the open square of the city, for no one took them into his house to
spend the night."
In the ancient world a special emphasis was placed on hospitality. It was considered one of the chief virtues. In v. 15 the Benjamites of Gibeah do not show
hospitality to the Levite and his concubine. This, as it turned out, would be the
least of their sins. The story finds a very similar parallel in Genesis concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, the two tales are nearly identical. For just as the Sodomites
lacked hospitality, so do the Benjamites. Unfortunately for
the tribe of Benjamin the similarities would not stop there.
The Levite and concubine encounter an old man in Judges 19:16.
"Then behold, an old man was coming out of the field from
his work at evening. Now the man was from the hill country of Ephraim,
and he was staying in Gibeah, but the men of the place were Benjamites."
The verse indicates the old man was not one of the local
Benjamites, but rather from the hill country of Ephraim and likely an
Ephraimite. It has been noted in previous articles that the Ephraimites
and Benjamites shared a close bond and the two tribes oftentimes
settled within the borders of each other freely. The old man encourages the Levite to come and stay the night with
him. He warned the Levite not to spend the night in the open square.
Strangers to a city with no place to stay often slept in the city square. However, in some
cities this was dangerous. It appears as if Gibeah was one of those cities. The implication from the old man
is the Benjamites of the city are blood thirsty individuals. Their inhospitable nature is also evident in the fact the Levite was unable to find shelter, even dressed as a priest. People typically go out of their way for a man of God - not so in Gibeah. V. 22 introduces these unscrupulous Benjamites.
"While they were making merry, behold, the men of the city,
certain worthless fellows, surrounded the house, pounding the door; and
they spoke to the owner of the house, the old man, saying, 'Bring out
the man who came into your house that we may have relations with him."
Shades of Sodom and Gomorrah are clear. Compare these verses to Genesis 19:2-5.
The Benjamites, just as the Sodomites, surrounded the house and pounded
on the door demanding the respective guests be handed over. The
Benjamites, just as the Sodomites, wished to force themselves upon the strangers. And just as Lot offered up his daughters to the mob, the old man
offered his daughter; and the Levite offered up his concubine to the
lust-hungry Benjamites (v. 23). The extent of the Benjamites lust and depravity is seen in vs. 25-26. In this passage the men of Benjamin are indeed
ravenous wolves, and the concubine becomes their divided prey.
"But the men would not listen to him, so the man seized his
concubine and brought her out to them. And they raped her and abused
her all night until morning, then let her go at the approach of day. As
the day began to dawn, the woman came and fell down at the doorway of
the man's house where her master was, until full daylight."
The scene is one of blood-thirsty lust and immorality. The woman was gang raped and beaten "all night until morning".
These were not local Canaanites. These were Benjamites, sons of
Israel, members of the chosen nation of God Almighty. They claimed
membership to the tribe descended from the twelfth son of Jacob, the
younger brother of Joseph. Yet, their actions were those of Sodomites. Whether they let her go, or she escaped - perhaps after they had
all passed out from drunkenness and blood-lust - Scripture does not reveal.
However, it is clear the Benjamites had their way with her until morning.
After sunrise, beaten, bloody and battered, the woman made
her way back to the Levite and the old man. By the time she arrived she
was near death. In fact, she collapsed at the doorstep. Verse
27 gives her exact position.
"When her master arose in the morning and opened the doors
of the house and went out to go on his way, then behold, his concubine
was lying at the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold."
She had collapsed reaching for the door handle. It took all of her energy to simply get back to her lodging place. She died reaching for the door. The
concubine was dead and laid there for quite some time, as
Scripture indicates she lay at the threshold "until full daylight".
The Levite's response seems equally cold in verse 28. He shows no sadness, as he demands she arise and depart with him.
The woman obviously did not respond as she was dead. Realizing she is dead, he simply "placed her on the donkey" and set out on his way.
The callous reaction from the Levite towards the woman's death is almost
as disturbing as the Benjamites treatment of her in the first place. The Levite was a representative of God and held to a higher standard. He was
supposed to nurture the sick and dying. He was a priest and supposed to exhibit the compassion of God. The barbarity of the story escalates when the Levite reached his
home in verse twenty-nine. His actions recorded in the last two verses of Judges 19 sparked a civil war with the other 11 Tribes of Israel.
" 29 When he entered his house, he took a knife and laid hold
of his concubine and cut her in twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent
her throughout the territory of Israel. 30 And it came about that all who
saw it said, 'Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from the
day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day.
Consider it, take counsel and speak up!"
Judges 20 opens with the men of Israel debating on what to
do about such an atrocity. Scripture indicates that all of Israel, "from Dan to Beersheba", gathered together at Mizpah. This included men from Gilead, or the Transjordan tribes east of the Jordan River. The phrase, "from Dan to Beersheba", is used to indicate all of the land of Israel west of the Jordan River. Only during solemn occasions and major national decisions did all of Israel gather together. This was, indeed, one of those occasions.
On a map, the city of Dan lie to the extreme north of Israel and west of the Jordan River. Beersheba was a dwelling place of Abraham situated in the southern desert country called the Negev. Thus from Dan to Beersheba
included all men from the northern most and southern most parts of Israel west of the Jordan River. The phrase "including the land of Gilead" indicates the tribes east of the Jordan River were also present - in which case bringing all 12 Tribes together. The Transjordan tribes (East of the Jordan) had much less interaction with the other
tribes of Israel. The north and south of Israel west of the Jordan River, from Dan to Beersheba,
frequently interacted with each other. The Transjordan tribes of Gad, Reuben and East Manasseh withdrew to themselves after fulfilling their
obligations to Moses. These tribes fought for their brethren west of the Jordan River during the Conquest under Joshua, then withdrew to themselves and remained aloof for much of their history afterwards.
However, on this occasion all of Israel gathered together against the Levite and the
Benjamites. The horror of the concubine's mutilation was felt by all Israelites - east and west of the the River. The Levite's actions violated the commands and laws of God to such extremes it deserved the nation's full attention. Failure to bring into account this sin could bring God's
wrath on all of Israel.
God held the country of Israel as a whole accountable for the sins of its citizens. The sin of Achan (Joshua 7:16) during the reign of Joshua was clear indication and precedent for God's sense of accountability. Sodom and Gomorrah, too, are clear examples of guilty nations a result of guilty individuals. God's Word is clear that not only are individual's accountable for their actions, but so was the nation as a whole accountable for the actions of each man, woman and child within it. Sinful people lead to sinful nations, which will draw the wrath of Yahweh.
The Levite journeyed to Mizpah in order to meet with the
congregation of Israel and defend his actions. Scripture is silent as to what the
Benjamites were doing. The other tribal leaders of Israel were not happy
with receiving a dead woman's body part in the mail, and asked the Levite what led to such an act in verse three. Judges 20:4-6 depict the Levite's
"...I came with my concubine to spend the night at Gibeah,
which belongs to Benjamin. But the men of Gibeah rose up against me and
surrounded the house at night because of me. They intended to kill me;
instead, they ravished my concubine so that she died. And I took hold of
my concubine and cut her in pieces and sent her throughout the land of
Israel's inheritance; for they have committed a lewd and disgraceful act
The Levite argues his actions were in protest to the actions of the men of Benjamin. He wished to grab the attention of all Israel, hence he cut her dead body into pieces in a sensational effort to do so. He succeeded, as Scripture records "then all the people rose as one man"
united against the Benjamites. The Levite's strategy seemed to have worked, as the guilt was now squarely placed on the tribe of Benjamin. Judges 20:10 describes the Israelite's
battle plan against Benjamin. Notice how their plans are made
immediately after the Levite's speech. They do not consult God
first. Perhaps they rushed to action assuming God was with them.
Verse eleven skips ahead to the scene of the battle. All of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba
including the men of Gilead, surrounded the city of Gibeah. Evidently word had leaked to the Benjamites of the verdict in Mizpah, for
verse fourteen mentions "the sons of Benjamin gathered from the cities to Gibeah", no doubt in defense of their tribal brethren. The scene was ripe for a full fledged civil war. Israel,
however, gave the Benjamites one last opportunity to turn over the guilty
"...But the sons of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the sons of Israel."
They refused to hand over their fellow tribesmen. The Benjamites
had made their minds up to go to war, despite the odds being stacked
heavily against them. Such a willingness to fight against extreme odds shows the
mindset of the men from Benjamin. They were indeed ravenous wolves, ready to
pounce on their prey, with no care of being badly outnumbered. Scripture reveals Israel had mustered a force of 400,000 men. This is a huge
force gathered from eleven tribes. The
Benjamites numbered 26,000 men. The odds were massively
stacked against the tribe of Benjamin.
Much has been made about the translation and interpretation
of numbers in the Old Testament. Most of the debate revolves around the
Further light is shed on the warrior-nature of the Benjamites in
verse sixteen. Detail is given concerning the make-up and nature of
their small yet fierce army.
"Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss."
Once again Scripture speaks of Benjamites as being left-handed. This
is a very interesting and peculiar characteristic of the Benjamites.
In antiquity the left-hand was looked upon with
disdain. University of British Columbia psychologist Stanley Coren gives
an explanation as to why. Dr. Coren states;
"The early theory of disease was that it is caused by a demon.
For the average right-hander the left hand does not work very well --
it must be because of a demon. So everyone who is left-handed must be in
league with the devil. It's a universal belief."
Another theory is one more athletic in nature. It follows the theme the Benjamites
were warriors. They thrived in battle and were eager for a fight.
Any hitter in baseball, or wide receiver in American Football, can
attest to the difficulty in hitting and catching left-handed pitchers
and quarterbacks. Most people are right-handed, consequently a
left-handed individual is unique. It is a much different angle and view
on the ball coming from a left-handed perspective. Perhaps the Benjamites saw an advantage in being able to use the
left-hand effectively in combat. Much of ancient warfare was
hand-to-hand combat. In a time and culture that viewed the left-hand as
evil and unclean, it would have been a completely different feel in
battle fighting the Benjamites, as opposed to most other enemies. The
Benjamites would have held a tactical advantage. It is clear these men
were deadly accurate in their abilities as well. The fact they could
deliver from an unusual angle further enhanced their deadliness.
After the Benjamites refused to surrender the guilty men, the men of
Israel went up to Bethel to inquire of the Lord. At this point in the
history of Israel the Ark of the Covenant was at God's House in Bethel.
Only later, during the reign of David and Solomon, would the Temple and
the Ark reside in Jerusalem. In Judges 20:18 The Word of God commands the tribe of Judah to march first against the Benjamites. Verse twenty-one depicts the
outcome of the first battle.
"Then the sons of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and felled to the ground on that day 22, 000 men of Israel."
The mightiness of the Benjamites is seen after the results of day
one. They slaughtered men from the tribe of Judah. This is an extremely
fascinating event. The two tribes of Benjamin and Judah would later
form the backbone of the southern kingdom of Judah - yet stand as mortal enemies in this instance. The Benjamites
became the muscle behind the dynasty of King David. God would use
this tribe in a might way. Yet here, in this early episode of Israel's ancient past,
the Benjamites are depicted slaughtering their brethren after raping
and beating to death a Levite's wife.
Spiro Zodhiates made an insightful comment on Judges 20:23 in his Greek-Hebrew NASB Study Bible. He states;
"Apparently the Israelites trusted in their army and the
righteousness of their cause, and they did not include God in their
The results of day two were no different than day one. The
Benjamites came out from Gibeah against the men of Israel and
slaughtered another 18, 000 of their countrymen. The civil war had
claimed over 40, 000 men from the eleven other tribes of Israel in two days. Whether the numbers were actually
this high or not is a matter of interpretation, but regardless the loss
of life was unquestionably significant and one-sided.
Finally, in verse twenty-six, the men of Israel are seen prostrating themselves before the Lord
in Bethel - as they should have done in the first place. Scripture reveals all of the
people of Israel went to Bethel to plead for victory over the tribe of Benjamin.
"Then all the sons of Israel and all the people went up and
came to Bethel and wept; thus they remained there before the Lord and
fasted that day until evening. And they offered burnt offerings and
peace offerings before the Lord."
The men of Israel showed a true heart of seeking after God's will,
rather than a precursory trip to Bethel and then off to fight. The
previous two days had confirmed what they had only witnessed before; the
Benjamites were fierce and skilled warriors. In verse 28 God says;
"Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand."
The strategy employed by the Israelites against the tribe of
Benjamin is exactly the same strategy Joshua employed in the battle of
Ai - following Jericho. The Israelites deployed three forces, according to Judges 20:33-34. One force was stationed at Baal-tamar, and it seems another force was positioned at Maareh-geba.
The third force was a group of "ten thousand choice men from all Israel". This force was the group which would attack Gibeah. In essence, these ten thousand men were the bait. Yet, they were "choice" men, meaning skilled in war. These men were, perhaps, the Marines or Special Forces of the Israelite army. Their mission was not an easy one. They would engage the
Benjamites, then turn and feign retreat. Hopefully the
Benjamites would pursue, being overconfident from their previous two
slaughters. As they pursued the fleeing force the rear would be
exposed, at which point the two Israelite forces left behind would fall upon the
weakened city. The ambush was set.
The force of 10,000 would have to hold their own until the smoke
from the city rose in the distance. The smoke would cause the Benjamites to
flee back to the city for their families. The Israelite forces left behind would pounce on
the unsuspecting Benjamite warriors, utterly destroying them. An this was exactly what happened according to Judges 20:33-48.
The initial battle "became fierce" at the outset. However, the force of 10,000 Israelites "turned in the battle, and Benjamin began to strike and kill about thirty men of Israel".
This was the bait in action. The forces were said to have been in
hiding at Baat-tamar and Maareh-geba. These two places, though not
positively identified, are very interesting. Baal-tamar translates as lord of palm trees. It was
located within the tribal boundary of Benjamin, and many Biblical and
textual scholars identify it with the Palm of Deborah from which the
prophetess Deborah judged Israel. It was also associated with the groves
of the Canaanite deity Baal, an infamous Old Testament god. The
location of Baal-tamar has been identifed between Bethel and Gibeah; or
between Gibeah and Ramah.
Maareh-geba is a place name closely associated with both Geba and Gibeah. The KJV translates this as; "the meadows of Gibeah". Net.bible.org
has some interesting facts concerning the city. Others have suggested
the interpretation should read; "to the west of Geba". Regardless, it
seemed to lie to the east of Gibeah between Geba and Gibeah.The narrative is a bit confusing to read for the first time. The
action does not follow chronological order from verse to verse. Thus the
quotations from above are not in sequential order by verse, but
indicate the initial stages of the battle as it happened.
For example, in verse thirty-nine we are told the Benjamites
struck down thirty Israelites. Back in verse thirty-seven, however, we
are shown a picture of the hiding forces in action. This, presumably,
takes place as the Benjamites rush after the retreating force of 10,000
Israelites, striking down thirty of them in the process. Meanwhile,
verses thirty-six and seven indicate the action back near the city.
"So the sons of Benjamin saw that they were smitten. When
the men of Israel gave ground to Benjamin because they relied on the men
in ambush whom they had set against Gibeah, the men in ambush hurried
and rushed against Gibeah; the men in ambush also deployed and struck
all the city with the edge of the sword."
Scripture gives us both accounts happening simultaneously. The
divided forces of Israel had decided upon a signal beforehand, according
to verse thirty-eight. Upon seizing the city, they set a cloud of smoke
into the sky. The men of Israel would see that and know the city had
been taken. The Benjamites would see it as well, and know immediately
they had fallen for Israel's ploy.
In fact, verse forty-one indicates the Benjamites; "were terrified, for they saw that disaster was close to them."
Upon seeing the smoke rising from their city, the Benjamites turned and
fled back towards the city. However, the Israelites had anticipated
this and fell upon the sons of Benjamin. Scripture portrays the men of Benjamin fleeing in all
directions, scattered to the winds. The tide had turned on day three of
the civil war, just as God had told the men of Israel it would.
Verses forty-three and four indicate that 18,000 Benjamites were
slain from Gibeah to just east of the city. These men, Scripture tells,
were all "valiant warriors". Not all of the Benjamites
were struck down east of Gibeah, however. The Benjamites had taken
flight to the east and to the north. Thus a portion of the Benjamites
fled into the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, north of Gibeah. Their flight was in vain. Five thousand Benjamites were caught on
the highways and butchered by the pursuing Israelites. The congregation
of Israel had sworn to each other they would not stop fighting until
all the men of Benjamin were dead. Thus the Israelites chased after the
sons of Benjamin cutting them down along the way. By the end of the
massacre, all but 600 Benjamites had died at the hands of their fellow countrymen. The tribe had nearly been
exterminated from the face of the earth.
The tribe of Benjamin faced extinction like no other tribe of
Israel had previously. This was a singular event in the history of Israel. Benjamin's atrocious actions led nearly to their
annihilation. However, God turned the hearts of the Israelites in chapter twenty-one
in regards to the future of the Benjamites. Scripture records they had
previously killed all the women and children of the tribe of Benjamin.The predicament was obvious. Once the remaining 600 men of
Benjamin died, so too would the tribe of Benjamin as no women were left for the men. Though the Benjamites
would exist in pockets of families and clans, they would cease to exist
as a tribe. Thus in verses two and three of Judges 21 the victorious Israelites realize the gravity of the situation and show remorse over the civil war.
"So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God
until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. And they
said, 'Why, O Lord God of Israel, has this come about in Israel, so that
one tribe should be missing today in Israel?"
Verse four depicts these same Israelites building an altar to the
Lord the next day. Upon this altar they burned burnt offerings and
peace offerings to God Almighty. They were truly remorseful over the
prior events, and saddened by the loss of their brethren. None of the
tribes of Israel wanted to lose an entire tribe. However, they had
pledged prior to not give their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites. The question arose as to how they could find the
Benjamite men wives?
In Judges 21 the men of Israel assemble together and
formulate a plan to obtain wives for the Benjamites. Their foolish
pledge to keep their daughters from the Benjamites had placed the tribe
on the brink of extinction. Their answer was to murder the men and
women, "who had lain with a man", from the city of Jabesh-gilead. The virgins they would keep. Verse eight reveals their plan.
"And they said, 'What one is there of the tribes of Israel
who did not come up to the Lord at Mizpah?' And behold, no one had come
to the camp form Jabesh-gilead to the assembly."
The men of Israel assembled a force of 12,000 "of the valiant warriors". These men marched against Jabesh-gilead. Jabesh-gilead belonged to East Manasseh. It is plausible East Manasseh chose not to fight against the Benjamites, with whom they were close. Their inaction, though, cost them dearly. Scripture relates Israel killed every man and woman in the city. Only the virgins were left alive. These were to be provided for the Benjamites as wives.
"And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man by lying with him; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan."
The narrative clearly indicates there was much division among the 12 tribes of Israel. Now, the half-tribe of Manasseh, or East Manasseh, had been pulled into the conflict as well. Their allegiance to Benjamin should come as no surprise. It is somewhat surprising that the tribe of Ephraim is not mentioned as being on the side of Benjamin as well. The three tribes were very close.
Four hundred virgins from East Manasseh are rounded up and taken to
Shiloh. By doing this the men of Israel accomplished two feats, in their
minds. One, they punished those that failed to do their duty as
Israelites, and that was to gather and fight for a Godly cause. And two,
they secure brides for the Benjamites, thus procuring the future for
The plot is set into motion in verses nineteen and twenty. After
securing the virgins, Israel dispatched messengers to the Benjamites.
"So they said, 'Behold, there is a feast of the Lord from
year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north side of Bethel, on the
east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the
south side of Lebonah. And they commanded the sons of Benjamin, saying,
'Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, and watch, and behold if the
daughters of Shiloh come out to take part in the dances, then you shall
come out of the vineyards and each of you shall catch his wife from the
daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin."
Thus the Benjamites hid and waited for the virgins to show up.
However, they were under the impression these women were from Shiloh.
The men of Israel did not tell the Benjamites of how these women were
really obtained. Whether the Benjamites knew or not Scripture does not
state outright. Yet in verse twenty-three the Benjamites stormed down on
the unsuspecting virgins of Shiloh/East Manasseh and took for
themselves wives among the women.
This is certainly not an image of a godly and righteous nation.
God did not intend for marriage to be a free for all on unsuspecting
virgins taken from their homeland after their families and friends had
been killed. The story reeks of paganism and Canaanite culture. This was
not a holy time in the history of Israel. The Benjamites were certainly
guilty, although the other eleven tribes of Israel shared the burden of
guilt as well.
The last verse in the book of Judges seems to echo this sentiment. Judges 21:25 reads;
"In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes."
Even the logic for Israel's waywardness is off target. It is not
because they do not have a king, but rather it was because they failed
to acknowledge the King they already had. God's story throughout the Old
Testament is one of leading His people, when they allow him. Their
desire for a human king overshadowed their faithfulness to God. It is
this lack of an earthly king the author of Judges stresses was the
reason they did what was right in their own eyes. However, the future
kings of Israel would lead the people astray time and time again as
well. Human nature is human nature, whether that human be a pauper or a
king makes no difference.
Perhaps the author meant to convey the idea that God's commands
were not being followed by saying there was no king to lead them in the
statutes and commands of God. Every good church has a great preacher.
Every solid nation has a solid leader. However, as time would prove,
even the most righteous of kings, king David, was an adulterer and
murderer. Israel's continual dependence on man is their downfall
throughout much of the Old Testament.
This incident involving the Benjamites is certainly one of the
most puzzling and disturbing passages in the Bible. The brutality of the
narrative is vivid and extreme. Biblical scholars and critics have
assorted opinions as to the nature and make-up of the narrative, as well
as to the dating, as we touched on above.
Many early German scholars pronounced this passage as an
invention, created to cover up "atrocities" committed by the tribe of
Judah against the Benjamites. Those that support this view cite the
Benjamites relationship to Saul and their devotion to Ish-bosheth as
evidence of this theory. They claim these allegiances brought them into
conflict with the tribe of Judah and king David. However, Benjamin later
switched its allegiance to David. This line of thinking was popular in
the late nineteenth century.
More recent Biblical scholarship thinks it more likely these
events did happen, or the narrative at the very least rests on
"historical fact" (Jewish Encyclopedia.com).
One notices a shift in the nature of the Benjamites during the time of
the Monarchy and exile. This event seems to have jarred the tribe of
Benjamin into behaving as men of God; for in the remainder of the Bible
the sons of Benjamin are seen in a far different light.
The Philistines & the tribe of Benjamin
The period leading up to the Monarchy of Israel was dominated by
Philistine pressure. This pressure continually mounted against the
Israelites, as these mighty and cruel warriors proved too tough for not
only Israel, but Egypt and Canaanites as well. The events found in I Samuel 4 & 5
describe the events prior to the anointing of Saul. The Benjamites
would have been directly involved, as these chapters took place in and
around the tribal boundaries of Benjamin.
The great prophet Samuel judged Israel from the territory of the
Benjamites. His home was located in Ramah, a city within the tribe of
Benjamin. His circuit from from Gilgal, outside of Jericho, northeast to
Ophrah, southeast to Bethel, southward to Ramah, and west to Jericho
and Gilgal. This would have included the numerous towns and villages
within the interior.
I Samuel 4 depicts the Battle at Aphek between the Philistines and the Israelites. Aphek was a strategic city of antiquity. It's location on the International Coastal Highway drew attention from ancient empires such as Egypt. A Late Bronze Age (ca. 1550 - 1150 B.C.) structure was unearthed at Aphek which archaeologists have called "The Egyptian Governors Residency". Jonathan Tubbs, in his book Canaanites, points out these structures were found in other cities as well which exhibit strong Egyptian influence, and were under direct Egyptian control during this time period.
By ca. 1050 B.C., the time period involved in I Samuel 4, the Philistines occupied Aphek. They fortified this strategic city as well. The Philistines had effectively thrown off Egyptian control, and established their own kingdom comprised at the core by five city-states, centered on the Coastal Plain and united under one Philistine government. They also had other settlements as well. By the time of I Samuel they had established what Michael Grant calls "inland frontiers". Aphek was one such "inland frontier".
At this point in Israel's history the Ark of the Covenant was kept in nearby Shiloh. With the Philistine presence mere miles to the west, Israel sensed invasion. They countered by moving a force of men to Ebenezer. Little lay between the holy city of Shiloh and the Philistine army to the west. Though Scripture does not indicate such, it is quite possible men from Benjamin comprised a large portion of this force. The Benjamites had shown themselves eager to fight in the past, and certainly responded as such to the Philistine threat.
The two camps had gathered near each other for battle; with the Israelites encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines entrenched in one of their fortified cities, Aphek. Verse two depicts the first engagement.
"And the Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield."
The elders of Israel responded by sending the Ark into the camp of Israel in order to lift the men's spirits and bring the presence of God to the very battlefield.
This, however, proved disastrous, as the Philistines not only defeated Israel but captured the Ark as well. Verse
twelve provides solid Scriptural evidence the men from the tribe did
indeed take part in the fight. For it was one of the Benjamites that
managed to escape and bring news of the disastrous defeat to Shiloh.
"Now a man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes torn and dust on his head."
The man reported to Eli, the High Priest, what had transpired.
Upon hearing the ark of God had been taken, Eli fell backward, broke his
neck, and died. Such was the tragic state of Israel that day. The
Philistines marched the Ark throughout their kingdom, yet everywhere it
stopped disease and pestilence broke out. Eventually the Philistines
sent the ark of God back to Israel. Though the Ark was returned, its
initial loss surely had a tremendous and reverberating psychological
The loss at Aphek left Israel vulnerable and exposed to the
Philistine warriors, pictured in Egyptian writings as tall, slim
warriors wearing kilts. The Philistines soon expanded inward, occupying
and fortifying the city of Gibeah. Thus the Benjamites were pierced to
the very heart by the occupation of a city within the interior of their
allotment. The Philistine presence continued to encroach upon the
Israelites and would soon threaten their very existence.
The mounting Philistine threat, combined with the loss of the Ark
(though it was returned), the death of not only Eli, the High Priest,
but his two sons as well, were major contributors to the plea for a king
from the people of Israel. From the backdrop of these events emerged
the great prophet Samuel. Despite his greatness, the corrupt nature of
his sons prevented them from effectively judging, and finally led the
people to demand their first king.
In I Samuel 9 Scripture records the rise of Saul to the throne
of Israel. Though the exploits of Saul are too numerous for our
current aim, his impact on the tribe of Benjamin was considerable. Saul
came from a proud family of Benjamites. His lineage is given in the
opening two verses of chapter nine.
"Now there was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the
son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah,
the son of a Benjamite, a mighty man of valor. And he had a son whose
name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more
handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and
up he was taller than any of the people."
It would seem Saul came from a family of great warriors, though
his family was not thought of highly. Scripture also emphasizes his
impressive physical stature as well. He stood out amongst his fellow
countrymen. He was a physically imposing man. He looked like what a king
should look like on the outside.
In verse eleven God tells Samuel the king will come out of the
tribe of Benjamin. This man will not only rise to the kingship, uniting
all of Israel, but will drive out the Philistines, lifting the yoke of
Philistine oppression. Samuel is to anoint the man God reveals. The fact
this man was from the Benjamites surely surprised all of Israel. Even
Saul himself is surprised when Samuel reveals to him God shall make him
king over all of Israel. Saul's response is recorded in verse
"And Saul answered and said, 'Am I not a Benjamite, of the
smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the
families of the tribe of Benjamin? why then do you speak to me in this
Saul himself could not believe Samuel's words. Much insight is
given into the relationship of the 12 tribes of Israel. Apparently,
according to Saul, the Benjamites were viewed of as non-factors. At this
point in history, they most certainly were. One must keep in mind this
does not take place too long after the events of the Levite and his
concubine discussed above.
The tribe of Benjamin had been reduced to six hundred men, and
time enough had not elapsed for that number to increase significantly.
Saul's involvement in the Battle at Gibeah is not mentioned specifically
in Scripture. It is quite possible he was not even born when the event
transpired, and the tribe had grown somewhat by this time though still
was the smallest of the 12 tribes of Israel. It is also possible that he
even partook in the battle against Israel as one of the Benjamites
involved. It is just impossible to tell the extent of Saul's involvement
in the battle at Gibeah based on Scripture.
However, the Philistine threat remained real and imminent as Saul
took the reigns of leadership. The Benjamites rose to a prominence
never before experience amongst their brethren. One of their own had
ascended to the throne. It was a glorious moment of redemption for the
tribe of Benjamin. A king from amongst its ranks would erase the blemish
of previous sins.
The next mention of the Benjamites occurs in I Samuel 13.
Though not mentioned by name, the forces of Jonathan and Saul were most
certainly compiled by many of their fellow Benjamites. It is not
presumptuous to assume many of Saul's longtime friends filled the ranks
of his administration. It is possible the majority of the kingdom of
Israel was led by Benjamites in various roles throughout Saul's
administration. His second in command was a Benjamite, his son Jonathan.
The Battle at Micmash
Prior to the battle, recorded in I Samuel 14, Saul had violated God's command, via Samuel. Samuel was the mouthpiece of God to Saul, yet Saul oftentimes refused to heed Samuel's instruction. The previous chapter was just such an instance. Saul had violated Samuel's instructions from God. Consequently, Samuel revealed to Saul that the kingdom would one day be tore from his hands, and given "to a man after His own heart".
It is safe to assume this did not please king Saul. Samuel departed the king's presence and returned to Gibeah. Saul remained at Gilgal, where he had previously sinned against God. The young kingdom lie in a precarious position. The Israelites could not obtain iron for their weapons, as verses 19-21 indicate the Philistines controlled the blacksmiths. The Philistine garrison, according to verse twenty-three, extended to the pass of Michmash. Saul had just drawn the disfavor of God and Samuel.
The opening verses of chapter fourteen depict Jonathan's
courageous attack on the Philistine garrison near Michmash. The
Benjamites had a legacy of heroic warriors, extending to the deliverance
of Ehud centuries earlier, that were surely on the front of every
Benjamite mind. Jonathan sought to live up to his forefather's example
by attempting a daring raid on the Philistines.
Scripture sheds light on the make-up of the Israelite and
Philistine forces. The Israelites numbered 3, 000 men total. Their
forces were divided into two groups; one under the leadership of king
Saul, and the other under the leadership of his son Jonathan. The forces
of Jonathan were 1, 000 strong, and stationed in Gibeah of Benjamin.
Saul's forces were 2, 000 strong and stationed near Michmash. Though
verse two states "in Michmash", the actual location is outside the city, as is evident from the passage in I Sam. 10:5.
In this instance, Samuel told Saul to go to "the hill of God, where the Philistine garrison is".
The map included indicates Migron as a possible location, though this
cannot be verified with fact. Regardless, the two forces were keyed on
Michmash. In Michmash, Scripture indicates 30, 000 Philistine chariots
and men were keyed on the Israelites. Their front guard was stationed a
few miles off. This would be the guard Jonathan slaughtered, inspiring
the Israelites to victory.
The odds were overwhelmingly in favor of the Philistines. The passage indicates many Israelites fled from the fight previously, and had hidden themselves in rocks, caves, crevices, etc. Only 3, 000 soldiers remained. Though it may be presumptuous to say so, it is likely many of these men were Benjamites, backing their brethren to the death if need be. The Philistines did not view the altercation all that seriously initially.
God used the Philistine arrogance against themselves. Jonathan and his servant crossed the pass to the side of the Philistine camp, identifying themselves to the front guards on duty. The Philistine reaction is recorded in I Samuel 14:11.
"And when both of them revealed themselves to the garrison
of the Philistines, the Philistines said, 'Behold, Hebrews are coming
out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.' "
It is interesting to note the Philistines identify them as "Hebrews",
in a condescending and perhaps playful tone. The term took on a
negative connotation when used by enemies of the Israelites. One will
take notice "Israelites" is often used in instances where the people are looked upon favorably. "Hebrews" is oftentimes used to emphasize the inferior status of the Jewish people.
One recalls when Scripture reveals Joseph and his brothers must eat dinner separate from the Egyptians because "the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews". Even prior, the appellation Hebrews is used when speaking of the Jewish people in slavery, or under oppression.
Thus the Philistines mockingly gestured for Jonathan and his
servant to approach, not worried in the least about the ravenous nature
of the Benjamites. Jonathan pounced on his prey, as he and his servant
struck down "twenty men within about half a furrow in an acre of land".
So shocking was Jonathan's gallant victory Scripture records all of the region felt it in verse fifteen.
"And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and
among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and
the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling."
God seemed to have coupled Jonathan's act of faith with an
earthquake that sent the Philistine camp into chaos. The sign from God
was not lost on the Israelites, as they faithfully followed up
Jonathan's brave act.
The men of Saul and Jonathan, the Benjamites and other men of
Israel making up the forces of king Saul, rallied and drove the
Philistines from Michmash. The victory that day was a great one in the
eyes of the people, solidifying Saul's authority and ability as king.
The men of Israel drove the Philistines northward past Beth-aven.
They regained critical ground and confidence. Though the war with
the Philistines was far from over, this key battle proved monumental in
the reign of king Saul. God had delivered His people once again from
seemingly impossible odds.
However, with the death of Saul the Benjamites would once again find themselves entangled in a situation bordering on civil war. Saul's son Ish-bosheth is anointed king upon Saul's death. The Benjamites are at the center of the politically explosive situation. Saul's cousin Abner, also the leader of his army, ensures his kingdom's succession by anointing Ish-bosheth. The kingdom, however, is divided as to its loyalties. II Samuel 2:8-10 tells of the events.
"But Abner, son of Ner, Saul's commander, had taken Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim. And he made him king over Gilead, over the Ashurites, over Jezreel, over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, even over all Israel. Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, was forty years old when he became king for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David."
This was the stretch of time David ruled from Hebron, south of Jerusalem. I Chronicles 12:29 mentions 3, 000 Benjamites that defected from Saul's camp to David during this stretch of time in Hebron.
"And of the sons of Benjamin, Saul's kinsmen, 3, 000; for until now the greatest part of them had kept their allegiance to the house of Saul."
Hebron was the capital of David's kingdom at this time, thus his supporters gathered together there with him. They are listed by tribe in this passage found in I Chronicles.
Jerusalem was still Jebus, under Jebusite control. This is why Ish-bosheth was crowned east of the Jordan. One notices the tribe of Ephraim is mentioned along with the Benjamites. Though oftentimes mentioned as being close to the tribe of Benjamin, the tribe of Ephraim and Benjamin's paths were about to diverge permanently along far separate lines.
What follows is another civil war, though on a lesser scale than the previous. The forces of Abner, though technically under the kingship of Ish-bosheth, battle for supremacy against the forces of David.
Ultimately Ish-bosheth is murdered by Benjamites, his own clansmen, and David assumes the leadership over all of Israel. From this point on the Benjamites would remain loyal to the house of David. Leaders and officials in both the regions of David and Solomon would hail from the tribe of Benjamin.
One of David's thirty "Mighty Men" from Scripture was a man named "Ittai, the son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the sons of Benjamin".
Dr. Earnest Martin points out in his article entitled, The Tribe of Benjamin, that every advantage would have been with the Benjamites joining the north. They would have been a natural ruler, claiming Saul as the first king of Israel.
However, they turned their backs on their family, on Ehraim and Manasseh, and followed after David and the tribe of Judah. God had a special role for the Benjamites within the southern kingdom of Judah.
"But to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant
David may have a lamp always before Me in Jerusalem, the city where I
have chosen for Myself to put My name."
The one tribe was the tribe of Benjamin. The Benjamites were to
be a lamp unto Judah. The Benjamites, as will be seen, fought at the
side of David and his kingdom of Judah. They defended their home with
bravery. God Himself had blessed them by putting His Temple in their
The Benjamites received this unique honor, according to some
Rabbinnic traditions, because they were the one brother of Joseph that
did not participate in the selling of him into slavery. God, thus,
rewarded Benjamin by claiming one of their cities as His.
I Kings 4:18 lists Shimei the son of Ela as one of
Solomon's officials. This man was of the Benjamites as well. He was one
of Solomon's Twelve Deputies. These men were responsible for providing
for the King's household for one month of the year. Provisions for this
month would presumably be gathered from among the clans of the tribe
prior to the month of their responsibility. This was a grave and serious
Accordingly, by the time of I Kings 12 the Benjamites are firmly entrenched behind the house of David. I Kings 12
is significant because this is the chapter which records the schism
which would forever divide Israel. At the time of Solomon's death, his
son Rehoboam ascended to the throne. In chapter twelve he goes to
Shechem to be crowned king.
However, Jeroboam, exiled to Egypt unjustly by Solomon, returns
and along with other representatives of Israel confronts Rehoboam in
Shechem. The result is a split in the kingdom, with Jeroboam I becoming
the first king of Israel; and Rehoboam becoming the first king of the
southern kingdom of Judah. The Benjamites remained loyal to Judah,
along with the tribe of Simeon. The other nine tribes, however, united
behind Jeroboam and Israel.
It was at this point the city of Jerusalem became the capital of
the southern capital of Judah. Previously, King David had conquered it
from the hands of the Jebusites, something the Benjamites could never
accomplish on their own. He had established it as the capital of all
Israel. Now, however, it remained as the capital of the south only. This
was a distinct advantage for the smaller southern kingdom of Judah.
For just as Moses had predicted earlier, the Temple of God
remained in its land, as Benjamin remained loyal to Judah. Jerusalem
would become associated with Judah from this point on in its history.
In verses twenty and twenty-one the Benjamites find themselves on the
brink of civil war once again.
"And it came about when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had
returned, that they sent and called him to the assembly and made him
king over all Israel. None but the tribe of Judah followed the house of
David. Now when Rehoboam had come to Jerusalem, He assembled all the
house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, 180, 000 chosen men who were
warriors, to fight against the house of Israel to restore the kingdom to
Rehoboam the son of Solomon."
The lines had officially been drawn. The southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon followed after Rehoboam and formed the southern kingdom of Judah; whereas the northern tribes stood behind Jeroboam, the exile returned from Egypt, and became known as the northern kingdom of Israel.
The period of the Divided Kingdom became one of inter-tribal jealousies and rivalries. Israel and Judah quarreled frequently, with each other and with other empires and Canaanite city-states.
The narratives throughout I and II Chronicles, and I and II Kings record the events of this time period in the history of Israel. In the south, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were the two dominant tribes. Simeon seems to have been absorbed into Judah, and is seldom mentioned again in Scripture.
The Benjamites & King Asa
The Benjamites, however, continue to appear throughout the pages of
the Bible. One interesting encounter involving the Benjamites took
place during the reign of King Asa in II Chronicles 14. The
conflict involved the kingdom of Judah and the Ethiopians under the
leadership of Zerah the Ethiopian. Spiros Zodhiates claims this is
probably Osorkon I, the second ruler of the twenty-second dynasty of
Osorkon I was the successor to Sheshenk I, the same as Shishak of
Egypt. Shishak marched against Judah in the days of Rehoboam. This
incident is recorded in II Chronicles 12:2. Thus Egyptian
invasion was nothing new to Judah in it's early years. Rehoboam ruled
Judah from ca. 926 - 910 B.C.; and Asa ruled ca. 908 - 868 B.C.
Scripture clearly indicates Egypt and Israel remained rivals throughout
the centuries following the Exodus.
In verse eight the army of king Asa is given.
"Now Asa had an army of 300, 000 from Judah, bearing large
shields and spears, and 280, 000 from Benjamin, bearing shields and
wielding bows; all of them were valiant warriors."
This verse indicates the Benjamites were still known for their
ability with the bow and arrow. They were continually associated with
the sling and bow throughout the Old Testament. It often seemed they
were facing stout odds at best. This occasion was to be no different.
Zerah's army is listed as numbering "one million men and 300 chariots".
Obviously, there were not literally one million men in Zerah's army.
However, the odds were greatly stacked against Judah; it was two tribes
against a nation.
Earlier in chapter fourteen Scripture relates how Asa cleansed the
land of the temples, and altars of the pagan gods of the Canaanites. He
instituted religious reform throughout
and Judah, for which he drew the praise and favor of God. The Lord
blessed Asa with peace, at which time he was able to fortify a number of
cities. This was the first major encounter of Asa's rule, and his
response in verse eleven reflected his actions of righteousness.
"Then Asa called to the Lord his God, and said, 'Lord,
there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful
and those who have no strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust
in Thee, and in Thy name have come against this multitude. O Lord, Thou
art our God; let not man prevail against Thee."
The forces had gathered in the valley of Zephathah in Mareshah. Mareshah is one of the "fortified cities in Judah and Benjamin" built up by king Rehoboam years earlier, recorded in II Chronicles 11:8.
Its fortifications would come under scrutiny to say the least against
the horde of Ethiopians under Zerah. King Asa did not hesitate in
calling upon the name of God to deliver them from the Egyptians. In
typical faithfulness God delivered the Benjamites and Judah from Zerah
in verses twelve and thirteen.
"So the Lord routed the Ethiopians before Asa and before
Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. And Asa and the people who were with him
pursued them as far as Gerar; and so many Ethiopians fell that they
could not recover, for they were shattered before the Lord, and before
Scripture relates Judah destroyed the cities around Gerar. They plundered the area; "for the dread of the Lord had fallen upon them".
After their rampage the men returned to Jerusalem. Thus king Asa
continued to do right in the eyes of the Lord. Unfortunately he would
stray from the path later in his life and reign. Years later the seer
Hanani confronts king Asa on his waywardness, reminding him of the
Lord's deliverance from the Ethiopian army in II Chronicles 16:8.
"Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with
very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord,
He delivered them into your hand."
Hanani's next words are some of the most profound in all of the Bible.
"For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the
earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His."
The Benjamites continued to display their renewed heart as they stood
valiantly behind the Davidic throne, despite overwhelming odds time and
again. Asa's heart, however, would become hardened; and in II Chronicles 16
he died of a severe disease, refusing to the end to put his trust back
in God. The tribe of Benjamin, accordingly, remained loyal to the house
of David throughout the reign of Asa, and the Benjamites continued their
support throughout the empire's history.
In fact, so entwined are the Benjamites with the kingdom of Judah that Nadav Na'aman argues in his article The Kingdom of Judah Under Josiah;
"the broad geographical areas apparently corresponded to the districts
of the kingdom" of Judah. These "broad geographical areas" included; the
Negev, the Judean Hill Country, Jerusalem, the Shephelah, and the land
of Benjamin. King Josiah is believed to have ruled ca. 639 - 609 B.C.
It is important to note that although Simeon lost it's identity,
the Benjamites maintained theirs. Even though their tribal allotment
fell under the government of the kingdom of Judah, it maintained its
tribal autonomy, acknowledged by the identification of the "land of Benjamin"
as a district within the kingdom. The phrase "the land of Benjamin"
indicates a familiarity with the land indicated. The tribal boundaries
of Benjamin, along these lines of thinking, maintained the same lines as
before, even though now governed by Judah. As a light to Judah, the
tribe of Benjamin would maintain a certain privileged status. The very
House of God was within its borders.
The frontier of Benjamin would again take on significance during
this time of rivalry kingdoms. Benjamites found themselves on the border
of the kingdom of Israel and Judah, as mentioned previously. However,
with the fall of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians in the eighth
century, the pax Assyriaca ushered in an era of mobility on the
frontier. This period of peace brought on by Assyrian invasion, as
Na'aman points out, allowed Benjamites to move freely into and out of
the tribal land of Ephraim. The Ephraimites had been exiled by the
Assyrians as they were part of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Benjamite families, thus, migrated and mingled with remnants of
Ephraimite families. One such example, as pointed out by Na'aman, is
that of Beriah. I Chronicles 7:23 mentions Beriah as an important
Ephraimite family. Following the fall of the north, as mentioned above,
Benjamites migrated to Aijalon, Lod, and Ono. Thus, in I Chronicles 8:13
Beriah is associated with the tribe of Benjamin as well. It is likely
migrating Benjamites intermingled with the Ephraimite family of Beriah,
thus his association with both tribes.
The kingdom of Judah, however, would soon face exile of its own.
In 586 B.C. the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to
Jerusalem, burning the city and the Temple to the ground. The Temple
treasure was looted and the people were exiled. Jerusalem would lay in a
heap of ruins for several decades following this catastrophic event.
The Benjamites continued to play a vital role in the kingdom throughout
these difficult years. The great prophet Jeremiah hailed from the tribe
of Benjamin, and preached of the impending doom for Judah in the hands
of the Babylonians.
The Exile & Return of Judah
The Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah cover the years from 457 - 432 B.C. and have to do with the return of the Israelites to Judah from Babylonian captivity. They had suffered under the hand of Babylon for eighty years. The book of Daniel deals specifically with the Babylonian kings. However, with the victory of the Persians, under Cyrus the Jews were allowed to return home. Ezra 1:1 opens with the proclamation of Cyrus'. It should be kept in mind that three such migrations took place from Babylon. Zerubbabel was the first ca. 536 B.C.; Ezra was the second in 457 B.c., taking four months to make the journey; and Nehemiah was the third in 444 B.C. The Benjamites role in this return to the Holy Land is seen in verse five.
"Then the heads of fathers households of Judah and Benjamin
and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God
had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord which is in
Thus the tribes of the southern kingdom of Judah kept their
identity, whereas the tribes of Israel, exiled by the Assyrians had lost
their identity. Scripture makes it evident the Benjamites, Levites,
and men of Judah had kept their tribal identity intact. The Jews
joyfully returned back to Jerusalem, first under Zerubbabel, in order to
rebuild God's House. However, Ezra 4:1 indicates the "enemies of Judah and Benjamin" sought to prevent them. As one reads through the pages of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Malachi, and Zecheriah
speak of these events and the continual harassment by the enemies of
Israel. The last thing these peoples wanted was the Jewish presence back
in the area.
The books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther cover
approximately 100 years of history; dating from 536 - 432 B.C. The
Benjamites were very influential during this transitional time. They
remained a light to Judah, assisting in the rebuilding and establishment
of God's House. They were returning to rebuild their city, to resettle
their tribal inheritance. As stated previously, Scripture indicates
certain Benjamites had stayed behind throughout all of the Babylonian
captivity. The men of Benjamin were also allowed to live in Jerusalem.
In Ezra 10:9 all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered to
listen to Ezra address them. He accused the Benjamites and men of Judah
as straying from the commands of God, and intermingling and marrying
foreign women, and worshiping foreign gods. They had been unfaithful to
God Almighty. Ezra urged them "to make confession to the Lord God of your fathers",
and He would prove faithful. To this, the Benjamites and Judahites
confessed their guilt before Ezra and God. Spiros Zodhiates beautifully
described the efforts of these Israelites in the post-exile period;
"God empowered His chosen people to overcome all opposition, even against impossible odds."