I received the following question:
So why do you think that the tribe of Benjamin holds a special bragging right to it. I’m referring to when Paul is boasting in Philippians 3 that the tribe of Benjamin was something to be highly regarded. It seemed like it was one of the smaller tribes and maybe there was something in that. However, this tribe was almost wiped out completely back in the Old Testament by God. Seems like that isn’t anything to brag about.
To start out with, let us examine the passage you refer to. Paul, in listing his pedigree in Philippians 3, says in verses 4b-6, “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Here, being a member of the tribe of Benjamin clearly is something that Paul (and the Holy Spirit) considers as prestigious or worthy of having confidence in the flesh about. What is it that makes Benjamin special?
You are correct, in the book of Judges, Benjamin was almost wiped out. We read in Judges 19 of a terrible rape and murder done in a city of Benjamin by wicked Benjamites. The rest of the tribes were so enraged by this that they set up their armies outside the territory of Benjamin and sent messengers throughout the territory of that tribe demanding that the wicked men who had done this atrocious deed be delivered to them. Benjamin refused to listen, however, and instead brought out their own army against them. A complicated encounter ensued, but at last Benjamin was defeated by the army of Israel. We read in Judges 20:46-48:
46. So all who fell of Benjamin that day were twenty-five thousand men who drew the sword; all these were men of valor. 47. But six hundred men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and they stayed at the rock of Rimmon for four months. 48. And the men of Israel turned back against the children of Benjamin, and struck them down with the edge of the sword–from every city, men and beasts, all who were found. They also set fire to all the cities they came to.
So Benjamin was wiped out, all except these six hundred men. They were given wives from the other tribes, however, and started to replenish the tribe. The tribe remained small after this, as we might imagine with such a severe setback to their growth at this point when all the tribes had grown quite large.
This event, however, is not what defined the tribe of Benjamin in Paul’s day. Rather, what made them a prestigious tribe is what we read in II Chronicles 11. There, Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, has just answered the leaders of the people of Israel unwisely in the request they made to him in chapter 10 to be easier on them than his father was. Thus, the tribes of Israel, all except Judah his own tribe, had revolted against him. However, in verse 1, we read,
1. Now when Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled from the house of Judah and Benjamin one hundred and eighty thousand chosen men who were warriors, to fight against Israel, that he might restore the kingdom to Rehoboam. 2. But the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, 3. “Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all Israel in Judah and Benjamin, saying, 4. “Thus says the LORD: “You shall not go up or fight against your brethren! Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.”” Therefore they obeyed the words of the LORD, and turned back from attacking Jeroboam.
Here, we see that Judah, his own tribe, was not the only tribe that stayed loyal to King Rehoboam during the rebellion. The tiny tribe of Benjamin, so small that they seem to barely get a mention in this passage, and seem to have been outright overlooked by the rebels, also stuck with the Davidic king and supported him. There is further evidence regarding this down in verse 12, where in reading of Rehoboam’s subsequent preparations to arm his people, we see:
12. Also in every city he put shields and spears, and made them very strong, having Judah and Benjamin on his side.
So we see that Benjamin remained on the side of Rehoboam, and was one of two tribes whose leadership was faithful to the line of David. This was Benjamin’s claim to fame. As time went on and the ten tribes of Israel became more and more corrupt and turned more and more away from God, the godly among them left the country and migrated to Judah, where the Lord was still worshipped. Yet only Judah and Benjamin had their tribal leadership remain loyal to the Davidic kings, and so these tribes were counted as being the most faithful and most loyal to God. (This discounts Levi, which was scattered among the other tribes and became more of a “religious clan” than a tribe as time went on.)
Thus it was that, even at the time of Paul when all Israel was united once again, Benjamin was considered the tribe that was most faithful to God’s plan, the line of Davidic kings that He had set up, and Judah, the leadership tribe that He had chosen. Thus to be a Benjamite marked one out as a special Israelite, one from perhaps the most prestigious tribe next to Judah. To be a part of this faithful tribe was indeed considered something one could brag about, as Paul said he could in Philippians 3.
So, it was not the event in Judges that made Benjamin be considered a great tribe, for that would suggest the opposite. Rather, it was Benjamin’s faithfulness in the days of Rehoboam when all the other tribes turned away.