Who is Benjamin? He is the youngest of Jacob's 12 sons and the baby of the family. So it's no surprise to find the psalmist calling Benjamin's tribe 'little Benjamin'. But though the smallest of the tribes, Benjamin's impact is huge. To make the point, we have only has to think of Ehud, Saul, Jonathan, Mordecai and the apostle Paul, all of them sons of Benjamin.
How is it then that this little tribe has such a big impact?
The answer is found in Jacob's words, “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey and at night he shall divide the spoil.”. Many expressions in the English language contain the word wolf. Have you ever ‘cried wolf’ or ‘kept the wolf from the door‘? Have you been ‘thrown to the wolves’ or confronted a ‘wolf in sheep's clothing‘? Wolves capture the imagination. They are cunning, dangerous and ferocious. So Benjamin may be small but there’s something of the wolf about him, indeed “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf”. He has an insatiable hunger, a single-mindedness and once the quarry is in his sights, he will not surrender the chase, whatever the danger or difficulty. This explains how 'little Benjamin' is able to take down opponents more powerful than himself and not only devour the prey but share the spoil with others, “In the morning he shall devour the prey and at night he shall divide the spoil.” The little tribe with a big bite.
These wolf-like qualities can make or break Benjamin.
The breaking of Benjamin.
‘ In Judges 19 the men of Gibeah of the tribe of Benjamin rape and murder a Levite's concubine (the full story is far worse). They behave like a pack of wolves. When the other tribes hear of this outrage and demand that Benjamin hand over the guilty. But what does Benjamin do? Does he side with Israel against the guilty? On the contrary, “ the children of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brethren, the children of Israel. Instead, the children of Benjamin gathered together from their cities to Gibeah, to go to battle against the children of Israel.” Just like a wolf, they are happy with the odds. As a pack they band together against the other tribes and civil war ensues. In their fearless cunning they almost pull it off. But such is their single-mindedness in the face of every danger, that they don’t know when to stop and the tribe is almost annihilated.
Benjamin is a ravenous wolf that has to be slaughtered before it will let go. ‘ King Saul is another ravenous wolf who doesn’t know when to stop and having got David's scent he pursues him relentlessly. “ So David made haste to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were encircling David and his men to take them.” All very wolf-like. ‘ And so to another Benjaminite, another Saul. In Acts 9 we read of Saul of Tarsus, 'who breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
This is the ultimate ravenous wolf, unrelenting, cruel and cunning. Breathing threats and murder, he is unrivalled in his ferocity, persecuting God’s people, even beyond the boundaries of the Jewish world, until great David's greater son exclaims, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?”
But there’s another side to Benjamin.
The making of Benjamin
‘ Ehud is also a wolf, who with great cunning pursues his quarry to apparently the safest room in the kingdom, Eglon’s private chamber. And then having despatched his more powerful foe, the rest of Israel enter into the spoils of victory. ‘ Think of Jonathan. Who but a Benjaminite would take on the Philistine garrison and relish the odds?
“Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armour, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few."And as Jonathan under God makes the first blow, so the shock waves ripple out and as the Philistines are crushed, again all Israel rejoices. ‘
Then there is Mordecai, another ravenous wolf who picks up the scent of the enemy of God's people. Day and night wicked Haman lives under the gaze of this lone wolf. In the end, under God, this cunning wolf is too much for Haman and he is hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai. The day set aside by Haman for the destruction of the Jews, now under Mordecai becomes the day when the Jews destroy their enemies. This wolf has a ferocious bite and again all Israel enters into the blessing. ‘
Finally, what of Saul? On that Damascus road, this ravenous wolf himself becomes the quarry. He is pursued, overtaken and conquered by Christ, but Saul doesn’t cease to be a wolf. Indeed his fearless, single-minded zeal is now energised in the service of Jesus and the greatest persecutor of the church becomes the greatest preacher of Christ. Paul, the little man, in labours more abundant, consumed now with a hunger to serve the Lord. ‘ Has God made you a Benjamin, or at least if not pure born, you have much of the Benjaminite in you? In the eyes of some you may not amount to much, you are, after all, little Benjamin, but Benjamin is a ravenous wolf. Yes not only do you have zeal and cunning(or shall we say wisdom) but you also possess a single-mindedness and a bite. Furthermore, you do not mind the odds. ‘
So what will you do with these qualities? They’re qualities which can bless or curse, you can take on the world or you can trouble the church. You can be a Jonathan with a holy recklessness, which under God, against the odds, sends panic and confusion among the strongholds of Satan, or you can be Benjamin in Judges, and with a foolish recklessness, against the odds, refuse to listen and split the church. So which is it to be? What do you get your teeth into? ‘ Whose scent are you on? Do you see, you can be a Saul, pursuing a personal vendetta against a child of God or you can be a Mordecai, and at cost to yourself, secure their highest good.
So which is it to be? Are you building the church or undermining it? Do you want to be a Saul of Tarsus or a Paul the Apostle? Do you want to spend and be spent for Jesus, with the people of God entering into the spoils of your labours? “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey and at night he shall divide the spoil.” ‘ So what will you do with your Benjamin qualities? Upon what does their usefulness turn? One thing and one thing only. How you respond to the Judahite King. In the days of the Judges, “there was no King in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” Saul persecuted David the anointed King but Jonathan loved David. Saul of Tarsus persecuted Jesus but Paul the Apostle worshipped Christ.
‘ Our usefulness and the degree to which our labours (dividing the spoils) bless the people of God, turn on what we do with Jesus the true King. ‘ Finally, in one regard all of us are called to be Benjaminites, to pursue Jesus with a single-minded devotion, whatever the difficulties, dangers and odds. We are never to let go. It took a Benjaminite to say “For me to live is Christ.”