In the book of Genesis, more is written about Joseph than any other character. The book builds up to his life; it ends with his story. Joseph, we know, is a picture of Jesus. But let’s not stop there. Let’s build onto that connection. Let’s take the next step.
We have already discussed how Ephraim and Manasseh represent Gentile believers (click here to see that connection made). Today I want to talk about Benjamin. A smile comes over my face every time I think about him. Because what we find is that Benjamin is a picture of the Jewish Messianic believer. For throughout the last 2000 years, there has been a steady line of Jews who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah. In the beginning there were many, then it narrowed in number, and today again there are more and more coming to faith and accepting Jesus as their Messiah. Writing today, I hope to show how these Jewish believers are represented by Joseph’s beloved brother Benjamin.
1. For starters, the Apostle Paul epitomizes a Messianic Jew. Of course, Paul is of the tribe of Benjamin! As he writes in Philippians: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews . . . But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
2. We’ll note that Benjamin was the only son born to Israel. All the other sons were born to Jacob. It was during Jacob’s wrestling match with God that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and it was after that name-change when Benjamin was born. Benjamin himself had a name change, the only son of the 12 to have one. At his birth, his mother Rachel named him Benoni, meaning son of my sorrows. Interestingly, Jews who have placed their faith in Jesus have been a source of sorrow to the Jews who have not. Indeed, when a Jewish person gives his life to Jesus, it is not uncommon that his Jewish parents sit shiva and mourn him as though he had died. He becomes a Benoni, son of my sorrows. But you see, the Father disagrees. God, like Israel, changes it from Benoni to Benjamin, son of the right hand. So what appears as a source of sorrow to the Jewish people God says No, this one is a son of the right hand. The right side represents strength and spirit. In strength the Jewish believer stands with what he knows to be true, having the spiritual eyesight to recognize Jesus for who He is––just as Jacob recognized God in the wrestling match, and so became Israel.
3. Benjamin’s birth is connected directly to Joseph. This is easy to miss, but remember what Rachel said when she gave birth to Joseph. Why did she name him Joseph? Joseph (יוסף) means to add or do again. Her words are found in Genesis 30:24: “And Rachel called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son!’” God later added to her another son––Benjamin! So Joseph’s very name is attached to Benjamin. Joseph’s name is a prayer that God would add another son. And God answered that prayer. The connection here is that the re-birth of a Jewish believer is connected back to Jesus, just as Benjamin’s birth is connected back to Joseph.
4. Benjamin is born just on the edge of Bethlehem, the town Jesus would be born in. The other 11 sons were born north of this area, while Jacob was serving Laban and so on and so forth. Rachel was pregnant with Benjamin as the family journeyed southward, giving birth to him on the road between Bethel and Ephrath. Genesis 48:7 tells us that Ephrath is Bethlehem. It is interesting to note that Benjamin was born on the road, not at home. This makes me think of the diaspora, Jews living outside Israel, away from home so to speak, coming to faith in Messiah around the world. They are born again “on the road.”
5. Benjamin did not participate in the sell of Joseph. Jacob sent Joseph to go out and check on his brothers, but Benjamin stayed at home. Benjamin had no part in the betrayal of Joseph. In a similar sense, Jewish believers are those who do not disown Jesus as their brothers do.
6. Benjamin is not imprisoned with his brothers. When Benjamin’s brothers went to Egypt, they were imprisoned for about three days (imprisoned for two days, then set free on the third day). Benjamin was never in prison whereas all the rest were. Another way to say this is, Benjamin enjoyed a freedom that the other brothers did not––freedom from guilt, freedom from prison. He had a level of freedom that the other brothers didn’t experience. But those brothers (the Jews, the sons of Jacob) will know such freedom after 2000 years, themselves being set free in the third millennium.
7. Joseph’s cup is hidden in Benjamin’s sack, the cup being a picture of Messiah’s cup. It’s a symbol. It’s a picture. And what was the cup made of? Silver. Silver is always a picture of redemption. Wherever we see silver, we see redemption. And unbeknownst to his brothers, Benjamin had such a treasure hidden in his sack, placed there by Joseph. What the Orthodox Jewish community doesn’t realize is that their Messianic counterparts have a treasure hidden in their sack, put there by Jesus.
8. Benjamin receives a greater portion than the other brothers. When they sit down to feast, Joseph gives all of his Jewish brothers a large portion, but to Benjamin he gives five times as much! (See Genesis 43:34.) In Hebraic thought, 5 is the number that represents grace. Because of Joseph’s actions, Benjamin experiences a blessing of grace that is more rich than what the brothers experience.
9. Benjamin’s life is closely bound to his father Israel. This is what Judah says as he pleads with Joseph in Genesis 44. He says in verse 30, “...my father’s life is closely bound up with the boy’s life...” In other words, the life of Benjamin––representing a Jewish believer in Messiah––is still bound to Israel, still bound to the fathers, still bound to the covenants and the promises. He never ceases being Jewish.
10. Benjamin is the youngest brother. In parallel, Messianic Judaism is just 2000 years old, whereas Judaism as a whole has been around since Abraham 4000 years ago. Messianic Judaism is like the youngest brother in Judaism, and like Benjamin, it is the smallest among them. Psalm 68:27 begins, “Look, the little tribe of Benjamin leads the way...” Although the tribe of Benjamin is the smallest of the tribes (1 Samuel 9:21), Benjamin leads the way! Think about it: Benjamin was already with Joseph when Jacob and the family arrived! When all the other brothers departed from Joseph and journeyed back to Jacob, Benjamin alone remained with Joseph. So get the picture: here’s Jacob––here’s Israel––at a later time, arriving and coming to Joseph. But Benjamin’s already there! So too, in the future, Israel will return to Jesus, but look! Benjamin is already there with Him.
11. Benjamin is absent for most of the Genesis narrative. Why is this? It is because this narrative at the end of Genesis is about Joseph drawing in the other ten brothers. Bringing them back. Testing them. Seeing if their hearts have changed. Personally I think one of the things that God is going to require of the Jewish people in the days to come is that they will be given an opportunity to embrace their Messianic brethren, and this will be the way that God tests them. As it happens right now, when a Jew becomes a believer in Jesus, he’s cast aside. You see, you can be an atheist yet still a Jew. You can be a Buddhist yet still a Jew. You can be anything you want to be and still be a Jew, but the moment you become a believer in Jesus Christ, they say you’re not Jewish anymore. Why is that? What’s that all about? I think there’s a day coming when the Jewish people as a whole will have to reassess Messianic Jewish believers, asking should we continue to reject them? Or should we finally embrace them as our own? Because here’s the thing: Joseph will reveal himself to the brothers only after he sees their hearts have changed, and they don’t do to Benjamin as they once did to him.