The tribe of Paul

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Admitted into covenant with God by circumcision, the Jewish child (who came from the tribe of Judah, Levi or Benjamin) had thenceforward a full claim to all the privileges of the chosen people. His was the benediction of the 128th Psalm, "The Lord shall bless you out of Zion . . ." (Psalm 128:5, HBFV). From that time, whoever it might be who watched over Saul's (Paul's) infancy, like king Lemuel, he learnt "the prophecy that his mother taught him." We are at no loss to learn what the first ideas were, with which Paul's early thought was made familiar.

The rules respecting the diligent education of children, which were laid down by Moses in the 6th and 11th chapters of Deuteronomy, were doubtless carefully observed in regard to Paul's upbringing. Paul, who was born into a family in the tribe of Benjamin, was trained in that peculiarly historical instruction, spoken of in the 78th Psalm, which implies the continuance of a chosen people, with glorious recollections of the past, and great anticipations for the future (Psalm 78:5 - 7).

The histories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons (which each represented a tribe of Israel), of Moses among the bulrushes, of Joshua and Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, and the Maccabees, were the stories of Paul's childhood. The destruction of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, the thunders of Mount Sinai, the dreary journeys in the wilderness, the land that flowed with milk and honey, this was the earliest imagery presented to his opening mind. The triumphant hymns of Zion, the lamentations by the waters of Babylon, the prophetic praises of the Messiah, were the songs around the cradle of Paul.

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Above all, the young Paul would be familiar with the destinies of his own illustrious tribe. He would know about the life of the timid Patriarch, the father of the twelve, the sad death of Rachel near the city where the Messiah was to be born and the loneliness of Jacob, who sought to comfort himself in Benoni "the son of her sorrow," by calling the name of his last child Benjamin (Genesis 35:18).


Ecstasy of Paul
Ecstasy of Paul
Johann Liss, 1628 - 29

Paul would know about the youthful days of Benjamin, the youngest of the twelve brethren, the famine, and the journeys into Egypt, the severity of Joseph, and the wonderful story of the silver cup in the mouth of the sack. These are the narratives to which he listened with intense and eager interest. How little was it imagined that, as Benjamin was the youngest and most honored of the Patriarchs, so this listening child of the tribe should be associated with the twelve servants of the Messiah of God, the last and most illustrious of the Apostles!

But many years of ignorance were yet to pass away, before that mysterious Providence, which brought the tribe of Benjamin to Joseph in Egypt, should bring his descendant to the knowledge and love of Jesus, the Son of Mary.

Some of the early Christian writers (Genesis 49:27) see in the dying benediction of Jacob, when he said that "Benjamin should raven as a wolf, in the morning devour the prey, and at night divide the spoil," a prophetic intimation of him who, in the morning of his life, should tear the sheep of God, and in its evening feed them, as the teacher of the nations.

During Paul's childhood, when he learnt the words of this saying, no Christian thoughts were associated with it, or with that other more peaceful prophecy of Moses, when he said that the tribe of Benjamin will live safely (Deuteronomy 33:12).

Paul's imagination could follow the fortunes of the sons of Benjamin, and he knew how they went through the wilderness with Rachel's other children, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, forming with them the third of the four companies on the march, and reposing with them at night on the west of the encampment (Numbers 2:18 - 24, 10:22 - 24). Paul heard how their lands were assigned to them in the promised country along the borders of Judah (Joshua 18:11) and how Saul was chosen from the tribe which was the smallest (1Samuel 9:21), when "little Benjamin" (Psalm 68:27) became the "ruler" of Israel.

The education of Paul included the fact that when the ten tribes revolted, the tribe of Benjamin was faithful (2Chronicles 11, 1Kings 12) and he learnt to follow its honorable history even into the dismal years of the Babylonian Captivity, when Mordecai, "a Benjamite who had been carried away," (Esther 2:5, 6) saved the nation.

He also learned, instead of destruction, "the Jews," through Mordecai, "had light, and gladness, and joy, and honor . . . " (Esther 8:16, 17). Such were the influences which cradled Paul's infancy. Such were the early teachings under which his mind gradually rose to the realization of his position as a Hebrew child in a city of Gentiles.

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