A Staggering Wound

My heroes are people who refuse to allow the injustices of life to define them.

Benjamin is one of them.

He started off rocky.  His father had just made the biggest mistake of his whole life by leaving Bethel when God had overtly ordered him to stay there and put down roots.

As the first round of punishment for that sin (the first of many during the rest of Jacob’s life), Benjamin’s mother died in childbirth.  As she died, she named him “Son of my Sorrow” which, no matter how you spin it, doesn’t come out as a blessing.

His dad graciously renamed him something along the lines of “Chip off the Old Block” but the flat out reality is that Benjamin began badly.

There was no mother there to nurse him and to facilitate the gradual process of his differentiating from the woman he had been a part of for so long.  His father was so immersed in the grief over the loss of his beloved wife, he probably didn’t have much emotion to give to the little guy.

No one knows how Jacob processed his grief.  Did he consciously or subconsciously blame Benjamin for the death of his wife?  And if so, do you think this sensitive Mercy baby maybe knew it in his spirit?

Besides the specific dynamics of his nurture being delegated to some other woman, the whole household was in a state of upheaval.  When Benjamin was conceived, they were living in Shechem where they had been for at least a decade. That means things were stable, orderly, structured.

At about seven or eight months in the pregnancy, Dinah got in trouble, Simeon and Levi committed genocide with treason, and the whole family had to uproot hurriedly and relocate to Bethel.

In addition to all of the emotional turmoil caused by the two sons taking the law into their own hands, moving an entire extended family with all the cattle, suddenly, along a rough mountain road was horribly labor intensive.  One doubts Benjamin was smothered with attention during this season.

There was a God-encounter at Bethel, but the terrain and culture were not conducive for a cattle baron like Jacob, so after a brief hiatus, they moved on.  During this migrant period, Benjamin was born and Rachel died, but the march continued until they arrived at Hebron, a region that was home to Jacob, but foreign territory to everyone else in the group.

There Benjamin had a bit of solace with the love of a grandfather and some restoration of stability to the tribe.

But that was short-lived because there was a case of incest in the camp which caused a huge upheaval, a rift and more complex spiritual dynamics.

My point is, none of this was Benjamin’s fault.  Absolutely NONE.  But every bit of it affected his tender Mercy psyche during that first year of his life.  Unless there was a caretaker who was pretty exceptional, it looks like there was little positive in Benjamin’s life from the start.

Now dialing back in from the macro to the micro, you have the fact that Benjamin was clearly an “also ran” from the git go.  How many of you know what it feels like to go to school and, in every class room, the comments are the same,  “Oh, you are HIS brother!”

Older brother Joseph was daddy’s pet, even before Benjamin got tagged with the blame for beloved Rachel dying.  We have a triple whammy here.  First of all, Joseph was the crown prince in the family.  Second, he was quite spoiled and didn’t mind flaunting his special privilege to the other brothers.  And third, in addition to being a brat, he also was very competent.  It would be easier to brush off his big head if he had nothing in it.

THEN Joseph vanishes, presumed dead.  Family dynamics take another turn for the worse, as the brothers who knew the scam now had two dirty secrets they had to keep, and Jacob who was no fool, had to know in his spirit that the boys were messing with him big time, even if he could not do anything about it.

When Joseph left the family constellation, Benjamin’s life probably went down hill on a sled. First of all, dad got hyper protective and just about the time Benjamin became a teenager, his boundaries got yanked in to almost nothing.

Second, he utterly ceased to be a person and became a place holder.  He became the last living connection to the beloved Rachel and the stand in for the lost but still beloved Joseph.

Ever been a place holder?

You are the new pastor taking over for some legend who people will still revere in 50 years.  You are allowed to stand in his pulpit and preach, but after five years, no one knows you.  They only know that you are not as good as the legend who they still miss.

Or you take over for Wunderkid at Western Widgit World and no one really bothers to find out what you can do, or how you feel about anything, or who you are, because they are so absorbed in the fact that no one, and I mean NO ONE, can deliver what Wunderkid did.

Or you are the new kid on the team, taking over for the All State MVP and no one bothers to find out what you can do because they already know you can’t fill the shoes of the MVP.

Or you are the kid who is left when the beloved sibling dies, and dad needs someone to fill the hole in his heart, so he hugs you, while he is pretending you are the beloved son who is gone.

And you know it.

That, my friends, is UGLY.

And you know what?  It wasn’t Benjamin’s fault.  He didn’t cause Joseph to disappear.  He didn’t make the hole in his father’s heart.  He didn’t cause there to be only two sons of Rachel.  He did not cause Jacob to be alienated from the rest of his sons.

But even though Benjamin was squeaky clean, innocent of even a shred of contribution to this mess, it was his heart that got shredded as he became a token, a representation of something, a tie to the past, and was not known for who he was as a person.

It gets worse.

The whole drought and grain in Egypt scenario went down, and suddenly Benjamin was the object of a power play between a tyrannical Middle Eastern Prime Minister and his father. The drama played out over a year or two.

Put yourself in his shoes.  Daddy has kept you on a short leash for years and particularly has kept you away from your half brothers who he doesn’t trust. Suddenly, you are faced with the proposition of making a several week trip with those brothers, without dad, to go see the Royal Grump in Egypt.

Was it scary?  Was it exhilarating?  How would a baby of the family Mercy who had never had a life feel?

At the end of the day, his feelings didn’t matter.  They were not recorded.  Because Benjamin was not a person. Because he was a place holder.  An entity.  A memorial.  A connection to the past. He didn’t have a life.

The discussion raged around the compound for months.  “Dad, we gotta.  There is no other way.”

“No way.  You are not taking the last tie I have to my beloved wife.”

“Dad, don’t be unreasonable.  There is no food around here.”

“Don’t talk to me about unreasonable.  I don’t love any of you.  I only love my place holder who reminds me of my beloved wife and son.  Out of abject selfishness, I am not going to risk my place holder for the good of the rest of you.  I deserve a little consideration here.”

But the Mercy place holder did not deserve any such consideration as the debate raged on around him.  After all, he was just a bargaining chip in the international commodities game.

Ugly, ugly, ugly.

And it got a lot uglier real fast.

The boys wore dad down.  He more or less cursed the whole trip, laid a colossal guilt trip on them all and sent them off, preparing for the place holder to not come back.

Fast forward to Joseph revealing himself, Jacob coming down to Egypt and father and beloved son being reunited while the place holder vanishes from the story never to be mentioned again, now that Golden Boy is back in his father’s arms.

You think it was tough being Joseph’s little brother when you were a kid?  What do you do when Joseph comes back into the picture, not just as the Prime Minister of the most powerful nation at that time, but more overtly as the savior of the entire family?

Glory upon glory.  Dad loved Joseph with all his heart from day one, but he loves him wildly after losing him, getting him back and all that drama.

It gets worse.

Not only does Joseph have all the human assets wrapped up in a neat little package, he has God on his side too.  It is now evident for the entire family to see (including dad and the place holder) that God Almighty had given Joseph dreams about this job ‘way back in the day, and it was clearly God who put him on the throne.

So . . . how does a place holder compete with the Prime Minister and with God for a bit of his dad’s heart?

He doesn’t.

The bottom line is, when Benjamin’s season of being a place holder for Joseph was over, he turned pretty savage.  Love would not come to him, but the over-protected kid could turn into a predator who helped himself.

When Jacob gave his last words to his sons, the place holder was dead last and if this was a blessing, deliver me from any blessings like this.  It was more of a bitter acknowledgment of what a sociopath Benjamin had become (with no repentance on Jacob’s part for making him this way).

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.”  Genesis 49:27 NIV

Ugly.  Really, really ugly.

But hey!  Some of you out there know first hand how utterly degrading it is to be an entity, a unit, a presence, a burden, a place holder, and not a person.

Two of the most foundational drives of the human race are to know and to be known.  There is little evidence that Benjamin was ever known as a unique human.   As life happened around them, Jacob, Rachel, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah and Aunt Leah all are allowed to have emotions that color the story and are recorded in Scripture for all mankind to see.

We have some degree of ability to know the others through the record of their emotions.  But silent Benjamin is unnoticed, unknown, unrecorded ——– while a volcano was brewing inside him.  He wanted to be known as much as anyone else did.

Actually, that is not entirely true.  As a Mercy, he had a deeper God-given drive to be known than the rest of them.  But he wasn’t.  He was the silent place holder.  The one you hugged when you were thinking about Rachel or Joseph.

So no one knew him until his emotions became visible in antisocial behavior.  I wonder who first asked a friend, “What has gotten into little silent Benjy?  He just hasn’t been himself since we came to Egypt.”

A sociopath.

Well, duh!

Treating a Mercy like a place holder and not finding out what is going on inside him is a perfect recipe for growing a sociopath.  It’ll work almost every time.

So I began by saying he was one of my heroes.  But what’s to like about Benjamin?  He easily is an object of compassion, but where is the heroism?

Well, life is a movie, not a snapshot.  This snapshot is pretty ugly.  But the movie has a surprise ending.

Life happened.  The centuries passed.  Joseph vanished and the slave drivers filled the screen.  God came.  Israel went.  After forty years in the desert and Moses went home too.

When it came time for him to bless the tribe of Benjamin, they were taken out of order.  They were fourth out of 12 for no apparent reason other than God and Moses liked this tribe.

A lot!

It sounds as though they were back to being a glorious incarnation of everything the Mercy gift is supposed to be.  What Mercy would not cherish the following blessing/character description?

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.”  Deuteronomy 33:12 NIV

“Beloved of the Lord.”  Wow.

“The one the Lord loves . . . ”  No ambiguity there.  The place holder label is GONE.

“Rests between his shoulders . . . ”  No Jacob-hugging-Joseph nonsense here!

What happened?

How did we get from place-holder-turned-sociopath to the stunningly elegant Mercy gift in full flower?  Two other tribes are said to experience the favor of the Lord, but only Benjamin is called the object of Almighty God’s love.  Pretty special.  No place holder here.

Obviously God knew what a raw deal Benjamin got and God may have cut him some slack along the way.  God must have pursued the tribe with some degree of persistence to bring about the transformation. But was it all God?

Let’s go back to Benjamin.  Have you ever read the genealogies?  I love them.  They are loaded with treasures.

Benjamin was married and had ten kids when they went down to Egypt, which is the most of any of the sons of Jacob.

As you look at the names, they are all over the board.

Bela   –   Destruction

Beker   –   Young Camel

Ashbel   –   A Man in God

Gera   –   A Grain

Naaman   –   Pleasantness

Ehi   –   My Brother

Rosh   –   Head

Muppim   –   Serpent

Huppim   –   Protected

Ard   –   I Shall Subdue

I well know that most sociopaths bring their anger home with them and it isn’t pretty.  But not all.

Is there any possibility that it wasn’t all God unilaterally redeeming the tribe?  Is there any possibility that the love-starved heart of this Mercy man turned to his own family?

Did Benjamin fail forward?  Did he look at the deep losses in his own life and make an inner vow that no child of his would ever be a place holder?  Did he spend time getting to know each of his children and making absolutely sure they knew they were loved?

I don’t know.  There are some men who are ruthless in the marketplace and tender at home.  Maybe Benjamin, the ravenous wolf, was one of those.

Regardless!  Whether God did 100% of the heavy lifting or whether Benjamin did some things right for his kids, I don’t know.

I just know I LOVE this story.  The ravenous wolf became the beloved of the Lord.

How you begin your life does not have to define how you end it.

Life is a movie, not a snapshot.

The angry, displaced place holder, who probably set a new world record for jealousy, produced the tribe that just nestled into their intimate relationship with God.

I am addicted to redemption, and this story is a classic.

Copyright May 2011 by Arthur  Burk

At home

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21 Responses to A Staggering Wound

  1. Irene says:

    A very moving post. Ravenous wolf to beloved, resting close.

    The part I ponder in the story is the dynamic between Joseph and Benjamin. It could be a big part of Benjamin’s healing, or the beginning of it. In his actions we see Joseph’s perspective, not just Jacob’s and Moses’ (God’s) words

    Joseph feels deep tears at first sight of him. (strong emotional connection) He orders 5x as much food be give to Benjamin (5=service, so he is saying/promising to serve him the nurture he needs) After Joseph tells who he is (ch 45) they embrace with weeping (emotional connection on both sides) Then”To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes.” The 300 silver could be interpreted various ways, but the clothes aspect has to do with idenity.
    I want a big brother like that.

    Not sure I’d want a father like Jacob who only could see the ugly part.

    • Irene says:

      I’m still pondering Benjamin… I’m not ready to call him sociopath yet at the stage you referred to. I’ll admit “predator” never sounds good any way you frame it, and it could be that . But seems like there could be several other windows through which to look at those words.
      How about the hunger of “emotionally needy”? Never feeling like there is enough love (and all the other words) to fill the enormous emptiness, lack, hunger.

      But what really caught my attention was the “ravenous wolf” words coming in the context of a blessing. First Jacob says, come here sons, “so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. ” And at the end the passage says: “this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him. ”
      So 1) it was a blessing, not a curse (thus good)and 2)it was for the future (?) 3)it was appropriate
      One possibility that might fit this is Benjamin needed a blessing of aggressiveness, dominion, because it was NOT up to the level he needed ? I know some people who could use a blessing like that today. So maybe Jacob was not referring to an ugly quality but seeing a lack that needed a fullness… Benjamin needing to envision acting like this because he was so– not enough this way. ??

  2. Gayle says:

    As one overlooked/misunderstood in family and often in life, and as a Mercy, I can relate with the feelings of jealousy that have tried to overtake, yet am learning The Father’s eyes are on me. I have chosen to embrace this place as equipping for the dominion He has called me to walk in. It’s only taken half my life to get to this place. He sees me and that truly is what matters. Thank You Arthur for seeing too!

  3. Beth Woolrich says:

    I have just been reading a delightful book to the kids called “The Ark, the Reed and the Fire Cloud”. It’s a dramatised version of the Noah’s ark story with a lot of poetic licence, however, the writer makes a really interesting point. At one stage along their journey some of the migrating animals are preparing to catch a lift across the English channel to France on the back of a whale. There are wolves hot on their trail and they quickly make a break. Safely away from the predators, the whale suggests that the wolves may have needed a ride too. The little dog leading the band of animals is completely perplexed – why would God be calling the wolves? It never occurred to him that they were part of creation too. What possible significance could they have?
    OK – I know it’s a children’s story and that it didn’t actually happen but it is a sobering thought in light of Benjamin.
    God always has a perfect plan!
    I am addicted to redemption too.

    • I think the sound of a wolf howling is one of the most compelling sounds in nature. I am not enough of a musician to put language to it, but it is simply different from all the other animal sounds I have heard. For some reason, I associate the term “pure” with that sound. Not pure in terms of motives, but pure in terms of a sound or frequency or sequence of sounds that is not corrupted.

      So whatever else there is about the wolf that causes it to be associated with unsavory topics, the sound of the grey wolf howling moves my spirit to the front big time.

  4. Colleen says:

    So now I see ,which Benjamin, you were last week about to ‘go into a rant over” . And a very good rant it is!

  5. Tracy says:

    What an amazing picture! I will go more carefully with my little 11 year old Mercy in the future.

  6. Gery says:

    I love the beauty that unfolds with the old testament. You weaved it in such a way that we can so appreciate the love of the Father for each of us. You don’t waste any nugget, I love the hidden gems you bring forth; such a marvelous gift!

  7. Derick Gross says:

    In part of my life i grew up in a city called Benoni, and it was quite Benoni even the church tried to change the city’s name to Benjamin but no avail. (the name came…after the land surveyor had so much trouble surveying the land 🙂

  8. Kjersten says:

    Moses’ blessing to Benjamin has been such a source of strength and peace since I stumbled upon it a few years ago. It only brings more depth on realizing the redemption the blessing signifies. The beauty from ashes, Father’s strength and tenderness continue to amaze me as he draws me to his heart of pure love.

  9. paula rodgers says:


  10. Jim Alseth says:

    How can we not be thrilled by redemption! When Darlene and I look back at our family lines, we see so much brokenness on both sides.

    Ah, but our daughters are starting something marvelous going forward and that is thrilling. No, our dire beginnings don’t have to define us. All praise to the King!

  11. karen ford says:

    Wonderfully written! Such encouragement! Thank you .

  12. jacq wallace says:

    That made me cry…

  13. Irina Rivera says:

    You tenaciously go after the real in the Bible. You broaden our view. How have I hung onto snapshots – in myself and others? I will put up a post-it, a simple message: we are not snapshots. I couldn’t help but think of John “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. I wonder if John had woundings and that name was his new name. So much to ponder…

  14. Ruthie Young says:

    Thank you once again!
    From a redeemed ‘place holder.’

  15. Kerrie says:

    Wow, I think this is a key to the Mercy addicts on the street. I really have to receive this with the Father, I don’t think its fully sunk in yet or that I am fully aware/understanding of its meaning…
    Thank you

  16. Bryan says:

    Destroyed by the paintings of self-assured perspectives
    Wanting to believe the wispiest of voices that says you are more
    Desperate to push through the pain by wracking extremes
    Wounding others in the very place for which you yearn
    Fighting the familiar of failure and consequence
    Undone to realize the paintings are true
    Fear and hope that He might love you anyway
    Understanding, in fragments, the reality
    That Love you cannot create
    But only receive, then give what is not yours
    To let others be heroes in the reception
    Being still, and knowing He is God

  17. Loretta says:

    I love this story of redemption. What a gift we can leave our family in such better shape than what we started with. I can’t change everything that happened in my life, but what a Father we have that doesn’t discard us when we don’t measure up. a Fathers economy that isn’t measured in our smallness, but a redemptive economy where he places us in the exact place we need if we just lean into our lives to grow and use the resources to leverage our lives out of the pit and into blessings.


  18. Grace says:

    Wow. Yes, Benjamin was so overlooked, I had never before considered his perspective. As a Mercy, I resonated with a lot of this article. Now to go and dialog with the Father about it….

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