The Tribe Of Dan
Dan will judge his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
He will be a snake by the road,
a viper beside the path,
that bites the horses’ heels
so that its rider falls backward.
I wait for Your salvation, Lord.
Genesis 49:16-18 (HCSB)
We now have finished with the first group of 6 of Jacob’s sons, all provided by his wife Leah. Next we see the blessings given to the 4 children of Jacob’s concubines. But, these 4 were actually born after Leah produced Judah, but before she bore Issachar and then Zebulun. These concubines are often referred to in the Bible as the handmaidens Zilpah and Bilah; servants to Jacob’s two wives, Leah and Rachel.
While among themselves we can be sure that the 12 sons of Jacob had established a pecking order, we can also be sure that the 4 sons born to the handmaidens were often pushed to the bottom of the totem pole.
Other than for Jacob’s unabashed favoritism towards his wife Rachel and the 2 sons she gave him, Joseph and Benjamin, there is no indication that Jacob himself thought any less of these 4 sons produced by Zilpah and Bilah, than the other 8. But, traditions of the era demanded that sons of concubines didn’t carry an equal status as the sons of a man’s legal wives.
Aware that his 12 sons were only too human, Jacob was probably concerned that those 4 sons not in any way be construed as 2nd class citizens. And, this likely explains the kind of odd statement in V16 where Jacob says, “Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel.”
Why would Jacob say “as one of the tribes of Israel”?
While obvious to us that all 12 sons were legitimately of Israel, because Dan was one of these 4 sons of his concubines and not his 2 wives, Jacob wanted to make it clear that they were all 12 part of Israel…one as much as the other.
Dan’s name means “judged”. Although Bilah, Rachel’s handmaiden, was Dan’s biological mother, Rachel as her master had the rights to name the child. And, Rachel exclaimed, “God has judged me”, when she couldn’t produce a child for Jacob, but her servant girl did. It was a great shame upon a woman who was unable to bear her husband children. So, this child was stuck with the name, “judged”.
Probably the most famous descendant of Dan was the super-naturally strong Samson. And, Samson was one of the 12 judges (in Hebrew, shofet) mentioned in the Bible, that were raised up by God over a 250 year period called the time of the Judges. That is, the time frame covered by the book of Judges in our Bibles. Judges appeared in many of the 12 tribes, not just Dan.
Dan was given the unenviable territorial allotment that had them sharing a border with the fierce, and seemingly unconquerable, Philistines.
Just a quick note: Palestine is simply the Greek word for Philistine. So, when we talk about the Palestinians of the West Bank, or the creation of a Palestinian State, what we are actually saying is Philistines of the West Bank, and the creation of a Philistine state. And, it might shake you up a tad to know that, prophetically speaking, the Bible tells us that exact thing is supposed to happen in the last days.
God brought forth Samson as a deliverer for the tribe of Dan from the oppression of the Philistines. Even though all the Biblical Judges, the Shofet, were called by the same title of “Judge”, in fact they performed different functions.
- Some were prophets,
- Some were military leaders,
- Others were rulers, and
- Some were deliverers like Samson.
It is interesting to note that there is mention of a “serpent” in describing Dan’s future characteristic. And, while every tribe of Israel struggled with idolatry, giving in to Satan, perhaps none were as vexed by this problem as the tribe of Dan.
Even the great Judge Sampson had a terrible time resisting the pagan influences of the Philistines, as we see in scripture how he imbibed himself with prostitutes, loved to party with these pagans, had a fling with Delilah, and even married a Philistine girl.
Many in the tribe of Dan so wearied of battling the Philistines that they eventually gave up control over their land inheritance, and moved northward, near the border of modern day Lebanon. They conquered a city called Laish, renamed it “Dan”, and many of the tribe moved to the area.
By the way: the ruins of this city are visible today, and many in this class have visited them. Immediately the leaders of Dan set up a carved image, an idol, assigned priests to it, and the city became a center of pagan cult worship, and stayed that way for the next several hundred years.
Dan’s tribe diminished, over time, in size and importance. In fact, not only are they not even mentioned in the O.T. listing of tribal genealogies of 1st Chronicles 2, they are omitted in the N.T. listing of tribes that will make up the 144,000 sealed Israelite witnesses told about in Revelation 7.
Now, does their being excluded in the tribal makeup of Revelation 7 mean that Dan is extinct, for all time?
Apparently not, for in the Millennial Kingdom, the 1000-year reign of Christ as described in Ezekiel 48, Dan DOES receive an inheritance. We need to remember that the timing of the 144,000 sealed Israelites takes place during what Christians call the Tribulation period (what the Jews call the Time of Jacob’s Troubles) and the Millennial Kingdom comes after that. So, Dan is around during the Tribulation, but possibly he’s up to his old tricks and there’s not a single Danite worthy to be part of the 144,000 sealed witnesses. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Now, let me show you something that I think answers some questions about Dan. I told you that Dan means “judge” or more accurately “judged” (at least as we think of in our modern English language).
Now, as I have explained often, Hebrew is what is called a root-word language. You take a word (that has a specific meaning), add, subtract, or change a letter or two (usually what is being changed are the vowel sounds), and PRESTO, we have a new word.
BUT…that new word is related in meaning to the original word. For instance, in Genesis 15:14, God says: “But I will also JUDGE that nation whom they serve”. The Hebrew word used for judge in this verse is din…notice the relationship to the word dan. In between the letter dalet and nun (d and n), only the vowel has changed, so the two words are related. The point is, that din and dan both carry the idea of judgment. That is, a retaliation, a punishment, a penalty.
Now, this is as opposed to another entirely different use (in the English language) of the word “judge”, as we find in those books of the Bible called Judges…in Hebrew, shofet. Shofet means a person who is a magistrate: usually a person who makes legal rulings, or is a leader or a decision maker.
A good analogy is our modern American legal system where we have a judge presiding over a court of law. So, here we have two words, dan and shofet, that both wind up being translated using the English word “judge”. But, they have two totally unrelated meanings in Hebrew.
Point being that the name Dan was not indicating a person who presides over a court, or makes legal rulings, or leads. Rather, Dan indicates someone receiving a divine judgment against them.
And, of course, that was the sense of the word that Rachel used to name this child…Dan…born by her handmaiden Bilah…because Rachel felt that the reason her own womb had dried up was that she had been “judged”…punished…by God. So, as was tradition, she named her child after some event or circumstance that surrounded that child’s birth.
And, here we have this son named “judged”, Dan, having all sorts of calamitous things happening to it…even being omitted from the list of tribes in Revelation 7…and so Dan’s destiny was completely reflective of his name.
Verse 18 of Chapter 49 has Jacob suddenly saying “I wait for your deliverance, Adonai”. Or, better. “ I wait for your salvation, Yehoveh”. It is unknown whether this statement was meant to be attached to the blessing of Dan, or that Jacob in a moment of ecstasy, knowing that his time was but moments away, shouted this out to the Lord in praise.
Some think that the mention in the previous couple of verses concerning the serpent that bites the heel, is a reminder of the scene in Genesis 3:15, about how the woman will produce a seed who will crush the head of the serpent (Satan), and the serpent will bruise the heel of that seed…all this an obvious Messianic reference.
If that’s the case, then Jacob shouting out “I wait for the Savior” is all the more meaningful. But, it really isn’t clear enough for me to say for sure that is what is happening here, and I don’t want to allegorize to make it appear so. So, we’ll just have to wonder.
To Be Continued…