This morning we resume our discussion of the “The 12 Tribes of Israel”. Up to this point we have studied the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Each of these Old Testament families left a lasting legacy. We’ve been challenged to show repentant devotion to God and courageous leadership in our Christian service. Furthermore, we’ve been warned about the dangers of excessive anger and instability in our faith and practice. These are important lessons that we should take seriously. The focus of today’s message is Jacob’s fifth son, Dan.
The Bible vividly describes a future event called the rapture in which all Christians will be suddenly snatched away into Heaven. In their stead, God will use a chosen multitude of 144,000 Messianic Jews (Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah) to spread His word. During the 7 years of tribulation, the LORD will seal and protect these special messengers. The book of Revelation explains that God will choose 12,000 members of each of the 12 tribes of Israel to constitute this distinguished group (Revelation 7:4-8). Strangely, the “unofficial” tribe of Levi is included in this listing while the tribe Dan is left out. What reason might God have for excluding the descendants of Dan from this prestigious honor?
In his prophetic blessing, Jacob predicted that his son Dan would have to wait for his salvation (Genesis 19:18). While all of the other tribes, to a limited degree, will be safeguarded by the LORD from the onslaught of the Antichrist during the tribulation, the Danites will suffer greatly along with everyone else. Their deliverance will not come until Jesus returns at the end of the tribulation at the second coming. In other words, Dan will have to wait a bit longer than his brothers for his salvation to come. Again, we are left wondering why the tribe of Dan doesn’t get the same preferential treatment as the others do.
Perhaps we can find some answers in this morning’s sermon. Let’s dig into Scripture and see what we can learn about Dan and his descendants...
I. DAN - THE SON OF JACOB
Dan was the fifth son of Jacob. His mother was Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaiden. Rachel had apparently been unable to bear children on her own and had grown quite jealous of her older sister Leah who had already given birth to 4 sons. Therefore, Bilhah was sent into Jacob specifically to produce a son for Rachel to raise as her own. Rachel named this child Dan, which means “judge”, because God had vindicated her of her childlessness (Genesis 30:4-6).
Dan was with his brothers when they conspired against Joseph and sold him into slavery. He was also with them as they traveled back and forth to Egypt during the famine. However, Dan’s name is not specifically mentioned in either instance. Dan had only one son, Hushim, at the the time that he and his family moved to Goshen (Genesis 46:23). Other than this, not much is known about Dan’s life.
II. DAN - THE TRIBE OF ISRAEL
Jacob and his entire family moved to Egypt, where the number of Hebrews grew dramatically. Years later when Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea and on to Mt. Sinai, the population of able-bodied men from the tribe of Dan had increased to 62,700 (Numbers 1:39). Near the end of the exodus some 40 years later, the tribe numbered 64,400 (Numbers 26:43).
The tribe of Dan was positioned to the north of the tabernacle. They were the designated leaders of the northern camp, which also included Asher and Naphtali. The Danites were the tenth tribe in the marching order of Israel (Numbers 2:25-31).
During the days of the tabernacle and temple, the high priest wore a breastplate that displayed 12 gemstones which represented the 12 tribes of Israel (Exodus 28:15-21). This breastplate is sometimes replicated even today. The exact correlation between the stones and the tribes is often disputed, but some believe that the tribe of Dan is represented with a beryl. If so, Dan’s color could possibly be light green.
Joshua apportioned most of the Promised Land to the various tribes after their invasion was complete. The sons of Dan received a small block of land in west-central Israel that included the city of Joppa - modern day Tel-Aviv. However, the Danites never fully displaced the Philistines who were living there, and instead relocated to the extreme northern portions of Israel (Joshua 19:40-48). The Biblical phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” is used to describe the entire breadth of Israel from north to south (1 Samuel 3:20), similar to saying “from Amarillo to Brownsville” to describe all of Texas.
The most well-known descendant of the tribe of Dan was the mighty Samson (Judges 13-16). The book of Judges tells of Samson’s miraculous birth and incredible strength. Though he was deceived by his wife Delilah, God still used Samson to deliver His children from the heavy oppression of the Philistines. Though the Philistines were temporarily weakened, they were not completely destroyed by Samson.
Still unable to take full possession of their given territory, the Danites moved north. During the era of the judges they attacked and defeated the isolated city of Laish (also called Leshem). They renamed the city Dan, and set up idols there that they’d stolen from the house of Micah (Judges 18:27-31). The tribe of Dan was apparently the first to forsake God on a large scale and begin publicly practicing idol worship.
Centuries later, the nation of Israel under King Saul was still waging war against the Philistines. This is highlighted by the epic battle of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). After the tragic death of Saul and his sons, many warriors from the tribe of Dan joined David’s army and supported him as their new king (1 Chronicles 12:35). Finally, the Philistines were defeated once and for all during the reign of King David.
When united Israel split, the sons of Dan aligned themselves with the northern kingdom which kept the name Israel. Its first king, Jeroboam, set up a pagan temple in the city of Dan and urged his people to go worship there rather than travelling southward to Jerusalem which was in kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 12:29). The tribe of Dan was conquered by the Assyrians when they invaded Israel sometime around 720 BC.
II. THE LESSON FROM DAN
The symbol for the tribe of Dan is a snake. In his blessing, Jacob compared Dan to a horned serpent lying in the path (Genesis 49:17) - perhaps referring to a poisonous snake called an adder. This is not a very flattering description when one considers the wicked reputation of snakes in the Bible. This symbol aptly represents the evil and idolatrous conduct displayed by the family of Dan.
Sadly, the legacy of the Danites is one of idolatry and paganism. The first and second commandments clearly state not to have any gods before the LORD and not to worship idols (Exodus 20), yet the tribe of Dan openly did both. Their blatant sinfulness was an offense to God. Perhaps this is the primary reason why the children of Dan will not be chosen as witnesses for Jesus during the coming years of tribulation.
In some cultures and religions, people still fashion actual graven images and idols to worship. This not the practice of most Christians today. That said, idolatry still runs rampant among believers in the church though in a more subtle way. Many people elevate things like money, food, pleasure, and success over God and allow these misguided worldly pursuits to become idols in their lives. In fact, idolatry - worshiping something or someone other than and in place of God - is at the root of all sin.
The tribe of Dan is the fourth of the 12 tribes of Israel (excluding Levi). For the most part, the Danites historically chased after false gods and worshiped idols. God was extremely displeased with their behavior, and thus they are the only tribe that will not have a remnant sealed and protected during the tribulation period. We can learn from the tribe of Dan that God hates and will certainly punish idolaters.
As we close, I challenge us to think about idols in our own lives. Perhaps you don’t have any pagan statues or monuments in your house, but are you worshiping other types of idols nonetheless? Am I? If so, may we repent of our idolatry and restore God to His first and rightful place.