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Moses’ blessing on the tribe of Dan is quite different from Jacob’s blessing. In Deut. 33:22, we read of Moses’ blessing,
22 And of Dan he said, “Dan is a lion’s whelp that leaps forth from Bashan.”
This seems to say very little, and perhaps the men of Dan were disappointed in hearing this short “blessing.” Some centuries earlier, Jacob’s blessing on Dan is longer and refers to the meaning of his name (“judge”). We read in Gen. 49:16-18,
16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned snake in the path, that bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider falls backward. 18 For Thy salvation [Yeshua] I wait, O Lord.”
So Moses pictures Dan as a young lion leaping, while Jacob pictures him as a serpent biting the horse’s heels. But before we look at this distinction, let us focus on Dan as a judge.
Dan was born to Rachel’s handmaid, Bilhah. Rachel named him in Gen. 30:6,
6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated [???, “deen”] me, and has indeed heard my voice and has given me a son.” Therefore she named him Dan [??].
Rachel believed that God had given her the justice that she was due. Hence, the NASB renders the word “vindicated.” To judge is not necessarily to condemn, for true judgment in any dispute vindicates (or justifies) the innocent and condemns the guilty to whatever judgment the law provides. Dan was named “judge” to reflect Rachel’s feelings of vindication, not condemnation.
Rachel spoke of Dan as if he were her own child, because Bilhah was Rachel’s handmaid and had brought forth a son on behalf of Rachel. So legally, Dan was Rachel’s son, as we see from verse 3,
3 And she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her, that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children.”
The tribe of Dan seemed destined to be the judges in Israel, but this calling went to Levi as part of their administrative duty. Yet Dan did produce at least one judge—Samson, who was of a Danite family (Judges 13:2).
Perhaps this was on account of the fact that Samson was also a Nazirite (Judges 13:5). In later years Nazirites were treated as Levites in that they were allowed access to the Holy Place that was normally reserved only for Levites.
So also James, the brother of Jesus and author of the epistle, was given access to the Holy Place in the temple, for like Samson, he too was a Nazirite. Bishop Eusebius wrote of this in the fourth century,
“Control of the Church passed to the apostles, together with the Lord’s brother James, whom everyone from the Lord’s time till our own has called the Righteous [or “The Just”], for there were many Jameses, but this one was holy from his birth; he drank no wine or intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head; he did not smear himself with oil, and took no baths [that is, in the public baths]. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place, for his garments were not of wool but of linen. He used to enter the Sanctuary alone, and was often found on his knees beseeching forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s….” (Eccl. Hist., II, xxiii)
And so, like James, Samson was a Nazirite. From a prophetic standpoint, both were as Levites and judged the people. James’ martyrdom in 62 A.D. brought judgment upon Jerusalem, but Samson “judged Israel twenty years” (Judges 16:31). Samson’s judgment vindicated Israel, but brought condemnation to the Philistines.
Jacob made mention of Dan as a judge of Israel in Gen. 49:16, but it seems that this was a positive judgment only with Samson. The primary way in which Dan judged Israel was negative, for the tribe of Dan was a leader in Israel’s apostasy. This was largely due to their proximity to Tyre and Sidon in the north, where they were influenced by the worship of Baal.
The original territory allotted to Dan was in the plain of the Philistines, which was not conquered until the time of David. So after the other tribes had settled in the land given to them, they found no time to help the tribe of Dan take their allotted territory. The Danites then decided to go north to find a place to settle. Seeing the town of Laish, which was north of Israel at the base of Mount Hermon, they conquered the city and settled there (Judges 18:27). Verses 29 and 30 says,
29 And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father who was born in Israel; however, the name of the city formerly was Laish. 30 And the sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image….
The graven image in this case was one that was constructed by the priest whom they had hired (Judges 18:3, 4). Thus they set up their own priesthood and religious center of worship in opposition to the center in Shiloh where the tabernacle had been set up. In those days distance was a much greater factor than it is today, and the tribe of Dan was largely isolated to the far north.
In fact, the tribe of Dan soon identified themselves with Tyre and Sidon more than with Israel. Two centuries later, when Israel was in captivity to the Canaanites (Judges 4:2), Deborah wrote in her song, “why did Dan stay in ships?” (Judges 5:17). In other words, why did the tribe of Dan not try to help the Israelites in their time of need? The answer lay in the fact that the tribe of Dan had outgrown their small territory near Mount Hermon and had begun colonizing the Mediterranean with the people of Tyre and Sidon.
Wherever they went, they named places after their father Dan, as they had done with Laish. And so the rivers they explored were named the Danube and the River Don. Other place names may also be derived from Dan, including Danmark (or Denmark, as it appears in English).
When the ten tribes of Israel separated themselves from Judah, forming their own kingdom, the new king, Jeroboam, set up two golden calves as the national religion of Israel. One was placed in Bethel, the other in Dan (1 Kings 12:28, 29). This assured the eventual destruction of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians, for God brought judgment upon the nation after giving them 210 years in which to repent.
So we can see that the tribe of Dan brought judgment upon Israel by their idolatry. Their name was fulfilled in a negative way, rather than having a positive meaning.
Getting back to Jacob’s blessing in Genesis 49, he likened Dan to “a serpent in the way,” who “bites the horse’s heels,” and causes the rider to be thrown to the ground. Jacob then said in Genesis 49:18, “For Thy salvation [Yeshua] I wait, O Lord.” This prophesies that Yeshua-Jesus is the solution to Dan overthrowing the horse and rider.
The Hebrew word for “horse” is sus (???), which is also the root of the Greek name Iesus, or Jesus. Jah-sus is literally “Yah’s Horse,” so named because the horse was the symbol of salvation or deliverance. Jesus’ Hebrew name was Yeshua, “Salvation,” but Jah-sus (or Yah-sus) carried the same meaning in a more symbolic way.
So Jacob saw Dan as a serpent blocking the path of the horse, but he waited for Yeshua, the “salvation” that was to come. In fact, after Moses describes Dan as a serpent, we can almost hear him sigh, “I can hardly wait for the appearance of Your Yeshua, O Lord.” Christ is later pictured as the rider of the white horse in Rev. 19:11,
11 And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.
When the righteous Judge comes to judge the earth, then Jacob’s waiting will be over. Where Dan failed as a judge on account of his idolatry, Jesus Christ succeeds as the righteous Judge. In the end, the serpent nature of Dan could not stop the white horse from coming.
But what about the metaphor that Moses uses to picture Dan? He pictures Dan as a young lion leaping forth from Bashan (Deut. 33:22). No further explanation is given. This is neither a blessing nor a curse. Jacob pictured Judah in the same way in Gen. 49:9, but in that case it pictured Jesus Christ as the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
When Moses used the same description for Dan, was he suggesting a counterfeit lion? If so, his so-called “blessing” would match Jacob’s prophecy of Dan in Genesis 49, for even as Dan was a serpent trying to overthrow Jah’s Horse, so also was he trying to replace Christ as the lion. Dan’s idolatry certainly fulfilled this, for an idol is a false god that men worship in place of the true God.
So neither Jacob nor Moses have any real blessing for the tribe of Dan.
It has been noted also that the tribe of Dan seems to have been omitted from the list of the twelve tribes in Revelation 7 as they were being sealed. Instead, Levi is added to the list to make up for Dan’s omission (Rev. 7:7). There are many possible explanations for this, which commentators have set forth, but most seem to attribute it to Dan’s idolatry. Deut. 29:18-21 seems to support this conclusion, for after speaking of Israel’s “idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold” in verse 17, Moses then says,
18 lest there shall be any among you a man or woman or family or tribe whose heart turns away from serving the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations… 20 … the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven.
Moses knew that the people were going to descend into idolatry and corruption after his death. Eventually, Israel’s name was indeed blotted out, for this was the reason why the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” were lost. Their name was forgotten, because they were called by other names. God took the name Israel from them, because it did not truthfully reflect their character. In that Dan seemed to take the lead as the first tribe to formally renounce the God of Israel and the tabernacle at Shiloh, this tribe led all Israel into divine judgment.
But it was not only Dan but all ten tribes who lost their names in the judgment. Dan was left out of the list in Revelation 7, for as the leader in idolatry, he represented all of the idolatrous Israelites who had lost their names.
This must be viewed in the broader context of the divine plan by which God intended to restore Israel under the leadership of Jesus Christ, as prophesied in Hosea 1:11. The Israelites were divorced from God (Jer. 3:8) and became like all the other “women” (nations) in the world. The marriage covenant, known to us as the Old Covenant, ended in divorce. But as we know, God provided a New Covenant for both Israel and Judah (Jer. 31:31) by which they would be saved. This New Covenant was not theirs exclusively (Isaiah 56:8), for the way was open to all men.
No man could come to the Father but by faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of genealogy. Therefore, when the blessings of God are dispensed to all nations by the “seed of Abraham,” men of every nation, tongue, and tribe will be blessed according to their faith. The judgment upon Israel, then, and the abolition of the Old Covenant re-established the New Covenant that had been promised earlier to Abraham, for it was later ratified by the blood of Jesus Christ.
The New Covenant, as we have seen in our study of Deuteronomy 29, was given to all men and based upon God’s vow to turn the hearts of all men to Him. The tribe of Dan was present to witness that vow, and surely it applied to them as well as the other tribes. Are we to believe, then, that the tribe of Dan presented a problem too great for God to handle? Was God incapable of fulfilling His vow where the Danites were concerned? I do not believe so.
All will turn to God at some point, including the tribe of Dan. Yet they are not saved by their genealogy from Jacob, but by the same manner in which all men are saved. Therefore, as He gives men the gift of faith, and as they turn to Christ, He establishes a covenant relationship with them. A few come into such a relationship during their life time, and the rest will do so in the age to come.
It seems to me that Dan has become a metaphor for all Israel in the flesh. All of their names were blotted out in that sense, on account of their idolatry, and now the only way to re-establish a covenant relationship with God is by faith in Jesus Christ. God’s vow assures us that He will indeed bring all men into such a relationship sooner or later, but the new name that He is giving His people is no longer based upon fleshly genealogy.