The Tribe of Dan



Who is Dan?
Dan is Jacob's fifth son, the firstborn of Bilhah, Rachel's maidservant (Gen 30:3-6). His name means "judge, vindicator, justice-provider"

Dan's Nature

As with all family systems, Dan and his descendants possessed a particular nature. Dan's father, Jacob, and the most significant prophet in the Old Testament, Moses, tell us about that nature.
Governance: Dan the lion Jacob tells us that Dan and his descendants would be a judge in Israel (Gen 49:16). In other words, they would be prominent in Israel's governance, along with Judah (Gen 49:8-10), Joseph/Ephraim (Gen 49:26, Deu 33:16,17 NIV), and Gad (Deu 33:20,21). This is why God allotted their inheritance territories to juxtapose one another near the center of Palestine

( ). Moses agrees with Jacob, illustrating Dan as a "lion" (Deu 33:22), a known symbol for governance and leadership. The three other governing tribes are also referred to as "lions": Judah (Gen 49:9), Gad (Deu 33:20, 1Chr 12:8,14), and Ephraim (Hos 5:14, through punitive sarcasm). Together, these four tribes would impose governing influence upon Israel.
(NOTE: Reuben was originally intended to be one of the four governors/standard bearers (Num 2:10; v3,18,25), but his sin cost him his firstborn position (Gen 49:3,4). Therefore, his birthright was given to Joseph (1Chr 5:1), and his governing function given to Gad (Deu 33:20,21), since Joseph/Ephraim was already a governor and a fourth was needed to complete the quadruplet.)
Samson, from the tribe of Dan (Jud 13:2,24,25), exemplifies this lionish nature of the Danites. He was a judge of Israel (15:20), tore a young lion apart with his bare hands as his first act under divine anointing (14:5,6), and continually displayed lionlike ferocity and domination towards the Philistines (14:19, 15:14-16).
But Moses notices a potential problem in the tribe of Dan. He calls him a lion's "cub" or "whelp" (Deu 33:22)--a baby lion--not a full-grown one. He sees a certain immaturity in their tribe. Stay tuned....
Cleverness: Dan the snake Jacob also tells us that Dan and his descendants would be unusually clever like a serpent, possessing subtlety, savvy, surprise, stealth, and skill (Gen 49:17). Jesus also presented the positive side of snakes, telling His followers to be "as shrewd as snakes" (Mt 10:16). Again we see this Danite trait embodied in Samson. To provoke the Philistines to conflict, he used a cunning riddle (Jud 14:12-19), three-hundred foxes tied in pairs at the tail with a lit torch (15:1-5), letting himself be tied with ropes and masquerading a surrender (v13-16), and tricking Delilah repeatedly (16:6-14). As lionlike as Samson was in his aggressive strength, he was as equally snakelike in his clever games that lay fatal traps for the unsuspecting Philistines.
The Laish incident also demonstrates Danite snakery. Judges 18 records how they came upon the unsuspecting city of Laish in the far north (18:7-10), attacking, destroying, and resettling in it (v27,28). Whether Samson versus the Philistines, or the Danites versus Laish, in both stories we see Jacob's prophetic psychoanalysis demonstrated: Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path...
Within the same river, but a slightly different stream, we see Dan's snakelike skill in Oholiab, one of two men filled with the Spirit to be the artist and craftsman of the tabernacle (Ex 31:6, 35:34, 38:23). Centuries later, Huram-Abi, a Danite, also possessed snakelike skill in artistry and craftsmanship (2Chr 2:13,14). Is it a coincidence that God's chosen craftsmen to build His house--the Tabernacle of Moses and Solomon's Temple--were from the tribe of Dan? They possessed the careful eye and skillful movements of a snake in the realm of craftsmanship.

What a nature...the heart of a lion and the mind of a snake! How intriguing. Despite being born in despisable beginnings, Dan and his descendants had extraordinary talents for the future. Sadly, the Danites became a spiritual embarrassment.
Roots of Inadequacy
Dan got a rough start, as many of us have. He was the son of Bilhah, Rachel's slavewoman (Gen 30:3-6). Can you imagine the heckling and harassment from his brothers, the biological sons of Leah and Rachel? Unless his brothers, every one of them, had the immaculate character of Christ from childhood, you can be absolutely certain they harassed him. After reading how they treated Joseph, we cringe at how they treated one another on a daily basis--the comments, the looks, the jokes, the exclusion, the violence. And, like any child, you can be absolutely certain Dan internalized such negative messaging.
Then we come to Genesis 46, a list of the children of Jacob's twelve sons. Keep in mind, in that time and culture a man's number of children (especially sons) defined his societal worth. More children, more worth; less children, less worth. Here's the stats:

Benjamin...ten children (v21) (v16)
Simeon...six (v10)
Judah...five (v12)
Asher...five (v17)
Reuben...four (v9)
Issachar...four (v13)
Naphtali...four (v24)
Levi...three (v11)
Zebulun...three (v14)
Joseph...two (v20) (v23), named Hushim or Shuham (Num

Imagine Dan's internal dialogue: I can't even have more than one child! I'm at the very bottom of the list. Maybe they're right, maybe I really am less blessed and less capable because of my slave mother. Maybe I really am second rate...weaker...inferior...inadequate.
It is reasonable to deduce that Dan let down roots of inadequacy here--a slavewoman mother amidst hostile siblings, and, only one child amidst rigid cultural expectations. However, these two factors alone do not reveal the entire picture. Future happenings tell us more.
A Trunk of Mediocrity & Fruits of Rebellion
A few hundred years later, Moses notices a possible problem in the tribe of Dan (Deu 33:22). First, he refers to them as a lion's "cub" or "whelp" (a baby lion). In other words, he sees a certain immaturity among the Danites. The second phrase foresees how this immaturity will be expressed (NJKV): ...he shall leap from Bashan.
Why would the Danites "leap from Bashan" in time to come? Bashan was a rich, mountainous territory in the far north of Palestine, allotted to Manasseh (Jsh 17:1,5, 20:8, 21:6, 22:7, 1Chr 5:23) and Gad (1Chr 5:11,12,16). Dan, on the other hand, was allotted territory in the south, above Judah and Simeon. Why on earth would Dan, in the south, leap from Bashan, in the far north, in a territory not even his own?
See, the Danites did not successfully conquer all the land allotted to them (Jsh 19:47, Jud 1:34); they were allotted eighteen cities (v41-46), but took only six. Those cities were Zorah and Eshtaol (Jud 18:2,11, 13:2,25), and Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Aijalon, and Gath Rimmon (Jsh 21:23). The last four they donated to the Levites (Jsh 21:23), leaving them with only two, Zorah and Eshtaol. Could it be that Dan's roots of inadequacy were stemming into a trunk of mediocrity? God already swore He would fight for them and take the land with them, if they only worshiped and obeyed Him fully (Jsh 23:5-13). Since God cannot lie or fail, we know Dan had to be the problem. He was only a lion's cub, spiritually immature. Even Deborah noticed the Danite mediocrity and immaturity (Jud 5:17).
Instead of focusing on spiritual growth to conquer their allotted cities, the Danites took a city NOT in their inheritance, Leshem (Jsh 19:47). They went outside of God's will for them. The result? Eventually they lost Leshem, for it does not appear at all anymore in all of Scripture! Even more so, Leshem's loss gives us a clue as to why they were seeking another city to possess in Judges 18. Enter Bashan.
Judges 18:1 tells us the Danites were looking for a city to settle in, since Zorah and Eshtaol were the only cities they possessed. Not having learned from Leshem's loss, once again they sought a city NOT in their inheritance, Laish (v7). Laish was in the far north of Palestine, right beside Bashan (see map: ). Remember Moses said that Dan would "leap from Bashan"? He was foreseeing Judges 18.
Read the story. Dan's surprising attack on Laish would have been perfectly strategized and positioned from the mountains of Bashan. Like the fierce lions that often leap upon their prey from Bashan's mountain crevices, so also Dan leapt from Bashan upon Laish. Like Leshem, the Danites renamed Laish after Dan (Jsh 19:47 & Jud 18:29).

Roots of inadequacy stemming into a trunk of mediocrity producing fruits of rebellion.
Dan Spirals
By the end of Judges 18, the Danites had become full-blown idol-worshipers (Jud 18:30,31). They eventually partnered with King Jeroboam in making their northern colony (Laish) a center of idol worship, the very seat of Satan in Israel (1Ki 12:28-30, Am 8:14). What began as isolated tribal idolatry had now become the center of national idolatry!
God says, "Enough!"
By the end of Judges 18, Dan possessed only Zorah, Eshtaol, and Laish. Two cities from their legitimate inheritance and one through rebellion. Remember Matthew 25:28,29? God took away Zorah and Eshtaol and gave them to Judah (1Chr 2:1-3,53, 2Chr 11:10). Though a piece of both cities were Judah's anyway (Jsh 15:33), after the Laish incident they became exclusively associated with Judah (1Chr 2:1-3,53, 2Chr 11:10), and Dan became exclusively associated with the far north ("from Dan to Beersheba"). No more were the two cities ever mentioned with Dan again. Whatever inheritance Dan did have was taken away, even before the Assyrian captivity.
And what became of Laish? Jeremiah says God sent them a prophet (Jer 4:15). Yet because they ignored him, He sent an enemy military to destroy it, and from there, the entire land of Israel as well (8:16, 1:14). Sarcastically, God said He would send "venomous snakes" to bite Dan (8:17), who himself was a snake (Gen 49:17), but used his legitimate cleverness for evil.
Finally, this tribe is the only one of Israel's twelve not sealed for protection and ministry during the Tribulation (Rev 7:1-8). Some Bible students even suggest they will also be banned from citizenship in heaven, pointing to Deuteronomy 29:18-21 and Revelation 14:1-3. Others, however, point to Ezekiel 48:1,2,32 as evidence of Dan's millenial restoration. Whatever the correct understanding might be, we can know for sure that Dan's extreme idolatry has harsh consequences before God.
Christian Danites
May we fall facedown before the Lord of hosts asking him this question, "Lord, am I a Danite?" I sense God is writing this letter to Christian Danites everywhere, calling us to wholehearted repentance, worship, and obedience forever. I suggest we ask the Lord three questions, all based on the Jewish Danites.
1) Lord, are there roots of inadequacy in me? Remember how Dan began--having a slavewoman mother amidst hostile siblings, and, having only one child amidst rigid cultural expectations. Do I have past or present circumstances that might threaten my healthy God-sense of adequacy and worth?
2) Lord, has a trunk of mediocrity stemmed in my life? Do I give God my absolute best in time spent intimately with Him? Do I "work with all my heart as unto the Lord" (Col 3:23, Ecc 9:10), or do I have a mediocre and compromising bent? Remember, Dan had an inheritance of eighteen cities, conquered only six, and retained none!
3) Lord, are there fruits of rebellion in my life? Instead of their inheritance, the Danites pursued easier projects outside of God's will--Leshem and Laish. Though they succeeded in taking these cities, eventually they lost them because of God's chastisement, leaving them wounded and wandering. Am I in known, willful rebellion in any area? Remember Dan! Just because there appears to be "success" in a rebellious area, if it is truly outside God's inheritance for me eventually His chastisement will manifest. Don't be left wounded and wandering!
Repent. Recommit. Research. Reform. Remain. Revere.