J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple
The name of each of Jacob's sons was specially chosen in the light of circumstances. When Rachel saw this boy, she said: "God hath judged me (Heb. dananni)", Gen. 30.6, and named him "Dan". Over the years she had become frustrated and embittered. Her sister had already produced a happy, healthy family of four, while she had remained barren. So she schemed to have this child by proxy, using Bilhah, her own handmaid. She then claimed the child as her own and felt that God, in this unlawful manner, had procured justice for her. In fact God did not vindicate Rachel in the matter. As years passed, His disapproval became increasingly apparent, Dan being a reprobate tribe. After a large number of Danites were taken captive by the king of Assyria when he overran Israel about 660 B.C., 1 Chron. 5. 26, nothing specific is recorded of the tribe. Dan was "the black sheep" and was judged accordingly.
The Words of Jacob. "Dan shall judge his people", Gen. 49.16. The patriarch declared that Dan, the oldest illegitimate son, was to have equal status with the heads of the other tribes. This parity was maintained.
The standards of four tribes acted as rallying points for the various parties on the wilderness journey. The standards God chose were those of Judah, Reuben, Ephraim and Dan. This meant that the tribe of Dan had an important responsibility, being the central rearguard body. God upheld Jacob's dying wish. Dan's later waywardness could not be excused on the grounds of prejudice on the part of Jehovah!
Standing as a particular endorsement of this patriarchal prophecy, the book of Judges contains the account of Samson, a Danite, who judged, not only his own tribe, but all Israel for two decades.
Only one son of Dan, Hushim, Gen. 46. 23, is named at the time Jacob and his relatives went to live in Egypt. But at the exodus the tribe of Dan was outnumbered only by the people of Judah. During the forty years of wandering, the Danites increased from 62,700 to 64,400 in spite of the many who "were overthrown in the wilderness". Jacob's word stood true; Dan had become a "people".
It has been pointed out before that the meanings of the names of the first four of Jacob's children give a beautiful picture of God's way of salvation. In the remaining names we have helpful suggestions for God's saints. Dan, meaning "judge", brings to mind the statement: "the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God", i Pet. 4. 17. At the Bema of Christ our lives will be judged. But currently we are to examine ourselves, 1 Cor. 11. 28, and in a church context we are to execute discipline, 1 Cor. 5. 12-13. The order of severity of such judgment within an assembly appears to be first the warning of 1 Thessalonians 5. 14; then the implementation of the injunctions of Romans 16. 17 and 2 Thessalonians 3. 11-15 so that the disorderly are avoided; then the application of Titus 3. 10; and finally the excommunication referred to in 1 Corinthians 5. 11. Every act of discipline must be couched in the love of Christ. In all probability there were some at Corinth who were afraid of exercising the disciplinary measures Paul indicated; see 1 Corinthians 5. Perhaps they feared that the action would appear as an unloving gesture or a callous attitude. Paul, however, underpinned his request for such essential action by remarking later: "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?... Know ye not that we shall judge angels?", 6.2-3. As with much else in the Epistles, all this is an expansion of the Lord's words, Matt. 18. 15-17.
"As one of the tribes of Israel". Jacob's phraseology implies that while Dan was to head a recognized tribe, he was not to excel.
The name "Dan" is omitted in Revelation 7. 4-8 from the list of the tribes whose representatives are to be sealed by God against the great and terrible day of the Lord. It would appear therefore that none of the Danites of that day will be protected from the dire persecution that will ensue. Maybe the reason for this is to be found in Judges 18. It was six hundred Danites who introduced idolatry into Israel after migrating northwards from their appointed territory to the land around Laish (or Leshem, Josh. 19. 47, later renamed Dan, Jud. 18. 29). "Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people", Prov. 14. 34.
Ezekiel gives the Danites a place in the restored Israeli kingdom, Ezek. 48. 1. During the millennium they will again occupy a northern situation. Their name is also inscribed on one of the twelve gates of the holy city, 48. 32. "Where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly", Rom. 5. 20
"Dan shall be a serpent by the way", Gen. 49. 17. The original emblem of this fifth son was a serpent. In the change from the symbol of a vicious reptile to the standard portraying a powerful eagle, we see again something of the transforming action of grace so often associated with the number five. Have not we been translated from the venom of the vile serpent to a heavenly sphere like that of the soaring eagle? Instead of grovelling in the dirt of sin we can, through grace, rise into the clear atmosphere of salvation.
The gem connected with Dan is the hard beryl; cf. Ezek. 10.9; Song of Songs 5. 14. The Hebrew means "to break or subdue", and reminds us again of that which sovereign grace has accomplished. The beryl was the same stone as that used to carry the names of all the tribes on the high priest's shoulders. Instead of being trodden underfoot as slaves, Israel was borne on high as sons.
"An adder in the path". The snake mentioned is the cerastes (Heb. shephiphon)s a two-horned, sandy-coloured beast with black and white spots. It lies hidden by its camouflage and can inflict mortal wounds on passers-by merely by a sudden extension of its feelers.
"That biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward". Sin spreads. The first recorded bite of this serpent was in the house of Micah, Jud. 18. 30-31. There an image was discovered but not destroyed. In Jereboam's time the reptile's bite was felt throughout the whole house of Israel. Two golden calves were created as objects of adoration. "And the people went to worship before the one even unto Dan", 1 Kings 12.
"/ have waited for thy salvation, O Lord", Gen. 49. 18. The Chaldaic Paraphrases, the Targummim, point out that Jacob was not here foreshadowing "the salvation of Gideon... nor . . . the salvation of Samson . . . because their salvation is but for their time; but for the salvation of Messiah the Son of David, who will save Israel and deliver them from exile". "So all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob", Rom. 11. 26. Among the thirteen articles of the Jewish creed is one which states: "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and although He tarry I will wait for Him every day till He come". The Holy Spirit has left on record Israel's expression when that day dawns: "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah, we have waited for him; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation", Is. 25. 9.
When Rachel looked at Dan she must have recalled her own impatience; Bilhah must have seen in Dan her own inferiority; the brothers would see in him something of their own inadequacy; Dan himself must have regarded his own iniquity; but Jacob anticipated for Dan an infinite Redeemer.
The Words of Moses. "Dan is a lion's whelp: he shall leap from Bashan", Deut. 33.22. Moses took up the idea, suggested by Jacob, that Dan would take his enemies by surprise, leaping as a lion cub, in the same way as the lions of Bashan occasionally leapt out unexpectedly upon unwary travellers; cf. Josh. 19. 47. Samson's impulsive actions well illustrate the qualities referred to in these passages.
In closing, we glance at two great men of Dan who stand out as workmen for God. Aholiab was Bezaleel's companion in constructing the tabernacle furnishings, Exod. 31. 6. Huram, the son of a Danite woman and a Gentile man, was in charge of similar work in the building of the temple, 2 Chron. 2. 13-14. No man, whatever his background, is despised by God. May all today who have been raised by the Lord to positions of responsibility in the house of God endeavour to be men "with wisdom of heart" and "skilful to work", forgetting those things which are behind and pressing onward for the prize of the high calling of God.