The Twelve Tribes of Israel – Dan

Of all the tribes we have considered thus far, the tribe of Dan is perhaps the one which is most dismal. After the joy of observing God’s hand in the tribe of Judah, there are far fewer positive qualities in his younger half-brother. It is not that God fails to intervene, and the final word on Dan is no different from any of the other tribes; they all have a place in God’s ultimate plan. It is that, despite God’s interventions, the tribes’ choices leave an overwhelmingly sad mark on the page of scripture.

Sad beginnings

Dan means ‘judged’ or ‘vindicated’ and Rachel evidently felt that way when he was born, as a reading of Genesis chapter 30 verse 6 will bear out. But there is no use pretending God is in something when we are clearly going outside His will. Dan’s birth was the result of Rachel’s deep-seated jealousy of her sister. Envy blinded her to the fact that she had something that Leah didn’t – Jacob’s love. As in Eden, so today, the flesh will always cause us to focus on what we don’t have in place of what we do. In Rachel’s case, she took matters into her own hands. Rather than wait for Joseph, she gave her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob. The tribe of Dan would ultimately follow in Rachel’s footsteps, taking matters into their own hands and often with a similar air of false piety. The fact that God allows such activities is not necessarily a vindication of them, as we shall see. Yet His sovereign purpose will work things out.

Gracious interventions

God’s interventions in the tribe can be seen in the lives of Aholiab and Samson. Both knew a special gifting by God: Aholiab worked alongside Bezaleel from the tribe of Judah to furnish the tabernacle; Samson worked, despite the failure of the tribe of Judah, to ‘begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines’, Judg. 15. 11; 13. 5. In Aholiab’s case, he was careful to carry his work out precisely in accordance with the mind of God, Exod. 39. 43. In Samson’s case, he tended to take matters into his own hands, as the balance of his life shows. Faith was clearly involved, Hebrews chapter 11 makes that clear, but so was sight, and Samson’s service fell short as a consequence. So with us, faith lies at the heart of so much that we do, but all too often it is conflicted by sight; sight which is finite and naive to the grander designs of our patient Father. It is better to wait on God and do things His way, in His time.

Downward developments

The tribe of Dan would take matters into their own hands when it came to the division of the land. They failed to fully claim the land allotted to them by Joshua, for lack of faith, Judg. 1. 34. When they eventually found an easier target, they must have felt vindicated when it fell to them, 18. 10. Yet the fact of the matter is that they had failed to conquer the actual territory God had allotted to them and failed to prove Him in the process, Josh. 19. 47.

To make matters worse, having claimed this new, northern territory, they set up an idolatrous system of worship, Judg. 18. 30. Judges chapter 18 sets out their actions in incriminating detail; events which are curiously reminiscent of Rachel’s own misguided seizure of household idols, Gen. 31. 32. Dan’s actions are the epitome of the spirit of that age when, ‘every man did that which was right in his own eyes’, or in modern parlance, ‘I did it my way’.

As a result of their actions, throughout the Old Testament, the full extent of Israelite territory is referred to by the phrase, ‘from Dan [in the north] to Beersheba [in the south]’. It is a perpetual reminder of the unhappy circumstances by which Dan came to be in the north. This location also put them in close proximity with the Sidonians which they appear to have intermarried with at some point, 2 Chr. 2. 14. Ultimately, it was idolatry, which caused God to move in judgement on the northern kingdom; the tribe of Dan and the tribe of Ephraim spearheaded the whole thing.

The final analysis

First, Dan is conspicuous by his absence in Revelation chapter 7. Perhaps this is because God had warned the Israelites he would ‘blot out’ the name of those that engaged in idolatry, Deut. 29. Second, despite this, Dan is present once again in Ezekiel chapter 48. All Israel will be saved, not by their own schemes and plans but, to use Jacob’s words of Dan, in their ultimate fulfilment – when they learn to ‘wait for thy salvation’, Gen. 49. 18. May


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