Dan Will be a Serpent by the Roadside,
A Viper Along the Path

49: 16-18

DIG: What does Dan’s name mean? How will there be a double fulfillment? What judge was an example of their early glory? What was the gulf between Dan’s calling and his achievement? Why did the tribe of Dan move away from the southern kingdom Judah to the northern kingdom of Isra’el? How did the tribe of Dan turn to idolatry? How were they judged?

REFLECT: Can you move away from your problems? Is it more important where you live or how you live? What kind of person you are? What does it mean to you personally, that Dan is given territory in the messianic Kingdom? Are you waiting and looking for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13)? What happens when people believe the evening news more than they believe the Word of God?

Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Isra’el. Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path that bites the horse’s heels so its rider falls off backward. I wait for Your deliverance, ADONAI (49:16-18 CJB).

The sons of Leah are followed by the four sons of the two maidservants, arranged, not according to their mothers or their ages, but according to the blessing pronounced upon them, so that the two warlike tribes come first (see Hj – Rachel’s Servant Bilhah Bore Jacob a Son and Rachel Named Him Dan). The name Dan means to judge, and Jacob prophesied that Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Isra’el (49:16 CJB). This is a play on words in Hebrew because here we learn that Dan will judge his people. The name Dan comes from the Hebrew verb din. So yadin here means he will judge his people. Interestingly enough, he will not only judge, but the tribe of Dan itself would be judged.

Just because his birth-mother was a concubine did not mean he was some sort of second class son. He was very important to the nation and history of Isra’el. The fact that he would provide justice was fulfilled by Samson, but the prophesy associated with Dan had nothing to do with territory (Judges Chapters 13-16).782 The tribe of Dan would provide many of the key judges in the book of Judges, with Samson being the most famous of that era. He had his ups and downs for sure, but in his grand finale he did the right thing and brought down the house. Samson was not always walking with ADONAI, but that’s probably why he is in the TaNaKh. Like us, he was not sinless, but gave his life for the redemption of Isra’el. He is like that snake of Dan, biting at the heels of the enemy.

Dan battled the Philistines in the cities of Gaza. So it seems the more things change the more they stay the same. The modern Palestinians are not the Philistines, but ironically, we are still battling Gaza today. The Philistines wanted to destroy Isra’el during the time of the judges, and the Palestinians want to push Isra’el into the sea today. They do not recognize God’s covenant with Isra’el and are sworn to her destruction.

Jacob resorts to a metaphor to make his second point. Dan will be a judge in a surprising way. He will be a snake by the roadside of the enemies of Isra’el, a viper along the path that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward. The imagery here seems to suggest that Dan, although small, will be quite capable of holding his own. His strength will be greater than his size. As small as he is, he will be able to strike panic into an animal as large as a horse.783 We see much of this fulfilled in the exploits of Samson. After an impressive opening by Dan, however, we see the same gulf between the calling and the results that was seen in Reuben’s disgrace.784

As the Israelites came into the land of Canaan, by lot certain areas of territory were assigned to each tribe. The tribe of Dan was given a tract of land that was smaller than the other land grants, but was fertile and also had a boundary along the Mediterranean Sea where there was fishing and commerce available to them.

However, the tribe of Dan never fully conquered this area as a result of a lack of faith in God. This was true of the other tribes as well as what the early chapters of the book of Judges clearly teach, and led to a time during the period of Judges where it was said: In those days there was no king in Isra’el; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 18:1-31 tells the story of the people of Dan falling into idolatry. They also did not like the territory that was theirs, so they sent out spies to find a better area. In the north, some representatives of Dan learned of an area where a peaceful group of people lived. They took things into their own hands and wiped them out so that they could then move the entire tribe up to a region close to the sources of the Jordan River, just south of present day Lebanon. There they established their main city and called it Dan.

It was there that Dan introduced idolatry into the nation of Isra’el. In Judges 17:5 we learn that one of the Levite priests named Micah, had a shrine, and he made an ephod possibly an object of worship. The nature of the ephod is not clear. It could have been patterned after the short outer garment worn by the high priest (see my commentary on Exodus Fz – Make the Ephod of Gold, Blue, Purple and Scarlet Yarn). But instead of being worn as a garment, it was apparently fashioned out of gold to serve as an idol (Judges 8:24-26). In addition, he made some household idols and installed one of his sons as his priest to conduct worship to this shrine (Judges 17:5).

Therefore, Micah set up a cult in the northern part of the country and took down the tribe of Dan with him. It was therefore in Dan that King Jeroboam, who led the rebellion that culminated in the divided kingdom, set up one of his two golden calves in the northern kingdom of Israel. We learn in First Kings 12:25-33 that Jeroboam was afraid that those who lived in his kingdom in the north would still go down to the southern kingdom of Judah to worship at Jerusalem, since that was where the Temple that God had authorized was located. So Jeroboam built two additional altars for the people of the northern kingdom of Israel to worship. He established worship in the south at Bethel and in the north at Dan. He built a golden calf at each location, and instituted special days and feasts where people would meet. Sadly, this man-made worship at Dan has been one of its lasting legacies.

The LORD doesn’t look too kindly upon idolatry. Earlier, Moses had said: So let there not be among you a man, woman, family or tribe whose heart turns away today from ADONAI our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Let there not be among you a root bearing such bitter poison and wormwood. ADONAI will single him out from all the tribes of Israel to experience what is bad in all the curses of the covenant written in this book of the Torah (Deuteronomy 29:18 and 21 CJB). Dan was the judge, but he was also to be judged. And because of the tribe of Dan’s idolatry they were set aside for generations and lost many blessings along the way.

This is an interesting illustration of our own lives. If you are truly saved (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Bw – What God Does For Us at the Moment of Faith), you are His child. Jew or Gentile – you belong to Him (Ephesians 2:11-13). Through sin and rebellion, we can lose many of our blessings along the ways also. In the last analysis, we are still saved (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Ms – The Eternal Security of the Believer), but the question becomes: what kind of child are we? Are we walking in our own inheritance? There is no doubt about it, we will also be judged (see my commentary on Revelation Cc – We Must All Appear Before the Judgment Seat of Christ).

The tribe of Dan is not listed among the twelve tribes in the book of Revelation during the Great Tribulation (see my commentary on Revelation Cr – Then I Heard the Number of Those Who Were Sealed), because the world at that time will be drowning in idolatry.785 The tribe of Levi, who did not have an inheritance, will be substituted for Dan during that time of trouble for Jacob (Jeremiah 30:7). But God’s gifts and His calling [to all the tribes of Isra'el] are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Thus, by the grace of ADONAI, in the far eschatological future, Dan will be included in the twelve tribes of the messianic Kingdom. Despite leading the nation of Isra’el into idol worship, the LORD will not cast him out. These are the tribes, listed by name: at the northern frontier, Dan will have one portion (Ezeki'el 48:1-2 and 32).

At first glance, Jacob’s final line of praise seems out of place. He blurted out: I look for your yeshu’ah orfor your salvation, ADONAI (49:18 CJB). This is the first mention of salvation in the Torah. It is not a coincidence that this is not merely the concept of redemption, but the name of redemption – the name of our Redeemer.

The rabbis interpret these words as messianic. The later Targum reads, “Not for the deliverance of Gideon, the son of Joash, does my soul wait, for that is temporary; and not for the redemption of Samson, for that is transitory; but for the redemption of the Messiah, the Son of David, which your word has promised to bring to your people, the children of Isra’el: For this my soul waits.” Jacob was looking forward to the Messiah, who is the source of salvation. When Christ was presented in the Temple on the eighth day, a man called Simeon was waiting for Him. When he saw Jesus, he said: Now, ADONAI, according to Your word, Your servant is at peace as You let him go; for I have seen with my own eyes your yeshu’ah (because Yeshua means salvation), which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples - a light that will bring revelation to the Goyim and glory to your people Isra'el (Luke 2:29-32 CJB). We have a lot to learn from Dan.

Once Ya’akov finished prophesying to Dan, he then turned to his next son, Gad, whose mother is was Zilpah, maidservant of Rachel.


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