Jacob Blesses Dan

"Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. "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. "For Your salvation I wait, O Lord (Genesis 49:16-18).


Verse 16"Dan shall judge his people—Jacob now turns his blessing toward the four sons born to him by the two handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah. His oracle sets high hopes for the tribe. Bilhah was Rachel’s maid who she gave to Jacob because of her own inability to conceive then Rachel said, "God has vindicated me, and has indeed heard my voice and has given me a son." Therefore, she named him Dan (Genesis 30:6). Although Dan would be smaller than the other tribes, the tribes calling was to help its fellow tribes against the suppression of a mighty enemy.

·      as one of the tribes of Israel—Jacob wanted to assure Dan, possibly due to his birth of a handmaiden, that he would also be included and blessed as a tribe. Dan, born of a concubine and not as privileged as the others, would as a judge in some way help its people get their rites.


Verse 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. —This explains how this vindication of his people would happen. As a snake can strike at the legs of a horse and overthrow the mightier animal, so too would Dan be able to exert itself as one of the tribes. Dan’s conquests would be accomplished by cunning rather than by military confrontation.


Verse 18"For Your salvation I wait, O Lord As Jacob sees the conflicts that lie ahead for Dan and Gad (see v. 19), he offers a brief prayer for their security, longing for God’s deliverance for Dan. The tribes of Israel would be a minority in Canaan, as they were in Egypt, and Dan would be one of the smaller tribes. But if this blessing should come true by the power of God, then Dan would be a victorious tribe over others that might seem more powerful.


A Review of the History of the Tribe of Dan

PT—The blessing of Jacob would guarantee a future for Dan and his posterity. That future had the potential to place Dan in a position of strength provided that Jacob’s prayer for God’s deliverance to secure that future for Dan was answered.


Joshua 19 in Review: Dan’s Allotment

·      Dan’s territory became a hotbed of struggle due to the Philistines constant pressure to keep the Danites out of the valley and up into the hills which finally led to Dan looking for new territory.


Verses 40-45The seventh lot fell to the tribe of the sons of Dan according to their families. —Dan was the last tribe to receive its inheritance in the Promised Land. The allotment of the tribe of Dan was along the southwest Mediterranean coast of Canaan.


Verse 46—… with the territory over against Joppa. Dan received territory primarily in the Shephelah and Coastal Plain west of Benjamin, between Judah and Ephraim. Its land was extremely fruitful.


Verse 47The territory of the sons of Dan proceeded beyond them—The point is that Dan failed to conquer their territory. The Amorites, who settled portions of the Philistine plain, drove the Danites out of the plains and into the hills then the Amorites forced the sons of Dan into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the valley (Judges 1:34). They did not even allow the Danites to occupy the coastal areas of their possession. They forced them to stay in the eastern hill country of their territory.

PT—The International Coastal Highway passed directly through Dan’s territory. This meant that any attempt to take control of the region automatically cut the main land link between Africa (Egypt) and Asia (Mesopotamia). Local centers and peoples in the area would be expected to resist any Danite offensive action to control the region. God knew this and expected Dan to recognize who God was and act accordingly. That meant advancing against the Canaanites and taking possession of their entire territory.


An Application—We will find ourselves often in difficulty, not because of sin, but because we have directly obeyed the revealed will of God. Doing that can frequently get us in trouble, or be the risky or dangerous direction to take. God did not lead His people to Australia, or perhaps New Zealand, or places like Greenland, or maybe Great Britain where possibly settlement would have been easier or frequent battles unnecessary. God brought them directly to a land between the great superpowers, and through which traversed the great caravan routes. It would require faith in God and His Word of Promise to secure the land and settle in it safely. We, too, will need faith to settle our lives in accordance with the revealed will of God in spite of the danger possible. Yet, Dan chose a different path.  


·      for the sons of Dan went up and fought with Leshem (Laish) and captured it. Then they struck it with the edge of the sword and possessed it and settled in it; and they called Leshem Dan after the name of Dan their father. ––Unfortunately, to resolve their difficulties of securing the land according to Gods revealed will, they decided on an alternative plan. Due to the Danite farms and villages constantly oppressed by the Philistines who resented a foreign presence so near to their own centers of life, the Danites sought a different location to settle.

PT—This oppression led to God raising up the greatest son of Dan, Samson the judge, to confront the Philistines. There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son… then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him (Judges 13:2-3, 24).


The exploits of Samson recorded in Judges 13-16 are famous examples of nontraditional warfare demonstrating the success of the few against the many and the small against the large. Jacob’s prophecy that Dan shall be a serpent on the way, an adder in the path was partially fulfilled in Samson and his strategy of warfare against the Philistines. Samson’s bites [of] the horse's [Philistines] heels, so that his rider falls backward was short-lived, however. This pagan enemy continued to oppress the Danites eventually precipitating their plans to leave their territory.  


Judges 18 in Review: Dan’s Unfortunate Move

·      Many in the tribe of Dan either did not wait for God to give them what He had promised (cf. Joshua 13:1-7), or they were unwilling to fight the Amorites so they could inhabit it then the Amorites forced the sons of Dan into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the valley (Judges 1:34). In any case, they felt that they did not have an adequate inheritance.


Verses 1-6And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking an inheritance for themselves to live in, for until that day an inheritance had not been allotted to them as a possession among the tribes of Israel (v. 1). —or better they translation is that the Danites had not yet subdued and fully occupied their allotted tribal territory that had been allotted to them. Evidently the men of Dan had grown weary of defending their little stretch of shore from the marauding’s of the Philistines. So the sons of Dan sent from their family five men out of their whole number, valiant men from Zorah and Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to search it (v. 2). They wanted to find a better location so they sent out five military scouts to survey other regions in the Promised Land.


Verses 7-13Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were in it living in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure; for there was no ruler humiliating them for anything in the land, and they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone (v. 7). These scouts traveled north to the foot of Mt. Hermon, near the border of modern-day Lebanon, and found a sleepy little town called Laish.

·      Then from the family of the Danites, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, six hundred men armed with weapons of war set out (v. 11). —They returned with a report that this would be an easy town to conquer and in which to relocate. Six hundred fighting men then departed for the town.


Verses 14-26Now the five men who went to spy out the land went up and entered there (the hill country of Ephraim v. 13), and took the graven image and the ephod and household idols and the molten image, while the priest (Micah) stood by the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men armed with weapons of war (v. 17)They stopped at Micah’s house on the way, noted his images and ephod, and pondered what they should do (v. 14). What they should have done was execute Micah and the Levite he had hired since they were idolaters but that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you (Deuteronomy 13:5). But they too had departed from God. So, instead, they stole Micah’s images and his priest.


·      They said to him, "Be silent, put your hand over your mouth and come with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?" The priest's heart was glad, and he took the ephod and household idols and the graven image and went among the people (vv. 19-20). —On their way they persuaded the renegade Levite in Ephraim to join them, and he brought along a graven image from the house of Micah, his former employer. Here was an opportunity for a larger ministry. It did not matter to him that God’s will was being violated concerning ordinary Levites serving as priests.

PT—The Levites who were not priests were given various duties in the caretaking of the tabernacle and its furnishings (Numbers 3:21-26). The priests among the Levites were given the immeasurable privilege of doing service in the tabernacle. The Levitical priests also served as judges (Deuteronomy 17:8-13) and teachers of God’s law (Deuteronomy 33:10).


Verses 27-31Then they took what Micah had made and the priest who had belonged to him, and came to Laish, to a people quiet and secure, and struck them with the edge of the sword; and they burned the city with fire… and they rebuilt the city and lived in it (vv.27-28)The 600 men army smote the town of Laish, which received no help from its ally, Sidon and there was no one to deliver them, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with anyone, and it was in the valley which is near Beth-rehob. This town that fit their desire to live at peace and not be bothered with the need to dominate their territory against a strong and determined foe such as the Philistines was easy pickings for Dan. They reasoned it was easier to live outside of the will of God.

·      They called the city Dan… The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image… So they set up for themselves Micah's graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh. —Having renamed the town Dan, they then turned the city into a cult center for idolatrous worship in the land.


***PT—There seem to be two issues that emerge from this incident which explain Dan’s unwillingness to pursue what God had determined was in the tribes’ best interest.


First, was the external threat of the Philistines.

The placement of the Philistines throughout the coastal plain meant they would become a ‘thorn in the flesh’ for the tribes, including Dan. The valleys of the Shephelah were the first step in Philistine penetration into the Hill Country. Two lines in the story of Samson, the Danite Judge, stand out above all others. One is a simple statement of fact now at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel (Judges 14:4). The other is a rhetorical question in Judges 15:11. It was posed to Samson by the men of Judah after he had upset the delicate status quo and fragile conditions of Philistine occupation. Samson’s exploits were certain to bring Philistine reprisals unless Samson surrendered. The men of Judah asked Samson "do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?"

PT—This was a compromise—one that directly violated the revealed will of God. God had commanded them to wipe out the Canaanites but of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 20:16-18; 7:1-6; 1 Samuel 15:2-3).


The tribes’ unwillingness to address the Philistine problem once and for all eliminated any possibility that they could settle in peace in the region. The tribe of Dan took matters into their own hands by forging a new path of settlement far away from the Philistines and the problems their presence had created. All of this, of course violated the will of God who had made clear that they were to possess their possession.


An Application—The Danites fear of the Philistines is like the generally righteous persons fear of the world. In both cases that fear often prevents righteousness from being an influence or making a difference. Possibly you know people like the tribe of Dan. Good people generally. Those who hate evil and love good. But they are too afraid to take a stand if it means trusting God and taking on the world. They will talk against the bad guy, but not stand up to them. They seem to be afraid, but it’s not a fear of God.


Second, was the internal threat of spiritual decay.

Though the threat from the outside was temporarily checked by Samson in his many exploits against the Philistines, the internal threat was harder to define and much more difficult to solve. The attitudes of the day were conveyed by the tribe of Dan moving away from their allotted territory. The priestly apostasy of the Levite in Micah’s house was only a generation of two removed from Moses himself. All of this pointed to internal spiritual decay, both in the relationships between men and with God.


The internal decay of the tribes outweighed the external threats to the tribes. The last chapters of Judges point that fact out with the move of the tribe of Dan. The underlying lesson of the history of the 12 tribes of Israel is “recognize who God is”. In stark contrast to that is the phrase of Micah, an Israelite a man from the Hill Country of Ephraim. Namely, "You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and have gone away, and what do I have besides? (Judges 18:24). This, more than anything else, explains the downward spiritual slide of the 12 tribes. Idolatry had become a common practice of the people of Israel.



·      When you plan to disobey God, Satan will pave the way of your disobedience. Even if he didn’t, you’d find one on your own. And you’d find someone to confirm it as being the right plan (maybe even a clergy! —Micah’s priest, for instance).

·      Be careful and suspicious of a plan or a lifestyle where you only have to take care of yourself and don’t have to trust God to take care of you. God told the Danites to take the territory He assigned and that He would take care of them. The Danites said they had a better idea—they’d find a territory that would take care of them. God’s plan required them to go to war. And it wasn’t easy.

·      Be wary of fighting easy battles. The battles God has for you will probably be hard ones (because then you have to trust Him). Someone will always try to make those easier.

·      Idolatry is to create a religion that gives you control, which gives you what you want. 1 Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

·      Don’t situate yourselves far away from the Word of God and the people of God. The Danites put themselves up where they did not have contact or fellowship with either the rest of the Israelites or the temple of God.


An Application—The severity of sin can only be determined by what God says about the sin. Those called greater sin, those God says He hates, those that are called an abomination, those in the Mosaic Law requiring the death penalty, those we are told to flee from, and anything resembling the tolerance of other gods, should be a warning that we are approaching a great sin. The acronym COEXIST sanctions idolatry and the worship of false gods, yet it does no observable damage to people. However, it is a great sin because its offensive to God.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).