Genesis 49:15-16 by Robert Dean
Series:Genesis (2003)
Duration:57 mins 1 sec

Dan: Serpent to Israel. Genesis 49:15-16


Up to this point we have looked at Jacob's prophecy regarding the first six sons. The first four of them were the first four sons born to Leah. He covers the sons of Leah first. Then in verse 15 he shifts from the sons of Leah to the four sons from the concubine. He begins with Dan and then goes to Gad, Asher and Naphtali.

Genesis 49:16 NASB " shall judge his people, As one of the tribes of Israel. [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." Those two verses form the core of the prophecy and then there is a sort of prayerful interlude as Jacob is meditating upon Dan and upon the prophecies, and in verse 18 he focuses on God's redemptive plan. "For Your salvation I wait, O LORD." This is the first time in the Old Testament where we have the Hebrew word yeshua which is the word for salvation or deliverance. It is used primarily in the Old Testament for physical deliverance, of rescue, of deliverance of the nation in times of trouble.

The prophecy to Dan that begins "Dan shall his people" I based on a play on words with the name of the tribe and the Hebrew word to judge. What is important here is that we have to understand that there are two different Hebrew words, two synonyms, for this concept of judging, and they have different emphases. One is a broader term; one is a narrower term. The first word is shaphat, a word meaning to judge or to govern. It is more often than not translated as "judge" but it is a much broader term, much broader than our modern concept of the judiciary. The judge in the Old Testament, the judges, were men who often ruled, led the nation in the military conquests of their enemies, they made decisions in disputes between people, but more often than not it was a word that related to somebody who was ruling or controlling the nation, the key leader in the nation. This is the word that is used exclusively in the book of Judges. It is a leadership term. The word that we find in Genesis 49 is not the word shaphat and is not a word for ruling in that sense. It is a word that is much more restricted. In the restricted sense the two words are often used as synonyms but shaphat has a broader sense as well. The word in Genesis 49 is the Hebrew word bin, and that is where we get the name Dan. The name is based on the word for justice. The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the Old Testament says that this is a verb meaning to bring justice, to go to court, to pass sentence, to contend for something, to act as a judge, to govern, to plead a cause, to be at strife or to quarrel. The primary idea is of bringing about justice, so it is a very narrow concept when compared with shaphat. Halot, the Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament says that the meaning of this word is to plead one's cause, to contend with someone over a judicial issue, or to execute judgment. So this is the basic meaning of the word, it is not a word that would indicate rulership.

There are those who have jumped to the illegitimate conclusion that this indicated the rulership of the Antichrist and that the Antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan in the Tribulation period. The problem with that is that when we get into Revelation we see that the Antichrist is the first beast who comes out of the sea. He is the ruler of the ten-nation confederacy which is referred to in Daniel chapter nine and an allusion to the same people who conquered Jerusalem in AD 70. That is a Gentile, not a Jew. So the Antichrist can't come from the tribe of Dan because the Antichrist is going to be a Gentile who will come from the remnants of the old Roman empire.

So the term bin is a much more narrow term and it emphasises the fact that when Dan's mother [Bilhah] Rachel named him she felt that she was being vindicated before God because Bilhah was serving as her substitute in childbirth.


Summary of Dan's tribal history

1)  The descendants of Dan displayed wonderful achievements as well as some gross failures. It is heavier on the gross failure end than it is on the brilliant achievement end. This tribe is not known because of their great spiritual interest and their positive volition to God but they do have some positive achievements, not in the spiritual realm where they have tremendous failure. They were responsible for leading nation into idolatry many times in their history.

2)  The Danites were the second most numerous tribe in the wilderness period, second only to the tribe of Judah. If we look at the tribe allotment, the inheritance set apart for Dan was not nearly the size of the allotment for Judah. They failed to take their land and this was due to their spiritual failure.

3)  One of the better members of this tribe is Aholiab who was Bezaliel's assistant. Bezaliel was the chief craftsman on the tabernacle. He is on the positive end and on the other end is the womanising, self-absorbed Samson, and these are the two most famous members of this particular tribe.

4)  At the end of the wilderness period as they are about to go into the land there is another prophetic statement made about Dan by Moses—Deuteronomy 33:22 where Moses refers to the tribe as a lion's cub, using a term and an imagery that is very similar to the imagery that Jacob uses for the tribe of Judah and the reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, but there is a difference in the metaphor.

5)  The period of the Judges is when we primarily see a lot of information about the tribe of Dan, and this involves two key events. One has to do with Samson and his judgeship—Judges 13-16. That is followed in chapters 17 & 18 by a focus on the migration that occurs by the Danites from the south to the north. They conquer the people in Laish and establish their inheritance in the northern part of the land, but in doing so they pick up this reprobate Levite priest, an apostate, and take him up to Dan to establish an alternative worship site and an alternative religion. He is a descendant of Moses so they think he has some legitimacy and this becomes a trap and a snare for the Danites throughout the rest of history.

6)  Though some have argued that the Antichrist comes from the tribe of Dan this cannot be supported biblically. The tribe is omitted later on from the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 2-10, and it is also omitted from the twelve tribes that are mentioned in Revelation chapter seven. There is no Jewish evangelist from the tribe of Dan during the Tribulation period, but nevertheless God's grace does provide them with a future and they do have an inheritance in the land, according to Ezekiel's layout and apportionment of the land during the Millennial kingdom.

The birth of Dan occurred after Leah had had four sons. Rachel is still unable to conceive and is barren so she offers her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob. Genesis 30:1-4 NASB "Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, 'Give me children, or else I die.' Then Jacob's anger burned against Rachel, and he said, 'Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?' She said, 'Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children.' So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her." Rachel is unable to fulfil her role and her place in the family as the one who brings forth the next generation and so she is completely frustrated and is blaming Jacob. [5] "Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. [6] Then Rachel said, 'God has vindicated [bin] me, and has indeed heard my voice and has given me a son.' Therefore she named him Dan."

After the birth of Dan and the mention of Dan as one of the twelve sons the next time we have any reference to Dan is in the book of Exodus and at the time of the Exodus. In Numbers 1:39 we learn that there were 62,700 men in the tribe of Dan as they left Egypt. In numbers 26:42 after the Exodus generation has died off and they are about to enter the land they took a second census and the tribe of Dan had actually increased to 64,400. Dan was situated on the north side of the encampment, of the tabernacle, and in the marching order Dan would bring up the rear.

The next specific reference that we have is Deuteronomy 33:22 after the census. Moses is giving a blessing to the people and goes through the tribes and here he gives a blessing to Dan. "Of Dan he said, 'Dan is a lion's whelp, That leaps forth from Bashan.'" Lions were often used as symbols of power, of majesty, of royalty, as well as just symbols of military strength and prowess, which is the idea here. Moses is emphasizing that Dan would be strong and would have military power over its enemies. This is fulfilled in the historical event of their migration north and the conquest of Laish. The second phrase in the prophecy, "leaps from Bashan," doesn't mean that he is going to come from Bashan or that military activity is going to occur in Bashan, it is simply an allusion to the fact that this is an area where there many hills and caves and a lot of leopards at that particular time in history. It just embellishes on the imagery of the military power of this lion's whelp.

The next time Dan is mentioned is during the conquest, in Joshua and the first chapter of the book of Judges. Dan was given territory that is adjacent to Judah. Then we next hear of Dan in Judges chapter thirteen.

There is such a failure among evangelical Christians to understand what is going on in the book of Judges and they tend to look at these people through the lens of Hebrews chapter eleven where there is a list of great heroes of the faith, men who trusted God at key moments and saw God give them victory in various ways in the Old Testament. The problem is that people tend to read this to superficially and they extrapolate from the fact that somebody is mentioned there so there is some sort of idealized vision that they were tremendously mature believers whose lives characterized great faith all the time. In many cases they did not. In many cases they were great failures spiritually but they managed to trust God and come through in the clinches once in their life.

Hebrews 11:30 NASB "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. [31] By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. [32] And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, [33] who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed {acts of} righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions." Gideon was no great valiant warrior. There is a lot of sarcasm there when the angel of the Lord shows up in Judges chapter six.  Barak failed to really trust God and to be the leader that God really wanted him to be and so Deborah said that God was going to take the victory away from him and give it to a woman. Jephthah is raised out in the wild lands west of the Jordan in a pagan environment and he doesn't understand how God operates. Believers have sin natures and are capable of doing all the horrible things the unbeliever can do if they don't have any biblical truth in their souls. The book of Judges is a very negative book, a book for the study of a culture in relativism because it shows how relativism seeps into the society at all levels. The leadership becomes compromised, the people are compromised, and the religious leaders are compromised. Samson fits into that scenario. He is the last judge, his purpose is to go against the Philistines. They are the oppressors at that time. But of we read through the book of Judges we will note that Othniel delivers the nation, Ehud delivers the nation from Eglon, Deborah is a strong woman who knows what is right but Barak fails to be the male leader he should be. Then Gideon leads the nation into idolatry. Samson fits within a deteriorating cycle and when we get to him everybody else has delivered the nation from the oppressor but Samson doesn't. At the end of the Samson story Samson tears down the temple but he doesn't defeat the Philistines. It is not until David comes along that the Philistines are finally defeated. Samson is the failure; Samuel the last judge will be the success.

Judges 13:2 NASB "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.}"  Every time we get into a story in the Old Testament where the Bible tells us that the wife is barren ears ought to prick up a little bit because it only happens to six women in the Old Testament and each one is significant—Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and the mother of Samson. God is doing something, it is no chance thing that she is barren. She is barren for two reasons. One is that God has a specific plan for her to be the mother of Samson and He is going to do something to the nation through Samson, but also because in the Mosaic law there was the specific statement that when the nation was disobedient to God the wombs would be empty. It was a sign of divine discipline on a nation that was disobedient to God. [3] "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." This son is going to be Samson.

Genesis 49:16 NASB "Dan shall judge his people, As one of the tribes of Israel" This is probably fulfilled in the Samson narrative because he is one who judges the people. He may be rebellious, apostate and self-absorbed but he functions as a judge. But then we have a further statement made in Genesis 49:17 NASB "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." Notice the two words "serpent" and "heel." When was the last time we saw these two words in the same passage? It takes us back to the promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15. There are two approaches to the interpretation of the metaphor here. The first approach is to look at this verse as a prophecy related to Samson. This isn't a lion attacking with power, this is talking about a serpent that is camouflaged by the side of the trail and as a horse and rider come by the viper strokes at the horse and the horse rears up and throws the rider. So this talks about a more subtle, more cunning form of attack. The argument is that this is fulfilled in Samson who through cunning confounds the Philistines, topples their horse and tears their house down. Another thing we should note here is that there is a change in the word for serpent. The first word is the Hebrew word nachash which just refers to any generic sort of snake or serpent. It is also used to refer to Satan in Genesis chapter three. The second word, a viper [horned snake] by the path, refers to a more specific kind of snake. This is a poisonous snake, a viper or an adder, possibly a horned snake.

The second option sees the association of the serpent with Dan as reminiscent of the serpent in the garden. This is reinforced by the use of the terms serpent and heel, so we have to make a decision. Is this talking about something positive about Samson or is it talking about something that is rather negative. In the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation we see this imagery of the serpent. The great dragon, Revelation 12:9, is cast out of heaven, "the serpent of old called the devil and Satan." So which of these two images are we talking about here? It can be argued that it is not likely that this is a reference to the cunning of Samson, first of all because the serpent really isn't known for cunning. Second, the word for "judge" in the word Dan is din, not shaphat. Shaphat is the word we have for Samson. It is making too much of the judgeship trying to tie that to Samson when if there is an allusion to Samson at all, that Dan will judge the other tribes, there wouldn't need to be an additional allusion to Samson in verse 17. Here however, the imagery is overwhelmingly an emphasis on evil. In the book of Judges we see that there is a lack of spiritual depth or any kind of positive spiritual attribute for Samson at all. Then in the subsequent chapters we see that in their migration to the north they established an alternate worship site, an alternate priesthood, and later on under Jereboam I he has two golden calves made and tells the people that this is the god that took them out of Egypt, the god of their fathers, and leads them into idolatry. He sets up one worship site in Samaria and the other one is Dan. So it is in the territory of Dan that we see this ongoing emphasis on idolatry and on their apostasy. So it is probable that Genesis 49:16 is an allusion to the fact that Dan will be a tribe in the future that will lead the nation into idolatry and be a source of evil. It is not until the Millennial kingdom that anything positive is said about Dan.

So Samson's birth is announced in Judges 13 and the parents don't seem to be really bright for some reason. The angel returns and tells the mother that Samson will be a Nazarite from birth. To be a Nazarite meant three things. Usually it was someone who took a vow at some point in their life and during the period of that vow these conditions would be true. But in the case of Samson this was true from his birth. First of all, he could not drink any wine or grape juice, he couldn't even touch a vine. Second, he couldn't touch a dead body at all. Third, a Nazarite could not cut his hair during the time of the Nazarite vow. Those were the three things that were imposed upon Samson from the very beginning. What we see, starting from chapter fourteen, is that Samson doesn't have any inclination whatsoever to fulfil his vow or to be obedient to the Lord. He is completely focused on his own personal pleasure and fulfilling his own lust. He finds a pagan woman and wants to marry outside of Israel. Notice in 14:5 he goes down to the vineyards of Timnah. Right away there is a big hint in the text telling us that he seems not at all concerned about his vow. "…and behold, a young lion {came} roaring toward him. [6] The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done." Question: How is the Spirit of God working in the Old Testament? In the New Testament we think that when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon somebody or fills somebody they are in right relationship to the Holy Spirit, and that has to do with spirituality and spiritual growth. But Samson is a self-absorbed, disobedient, rebellious adolescent who can't wait to fulfil his own lust and the Spirit of God comes upon him. Perhaps the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament in these scenarios is quite different from the way it is in the New Testament. It is not the same. The Holy Spirit is coming upon him for the purpose of supplying leadership for the nation Israel—not spiritual leadership. The Spirit of God comes upon various people in the Old Testament for various reasons, one of which is to give military commanders military skills to defeat the enemies of Israel regardless of their spiritual maturity, their desire to know God or anything else. So he tears the lion apart with his bare hands, but he doesn't tell his parents. So we see another element to his character, that he is rather secretive, because he is not supposed to be where he was, in the vineyard, and that is where he kills the lion.