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DANITES, the tribe descended from the older son of Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine (Gen 30:1-6).

1. The name means “judging” or a “judge.” Rachel saw in the birth of this child God’s acceptance of her claim to motherhood and the evidence that He had heard her prayer.

2. In Jacob’s blessing (49:16f.), Dan was placed after the last two sons of Leah, although he was born before them. The blessing again played on the meaning of the name: “Dan shall judge his people,” apparently meaning that the tribe would govern itself without the help of others. To this brief prediction, based on the name, Jacob added the cryptic statement: “Dan shall be a serpent in the way, an adder by the path, that bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider falls backward.” This is regarded as a description of the cerastes, a small and venomous snake which hides itself in hollow places from which it makes its sudden attack on the passer-by. The prophecy clearly suggests that Dan would show the subtilty and venom of a snake in dealing with his enemies. Why Dan’s blessing is followed by the words, “I wait for thy salvation, O Lord,” might be regarded as applicable to all the tribes, but is uncertain. It may be connected with Rachel’s impatient and desperate plan for motherhood which was followed by the birth of Dan, but this would seem far-fetched.

3. Although the second largest of the tribes (62,700) at the time of the Exodus (Num 1:39), and one of the tribes which increased slightly during the years of wandering (26:43) being second only to Judah in the census, Dan’s position in both listings is after the Leah and Rachel tribes but first of the four handmaid tribes. Its prince in the time of Moses was Ahiezer (Num 1:12). In the encampments Dan’s standard, which included Asher and Naphtali, was on the N side of the Tabernacle. In the line of march Dan headed the last of the four standards (Num 10:25f.). Likewise when the offerings for the dedication of the altar were presented, Dan offered on the tenth day (Num 7:66ff.), being followed by Asher and Naphtali. At the great ceremony at Ebal, Dan was among the tribes which were to pronounce the curses (Deut 27:13).

4. Dan was mentioned briefly in Moses’ blessing of the tribes (Deut 33:22). The comparison with “a lion’s whelp” suggests vigor and ferocity; and the words, “that leaps forth from Bashan” suggest events which took place after the conquest of Laish (Judg 18).

5. At the distribution of the land by Joshua, Dan’s lot was the last (Josh 19:40-48). Their portion was between Judah on the S and Ephraim on the N, with Benjamin to the E and the sea to the W. Seventeen cities assigned to Dan are listed. These were cramped quarters, because of the resistance of the Amorites (Judg 1:34), and because the Philistines were in possession of much of their seacoast (3:3). Only a brief reference is made to the way in which they remedied the situation (Josh 19:47).

7. The conquest of Laish in the time of the Judges apparently was followed by the gradual removal from there of many or most of the tribe, although there is nothing concerning this in the Bible. Samson was a Danite and in his day there were many Danites still living in the portion assigned to them by Joshua. Zorah, Eshtaol, Timnah, Eltekeh, and Ekron were “Danite” cities (Josh 19:41-46; cf. 21:23), although the last was in the days of Samson one of the five cities of the lords of the Philistines (Judg 13:2, 25) and others were more or less under their control. If the “camp of Dan” (Heb. Mahaneh-dan) (v. 25) is the same as the Mahaneh-dan mentioned in Judges 18:12, the inference is justified that the conquest of Laish took place before the time of Samson. The meaning of Judges 5:17 is too uncertain to be referred to in this connection.

8. Dan is not listed in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles (1 Chron 1-8), but 28,600 Danites came to David in Hebron to make him king over all Israel (1 Chron 12:35). The listing of the Danites after Issachar, Zebulun and Naphtali and before Asher indicates that by the time of David, the Danites were regarded as a northern tribe, which meant that by the time of David or long before, the Danites had completed the trek, the beginning of which is described in the Book of Judges. A hint of this is the statement in the letter of Hiram king of Tyre to Solomon, that he was sending Solomon a skillful workman whose father was a Tyrian but his mother a Danite (2 Chron 2:14), such a mixed marriage being more likely to take place after the trek to the N.

9. The well-known idolatry of the Danites was prob. mainly responsible for Jeroboam placing one of his golden calves at Dan (2 Kings 10:29), although the location prob. figured to some extent, Dan and Bethel being on the northern and southern boundaries of the northern kingdom.

10. In Ezekiel’s vision of the Holy Land and the Holy City, Dan is named as occupying the northernmost portion (Ezek 48:1). Dan was one of the so-called “lost tribes” which were carried away by the Assyrians and disappeared. But it is to be remembered that, when Ezra came to Jerusalem, the Israelites offered in sacrifice “twelve bullocks for all Israel” (Ezra 8:35), and that the aged Anna, who was present when the infant Jesus was presented to the Lord, was of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36). Paul also, speaking before Agrippa referred to the promise to which “our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come” (Acts 26:7 KJV). This would seem to indicate that there was a remnant of grace in the northern kingdom, including Danites, after the carrying away, even as there had been 7,000 in the days of Elijah who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). Yet it is remarkable that in Revelation 7 the name of Dan does not appear, a fact which is prob. responsible for the ancient tradition that the antichrist was to come from the tribe of Dan.

11. The phrase “from Dan to Beersheba,” which occurs a number of times, refers to Israel in its utmost bounds and therefore presupposes the trek to the N, and appears first in Judges 20:1. (This may indicate that the near-extermination of the tribe of Benjamin took place after the events recounted in chs. 17, 18.) Compare the words “from Geba to Beersheba” (2 Kings 23:8) which describe the limits of the southern kingdom in the days of Josiah.

12. The mention of Dan in Genesis 14:14 as the limit of Abraham’s pursuit of the four kings who had invaded Pal., has caused much discussion; it is one of the stock arguments against the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Some scholars believe that this is a different Dan, although there is no clear documentary evidence of the existence of such a city. One may well say with W. H. Green: “If the Dan of later times is here meant, the strong probability is that the older name [Laish?] was in the original text, and in the course of transcription one more familiar was substituted for it. The proofs of Mosaic authorship are too numerous and strong to be outweighed by a triviality like this.”

13. In Deuteronomy 34:1 the mention of Dan, which seems clearly to be to the northern city, need occasion no difficulty, since here again the more modern name for Laish may have been substituted by a later copyist. It is not unlikely that this concluding chapter of the Pentateuch may have been written substantially later than the time of Moses, as the closing verses may perhaps imply (vv. 9-12); the statement reads more like history than prediction. This short chapter is then to be regarded as a biographical addendum supplied by a writer later than Moses, as is natural for any obituary tribute of this type.


C. F. Keil, The Book of Judges (1875), 429-442; W. H. Green, The Unity of Genesis (1895), 202; F. W. Farrar, Judges in A Bible Commentary for Bible Students, ed. by C. J. Ellicott, vol. II, 253-260. For the critical view, compare: G. F. Morre, Judges, ICC (1900), 365-408; C. F. Burney, Judges (1920), 408-436; J. Garstang, Joshua-Judges (1931), 229f., 245-257; H. H. Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua (1952), 79-86.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Occurs as describing those belonging to Da in Jud 13:2; 18:1,11; 1Ch 12:35.