Tribe of Dan

(dan, "judge"; Dan).

1. Name:

The fifth of Jacob’s sons, the first borne to him by Bilhah, the maid of Rachel, to whom, as the child of her slave, he legally belonged. At his birth Rachel, whose barrenness had been a sore trial to her, exclaimed "God hath judged me .... and hath given me a son," so she called his name Dan, i.e. "judge" (Ge 30:6). He was full brother of Naphtali. In Jacob’s Blessing there is an echo of Rachel’s words, "Da shall judge his people" (Ge 49:16). Of the patriarch Da almost nothing is recorded. Of his sons at the settlement in Egypt only one, Hushim, is mentioned (Ge 46:23). The name in Nu 26:42 is Shuham.

2. The Tribe:

3. Territory:

The portion assigned to Da adjoined those of Ephraim, Benjamin and Judah, and lay on the western slopes of the mountain. The reference in Jud 5:17: "And Dan, why did he remain in ships?" seems to mean that on the West, Da had reached the sea. But the passage is one of difficulty. We are told that the Amorites forced the children of Da into the mountain (Jud 1:34), so they did not enjoy the richest part of their ideal portion, the fertile plain between the mountain and the sea. The strong hand of the house of Joseph kept the Amorites tributary, but did not drive them out. Later we find Da oppressed by the Philistines, against whom the heroic exploits of Samson were performed (Jud 14 ff). The expedition of the Danites recorded in Jud 18 is referred to in Jos 19:47 ff.

4. The Danite Raid:

The story affords a priceless glimpse of the conditions prevailing in those days. Desiring an extension of territory, the Danites sent out spies, who recommended an attack upon Laish, a city at the north end of the Jordan valley. The people, possibly a colony from Sidon, were careless in their fancied security. The land was large, and there was "no want of anything that was in the earth." The expedition of the 600, their dealings with Micah and his priest, their capture of Laish, and their founding of an idol shrine with priestly attendant, illustrate the strange mingling of lawlessness and superstition which was characteristic of the time. The town rebuilt on the site of Laish they called Dan--see following article. Perhaps 2Ch 2:14 may be taken to indicate that the Danites intermarried with the Phoenicians. Divided between its ancient seat in the South and the new territory in the North the tribe retained its place in Israel for a time (1Ch 12:35; 27:22), but it played no part of importance in the subsequent history.

The name disappears from the genealogical lists of Chronicles; and it is not mentioned among the tribes in Re 7:5 ff.

Samson was the one great man produced by Dan, and he seems to have embodied the leading characteristics of the tribe: unsteady, unscrupulous, violent, possessed of a certain grim humor; stealthy in tactics--"a serpent in the way, an adder in the path" (Ge 49:17)--but swift and strong in striking--"a lion’s whelp, that leapeth forth from Bashan" (De 33:22). Along with Abel, Da ranked as a city in which the true customs of old Israel were preserved (2Sa 20:18 Septuagint).