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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


The tribe of Dan was descended from the elder of two sons whom Rachel’s maid Bilhah bore to Jacob (Genesis 30:1-6). In the original division of Canaan, Dan received its tribal portion on the Philistine coast between Judah and Ephraim (Joshua 19:40-48; Judges 5:17; Judges 13:1-2; Judges 14:1; Judges 16:23; for map see TRIBES).

Besides being squeezed between Israel’s two most powerful tribes, the Danites were pushed back from the coast by the Philistines and the Amorites. The tribe therefore sent representatives north to look for a better place to live (Judges 1:34; Judges 18:1-2). The place they decided upon was Laish, located in the fertile region of the Jordan headwaters in the far north of Canaan. With the swiftness and ruthlessness that had characterized the tribe from the beginning, they slaughtered the people of Laish and seized the town for themselves, renaming it Dan (Judges 18:7-10; Judges 18:27-29; cf. Genesis 49:16-17; Deuteronomy 33:22).

From that time on, the towns of Dan and Beersheba marked respectively the northern and southern limits of the land of Israel (Judges 20:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; 2 Samuel 17:11; 2 Samuel 24:2). When the nation was split in two after the death of Solomon, the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin were separated from the northern tribes, who still called themselves Israel. The new limits of Israel were now Dan in the north and Bethel in the south. The breakaway king of Israel set up his own shrines in these two towns, in opposition to Judah’s shrine in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:28-30).

Dan’s isolated location meant that it was open to enemy attack from the north (1 Kings 15:20). It was one of the first parts of Israel to fall when Assyria conquered the land and took the people into captivity (2 Kings 15:29).

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Dan'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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