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Genesis 49 says that Dan will provide justice for Israel and be a serpent along the roadside, a viper that will bite at the horses heel:

'Dan shall judge his people
   as one of the tribes of Israel. 
Dan shall be a snake by the roadside,
   a viper along the path,
that bites the horse's heels
   so that its rider falls backwards.'

(Genesis 49:16-17, NRSV)

Hippolytus of Rome stated that the antichrist will be a Jew and arise from the tribe of Dan:

Thus did the Scriptures preach before-time of this lion and lion's cub. And in like manner also we find it written regarding Antichrist. For Moses speaks thus: Dan is a lion's cub, and he shall leap from Bashan. But that no one may err by supposing that this is said of the Saviour, let him attend carefully to the matter. Dan, he says, is a lion's cub; and in naming the tribe of Dan, he declared clearly the tribe from which Antichrist is destined to spring. For as Christ springs from the tribe of Judah, so Antichrist is to spring from the tribe of Dan. And that the case stands thus, we see also from the words of Jacob: Let Dan be a serpent, lying upon the ground, biting the horse's heel.

(Hippolytus of Rome, On Christ and Antichrist 14, J.H. MacMahon translation)

Dan is also omitted from the list of tribes in Revelation 7:4-8.

What does the prophetic writing about Dan in Genesis 49 mean?

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  • Another reason why the 2nd part of the Bible is critically out of alignment with the 1st part.
    – Cynthia
    Aug 30, 2015 at 8:26

1 Answer 1

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In Rashi's Commentary, he equates the prophecy of Jacob with Samson, who came from the tribe of Dan,

Dan will avenge his people, like one, the tribes of Israel. טז. דָּן יָדִין עַמּוֹ כְּאַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: Dan will avenge his people: Heb. יָדִין, will avenge his people from the Philistines, like“When the Lord avenges (יָדִין) His people” (Deut. 32:36). - [From Targum Onkelos] דן ידין עמו: ינקום נקמת עמו מפלשתים, כמו (דברים לב לו) כי ידין ה' עמו:
like one, the tribes of Israel: All Israel will be like one with him, and he will avenge them all. Concerning Samson he uttered this prophecy. We can also explain שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּאַחַד [as follows]: like the special one of the tribes, namely David, who came from Judah. — [From Targum Onkelos, Sotah 10a, Gen. Rabbah 99:11
]

Furthermore, he comments on the rest of the prophecy,

Dan will be a serpent on the road, a viper on the path, which bites the horse's heels, so its rider falls backwards. יז. יְהִי דָן נָחָשׁ עֲלֵי דֶרֶךְ שְׁפִיפֹן עֲלֵי אֹרַח הַנּשֵׁךְ עִקְּבֵי סוּס וַיִּפֹּל רֹכְבוֹ אָחוֹר:
a viper: Heb. שְׁפִיפֹן. This is a snake, and I say it is given this appellation because it bites,“and you will bite (תְּשׁוּפֶנוּ) his heel” (Gen. 3:15). שפיפן: הוא נחש. ואומר אני שקרוי כן על שם שהוא נושף, כמו (בראשית ג טו) ואתה תשופנו עקב: which bites the horse’s heels: So is the habit of a snake. He (Jacob) compares him (Dan) to a snake, which bites a horse’s heels, and [causes] its rider to fall backwards, although it does not touch him. We find something similar in [the story of] Samson:“And Samson grasped the two pillars of the center, etc.” (Jud. 16:29), and those on the roof died. Onkelos renders [נָחָשׁ] as כְּחִיוֵי חוּרְמָן, the name of a species of snake whose bite has no antidote, and that is the צִפְעֹנִי (adder). It is called חוּרְמָן because it destroys (חֵרֶם) everything. [Onkelos renders] וּכְפִתְנָא, and like a viper, like פֶּתֶן (Isa. 11:8, Ps. 58:5) [and he renders] יִכְמוֹן, [as] he will lie in wait.

The word "Dan":( דָּן), means "judge" and Samson was a "Judge" from the tribe of Dan. This point is certainly consistant with Rashi's Commentary.

As to equating the "Antichrist" as being from the tribe of Dan, one must be careful in accepting the interpretations of the Early Church Fathers, especially when they admit they are speculating as to the interpretation.

Both Hippolytus and Irenaeus of Lyons were contemporaries from 2nd century, and both lend credence as to the authenticity of the Book of Revelations. In regards to understanding what "Six Hundred and Sixty Six" means, Hippolytus says,

"With respect to his name, it is not in our power to explain it exactly, as the blessed John understood it and was instructed about it, but only to give a conjectural account of it; for when he appears, the blessed one will show us what we seek to know. Yet as far as our doubtful apprehension of the matter goes, we may speak."(Antichrist(Ch. 50)

Irenaeus also said,"

It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfilment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved. For if there are many names found possessing this number, it will be asked which among them shall the coming man bear.(Against Heresies V-Ch.30:3)

Both of them were insistent that the Antichrist be Jewish and from the tribe of Dan, and they both supported their interpretation from Jer. 8:16,

The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan: the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones; for they are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein.

This passage, along with Gen. 49:17, and the absence of the tribe of Dan from Rev. 7:4-8 form their basis for concluding that the Antichrist is from the tribe of Dan.

One cannot doubt the tenacity of their arguments, as well as the sources available to them which are not available to us. But where they lack is the perspective of history, and this is where their arguments become problematic.

First of all, the passage of Jer. 8:16 can be interpreted as the Battle of Armageddon, which pits the forces of the Antichrist against the Nation of Israel. The "Assyrian" will attack from the north, which is in the territory of Dan, which borders the Golan Heights. The reference in Scripture for this is Micah 5:5-6,

And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men. 6 And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders.

The "man" referred to is Christ, the Bethlehem Ephrata passage (vs 2) defines where He comes from.

Another problem with their interpretation is they define "Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia" as the 3 horns the Antichrist will "uproot", or other translations says "push aside". Both of them agree that the "10 horns" are future kingdoms/nations that grow out of Rome, the 4th Beast of Daniel; yet Ethiopia was never a colony, nor conquered by Rome. You would have to wait until Mussolini before Ethiopia gets conquered by Rome(Italy), and we can safely say Mussolini wasn't the Antichrist!

Hippolytus does agree that Gen. 49:16-17 'could' refer to Samson, a man we "know" came from the tribe of Dan. After the conquering by Assyria of the Israelite tribes(as opposed to Judah and Benjamin) there's very little record of anyone coming from that dispersion. So we would be "hard pressed" to find 12,000 Jews from the tribes of that dispersion, since there is no record of them ever returning. Therefore, one may conclude that we are not talking about "12,000, give or take a few Jews" from the various tribes, rather we are speaking figuratively of a 'complete' number that represents the government of God. Whether or not the Jew was from the particular tribe, that tribe occupied a particular area of Israel, and roughly the same areas are occupied today. A "Danite" could be considered from the area where the tribe of Dan occupied, because God fulfilled His Covenant Promises of a Land and a People, regardless which people are there to occupy. The fact that they(both Dan and Ephraim) are not mentioned in Rev. 7:4-8, yet Levi is mentioned is because 12 is the government of God, and the 12 Pillars are the 12 tribes of Israel. Joseph, along with Manasseh is mentioned, yet Joseph received no territory-his sons did.

So then, what does Gen. 49:17 refer to? One could accept Rashi's Commentary, since the 1st verse definitely refers to Samson. I believe it is yet to be fulfilled, and since Hippolytus took liberties with his interpretations, so will I. Dan is the Northernmost tribe, directly in the path of the Assyrian. The great battle will be fought in Megiddo, which is also in his jurisdiction; this is where the Lord will go to battle for the Nation of Israel. When the 6th part that survive flee,

And I will turn thee back, and leave but the sixth part of thee, and will cause thee to come up from the north parts, and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel(Ezek. 39:2),

they will be harassed by Dan, who will

be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. 18 I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD

You'll notice he doesn't "bite" the heel of Christ, but of a horse, which is the same as saying an ambush. This will happen at the end, when salvation will be extended to all of Israel(Rom. 11:26)

The significance of Dan is that it occupies the northernmost province of Israel, next to the Golan Heights and Syria. This is where "The Assyrian" and all her confederates(Gog and Magog, Meshech and Tubal) will unite to wipe her off the map. When "His Feet Touch the Mount of Olives"(Zech. 14:4) and the armies are defeated, those that are left will be harassed by Dan, who they confidently marched over on their way to defeat.

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  • Another curious rabbit trail is the study of what has happened to the tribe of Dan since Assyrian exile and relocation. This can lead to some darker interpretations though, especially if you agree with the Dan and Germanic connections. But there are other less disturbing meanings possible as well.
    – Joshua
    Nov 24, 2014 at 22:56
  • @JoshuaBigbee If there was any tribe threatened to be expelled, it is the tribe of Benjamin(Judg. 21:3); yet we see Benjamin included in the Rev. 7 tribes. The Irenaeus/Hippolytus argument is one of speculation-they admitted as much. Without any other scriptural reason to exclude Dan, we have as much of a case against Ephraim as we do Dan.
    – Tau
    Nov 25, 2014 at 4:14

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