The reason I love studying the Bible with a group of people is that they teach me things I don’t know. I love it when I don’t know the answer to a question. That is how I learn. So when someone recounted the ugly tail of Dan’s idolatry in Judges 18 concluding with the passage in Judges 18:30-31:
“There the Danites set up for themselves the idol, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. They continued to use the idol Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh.”
I wanted to know if that could possibly be true that the Danites never ever worshiped God! How could that be?
Before I had a chance to settle that question, someone in the class read the passage from Revelation 7 where the tribe of Dan was omitted. I never considered that! I never realized that a whole tribe of Israel was not found in the New Testament. What could that mean? As an avid reader of the Old Testament, I am constantly trying to help people see that is not that God is so mean; it is that man is so depraved.
In the case of the missing tribe of Dan, the answers are worth finding out. Actually, two tribes are not mentioned; Ephraim and Dan. Some wonder if the Revelation 7 omit is a textual issue and that the tribe Manasseh (the son of Joseph) was meant to be Dan (just spelled wrong through the ages) and in fact Ephraim and Manasseh are combined into the name Joseph (since he was the son of Jacob and Ephraim and Manasseh were the grandsons). However, Ephraim’s tribe was the one who had the idols that the Danites stole. I think it is striking that these two names specifically are not mentioned in Revelation 7. They are idolaters and because of that reason they are not part of the promises of heaven. It also gives me a deeper understanding of the Samaritans (the ancestors of Dan and Ephraim) that we encounter so often in the Gospels. It helps me see how they got so far from God. It is even more meaningful to me that Jesus reached out to them and some Samaritans responded to the Good News.
I will never completely understand the Bible and especially Revelation and what the 144,000 list in Revelation 7 means exactly. What I can know is that the missing names cause me to reflect on the fact that idolatry is worship of Satan and I don’t want any part of it. I must constantly stand on guard against idolatry if I don’t want to take a chance that I will be left off an important spiritual list.
The missing tribes of Dan and Ephraim are indeed a lesson to me. They are a warning I must heed. They teach me that God is amazingly faithful to amazingly unfaithful people. I know that idolatry is a grievous sin. This particular strain of idolatry took root when a mother overlooked her own son’s stealing. Rather than rebuke him, she gave him free reign and encouraged his path to idolatry. The missing tribes make me want to stay eager to examine my life and be ever mindful of how easy it was for these tribes to walk away from the beauty and truth of God and exchange it for an idol made of stolen gold.
What have you learned that you never knew about the Bible lately?