Why is the tribe of Dan is missing from the 144,000 in Revelation 7? Theories abound. Is it punishment for Dan’s idolatry and Dan being the city of Rehoboam’s idol worship? Or is it because the Antichrist comes from Dan as "the serpent by the way" prophecy may suggest? Is there any proof for these theories? Learn a new and convincing explanation to this centuries-old mystery.
The Mysterious Missing Tribe of Dan
Imagine for a moment that you thought you were a descendant of the Israelite tribe of Dan. Dan is one of the Lost Ten Tribes scattered across the nations of the earth (Amos 9:9). Unlike Judah, they lost their identity which means there are people today who are Danites but do not know it. Some say that much of Dan migrated to Ireland. Others say Denmark, or both. No one knows for sure, but Dan is still here just as much as the Jews and the other ten tribes are. We can be sure of this because the prophecy of the 144,000 end time evangelists says they are taken from "all twelve tribes." (Note that "the Jews" is not synonymous with Israel as Judah is only one tribe of twelve tribes of Israel.)
Now if you were a Danite, this account of the 144,000 in Revelation 7 could cause you some uneasiness:
Revelation 7:3-8 (HCSB) — 3 “Don’t harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we seal the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 sealed from every tribe of the Israelites: 5 12,000 sealed from the tribe of Judah, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 6 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 7 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 8 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 sealed from the tribe of Benjamin.
Notice something missing? That’s right, the tribe of Dan is not listed among the 144,000 as it is in the other two main listings of the tribes in Genesis 29-30 and Numbers 1:
No explanation is provided for the omission. Another oddity is the strange double inclusion of Manasseh. Manasseh is already included implicitly by Joseph, the father of Ephraim and Manasseh. Therefore, the listing of Manasseh—in addition to Joseph—is redundant. Frankly, it looks like an error, as if someone goofed.
Many Differing Lists of "Twelve Tribes"
For years the mystery of Dan's absence did not bother me. I knew that among the many listings of the twelve tribes found in Scripture, no two are exactly the same. They all vary slightly, at least in order. Some omit a tribe, most commonly (but not always) Levi because Levi was dedicated to the LORD and had no land inheritance like the other tribes.
As seen in the table above with Numbers 1, when Levi is omitted, Joseph is omitted too and replaced by his two sons, the “half tribes” of Ephraim and Manasseh to maintain a total of twelve tribes. This works because Jacob claimed Joseph's two sons as his own, literally adopting them (Gn 48:5), producing a total of thirteen tribes of Israel to draw from for tribal lists.
Nevertheless, Revelation 7's list is troublesome because it is the only instance of a tribal list with Dan missing or with Manasseh appearing when Joseph his father does. Since it is a list of a very blessed subset of 144,00 righteous end time witnesses, Dan’s exclusion is easily viewed as a negative commentary on the tribe.
Common Theories On Why Dan Was Excluded
Bible readers naturally wonder why God would "punish" Dan like this, at least as they perceive it. I've been asked this question at least a dozen times over the years. Various theories have been put forth:
- “Dan is the tribe who got Israel into idolatry.”
- “Dan is the tribe that the Antichrist comes from.”
There are other, less popular theories. For example, one theory is that there is a secret message that is spelled out when you take the meanings of names and run them together in a sentence. “There are meaning in names and if you look at the references to Dan and Ephraim you will discover something interesting.” I kid you not, some Christians create a “secret” message from the meanings of the included tribe names in Revelation 7! Dan's omission is therefore part of the coded message. Of course, no explanation for why God could not make a secret message without Dan and Ephraim is given.
Let's now look at the two most popular theories and examine their evidence.
“Dan is Omitted as Punishment For Getting Israel Into Idolatry”
This explanation is by far the most popular theory. Wikipedia treats this reasons as fact, listing it in the opening paragraph of its article on the tribe of Dan.
It is true that Dan has the distinction of being the tribe that plunged into idolatry first. Judges 18 records how this happened:
Judges 18 (ESV) — 14 Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.” 15 And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and asked him about his welfare. 16 Now the 600 men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17 And the five men who had gone to scout out the land went up and entered and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. 18 And...the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?” 20 And the priest's heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people. ... 30 And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 So they set up Micah's carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.
However, Dan was not alone for long. All the tribes of Israel went into idolatry and all were punished the same way in the end: by being exiled. Further, Dan is never called out or criticized in the Bible for being the trailblazer as the theory goes. On the contrary, what it says in Judges before and after the story of Dan's exploits is matter-of-factly...:
Judges 17:6, 21:25 (ESV) — In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
I don't see the evidence for this theory that Dan was the first or that it matters. As children when we got into a fight with other kids, we learned to use the similar argument of "they started it!" This is humanistic reasoning, but it's not an excuse we find God accepts. When Adam tried to use this to explain why he sinned by pointing at Eve, "the woman you gave me" started it, God was not persuaded. He considered both Adam and Eve equally guilty and exiled them both from the garden of Eden. This pattern repeated with Dan's role as the "Eve" of idolatry. His role as the initiator was not given special attention. Dan was simply exiled as the other eleven tribes who followed him into idolatry were.
Similarly, Dan, like all the tribes who sinned and were exiled, seems to be forgiven and in good standing with God when he is regathered to the land of Israel. Like them, he will receive a full tribal allotment in the Millennium (Ezekiel 48:1).
In conclusion, instead of any confirmation in the Bible of the idea that Dan had a special punishment coming for initiating idolatry in Israel, we see he is treated equally with the other tribes in all ways.
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“Dan is Omitted Because the Antichrist Comes From Him”
Hippolytus of Rome originated this theory that the Antichrist comes from Dan. Others have taken hold of this as a reason why Dan is excluded from the 144,000. Hippolytus said:
Dan is a lion's cub and by thus naming the tribe of Dan as the one whence the accuser is destined to spring, he made the matter in hand quite clear. For as Christ is born of the tribe of Judah, so Antichrist shall be born of the tribe of Dan. And as our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was spoken of in prophecy as a lion on account or His royalty and glory, in the same manner also has the Scripture prophetically described the accuser as a lion, on account of his tyranny and violence... For in every respect that deceiver seeks to make himself appear like the Son of God. Christ is a lion, and Antichrist is a lion.
Notice again that unfortunately no passage of the Bible is given by Hippolytus to support this theory. He's using reasoning that A) assuming the Devil wants to appear as Christ and that B) the Devil is likened to a roaring lion () just as Christ is also likened () and that C) that since Dan is mentioned as a "lion's cub" that D) therefore it is "quite clear" that the Antichrist comes from Dan. What's clear to me is that there are many possible reasons Dan is called a lion's cub and saying that it means he originates the Antichrist is a stretch.
Also, contrary to popular Christian thought, according to the Bible the Antichrist does not come as a counterfeit Christ or the "Son of God" as Hippolytus says to fulfill prophecies of Christ. He comes "shewing himself to be God" himself (2Th 2:4). The Antichrist will not be relying on a mostly non-Christian world population knowing what the Bible says about Christ. He'll be relying on the global famine brought on by Wormwood and the miracles of the False Prophet to convince the world the Antichrist is God and the only one who can fix the food shortage.
Others have seized upon this passage for proof of Dan's association with Satan, the serpent back in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:14=Rev 12:9), and by extension the Antichrist, Satan's human agent:
Genesis 49:17 (ESV) — Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward
How is a serpent biting a horse (and not the rider) a picture of the Antichrist? Most commentaries argue it picture's Dan's guerrilla warfare style (Jg 18:27) or their hero Samson's wild exploits against the Philistines.
Sadly, the arguments for the Antichrist coming from Dan are completely subjective and based on allegorizing Scripture rather than any plain literal verse. You'd have to trust the person saying so to have special revelation from God because you cannot confirm the conclusion with the Bible. While it is possible for the Antichrist to come from Dan, it's equally possible for another tribe or nation to give rise to him. Someone could invent similar subjective arguments by taking verses out of context for any of other people group mentioned in Bible prophecy. (And they have done so. Others claim the Antichrist comes from Assyria using other verses that have nothing to do with the Antichrist (Mic 5:5).)
Finally, how does it make any sense anyway for God to exclude a tribe from the 144,000 just because one person from that tribe is used by Satan to rule the world? (It doesn't.)
As we have seen, the common element in the above theories is that they are speculative, subjective and bereft of any explicit verse to support them. There is yet another issue with them. Neither theory addresses two other thorny problems in the tribal makeup of the 144,000:
- Revelation 7:4 states the 144,000 come “from all the tribes of the children of Israel.” This statement is plainly contradicted by Dan’s absence as Dan is one of the tribes and sons of Israel.
- Since Joseph includes Manasseh, the listing of Joseph and Manasseh amounts to a double inclusion of Manasseh. This redundancy is unprecedented and makes no sense.
In other words, Dan’s absence and Manasseh’s presence are both problematic and trying to explain Dan's absence as a form of punishment does nothing to solve these other problems.
A Better Explanation: Scribal Error
Given the weaknesses of the two popular theories and these two difficulties unresolved by them, I think there is a better explanation. The theory I favor is that Dan was originally there, but a simple scribal error caused Dan to be replaced with MANasseh. In fact, there are at least a couple manuscripts of Revelation that list Dan instead of Manasseh to support this theory.
Why are there different versions of Revelation? Remember, although the original Bible manuscripts were inspired and perfect, those manuscripts are not extant today. What we have now to base our Bibles on are only copies of copies made by human, fallible scribes. It's not like they had Xerox machines. Therefore, it was unavoidable that some errors were introduced during transmission by manual copying.
These copies all vary from one another in small ways. Bible publishers do their best to discern which variation reflects the original reading and use that in the final printed Bible you read. Mind you, none of the variations affects any important doctrine. But they are there nonetheless, as any Bible scholar will readily tell you. This is why if you compare Bible versions you may find unexplainable differences such as Jesus sending out "70 others" as the KJV says (Lk 10:1 KJV) or "72 others" as the ESV says (Lk 10:1 ESV).
Accordingly, the Pulpit Commentary reports:
…Ewald believes that St. John wrote ΔAN [DAN], and that MAN., the abbreviated form of “Manasses,” was substituted by error; and he appeals to manuscripts 9, 13, which, however, have “Dan” in place of “Gad.” Moreover, Irenaeus, Origen, Arethas, have “Manasseh,” and state plainly that Dan was omitted. It is certainly curious in connection with this conjecture that, if it were true, that is to say, if “Dan” should be read in place of “Manasseh,” we should have a more intelligible order of arrangement. In that case, speaking generally, the elder sons would come first, the younger last; all the pairs of brothers are kept together (only that, in the case of the six brothers, there is a division into two lots); Judah naturally is placed first before Reuben, owing to the prominent place held by him in the Apocalypse in connection with our Lord. The order would then be:
Sons of Leah—Juda, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zabulon
Sons of Zilpah—Gad, Aser
Sons of Bilhah—Nepthalim, Dan
Sons of Rachel—Joseph, Benjamin
If this theory is correct then it resolves the two problems covered above:
- Dan was originally there just as Revelation 7:4 states it should be, creating no contradiction to its statement that the 144,000 come from "all the tribes of Israel."
- Manasseh is not listed in addition to Joseph, creating a strange redundancy. It was Dan there all along. This also solves the issue of Ephraim not showing up with Manasseh. Both don't appear in the original list because they are included in Joseph who does appear.
Finally, this theory means God was not leaving out Dan to create some obscure secret coded message in the tribal list. Nor was he leaving Dan out of the 144,000 to punish Dan “for being the first tribe to worship idols” or for being the unlucky "one Satan drew the Antichrist from. The Tribe of Dan was there with the rest of the previously idolatrous tribes when John wrote the original scroll of Revelation until a scribe replaced Dan with Manasseh by accident.
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