There is an intriguing and cryptic text about Dan in the Torah. In Jacob’s final blessing on his sons in Genesis 49, Dan is compared to a “serpent” (נָחָשׁ; nachash) on the way. What could be the meaning of this strange blessing bestowed by a dying parent on a child?
The text reads, “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned viper in the path that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider falls backward. For Your salvation, I wait, Lord.” (Genesis 49:16-18 NASB)
Third-century CE Christian writers Hippolytus of Rome (On Genesis) and Tertullian (On the Resurrection of the Flesh) understood Dan-serpent comparison to suggest that, in the last days, the Antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan. To these early church fathers, the biblical blessing was also a prediction of Dan's apostasy. In his Homilies in Genesis, Origen spiritualized Dan as the image of sin itself.
Is this what this blessing is about? Is it actually a malediction? It is not surprising that people interpret this analogy as some sort of negative and disparaging comparison. Snakes often carry negative connotations for most people, and it is tempting to tie this image of the “serpent” (נָחָשׁ; nachash) to the one in Eden. Yet, while snakes are chaos creature according to Ancient Near Eastern literature, they are not automatically tied to evil or sin.
Indeed, not all images of snakes in the Bible are negative. In the Exodus story, for instance, Moses’ staff turned into a serpent to get Pharaoh’s attention (Exod 7:10). Also, in the wilderness, the Israelites were healed from a plague by looking at a serpent on a pole (see Numbers 21:9). In Matthew 10:16, Jesus instructs his disciples to “be shrewd as serpents” – he would not have suggested with simile if snakes are unequivocally evil.
Thus, there is good reason to think that the comparison of Dan with a snake is a positive reference to Dan’s military might. The imagery of the serpent is an illustration of the tribe’s ability to fight and injure enemy soldiers on horseback. In the text, when the serpent bites, the rider “falls backward” (Gen 49:17). In poetic parallelism, Dan is also compared to a “viper” or a “horned snake” (שְׁפִיפֹן, shefifon). According to Rashi, this special name is connected to the hissing sound of this particular snake—a sound meant to be a threatening warning to the enemy. In such a context, Dan can be seen as a defender. Serpents crawl on the ground and sense vibrations of horses’ hoofs approaching from a distance. They make a warning sound and then strike to defend themselves.
Once the imagery of the serpent is understood, there is nothing negative in the blessing. “Dan will judge his people” is a play on words in Hebrew, with “Dan” (דָּן) sounding like the word “to judge” (יָדִין; yadin). Rashi believed that this was a prediction about Samson, the famous judge from the tribe of Dan. A judge is a position of honor. The end of the blessing in Genesis refers to divine “salvation” (יְשׁוּעָה; yeshuah; 49:18). In light of military imagery, this remark offers readers a fresh interpretive angle: Dan is a serpent, a formidable fighter, but salvation still comes from the Lord. Jacob’s blessing compliments his son Dan, but it ultimately exalts God over all of Israel’s future foes.For more - Click here now