November 2, 2010

Dan Who?

You might be forgiven if your pastor stands up some Sunday, begins talking about some guy named Dan (as though you knew exactly who he meant), and leaves you saying to yourself: ‘Which Dan is he talking about? Was there a political candidate this week by that name? Is Dan Quayle back in the news? Dan who?’ That is, you may have been forgiven for having that private conversation with yourself prior to reading this article. But, from now on, if your pastor makes an off-the-cuff, you-all-know-who-I’m-talking-about reference to “Dan”, you can assume it’s the character named Dan in the Bible!

And yet, even with that helpful sermon listening hint, you may still be left wondering: ‘Dan who? I know he’s referring to someone in the Bible. But who is this Dan character? Is this the modern way to refer to the prophet Daniel? Or is there something I missed?’ And that is probably because the biblical character named Dan – one of the twelve sons of Jacob, and a patriarch in Israel – is so easy to forget. Even in Genesis – whose final 39 chapters tell the story of his family, Dan is rarely mentioned by name. We read about his birth (to one of Jacob’s household servants) in Genesis 30.1-6. His name is mentioned in a couple of genealogies, but with no personal details. And we can presume that he was a part, both of the plot to sell Joseph into slavery, and then of the reconciliation that happened in the family toward the end of the book. But that’s about all we know of Dan’s life. No day-to-day details. No sordid scenes, as was the case with some of his other brothers. No heroism, either. Dan appears to have just been a normal Joe (or a normal Dan, perhaps we should say).

One other detail is that, on his death bed (Genesis 49.16-17), Dan’s father pronounced that Dan would be like a serpent, surprising its unsuspecting enemy … and that he would be a judge among the tribes of Israel (the name ‘Dan’ means ‘judge’). What exactly that meant, I am not sure. Perhaps Dan was to produce a large percentage of the men who made up the judicial arm in the nation of Israel. That would give new meaning to the phrase, “Book ‘em, Danno”, would it not? But perhaps the reference to Dan as serpent and judge is a prophecy of the role that Samson, a Danite judge, would play in the surprising overthrow of the enemy Philistines (see Judges 13-16). That interpretation of Jacob’s words probably fits best with the very next sentence in Genesis 49: “For your salvation I wait, O Lord” (v.18). Apparently, Jacob knew that someone from his son Dan’s family would bring about salvation (at least temporal salvation) in Israel. And, for all his foibles, Samson the Danite did just that … foreshadowing all that Christ would do for us in delivering us from the enemy of our souls, and from our own sin. There is a gospel portrait in the blessing of Dan in Genesis 49!

But another lesson we learn from Dan comes precisely from his anonymity. All we really know about him is what his step-mother was thinking when he was born, and what his father was thinking when he himself died … but nothing about the man, Dan himself. But isn’t that so much like so many people who follow Christ? No one knows who we are, really. And certainly no one will remember us in 6,000 years … not even as well as we remember Dan!

And, as with Dan, we can fairly assume that all the nameless Christians who have gone before had portions of their lives about which they were greatly ashamed and sorrowful. Like Dan, we can also know that, before it was all over, God brought them to a place of reconciliation and repentance. But, as with Dan, we don’t know the details. We just know that God works it that way. History is filled with Dans – people who’ve blown it in anonymity, and who have been forgiven and remade, also in anonymity … and with no great fanfare or dazzling testimony to present on stage. History is filled with Christians, in other words, who lives would probably make boring biographies, and whose names would scarcely be noticed were someone to write 39 chapters about their family history … but whose names are written in the Lamb’s book just the same! God knows who we are. And that’s enough.

No comments: