************ Sermon on Genesis 49:16-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 15, 2015
"Dan the Viper"
Remember Ariel Castro? Castro is the man in Cleveland who held three young women captive for years in his home. Many of his neighbors were shocked by his arrest. They knew him as the friendly guy who would wave to neighbors and talk with them about his Harley. They knew him as a longtime bus driver who sometimes ate ribs with neighbors on the porch of his two-story home while listening to salsa music. One of the neighbors knew Castro since junior high school and lived near him for about 22 years. He thought Castro was an "outgoing person, a very nice guy." Many of the neighbors couldn't understand what went wrong with someone who started off so well.
The tribe of Dan was really no different than Ariel Castro. The tribe started off so well but something went horribly wrong.
Jacob blesses Dan in today's passage. As we have been going through the blessings I have told you a couple of times that Jacob gave each son "the blessing appropriate to him" (Gen 49:28). As we shall see, that certainly was the case with Dan and his descendants.
I Dan Will Provide Justice
A Notice how the blessing starts: "Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel" (Gen 49:16).
Jacob stresses that Dan is one of the tribes of Israel. Why does he say this? Let's start by saying we believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture. Which means every word is important. Which means every word comes from God. No idle thoughts or filler.
Now Dan, if you remember, is Jacob's son by Bilhah, the servant of Rachel. Which means this is the first time in Genesis 49 that Jacob blesses a son by a concubine. Because of his mother's status, it was possible that Dan's offspring would not be considered as a full part of Israel. Jacob preempts any such notion by designating Dan "as one of the tribes of Israel."
Jacob acknowledges a sin that exists to this day in the life of God's people. The sin I am talking about is what Peter calls "favoritism" (Acts 10:34). In the early church this sin came to light when the Grecian Jews complained that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1-7). It came to light again when Peter was criticized by Hebraic Jews for entering the house of a Gentile, preaching to them, baptizing them, and eating with them (Acts 11:1-18). It happened again when the early persecuted church told the message of the Gospel only to Jews (Acts 11:19).
By the leading of God's Word and Spirit the early church came to realize that any form of favoritism is wrong. God has no favorites. As Peter put it when talking to Cornelius,
(Acts 10:34-35) I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism (35) but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.Or, as we heard from the Catechism this morning, Jesus gathers, protects, and preserves the church out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end.
For this reason, in the 25 years of our existence we welcome everyone to worship with us. We welcome anyone who repents of their sin and believes in the Lord Jesus as members. All are invited to participate in our programs and ministries. The pastors minister to all of God's people and not just to a favored group. The elders guard and protect all of the sheep. The deacons encourage and help any of our members with need. We do not play favorites.
B When he blessed Dan "as one of the tribes of Israel" Jacob announces "Dan will provide justice for his people" (Gen 49:16). Thus Jacob sees a fulfilment of what was announced at Dan's birth. At that time Rachel said, "God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son" (Gen 30:6). Because of this she named him Dan. Dan means "he has vindicated, he provides justice."
"Dan will provide justice for his people" (Gen 49:16). Dan will vindicate his people. What is Jacob talking about? Does anyone remember what prominent judge came from the tribe of Dan? I am talking about Samson (Judges 13:2).
For forty years the Israelites were in the hands of the Philistines (Judges 13:1). For forty years the people were cruelly oppressed and afflicted. For forty years they had to pay tribute to the Philistines. It was Samson who delivered the people. You know the stories. Filled with the Spirit and strength of God, Samson was able to do superhuman feats. He tore a lion apart with his bare hands (Judges 14:6). He caught three hundred foxes, tied them tail to tail in pairs, fastened a lit torch to every pair of tails, and let the foxes loose in the grain fields of the Philistines (Judges 15:4-5). With the jawbone of a donkey he struck down a thousand Philistines (Judges 15:15). And, at the end of his life, he took down the pillars of the temple of Dagon, the god of the Philistines, and killed many more when he died than while he lived (Judges 16:23-30).
C Keeping the mighty feats of Samson in mind, hear the next words of Jacob:
(Gen 49:17) Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider tumbles backward.
Jacob calls Dan a serpent, a viper. He has in mind a small poisonous desert snake that hides in crevices or burrows in the sand and strikes unsuspecting people and animals. Like the viper, Dan will be small compared to his prey, but far deadlier than its victims suspect.
Think, again, of Samson. Again and again Samson was underestimated. The Philistines thought there was safety in numbers but Samson killed a thousand of them with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15). The Philistines thought they had Samson locked up in Gaza but Samson took hold of the door of the city gate, together with its two posts, tore them loose, and carried them to the top of a hill (Judges 16:1-3). The Philistines thought they had Samson tied up but he broke all his bonds like they were made of paper (Judges 16:9,12). The Philistines thought that a blind Samson was helpless but he took down their entire temple (Judges 16:30). Samson was but one man but, like the viper, he was continually underestimated.
II Dan is a Serpent
A There is a whole other side to the serpent image. In the Bible, the serpent is the symbol for sin. Think of the serpent in the Garden of Eden which tempted Adam and Eve into rebellion against God (Gen 3). The same serpent appears in Revelation and is identified as the Devil (Rev 12:9,15; 20:2). The prophet Jeremiah compares Nebuchadnezzar to a serpent who has swallowed Israel, filled his stomach with their delicacies, and then has spewed them out (Jer 51:34).
Though Dan the serpent saved Israel in Samson's day, his remaining history is not so celebrated. For instance, Dan was assigned a portion in the Promised Land. But the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory, so they went up and attacked Leshem (way outside of their assigned territory), took it, put it to the sword and occupied it (Josh 19:47). Note, they went outside of their territory. They were not satisfied with what the Lord had assigned to them.
We aren't told what was wrong with Lesham. Whatever it was, the Danites were still seeking a place of their own. Do you remember what they did? Judges 17 & 18 tells us about two horrible sins: they steal an idol to worship it; and, they slaughter a quiet, unsuspecting people.
You might remember that Revelation 7 lists the tribes of Israel making up the 144,000. Dan is left off this list. He has been replaced by Joseph's son Manasseh. Telling us what? Telling us Dan has no place among God's elect. Telling us Dan is not included among those sealed and protected by the Spirit of God. Telling us Dan is not among those who celebrate the victory of the lion of the tribe of Judah. Dan lost its place because of its idolatry and covenant unfaithfulness. That's also why Jacob calls Dan a serpent, a viper.
III Running the Race as Overcomers
A Dan started out so well and then rejected God's will. Dan, we would have to say, did not persevere in the faith.
Dan is a warning to us. Dan is a warning to us to persevere in the faith. Dan is a warning to us to run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Heb 11:1). The Christian life, you see, is a marathon; it is not a hundred meter dash.
As you know, this year we celebrate 25 years of existence as a congregation. Are we like Dan? Or, do we persevere in the faith?
B There is a "church" that is growing ten percent or more a year; it has a vibrant publishing arm; it has dynamic para-church ministries for the youth; it has solid educational institutions; it has healthy, evangelizing congregations. By many measures, the church I am talking about can claim to be a success. Do you agree?
If your answer is "Yes," let me warn you that I have just described the Mormons and a host of other false churches.
I look at Trinity and by many of the same measures I can say we have been and are a success. After all, we can point to twenty-five years of existence. We can talk about growth in numbers. We can talk about evangelism. We can talk about a history of support for Christian education in the home, church, and school. We can talk about healthy families and homes.
But, on the 25th anniversary of this congregation, is this what God is looking for? Is this what God wants from His church?
C Do you remember the seven letters to the seven churches? We find those letters in the Revelation of Jesus to John.
The first letter is to the church at Ephesus. Their members know their Bibles, they know their theology, they know the Catechism, they know the great truths of the Reformation – Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, the Bible alone. They know what a heretic looks like and sounds like. You aren't going to fool them with some off the wall teaching.
Next is the church at Pergamum. They live in the heart of darkness. One of their number was martyred for his faith.
Thyatira. This church is growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Sardis. This church is really alive and growing. This church has programs and ministries galore. It keeps adding staff. They have activities every night of the week. There is something for every age group. This is the church that other churches want to be like. They host seminars for the other churches. They are cool, slick, professional. They use the latest technology. They have day-care, a walk-in clinic, prayer rooms. Attendance has never been better; it is filled to the rafters every Sunday with chairs in the aisles.
Laodicea. A wealthy city and a wealthy church. This church is attractive, self-reliant, and sophisticated.
Wouldn't you want to be a member of any one of these five churches? Yet, what does Jesus say? Ephesus has lost its first love – its love for Jesus. Pergamum believes in toleration, in accommodation, in compromise in order to live and work and do business and earn a living in the community. Thyatira is tolerant and accommodating of sin and heresy. Sardis looks so alive on the outside but, in reality, is a morgue or a funeral home on the inside. Laodicea is lukewarm, cold, wretched, blind, and pitiful. Don't get too excited about your faith in this church. Don't get too excited about Jesus in this church. Concentrate, instead, on being comfortable and living a comfortable life.
Am I being judgmental? Am I sounding Pharisaical? No! Because this is the Lord's judgments upon His church.
You probably realize I failed to mention two churches. One is the church in Smyrna. She is a small, poor, and struggling church. She faces afflictions, slander, persecution. Her faith is constantly being put to the test. She is hated by a world that wants to crush her. The other is the church in Philadelphia. A church of little strength, little influence, little growth. It is an island of faith surrounded by a sea of unbelief. Their pastor is an unknown. The church growth people look down their noses at this little congregation. Yet, guess what? Jesus, the Lord of the church, has nothing bad to say about these two churches. In fact, He praises these two churches.
D So, we have five churches praised by the world but condemned by the Lord. And, we have two churches looked down upon by the world but praised by the Lord. What is the difference?
At the end of each of the letters is a word, an important word, a word that applies to the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia, a word that applies to some of the members in the other five churches, a word that applies to Trinity United Reformed Church as we celebrate twenty-five years of existence. That word? The word "overcome." The Lord ends each of the seven letters stating He wants His church to overcome and to be filled with overcomers.
What is an overcomer? Let's start by describing the opposite. There are Christians, like Dan, who start off well. They get baptized. They profess their faith. They attend worship every Sunday. They know their Sunday School lessons and even their Catechism. But, then, they start backsliding. They quit the race. They stop the fight. They surrender to the world. We cannot say these Christians are overcomers.
Do you see what an overcomer is? An overcomer is faithful. Faithful to the Lord. Faithful to the Word. Faithful to the faith. Faithful to the church. Faithful in worship. An overcomer never gives up the fight against the Devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.
Why has Trinity URC lasted for twenty-five years? Because, by the grace of God, she is faithful. Because she is filled with overcomers. Twenty-five years from now will Trinity be able to celebrate fifty years of existence? If the Lord does not come first the answer is "yes" – if we continue to be faithful, if we continue to overcome.
I praise and thank the Lord for our faithfulness. I praise and thank the Lord that we are overcomers. And, I pray that by God's grace we will continue in this.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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