Dan in the Old Testament
Dan was the fifth of Jacob's sons, the first borne to him by Bilhah, the maid of Rachel, to whom, as the child of her slave, he legally belonged. At his birth Rachel, whose barrenness had been a sore trial to her, exclaimed "God hath judged me .... and hath given me a son," so she called his name Dan, i.e. "judge" (Gen 30:6).
He was full brother of Naphtali. In Jacob's Blessing there is an echo of Rachel's words, "Dan shall judge his people" (Gen 49:16). Of the patriarch Dan almost nothing is recorded. Of his sons at the settlement in Egypt only one, Hushim, is mentioned (Gen 46:23). The name in Nu 26:42 is Shuham.
The Tribe of Dan
The tribe however stands second in point of numbers on leaving Egypt, furnishing 62,700 men of war (Nu 1:39); and at the second census they were 64,400 strong (Nu 26:43). The standard of the camp of Dan in the desert march, with which were Asher and Naphtali, was on the north side of the tabernacle (Nu 2:25; 10:25; compare Josh 6:9 the King James Version margin, "gathering host").
The prince of the tribe was Ahiezer (Nu 1:12). Among the spies Dan was represented by Ammiel the son of Gemalli (Nu 13:12). Of the tribe of Dan was Oholiab (the King James Version "Aholiab") one of the wise-hearted artificers engaged in the construction of the tabernacle (Ex 31:6). One who was stoned for blasphemy was the son of a Danite woman (Lev 24:10 f). At the ceremony of blessing and cursing, Dan and Naphtali stood on Mount Ebal, while the other Rachel tribes were on Gerizim (Dt 27:13). The prince of Dan at the division of the land was Bukki the son of Jogli (Nu 34:22).
The Territory of Dan
The portion assigned to Dan adjoined those of Ephraim, Benjamin and Judah, and lay on the western slopes of the mountain. The reference in Jdg 5:17: "And Dan, why did he remain in ships?" seems to mean that on the West, Dan had reached the sea. But the passage is one of difficulty. We are told that the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain (Jdg 1:34), so they did not enjoy the richest part of their ideal portion, the fertile plain between the mountain and the sea. The strong hand of the house of Joseph kept the Amorites tributary, but did not drive them out. Later we find Dan oppressed by the Philistines, against whom the heroic exploits of Samson were performed (Jdg 14 ff). The expedition of the Danites recorded in Jdg 18 is referred to in Josh 19:47 ff.
The Danite Raid
The story affords a priceless glimpse of the conditions prevailing in those days. Desiring an extension of territory, the Danites sent out spies, who recommended an attack upon Laish, a city at the north end of the Jordan valley. The people, possibly a colony from Sidon, were careless in their fancied security. The land was large, and there was "no want of anything that was in the earth."
The expedition of the 600, their dealings with Micah and his priest, their capture of Laish, and their founding of an idol shrine with priestly attendant, illustrate the strange mingling of lawlessness and superstition which was characteristic of the time. The town rebuilt on the site of Laish they called Dan--see following article. Perhaps 2 Ch 2:14 may be taken to indicate that the Danites intermarried with the Phoenicians.
Divided between its ancient seat in the South and the new territory in the North the tribe retained its place in Israel for a time (1 Ch 12:35; 27:22), but it played no part of importance in the subsequent history. The name disappears from the genealogical lists of Chronicles; and it is not mentioned among the tribes in Rev 7:5 ff.
Samson was the one great man produced by Dan, and he seems to have embodied the leading characteristics of the tribe: unsteady, unscrupulous, violent, possessed of a certain grim humor; stealthy in tactics--"a serpent in the way, an adder in the path" (Gen 49:17)--but swift and strong in striking--"a lion's whelp, that leapeth forth from Bashan" (Dt 33:22). Along with Abel, Dan ranked as a city in which the true customs of old Israel were preserved (2 Sam 20:18 Septuagint).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).