At Dan

By John David Clark, Sr. - September, 1993

Whereupon King Jeroboam took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other he put at Dan. And this thing became a sin (1Kgs.12:28-30).

They that say, "Thy god, O Dan, liveth", even they shall fall, and never rise up again (Amos 8).

He was a young man of reputable birth, this Levite. There was no denying that he, Jonathon, the son of Gershom, son of Moses, had the credentials to merit respect. But it irked him that Moses had made Aaron and his descendants the priests of Israel instead of making his own sons the priests. Was not Moses far greater than Aaron? Did he not know God far better? Was he not allowed into the most holy place to speak with God "face to face", which neither Aaron nor anyone else was ever allowed to do? No, it was not proper now that he, Moses' own flesh and blood, should be subservient to Aaron and his sons. So, this young, self-willed Levite forsook the service of the Lord at his station in Bethlehem and set off to make his mark in the world.

He journeyed north into the territory of the tribe of Ephraim, and it happened that he came upon the house of a man named Micah. Now "the man Micah had a house of gods, and made an ephod [holy vestment], and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest" (Jud.17). When Micah learned of the young Levite's background, he became excited and quickly desired him to "be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give unto thee ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals" (Jud.17:10). Pleased that he had done so well so quickly (as he had known he would if only given the chance), Moses' grandson agreed, and he became priest to the household of Micah. "And Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house with Micah. Then said Micah, `Now I know the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.'" Of course, God approved of none of this, but both Micah and Jonathon knew God so little that neither of them understood that sad fact.

What a reward this seemed to be for all his efforts! He knew of many a priest of Aaron's lineage who would envy him now! Just think, a few days on his own and now look at the money and the respect he demanded! But a man with Jonathon's qualifications wouldn't be satisfied with even this noble position for very long. When the army of the tribe of Dan rode through that area on their way to take some land in northern Canaan, they learned of Micah's house of gold and silver gods and plundered it. After all, wasn't it better that those gods should protect and guide a whole tribe than simply one man's family and farm? When Jonathon demanded of them an explanation, the soldiers reasoned with the foolish young man thus, "Hold thy peace, and lay thine hand upon thy mouth, and go with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for thee to be a priest unto the house of one man, or that thou be a priest unto a tribe and a family in Israel?"

It was an opportunity right out of heaven! His prayers had been answered! He heard the call! He "felt led" now to accept the offer of a new pastorate, and with gratitude for all that Micah had done for him, he packed his bags and went with the Danite thieves north, "And the children of Dan set up the graven image. And Jonathon, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan" for the next 600 years, until God finally destroyed them. Throughout the story of pre-exilic Israel, through the times of Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, and the divided kingdom, the descendants of Moses' grandson Jonathon "ministered" in Dan. There, in the northern extremity of the promised land, in the pleasant valley between Mount Hermon to the east and the mountains of Lebanon to the northwest, survived one continual, solid pocket of rebellion to the word of God.

A couple of centuries after Jonathon's time, Israel was torn apart by civil war, north against south. Unlike the civil war this country endured, Israel was never reunified. And the primary reason that its division was permanent was that in the north, King Jeroboam invented a new religion, a religion which prevented the citizens of the north from obeying God to go to Jerusalem to worship. As part of his new religion, Jeroboam erected two golden calves, much like the famous golden calf which Israel constructed - and Moses destroyed - when they were camped at Mt. Sinai so long ago. One of these idols Jeroboam erected at Beth-el, near his border with his estranged southern brothers. The other he erected at DAN!

The high place at Dan was thought to be one of the most holy places of worship in the land. It had as priests the descendants of Moses himself, and now they also had the golden calf which was twin to the golden calf at Beth-el - "the king's chapel". The prophets who condemned this place and warned the people were ridiculed and rejected. No sensible person could question the legitimacy of their religion now! How the priests who descended from Moses explained Moses' angry attitude toward golden calves is unknown. But that is really no problem. When the money is right, the human mind's ability to conjure up very good reasons for doing very evil deeds is virtually inexhaustible.

Dan's high place doesn't rise much from the valley floor. Unlike many of the "high places" in ancient Israel, its appeal was not in its physical closeness to heaven, but in its vistas of the mountains to the east, north, and west, and of the surrounding valley stretching southward toward the Sea of Galilee. But beyond its lovely setting, Dan possessed another attraction which few other high places could boast: fresh, cold water. Perpetual springs bubble up at Dan from the valley floor, forming cold streams that run briskly through the thick, shady undergrowth - a blessing from God in the dry, hot summers of Canaan. I and my four fellow travelers learned how much of a refuge from the merciless sun the place can be. On our journey through the land of Israel, this place was at or near the top of every one's list of favorite places.

The ancient high place had shade from the greenery surrounding the springs and from the grove planted on the high place in honor of the gods. It had an abundant and very refreshing water source. It had Moses' descendants as priests. It had the magnificent, glimmering, golden calf. It afforded worshipers the inspiration of grandiose scenery, which is always conducive to meditation and prayer. With the exception of one thing, it was the perfect spot to worship God. However, that one thing was a very big one thing: God had forbidden His people to worship Him in any place but the one place He chose. And the one place God had chosen was Solomon's temple in Jerusalem. That fact alone made every religious act that was performed at Dan to be in vain, but only those who had a heart for God could penetrate the attractive appearance of the site to see it as it really was: a place of high treason against the Almighty.

When Jesus said, "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God", he was speaking in reference to the magnificent religious works of men. Those words were spoken to men, like the young Levite, Jonathon, who were too proud of their ability to worship God to humble themselves to worship God as He said to worship Him, and so proud of their complicated and twisted theologies that the simplicity of the gospel embarrassed them. There is a powerful lesson to be learned from the Master's words, if we will learn it.

Archaeologists have uncovered much of ancient Dan and its high place, and experts in that field are in the process of actually reconstructing the sanctuary where the golden calf probably stood. Among the ruins, I tried to imagine walking those streets (the main roads were wide and paved with smooth stones) with the ancient Israelites. I tried to imagine the heavy aroma of sweet incense which would greet Dan's visitors, gracefully extending to weary travelers pleasant relief from the common, foul odors of their difficult, mundane lives. To the ordinary person, to whom clothing itself was not always available, how impressive must have been the intricately woven robes of the priests and priestesses! By all appearances, the gods had richly blessed these relatives of Moses for their devotion. As worshipers were led to the sanctuary, they were awestruck by the divine aura of the place. The glistening gold and silver of Dan's bejeweled idols, in contrast to the commonplace stones of the roads and hills, lent credence to the priests' claims of sanctity. And above them all, there was the magnificent golden calf. Among the gods, it rose on its gilded pedestal north of the altar, as majestic as one could imagine. As background, and adding to the beast's alluring pose, were fertile, green fields and beyond them the hills. Dan certainly would have impressed the typical inhabitant of Canaan as a holy place among the very finest the Middle East had to offer. And there must have been a powerful intimidation accompanying the priests' person, whose lineage could be traced so far into a glorious past.

Could I have survived the enormous pressure to bow and to kiss the idol? Could I have seen through the patina of holiness which covered the high place at Dan to behold the filthiness and wickedness which God and His prophets saw so clearly? Could I have been unimpressed with the sanctimonious, self-assured manner of Moses' experienced, elderly descendants? I don't know. I hope so, but it doesn't pay to be too confident about what we would have done, if we had been in someone else's shoes.

I walked around tel Dan, and contemplated the history of this wonderfully serene and inviting hill. And I pictured in my mind's eye the fierce spiritual warfare waged here by Satan against God's prophets and God's people. Then I pictured the modern, enormous structures which men call "churches" here, and the impression of sanctity that those places give to the people who enter through their costly doors. Have things changed at all? I think not. In the main, God's simple truths are still disdained, and spiritual credibility is still being measured by things other than a man's personal experience with the Almighty: number of people involved, budget size, credentials of ordination, the length of time a denomination has been in existence, to name a few. Yet, as always, the real measure of a man's spiritual worth is whether or not God has chosen and ordained him, not how many follow him or how much money he takes in. If we can resist the temptation to judge ourselves by the artificial standards which we set for ourselves, and if we can learn to judge righteous judgment instead, we shall have accomplished a rare and a very difficult feat. And we will have learned a lesson which many an anguished soul now in the unyielding grip of hell's tormenting flames wish they had learned, before they followed Moses' offspring into the sweet-smelling high place of Dan and bowed before the stately golden calf of Jeroboam.


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