Friday we visited the site of the city of Dan (my favorite site so far). And it was an amazing place to see. Dan is on the northern border of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, instead of saying "from north to south" – the authors often said, "from Dan to Beersheba" – that is, from the northern most city to the southern most city. One example would be 2 Samuel 3:10.
If you are familiar with Israel – seeing this amount of water is amazing. This is from the spring of Dan and it ends up supplying 50% of the water for the Jordan River. The word Jordan carries the meaning, "from the Dan." It certainly seems that the reason God wanted this included in the national border is because of the importance of the fresh water it provides to the nation. Much of Israel is desert – so perhaps it was a place like this when the Sons of Korah wrote Psalm 42. That is a well-known Psalm that begins, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."
You can read of when the tribe of Dan conquered this city (it formerly had been called Leshem) in Joshua 19:47.
This is the southern wall of the city of Dan. The lowest part of the wall is from the days when Ahab was king of Israel. Ahab was the most evil of all the kings of Israel (northern tribes). He is described in 1 Kings 21:25 this way: "There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife." The lower part of this wall was built in Ahab's day.
This is the gate of the city of Dan. The city gate was an important place in biblical times. It was like the city square. It was more than the opening to the city – the entire area was known as the city gate. During times of peace, the gates were wide open, and there was often a marketplace set up outside the gates. It also was were the elders of the town would meet to hear cases and make decisions. For example, when Boaz wanted to marry Ruth, because of a relation issue, it had to be decided at the city gate. You can read about that in Ruth 4:1-2: "Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there… Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, 'Sit here,' and they did so."
Just inside the city gates is where the king or the highest ranking official would sit to hear the people. For example, 2 Samuel 19:8 says, "So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, 'The king is sitting in the gateway,' they all came before him." In the photo above, I am standing on the foundation of the throne that would have been in Dan. From this position, the person on the throne can see out of the city gate to the marketplace and a few hundred could gather around him to hear him speak or make rulings.
This is why Dan has been my favorite place so far. A few years ago, I preached through the Divided Kingdom (Life Lessons from Dead Kings) and spent a lot of time talking about Jeroboam.
This is where Jeroboam set up an idol for worship in the north. You can read the story in 1 Kings 12:26-30 (it is worth reading). But to summarize it, Jeroboam became the first king of the northern tribes when the kingdom of Israel divided. He didn't want people going to Jerusalem to worship (as was required three times a year) – so he set up an entirely new religion – with new places of worship (Bethel and Dan), new priests (not Levites), and a new calendar for worship, and new objects of worship (a golden calf instead of God).
This is where that took place and the foundation of the altar is still there!
The Old Testament has strong words for Jeroboam. In talking about what he did – it is described this way: "This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth." (1 Kings 13:34)… And later: "This happened (the death of his entire family) because of the sins Jeroboam had committed and had caused Israel to commit, and because he aroused the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel." (1 Kings 15:30)
But it was SO evil that Jeroboam is constantly referred to throughout the era of the Divided Kingdom. Over and over we read of kings who "did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam and the sin he caused Israel to commit." (2 Kings 15:9). He is referred to in a similar way over a dozen times through the rest of the history of the Divided Kingdom. That means that those kings did not stop the false worship in Dan or Bethel.
And then here is the cool part!!
This is another angle of the same "high place" (the Bible calls it). But the part of the story I love is when Josiah comes on the scene. If I had a son, I would have named him Josiah, after this king. Josiah became king when he was 8 years old (2 Kings 22:1), and you can read his entire story in just two chapters (2 Kings 22 & 23).
When he renewed the covenant between God and his people – he completed twelve reforms. Of special interest to this photo is the tenth and eleventh reforms. 2 Kings 23:15 says: "Even the altar at Bethel (and certainly Dan… but Bethel is mentioned because it is closer to Jerusalem. Dan is part of the 11th reform in verse 19-20) the high place made by jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin – even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole on it."
We are told later he killed the priests of those high places and burned their bones on the altar (2 Kings 23:20). Burning human bones on the altar would keep them from ever using it as a place of sacrifice again. Jews wouldn't sacrifice animals at a place where humans had been "sacrificed."
I love the commitment of Josiah to the pure worship of God!
I know it may not excite you as much, but this is one of my favorite stories in all of the Bible and I walked alone most of the time as I reviewed the story and got choked up at the commitment of Josiah.
Although I'm most interested in the biblical history and sites – the political history interests me too…
This bunker was built during the famous 6 day war (June 1967). This bunker is approximately 100 yards from the High Place Jeroboam built in Dan. If I correctly understood our guide, the former border to Syria had been the dirt road you see just north of this bunker. But after the six day war – the border was pushed north a couple of miles.