Genesis 49:17
Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.
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Genesis 49:17. An adder, שׁפיפוןshepipon — A cerastes, probably, or kind of horned serpent, of a subtle nature, which, according to Pliny, hides its whole body in the sand, showing only its horns to catch birds. This is intended to signify the subtlety of that tribe, which should conquer its enemies more by craft than by strength or force of arms, and by art, and policy, and surprise, gain advantages against them, like a serpent suddenly biting the heels of a traveller. “These words,” says Bishop Sherlock, “lead us to expect, in the history of this tribe, an account of some very dishonourable and perfidious transaction. And the history will justify this expectation,” for though the house of Israel were in general a stubborn and disobedient people, “yet it was the peculiar infamy of the tribe of Dan, to be the ringleaders in idolatry, the first who erected publicly a molten image in the land of promise, and, by their example and perseverance in this iniquity, infected all the tribes of Israel. This idolatry began soon after the days of Joshua, and continued till the day of the captivity of the land, Jdg 18:30.”

49:13-18 Concerning Zebulun: if prophecy says, Zebulun shall be a haven of ships, be sure Providence will so plant him. God appoints the bounds of our habitation. It is our wisdom and duty to accommodate ourselves to our lot, and to improve it; if Zebulun dwell at the heaven of the sea, let him be for a haven of ships. Concerning Issachar: he saw that the land was pleasant, yielding not only pleasant prospects, but pleasant fruits to recompense his toils. Let us, with an eye of faith, see the heavenly rest to be good, and that land of promise to be pleasant; this will make our present services easy. Dan should, by art, and policy, and surprise, gain advantages against his enemies, like a serpent biting the heel of the traveller. Jacob, almost spent, and ready to faint, relieves himself with those words, I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord! The salvation he waited for was Christ, the promised Seed; now that he was going to be gathered to his people, he breathes after Him to whom the gathering of the people shall be. He declared plainly that he sought heaven, the better country, Heb 11:13,14. Now he is going to enjoy the salvation, he comforts himself that he had waited for the salvation. Christ, as our way to heaven, is to be waited on; and heaven, as our rest in Christ, is to be waited for. It is the comfort of a dying saint thus to have waited for the salvation of the Lord; for then he shall have what he has been waiting for.The sons of the handmaids follow those of Leah. "Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel." He will maintain his position as a tribe in the state. When threatened by overwhelming power he will put forth his native force for the discomfiture of the foe. The adder is the cerastes or horned serpent, of the color of the sand, and therefore, not easily recognized, that inflicts a fatal wound on him that unwarily treads on it. The few facts in the history of Dan afterward given correspond well with the character here drawn. Some of its features are conspicuous in Samson Judges 13-16. "For thy salvation have I waited, O Lord." The patriarch, contemplating the power of the adversaries of his future people, breaks forth into the expression of his longing desire and hope of that salvation of the Almighty by which alone they can be delivered. That salvation is commensurate with the utmost extent and diversity of these adversaries.17. Dan—"a judge."

a serpent … an adder—A serpent, an adder, implies subtlety and stratagem; such was pre-eminently the character of Samson, the most illustrious of its judges.

An adder in the path, which covereth and hideth itself in the sand or dust of the highway, watching for men or beasts that pass that way. He notes the subtlety of that tribe, which should conquer their enemies more by craft and cmlning, than by strength or force of arms.

Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path,.... Or be like that sort of serpents called the adder; or rather, that which has the name of Cerastes, which lies among sand, and being of the same colour is not easily discerned, and is often trampled upon unawares, and bites at once, unexpected; as Bothart (h) from various writers has shown; particularly Diodorus Siculus (i) says, of this kind of serpents, that their bites are deadly, and being of the same colour with the sand, few discern them, so that many ignorantly treading on them fall into danger unawares; and so Onkelos paraphrases it, that lies in wait by the way; and is by another writer (k) interpreted, a very grievous and hurtful serpent as the adder is:

that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward; for this sort of serpents lying in horse ways and cart ruts, snaps at and bites horses as they pass along, which bites affecting their legs and thighs, cause them to fall and throw their riders: this, by the Jewish writers, who are followed by many Christian interpreters, is applied to Samson, who by craft and policy managed the Philistines, as in the affair of the foxes, and especially in his last enterprise, when he got placed between the two pillars of the house, which answer, as some think, to the horse heels, as the multitude on the roof of the house to the riders: but though this may be illustrated in a particular person in this tribe, as a specimen of the genius and disposition of the whole tribe, yet the prophecy respects the whole tribe, and points at the situation of it, which was "by the way", at the extreme part of the country; so that they had need of craft and policy as well as power to defend themselves against encroachers and invaders, and describes the general temper and disposition of this tribe, of which an instance may be seen in Judges 18:1 and it may have respect to the stumblingblocks and offences laid in this tribe to the rest of the tribes, by the idol of Micah, and more especially by the golden calf set up in Dan by Jeroboam.

(h) Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 3. c. 12. col. 418, 419, 420. (i) Bibliothec. l. 3. p. 183. (k) R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed. fol. 57. 1.

Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.
17. shall be] Rather, “let Dan become.”

adder] or, horned snake. The horned snake, or κεράστης, is a small, dangerous, and venomous serpent. The simile is that of a small serpent disturbed, and suddenly with deadly fangs striking a horse from behind. Dan is dangerous to his foes by ambuscades, secret raids, and guerilla warfare; cf. Jdg 18:27. The mention of the horse and horseman indicates the more wealthy, warrior class of the enemy.

Genesis 49:17"Dan will procure his people justice as one of the tribes of Israel. Let Dan become a serpent by the way, a horned adder in the path, that biteth the horse's heels, so that its rider falls back." Although only the son of a maid-servant, Dan would not be behind the other tribes of Israel, but act according to his name (ידין דּן), and as much as any other of the tribes procure justice to his people (i.e., to the people of Israel; not to his own tribe, as Diestel supposes). There is no allusion in these words to the office of judge which was held by Samson; they merely describe the character of the tribe, although this character came out in the expedition of a portion of the Danites to Laish in the north of Canaan, a description of which is given in Judges 18, as well as in the "romantic chivalry of the brave, gigantic Samson, when the cunning of the serpent he overthrew the mightiest foes" (Del.). שׁפיפן: κεράστης, the very poisonous horned serpent, which is of the colour of the sand, and as it lies upon the ground, merely stretching out its feelers, inflicts a fatal wound upon any who may tread upon it unawares (Diod. Sic. 3, 49; Pliny. 8, 23).
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