Genesis 49:17
Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that bites the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.In Genesis 49:11 and Genesis 49:12 Jacob finishes his blessing on Judah by depicting the abundance of his possessions in the promised land. "Binding his she-ass to the vine, and to the choice vine his ass's colt; he washes his garment in wine, and his cloak in the blood of the grape: dull are the eyes with wine, and white the teeth with milk." The participle אסרי has the old connecting vowel, i, before a word with a preposition (like Isaiah 22:16; Micah 7:14, etc.); and בּני in the construct state, as in Genesis 31:39. The subject is not Shiloh, but Judah, to whom the whole blessing applies. The former would only be possible, if the fathers and Luther were right in regarding the whole as an allegorical description of Christ, or if Hoffmann's opinion were correct, that it would be quite unsuitable to describe Judah, the lion-like warrior and ruler, as binding his ass to a vine, coming so peacefully upon his ass, and remaining in his vineyard. But are lion-like courage and strength irreconcilable with a readiness for peace? Besides, the notion that riding upon an ass is an image of a peaceful disposition seems quite unwarranted; and the supposition that the ass is introduced as an animal of peace, in contrast with the war-horse, is founded upon Zechariah 9:9, and applied to the words of the patriarch in a most unhistorical manner. This contrast did not exist till a much later period, when the Israelites and Canaanites had introduced war-horses, and is not applicable at all to the age and circumstances of the patriarchs, since at that time the only animals there were to ride, beside camels, were asses and she-asses (Genesis 22:3 cf. Exodus 4:20; Numbers 22:21); and even in the time of the Judges, and down to David's time, riding upon asses was a distinction of nobility or superior rank (Judges 1:14; Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14; 2 Samuel 19:27). Lastly, even in Genesis 49:9, Genesis 49:10 Judah is not depicted as a lion eager for prey, or as loving war and engaged in constant strife, but, according to Hoffmann's own words, "as having attained, even before the coming of Shiloh, to a rest acquired by victory over surrounding foes, and as seated in his place with the insignia of his dominion." Now, when Judah's conflicts are over, and he has come to rest, he also may bind his ass to the vine and enjoy in peaceful repose the abundance of his inheritance. Of wine and milk, the most valuable productions of his land, he will have such a superabundance, that, as Jacob hyperbolically expresses it, he may wash his clothes in the blood of the grape, and enjoy them so plentifully, that his eyes shall be inflamed with wine, and his teeth become white with milk.

(Note: Jam de situ regionis loquitur, quae sorte filiis Judae obtigit. Significat autem tantam illic fore vitium copiam, ut passim obviae prostent non secus atque alibi vepres vel infrugifera arbusta. Nam quum ad sepes ligari soleant asini, vites ad hunc contemptibilem usum aeputat. Eodem pertinet quae sequuntur hyperbolicae loquendi formae, quod Judas lavabit vestem suam in vino, et oculis eritrubicundus. Tantam enim vini abundantiam fore intelligit, ut promiscue ad lotiones, perinde ut aqua effundi queat sine magno dispendio; assiduo autem largioreque illius potu rubedinem contracturi sint oculi. Calvin.)

The soil of Judah produced the best wine in Canaan, near Hebron and Engedi (Numbers 13:23-24; Sol 1:4; 2 Chronicles 26:10 cf. Joel 1:7.), and had excellent pasture land in the desert by Tekoah and Carmel, to the south of Hebron (1 Samuel 25:2; Amos 1:1; 2 Chronicles 26:10). סוּתה: contracted from סווּתה, from סוה to envelope, synonymous with מסוה a veil (Exodus 34:33).

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