We interrupt the regularly scheduled Saturday broadcast of our Elijah series to bring this message. Enjoy.
As my wife and I have been looking around at some churches, searching for a place to call home, one of the places we have been going is the church pastored by my stepson. Just a plug for him real quick; he is shaping up to be a fine pastor. Anyway, we went to Wednesday night Bible study last week and found it to be a nice study group. It’s fairly informal in the sense that he doesn’t just stand behind the pulpit and preach to us; he is just on a podium right in front of us and we actually talk, interact and learn together. It’s actually STUDY. On the flip side, he gave us HOMEWORK for this week. (Maybe I take back the compliment from earlier!)
They have been studying Revelation and are now in Revelation Chapter 7 specifically in the passage dealing with the selection of the 144,000 evangelists from the tribes of Israel. 12,000 were selected from each tribe, sort of. When we compare the original 12 tribes, composed of the 12 sons of Jacob to the list in Revelation Chapter 7, there is an oddity. So, the homework is: Where’s Dan?(The question was actually where are Dan and Ephraim, but that question won’t make sense until a bit later.)
Here are the original 12 sons of Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Napthali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin. (In birth order.)
Here are the tribes listed in Revelation Chapter 7 from which the 144,000 evangelists were selected: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulon, Joseph and Benjamin. (Not in birth order.)
First, we ought to clear up why Ephraim is even a question. Because the eldest son, Reuben, sinned against his father by sleeping with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah, he forfeited his inheritance in the Promised land. That story is in Genesis 35:22. We seen the effect of that later in 1 Chronicles 5:1: “Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.” That is precisely what happened in Genesis 48:20. Note there that Jacob set the youngest, Ephraim before the elder, Manasseh. That may matter later.
So, the net effect is that there were 13 tribes moving forward from that point.
The list of the tribes does tend to be slightly different in different places throughout Scripture. Sometimes the tribe of Levi is not listed, especially when discussing land allotments. The priestly Levite tribe was not given its own tract of land. Sometimes Joseph is listed alone; sometimes his sons Ephraim and Manasseh are listed. No problem, so far. Yet, glaringly Dan is simply absent from the tribes from which the 144,000 were chosen. Ephraim may or may not be, depending.
Why is this so? Well, the truth is we aren’t told why; so, we can only draw possible inferences from other places in Scripture. The most likely scenario seems to be provided by looking at the rather grim history of the tribe of Dan. From early in the history of Israel, Dan was quick to slip into gross idolatry, and they seemingly never recovered from it. In Judges, we see that Dan was unhappy with the land allotment they had been given and moved on where they simply took another they preferred more. On the way, they actually stole idols for later worship and hired a Levite to lead their idolatrous worship! See that in Joshua 19:47-48 and Judges 17:1-18-31.
Things never got better, and we see in 1 Kings 12 that, in the divided Kingdom period, they became a complicit partner in and location for idolatry under King Jeroboam.
Based on that, there seem to be many good reasons why the tribe of Dan might be excluded from those from among whom the 144,000 evangelists were selected; they had no testimony and no credibility as witnesses for God.
What about Ephraim then? There may be a couple of possibilities there, and one is positive, and one is negative. First, the negative. Throughout much of the above-mentioned time, Ephraim was complicit and even partnered up with Dan in their idolatry. It was from Ephraim that the idols were stolen, and when Dan vacated their allotted land parcel, Ephraim took it over. That might put them in the same category as Dan and excluded them from the 144,000. Now, the positive. Remember that Ephraim was chosen to be given the right-hand blessing by Jacob back in Genesis; as holding that status of the chosen son, it may be that the listing of Joseph as a tribe in Revelation 7 may be Ephraim. Who knows?
As we close, let’s cover one last thing. If Dan is excluded from the list of the 144,000 evangelists, it is because of a poor testimony. This point matters; their exclusion from God’s work would never mean they were excluded from God’s salvation. God will work a work in the end times to bring salvation to His chosen nation, Israel, and none of his people will be denied the opportunity to receive that salvation. That has an application to us even today. While even those who believe can live such a poor testimony that God won’t use us, not one single person is denied the opportunity to accept God’s gift of salvation by grace through faith. That remains up to us.