(Rev. 7:4-8) Why is the tribe of Dan missing from this list?

There are many lists which contain the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen. 35:22ff, 46:8ff, Ex. 1:1 ff, Num. 1, 2, 13:4ff, Deut. 27:11ff, 33:6ff, Josh. 13-22, Judg. 5, 1 Chron. 2-8, 12:24ff, 27:16ff, Ezek. 48). Osborne writes, “There are twenty lists of tribes in the OT, and they disagree quite remarkably with one another.”[1] Since Jacob had thirteen sons, the Bible typically cuts out one of the tribes when it speaks of the “twelve tribes of Israel.” Typically, the tribe of Levi is cut from the list, because this was the tribe that created the priests, and it was set aside as special.

Why then is Levi included and Dan is cut from the list?

The text never tells us why Dan is cut, but the best speculation is that the tribe of Dan was the first to engage in idolatry (Judg. 18:18-19; 1 Kings 12:29-30). Walvoord writes, “A more common explanation is that the tribe of Dan was one of the first to go into idolatry, was small in number, and probably was thereafter classified with the tribe of Naphtali, another son of Jacob born to the same mother as Dan.”[2] God had previously promised to exclude anyone who fell into idolatry (Deut. 29:18-21). Moreover, Ephraim is excluded from this list, because Hosea mentions their specific idolatry (Hos. 4:7). That could be what we’re seeing here.

Other commentators have speculated that Dan is excluded, because ancient rabbis and early Christians believed the antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan (citing Gen. 49:17). Johnson writes, “The early church held that the Antichrist would arise from the tribe of Dan. Charles has argued that this belief is in fact pre-Christian Jewish tradition, first mentioned in Christian sources in Irenaeus (d. second century a.d.) (R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2 vols. [Oxford: Clarendon, 1913], 2:334).”[3] While this is possible, there is nothing in the Bible that supports such a view, so it is the opinion of this author that it is highly unlikely.

[1] Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002. 314.

[2] Walvoord, John. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. JFW Publishing Trust. Chicago, IL. 1966. 141.

[3] Johnson, A. F. (1981). Revelation. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (482). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.