The ancient Israelites often referred to Dan as the northern border of their country. As the Israelites became attracted to fertility cults, Dan also became a center of baal worship.
The city of Dan, originally called Lacish, stands in northern Israel. Further northeast are the impressive slopes of Mount Hermon and the ancient city of Caesarea Philippi.
During Old Testament history, Israelites often referred to Dan as the northern border of Israel (2 Samuel 3:10). King Jeroboam constructed a high place at Dan shortly after the nation of Israel divided. As the Israelites became attracted to fertility cults, Dan became a center of Baal worship in the northern region.
Archaeologists have made amazing discoveries at Dan, including a stone with the only extra-biblical reference to King David. They have uncovered the high place built by King Jeroboam, a gate high place with several standing stones, and a gate dating from Abraham's time. A variety of religious objects have been found there as well.
The People of Dan
Fearing the powerful Philistines, the Danites left the land God had given them in the Shephelah. They resettled in Dan, and ended up living in a city that was frequently attacked.
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the tribe of Dan was given an area of land in the Shephelah—the foothills connecting Israel's mountains to the coastal plain. It was in this area that Samson, a Danite judge, fought the Philistines (Judges 13).
Unfortunately, the Danites lost their resolve to conquer their Shephelah territory. Fearing the powerful Philistines who dominated the coastal plain, the Danites hid in the mountains rather than confronting the Philistines when they tried to take over the Shephelah.
Eventually, the tribe of Dan gave up on conquering their territory. They abandoned the land of their inheritance and decided to relocate in the north. The city they conquered and settled was renamed Dan (Joshua 19:47).
The Danites' move ultimately gave them more trouble. When the nation of Israel was attacked or invaded the city of Dan, it was often the first to fall.
A Step Away From God
Shortly after Israel divided, King Jeroboam constructed high places at Bethel and Dan, leading his people into idol worship.
Around 900 BC, the country of Israel divided. Wanting to rival his father's power, Solomon's son, Rehoboam, told the Israelites he would make them work like slaves. Not pleased with his plans, the people of Israel rebelled under the leadership of Jeroboam.
Eventually, the ten northern tribes separated from the tribe of Judah, creating their own kingdom known as Israel. The Levites remained divided among the tribes, and only the tribe of Judah remained under Rehoboam's leadership. Judah maintained control of southern Israel, including Jerusalem and the temple.
Jeroboam feared that his people would realign themselves with Rehoboam when they traveled to the temple in Jerusalem. To avoid this potential threat to his power, he built two golden calves and set them up in Dan and Bethel.
He told the people of Israel, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (1 Kings 12:28). Though the golden calves were not meant to represent pagan gods, King Jeroboam's act clearly violated God's commands: Instead of worshiping Yahweh alone, the people worshiped an image.
King Jeroboam led the Israelites in the first step away from God. And because of his sinful deed, God sent the prophet Ahijah to say, :You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have provoked me to anger. Because of this, I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam" (1 Kings 14:9-10).
Israel's Continued Disobedience
Israel gradually adopted the sinful practices of baal worship. Angered by their actions, God allowed the Assyrians to capture their land.
Not long after Jeroboam's reign, Ahab became king of Israel. While Jeroboam had led the Israelites into worship of objects, King Ahab went one step further: He encouraged the Israelites to worship other gods.
"Ahab did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him" (1 Kings 16:30). He married Jezebel, a Phoenician woman who practiced an extreme form of baal worship. And he built a Baal altar and Asherah pole in Israel's capitol city of Samaria.
Ahab and Jezebel may have visited the city of Dan, which became a regional center of Baal worship during that time. Like many Israelites of their day, they were attracted to the fertility cults and their promises that Baal would provide rain and material prosperity. They incorporated baal worship into their lives, right alongside their worship of God.
The Israelites sank deep into baal worship. Many of them, including King Ahab and Manasseh, sacrificed their own children to Baal. Others engaged in the pagan practice of temple prostitution.
Angered by their abuse of innocent life and the gift of sex, God eventually allowed the Assyrians to invade Israel. Many Israelites were brought into captivity, and the rest were forcibly intermarried with foreigners who settled in the land.
Because of their step-by-step decline into the pits of idol worship, the northern nation of Israel ceased to exist in the ancient world.
Avoid the Step
Our challenge as God's disciples is to avoid any step, no matter how insignificant it may seem, that would take us away from God.
Today, the city of Dan reminds Christians of the consequences that follow when we step away from God's plan. Instead of trusting God, the Israelites often chased after their own plans and the attractions of pagan gods. And in the end, they paid a steep price for their sin.
Today, Christians still live amidst many sinful attractions. Our world says that one small sin won't matter; we can fix it later. And there are so many small steps that seem insignificant—giving one insult, watching a questionable movie, flirting with an unhealthy relationship.
But one sin usually leads to another, gradually destroying our lives and steering us away from God. Wise disciples must avoid taking that first step.
As God's children, we have each been given an inheritance—an area of life that we can impact for God's glory. But if we are not vigilant, small sins will lead us away from God's plan. Our challenge as God's disciples is to avoid any step, no matter how insignificant it may seem, that would take us away from God.
What small steps do you need to avoid so you stay on the path God has given you?