Israel's Paradise: Tel Dan
By Eva Marie Everson
I entered the utopia known as The Dan Reserve, which leads to Tel Dan, in 2002. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And, maybe I had. Two hours later as the little group of six USA journalists and one superior tour guide left, I vowed I would return.
Five years later, I did just that. Two years after that, I returned for a third time, nearly giddy with excitement that I was leading the way for five other USA journalists to experience this Eden of the Promised Land.
But would they find there what I’d discovered seven years before? Would they realize what settlers over the past 7,000 years had discovered; a place to call home so elegant in nature and perfect in position, one can hardly believe it’s real?
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What (and Where) is Dan?
Dan is found in Northern Galilee; its name marks the farthermost region of Israel in the Bible. “From Dan to Beersheba” is found seven perfect times in the NIV version of the Old Testament. It means “from the north to the south.”
It is first seen in the Bible as a town called Laish, inhabited by peaceful, unsuspecting people who lived in relationship with no one else. After conquering the land with Joshua, and following the death of Joshua, the people of the tribe of Dan were still looking for a place to call their own. When a scouting crew of five came across this northern settlement, they returned to their tribe and reported the land as being “very good.” Along the way, they’d come across a Levite who lived as “priest and father” to a man named Micah in the hill country of Ephraim.
If you want a unique biblical lesson, keep reading. The moral fiber of the day had waned. The unnamed mother of this man named Micah had a substantial amount of silver shekels stolen from her and she cursed the one who had taken it. Rattled, her son confessed to being the thief. The tune of the mother swiftly changed as she said, “Blessing on you!” This may have been in hopes of undoing the curse.
But the mother then did something even stranger. She told Micah to take 200 of the 1100 shekels to a silversmith and have him create an idol from them, which she would consecrate to the Lord. This, of course, put them in danger of the Lord’s curse found in Deuteronomy 27:15.
Coincidentally – if there are consequences with God – a young Levite (of whom were called the priests of Israel) left his home in Bethlehem, looking for another place to live. Why, we do not know. We only know that, in dramatic terms, “enter the Levite.”
And wouldn’t you know it? He happens up on the house of Micah who generously offers him place to stay on condition of working as his “father and priest.” It wasn’t a bad gig. The Levite was also offered clothes, food, and ten shekels of silver a year. Micah believed God had blessed him.
Maybe not. Not two chapters later the five scouts hear the Levite speaking and ask him, “What are you doing here?” The Danites requested that the priest ask God whether or not their journey would be successful. “Go in peace,” the Levite answered. “Your journey has the LORD’s approval (see Judges 18:6).
And so the Danites spied out the northern Galilee region, went home, rallied up the troops, and headed back in search of a land to call home. Ironically, they made a stop at Micah’s house, made the Levite a better offer, and he left with them. Micah ran after them, but seeing that he was outnumbered, he returned home without his priest or all the idol items they’d taken.
The Danites overtook Laish and her inhabitants, burned the city, rebuilt it for themselves, and named it “Dan” after their forefather, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. But, sadly, they still had those cursed idols, which they used.
Today, pilgrims to Israel walk through the cobblestoned streets and between the ancient walls of the fallen. Yet, just beyond Tel Dan is utopia, and perhaps an understanding of why the Danites desired the location.
The Nature Reserve
History meets Nature. One hundred and twenty acres of “is this heaven?” The flora is thick, lush, and dotted in a variety of flowering hues. Woven between this feast for the eyes and wonder of wonders is the Dan Spring, the largest of the four water sources that feed the Jordan. The Dan Spring flows from the base of Mount Hermon and begins as melted snow from the “Old Grandfather”. It rushes toward the Jordan (and ultimately the Sea of Galilee, the reformation of the Jordan, and eventually the Dead Sea) with alarming force, and sounds like the steps of 10,000 soldiers. Perhaps, I think, the echoing of Danite conquerors. Along the way, hikers are delighted by critters such as the Cairo spiny mouse, fire salamanders, and the songs of Cetti’s warblers chirping to the others of their kind. Within the streams and pools live a variety of fish that dip and dive within the cold waters.
A number of sites have become famous. Along the path one can find “Pooh Bear’s Tree,” a wading pool with a bench made perfect for sticking tootsies in – if you dare – and nearby, a spot so breathtaking it has been dubbed “The Garden of Eden.”
For biblical and/or archeological enthusiasts, keep walking along the “Long trail” to find The High Place, erected by King Jeroboam in 930BC. Standing on the platform above an ancient staircase, one can turn and look right into Lebanon.
Continue on to reach the Dan known during the First Temple Period. Outside the gate, notice the raised dais, perfect for the sitting of young rulers and judges or tourists who’d like to take themselves back in time. Now, turn left and keep walking. You’ll come to the Canaanite gate, an arched structure of packed mud which surpasses all imagination for lovers of archeology and history. This gate dates back so far, some suspect Abraham himself could have stepped through it. Whether he did or not, we know Abraham was in fact here, for it was to Dan he chased after his nephew, Lot (see Genesis 14:14).
I have several favorite places in Israel and Dan is near the top of the list. If I could, I would take all of my friends and loved ones to the Land of the Bible, just to feast upon the beauty of this northern garden of history and lesson.
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Eva Marie Everson is the co-author of the award-winning Reflections of God’s Holy Land: A Personal Journey Through Israel (Thomas Nelson). Eva Marie Everson is the coauthor of Reflections of God’s Holy Land; A Personal Journey Through Israel. For more information about Eva Marie, the book, or to have her come speak to your group, go to: www.EvaMarieEverson.com. Eva Marie encourages everyone to go to Israel! You will never be the same!
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