In Revelation 7, the 144,000 Jewish men raised up to evangelize the world come from twelve tribes of Israel, but the tribe of Dan is missing from the list. Why?
The absence of Dan in the list of tribes in Revelation 7 is a source of much interest among Bible students. The text itself offers no explanation, but we can speculate based on some analysis.
First, it’s important to note that there are 13 named tribes in Israel, not twelve. Jacob bore twelve sons, but later Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons in place of Joseph after moving to Egypt. Thereafter, the sons of Jacob were:
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin
Secondly, there are at least 19 lists of Jacob's sons given in the Old Testament: Gen. 35:22-26; 46:8-25; 49:3-27; Exod. 1:2-5; Num. 1:5-15; 2:3-31; 13:4-15; 26:4-51; 34:19-28; Deut. 27:12-13; 33:6-25; Josh. 13:7-22; Judg. 5:12-18; 1 Chron. 2:1-8:40; 12:24-37; 27:16-22; Ezek. 48:1-7, 23-28, 31-34
Reviewing these lists, we usually find all thirteen tribes included though sometimes a tribe is left out (usually Levi). For example, in Numbers 1, 2, 13, and 26, the tribe of Levi is left out. In other cases, Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim, and Manasseh are combined under just the name Joseph. In one case, multiple tribes are missing (i.e., Judge 5). So, we see that it's not unusual for scripture to leave names out when listing the tribes of Israel.
But then we have the list in Revelation 7. This list is unique in a several ways. First, it is the only list of the tribes of Israel in scripture to exclude Dan. Secondly, it is the only list to include Joseph in place of only one of his sons instead of both sons. Specifically, Joseph and Manasseh appear in the Revelation 7 list but Ephraim does not. Perhaps the exclusions of Dan and Ephraim are related?
Thirdly, the territories originally allotted to the tribes of Ephraim and Dan bordered one another in Canaan, but during the time of Judges Dan rejected its claim and moved north to occupy a part of the territory of Naphtali.
Finally, even though the name Joseph is listed in Revelation 7, no territory or tribe of Joseph actually exists. Joseph didn’t receive a portion in the land. His two sons were adopted by Jacob and received Joseph’s double portion instead. This raises the question how can there be 12,000 men from "Joseph" during Tribulation when no such tribe of people exists?
Given these clues, we can offer speculation on why Dan and Ephraim are missing from the list.
In Judges 17-21 we're given two stories of apostasy in Israel. Both stories center on the tribes of Dan and Ephraim and on the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of David, God's choice for king over Israel. The writer of Judges emphasizes in these chapters that these were the days before Israel had a king.
In those chapters of Judges, Dan sinned by viewing the land God allotted to them as unacceptable, so they abandoned it. While passing through Ephraim, they stole idols from a home and recruited a Levite to serve in a false temple in the new territory. As a result, Dan became the first tribe in Israel to embrace idol worship in Israel.
Meanwhile, the tribe of Ephraim, the source of the idols, assumed control over the land originally intended for Dan. They aided and abetted the Danites in bringing idolatry into the land of Israel. These sins give just cause for God to exclude them from the privilege of preparing Israel and the world for the Messiah's return.
>Furthermore, since the tribe of Manasseh is already included in the list of Revelation 7, then we know that the tribe of Joseph can't represent his two sons, as is usually the case in scripture. Instead, Joseph still represents two tribes, but in this case Joseph replaces Dan and Ephraim, tribes historically and geographically linked by their conspiracy to introduce rebellion and idolatry into Israel. So they were excluded from this list by name with the name Joseph standing in their place.
Such a substitution allowed the Lord to retain the symmetry of twelve tribes while drawing attention to these tribes' joint contribution to idolatry in Israel. Since there is no literal tribe of Joseph, in a sense, we could say that Dan and Ephraim were “hidden” in Joseph. If so, then the 12,000 men of the tribe of Joseph in the Tribulation will actually be Danites and Ephraimites.
But there is a deeper message in their exclusion.The apostasy of Dan and Ephraim represented the low point in Israel's history immediately prior to the Lord raising up a king from Bethlehem to deliver Israel from its sin.Sound familiar?
This is exactly the pattern that will exist prior to the Lord's return to rule over Israel at the end of Tribulation. By excluding these two tribes from the list in Revelation 7, the Lord is pointing our attention back to the circumstances at the end of Judges. The final chapters of Judges (17-21) and the story of Ruth which follows Judges form a three-part story of the king's arrival to address the nation's idolatry.
Parts 1 and 2 of the story are found in Judges 17-21 and chronicle the growing apostasy of Israel under the influence of the Danites and Ephramites. Part 3 of the story is found in Ruth, where the Messiah's arrival in Bethlehem (pictured by the arrival of Naomi's son in Bethlehem) serves as the hope of Israel. These events picture the greater arrival of Christ to rescue Israel from apostasy.
Therefore, Dan and Ephraim are missing in the list of Revelation 7 to draw our attention to the time of Judges, to illustrate that Israel is once again guilty of apostasy as it was in Judges under Dan and Ephraim. And once again the Lord will bring Israel a king from Bethlehem to rescue Israel from its apostasy, that is Jesus Christ. By excluding these two tribes, the Lord is emphasizing that the third part of the story is right around the corner.