Dan, meet Beersheva

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I’m taking up blogging again after a long absence because I’ve got something exciting just up ahead that I want to share with you all–a bike ride from Dan to Beersheva, the length of Israel as described in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). A few years ago I wrote about my first century–not about my 100th birthday, which hasn’t quite arrived, but my first 100-mile bike ride, the Santa Fe Century, which I did a few months after receiving a cool road bike for my 60th birthday.

Not long after that I asked, “If I could ride 100 miles, with a total climb of 4500 feet, in one day, why not ride the length of Israel in a few days?” As the crow flies, the distance from Dan in the far north to Eilat at the southern tip of Israel is about 260 miles. Even the more circuitous journey that a car would take is just around 500 km or 300 miles, depending on the exact route. A bike route would have to avoid the busiest highways, and be longer, but still amount to a multi-day trip with any given day easier than the Santa Fe Century. The journey that captured my vision, however, was a bit shorter, not Dan to Eilat—the length of modern Israel—but Dan to Beersheva. It’s a geographical phrase, but as it lodged in my mind and heart, I began to see more to it. “Dan to Beersheva” appears exactly seven times in the Tanakh, all within the section called the Former Prophets:

  1. Judges 20:1. Then all the people of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheva, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled as one man to the Lord at Mizpah.
  2. 1 Samuel 3:20. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheva knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.
  3. 2 Samuel 3:9-10. “God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the Lord has sworn to him, to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheva.”
  4. 2 Samuel 17:11. “But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheva, as the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person.”
  5. 2 Samuel 24:2. So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheva, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.”
  6. 2 Samuel 24:15. So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheva 70,000 men.
  7. 1 Kings 5:5 (4:25 in Christian Bibles). And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheva, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon.

Seven, of course, is the number of perfection or completion in Scripture, most clearly expressed in the seven-day week, which is crowned with Shabbat on the seventh day. So it’s probably no accident that this phrase appears seven times, all within one extended section of the Tanakh. Furthermore, as we’ll see in more detail, the final appearance of “Dan to Beersheva” serves as a capstone to all the rest, just as Shabbat, the seventh day, is a capstone to each week.

But first, consider the meaning of the phrase itself, which first appears in Judges 20:1, toward the end of the book of Judges. The Jewish Study Bible notes that this verse pictures all the tribes of Israel coming together to do battle against the tribe of Benjamin:  “There is no other unification of this type throughout the book of Judges; this description thus prepares the reader for the establishment of monarchy in the beginning of the book of Samuel, which follows” (p. 552). Throughout its five appearances in Samuel, the phrase continues to refer to all the people of Israel, or Israel as a unified whole. At the same time, it is a geographical term, describing the physical extent of the land, thus establishing an inextricable link between the land and the people. “All Israel” means the whole land and the whole people, the unity of the land and the people as one body in God’s sight.

That’s the ideal throughout the era of the Former Prophets, and it’s depicted most clearly in the final appearance of “Dan to Beersheva,” in 1 Kings 5:5 [4:25], which is significant in two ways. First, the phrase itself is slightly modified with the addition of a Hebrew word v’ad—“from Dan even to Beersheva.” This strengthens and intensifies the phrase into a sort of crescendo of all seven verses. Second, 1 Kings 5:5 describes all Israel living in safety, with each man under his own vine and fig tree, a phrase that echoes Micah 4:4 to describe the shalom of all Israel in the age to come. (I say that 1 Kings 5:5 “echoes” Micah because, although 1 Kings describes the reign of Solomon, it was written centuries later, after the fall of Jerusalem, while Micah wrote about a century before the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity.) This shalom will benefit all the nations, who will learn the ways of Israel’s God and walk in his paths, as the Torah goes forth from Zion to all humankind (Micah 4:1-5). 1 Kings 5:5 pictures the reign of Solomon, at least at its beginning, before corruption and division set in, as a foretaste of the age to come, with Israel united and at peace as the centerpiece of that age.

And so my bike ride through the length of Israel became transformed into a prayer ride through all Israel. It would enact the vision of Israel unified, of Israel restored to the land from Dan to Beersheva, as setting the stage for Israel restored to Hashem, who promised the land in the first place. This is not meant to be a political statement. It may be that Israel’s full and peaceful possession of the Promised Land must await the age to come, but the spiritual foundation for that possession is already underway in this age. The key, from my Messianic Jewish perspective is Messiah Yeshua. As we pray our way through all Israel, we’re praying for restoration in Messiah for all Israel, from Dan to Beersheva.

More to come . . .

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