Who Were the Sons of Issachar? And What Might They Mean for Us Today?



A friend of mine referred to the “sons of Issachar… who understood the times” recently when speaking of the evangelical support for Donald Trump.  The reference comes from 1 Chronicles 12:32 where the “sons of Issachar” (descendants of Issachar) who joined with David were described as men “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do”.

As I drifted near consciousness in my sleep last night, the phrase came back to me and ran through my head. I roused myself from a semi-conscious state and gave myself a reminder to look up the reference.

I followed up the next day. What does it mean? What does it mean for me? What does it mean in these times?

Obviously, these were men who were in tune with God’s purposes in the times they were experiencing. The context was a period in time when David was in hiding from King Saul. King Saul was pursuing David to kill him. Instead of confronting Saul, the man God chose as the King, forming a coupe and dethroning him, David went into hiding.

During his time of exile, men began coming over to join him. In the beginning those men included warriors from the tribe of Benjamin, Saul’s own relatives. (1 Ch. 12:2) Members of the tribe of Manasseh joined David even though their desertion of Saul could cost them their heads. (1 Ch. 12:19) Day after day, men came to David’s help at a place called Ziklag. (1 Ch. 12:20-22) Others, like the 200 sons of Issachar, joined David at Hebron, later.

By this time, God had rejected Saul as king, and it was only a matter of time for Saul’s demise. God was making a change, and David was the chosen one by God to replace Saul. We know today that David was also the man through whom God planned, eventually, to raise up the Messiah – the root of Jesse’s seed – Jesus.

We know the rest of the story, but they surely didn’t. They just believed that it was time for a change. Saul’s reign had run its course. Saul was out of touch with God. His head had gotten too big. Pride had taken over, and he no longer bowed to God in his heart. He was losing his grip on reality and the kingdom God had given him.

As I read the story when I woke up in the morning, the number of the Sons of Issachar who joined David struck me: 200 “chiefs” from the tribe of Issachar and all their kinsmen at their command. And, then I noticed something else.

Men from all twelve tribes of Israel joined David at Hebron, but only 200 men (“chiefs”) from the tribe of Issachar were identified. The number of men identified from the other tribes were far greater in number, including 120,0000 men from Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 50,000 men from Zebulun, 40,000 from Asher, 1000 “captains” and 37,000 men “with shield and spear” from Naphtali, and 28,600 from Dan.

So, what’s the big deal about only 200 men from Issachar? Why does Scripture say of them (and not of anyone else) that they were men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do?

One answer that occurs to me is that the rest of the “sons of Issachar” were not men who understood the times and did not know what Israel should do. Maybe only the chiefs understood the times, though the men under their command would follow them. Maybe 200 of the entire tribe of Issachar were men of understanding.

Were the 200 chiefs of the sons of Issachar the only people from all the tribes who understood the times? We don’t know. Why did God only identify the 200, not all the men under their command, as was done with the other tribes? I don’t know, but it seems significant that God was specific to identify 200 sons of Issachar in contrast to the far greater numbers identified from all the other tribes.

Of all the tribes of Israel, the men of the tribe of Issachar who came to David’s rescue were the least in number. Does that mean that they were the least in tune with God’s plan and purposes?

The backstory to all of this is that Saul was chosen (by God) as king, but God only chose a king for them because the people wanted a king like the other nations. In demanding a king, the people were actually rejecting God. They were putting their trust in a king, rather than trusting God to be their king. (1 Samuel 8:6-9)

So how does that inform me and other Christians today?

I am not absolutely sure, but what we should be drawing from the obscure reference to the sons of Issachar knowing the times is far from clear. The larger story of the people wanting a king, and Saul’s fall from grace seems a bit more clear and may have more direct application to our world today.

This is how I am seeing things right now. I have long been thinking that the evangelical support for Donald Trump was like the nation of Israel asking for a king. (See Is Donald Trump the King We Wanted?) I have been skeptical that the presidency of Trump means that God has blessed us. (See Donald Trump, the Zealot; Trump, Evangelicals and the Road Ahead; and Donald Trump, Fruit and Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.)

I would very much like to be wrong in my skepticism, and I am deeply concerned that I might not understand the times like the sons of Issachar. There are evangelicals I have trusted, like my very good friend who prompted the meditation behind this piece, who stand strongly in favor of Donald Trump, believing sincerely that God has placed him in authority for the blessing of believers.

I don’t discount the statement that God placed Trump in authority at all. Indeed, “there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Romans 13:1) We must say the same thing, though, about Barack Obama if we are going to say it about Donald Trump. Indeed, we must say it about King Saul as we must say it about King David – even though in giving the people King Saul, God was giving them a king they wanted in place of God.

I am not saying that Joe Biden is King David to Donald Trump as Saul. All analogies and comparisons break down at some point. I don’t suggest for a minute that we should take this one that far. Joe Biden is no King David!

For that matter, too, the United States is not the nation of Israel. We are not God’s chosen people. God does not have a plan to sprout a new Messiah from the root of George Washington (or any other “founding father” of this country), and to suggest something along those lines, I believe, is a grievous error that crosses over into idolatry at some point.

These were the thoughts in my head as I did a little more digging into Issachar and the sons of Issachar in the Bible, looking for more clues as to what this might all mean for me, for us. This is what I found.

Issachar was Jacob’s 9th son, born of Leah. Jacob preferred Rachel, but Rachel was childless and couldn’t conceive. Rachel made a deal with Leah for some “roots that would aid her fertility”, and Leah obtained the right to sleep with Jacob from Rachel in exchange. Jewish tradition says that Leah “hired” Jacob for the night, renting him from Rachel. (See Tribe of Issachar: History, Symbol & Facts at study.com) The name, Issachar, means “man for hire”.

In Genesis 30:18, Leah said, “‘God hath given me my hire [Heb. sekhari]… and she called his name Issachar.'” One commentator suggests that Issachar was conceived as a matter of hire and was, therefore, he was destined to a life of labor.

Before Jacob died, he blessed each of his sons. The individual blessings defined the characteristics and fortunes of each son and his descendants. This was Jacob’s blessing of Issachar (Gen. 49:14-15):

Issachar is a strong donkey,
Lying down between two burdens;
He saw that the rest was good,
And that the land was pleasant;
He bowed his shoulder to bear a burden,
And became a band of slaves.

Interestingly, the land allotted to the tribe (the sons) of Issachar was and is the richest portion of the land inhabited by the twelve tribes of Israel.

(See Issachar at biblestudytools.com)

“Issachar’s personality translated into the fate of his tribe. As the blessing implies, Issachar’s tribe found a pleasant land to settle in once the region of Canaan was conquered and divided between the twelve tribes. It was a fertile land, somewhere in the central spans of the region, and the Issachar people eventually became prosperous from their manual labor working the land. Due to this, they also became the third most populous of the tribes (according to biblical censuses), which could be reflected in Jacob’s reference to them as a ‘strong’ donkey.” (See Tribe of Issachar: History, Symbol & Facts at study.com)

The description of Issachar as a strong donkey is somewhat characteristic, perhaps, of Americans. Donkeys are viewed as wild and crass. We certainly have that kind of reputation in the world. We are rugged, individualistic, strong-willed and opinionated. We are hard-working, and we live in a land that is rich in resources that we have turned into one of the wealthiest of lands in the world.

The description of Issachar as a strong, hard worker with something of a wild side living prosperously in a land of plenty could be an apt description of the United States as a nation. Proud and stubborn seems to fit with the rest of the description.

I do not doubt that God choose to have Donald Trump elected the President of the United States. I even voted for him, given the choices at the time, but his presidency should be an uneasy one for citizens of heaven. The quick and unquestioning defense of Donald’s Trump’s every move and comment by many Evangelicals (glossing over and sweeping under the rug some of the crazy and ungodly things he says and does), is deeply troubling.

Donald Trump does cater to Evangelicals in a way that no President in memory has done, and in many ways he has become our king. But, is he merely the king we wanted? Have we rejected God in demanding a king? I don’t know.

I am not saying we have a King David out there to rally behind, but we seem to have rested our faith in Trump to save us from declining political influence and loss of place in our present society and culture, which is, surely, leaning hard away from God. Do we trust in a king to wrest the kingdom of the United States of American from the spirit of the day? Or do we trust God to work all things together for the good for those who love Him who are called according to His purposes?

Samuel, the prophet who orchestrated the choosing of Saul as king, knew the score. He wasn’t pleased to have a king appointed as the people requested (1 Samuel 8:6), but his sons, who he had appointed as leaders “did not follow his ways[; t]hey turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.” (1 Samuel 8:3) In some ways, Samuel was confronted with an impossible choice as we have been in the last two elections.

When Samuel prayed about it, this is how God answered him:

“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly….” (1 Samuel 8:7-9)

I hear the warning in my spirit in this present time. We may have gotten what we wanted with Donald Trump, but I sense it comes with a solemn warning. We haven’t yet seen all that this warning entails. I believe that we have embraced the king we wanted, the king God gave us, but we embrace him to our detriment.

(The saving grace is that God’s plans and purposes are being surely accomplished in the earth, throughout history, and even in our own day. Though the people were rejecting God in requesting a king, the kingship of Saul led to the kingship of David, the lineage into which God interjected himself in the form of Jesus.

At the same time, we have to recognize that God could have done it other ways. He could have raised David up apart from Saul, but God chose to work through the messiness and sin of His people. Though they rejected him in favor of a king, God did not reject them, and His purposes are still being accomplished despite the foibles and sin of Hs people.)


I have continued to think, pray and ask God for clarity and for understanding in relation to these things. I have now written a postscript to this piece: Postscript to the Sons of Issachar Who Understood the Times.

9 thoughts on “Who Were the Sons of Issachar? And What Might They Mean for Us Today?

  1. King David was called a “man after God’s onw heart” and yet he has a very bad track record, Uriah, Bathsheba and Absalom are just the pentacle of his failures. God uses sinners who make themselves available to do His will. I have no problem comparing President (not king) Trump to King David.
    In America We the People are the Kings and we must tenaciously fight anyone who tries to dupe us into surrendering our power as king. Trump is giving the control of the government back to the people. That’s one reason why the evangelical’s like him and the main reason why the liberal elites hate him and scream about his every flaw.

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    1. thank you for taking the time to respond. Your statement, though, leads me to wonder if you really think Donald Trump is a man after God’s heart? He said publicly that he sees no reason why he should ask God to forgive him for anything. David was flawed, yes, but he was a man of great faith. He lived his life fully in relation to God. Can you imagine Donald Trump writing a Psalm? Or dancing in the streets worshiping of God? Or hiding in a cave from Saul as Saul tried to kill him because David had such respect for Saul, the man God ordained to be king? I can’t recall a place where the Bible call believers kings. If there is one, I would certainly give it consideration. I do recall that the Bible calls believers priests – a holy priesthood – and I see much evidence that we should be more interested in advancing God’s kingdom than advancing earthly kingdoms. I am not seeing the parallels here.

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      1. This morning “sons of Issachar” ran through my spirit upon wakening. I have never studied this and had no idea what it meant. I looked it up and this article is the first thing I find.

        I believe Donald Trump is destined for re election and here’s why; Daniel 9:27 says the prince that is to come will CONFIRM peace with many. We know that that when Israel says “peace and safety” sudden destruction will come upon them. Many more treaties need to be signed with Israel and only Trump will broker those deals. Also, the stage is being set for Ezekiel 38, the War of Gog and Magog, with these treaties. Clearly they will be broken by some, like the recent one with Sudan, who is Cush. These treaties will lull Israel into a false sense of peace. Then these Muslim nations will attack Israel, bringing “sudden destruction”. But God intervenes and Israel will demand a temple. The lawless one can then enter the scene to confirm peace and give permission to build the temple. So Trump is needed at this moment to further this prophetic timeline. That’s how I see it anyway. Time will tell.

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  2. Another comment. With just a little research your count of the Sons of Issachar was somewhat short.
    1Ch 12:32 And of the children of Issachar, who were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were under their command.
    Sent 200 chiefs with all the men under their command. In other words numberless.

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    1. You raise a good point. It seems that more than the 200 chiefs of the sons of Issachar. How many we don’t know. I note that 37,000 men accompanied the 1000 officers from Naphtali. If chiefs are the same as officers, the ratio would result in 7400 mean accompanying the chiefs of the sons of Issachar, but we don’t know if chiefs ands officers were the same. It’s curious that, for the Sons of Issachar, Scripture only mentions the chiefs and not the total number of men (like it does for all the others).

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