I wrote a piece on the Sons of Issachar recently. They are referenced in 1 Chronicles 12:32. The Sons of Issachar were 200 chiefs of the descendents of Issachar who joined David with a multitude from the other tribes of Israel when David was hiding from Saul who sought to kill David.
Saul was Israel’s first king. He was the king the people demanded, and God gave them, despite the fact that they were rejecting God as their king in the process. Saul got caught up in his own power and position. Saul was beginning to lose touch with reality, developing jealousy toward David. Saul suspected David was out to get him. Thus, he sought to kill David.
God, in turn, was about to reject Saul as king because he ceased to listen and follow God’s instruction given through the prophet, Samuel. God had already chosen David to succeed Saul, because he was a man after God’s own heart.
David, for his part, loved and honored Saul because God had made him king. David had multiple opportunities to kill Saul, but he refused to do it, leaving Saul’s fate (and his own fate) completely in God’s hands.
Still, men from every tribe of Israel began to gather where David was hiding, including men from Saul’s own tribe (Benjamin). They were some of the first men to join David. The 200 chiefs of the Sons of Issachar also joined David. Scripture says of them, specifically, that they were men “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do”.
That phrase has been invoked by people who style themselves modern prophets who support the presidency of Donald Trump. They claim, of course, that they are men who understand the times. They claim to know what the United States should do, particularly in regard to Donald Trump.
I don’t dismiss what they say out of hand. God has spoken at various times through people considered to be prophets. One of the hallmarks of “the last days” is prophecy, visions and dreams. Peter announced the last days were starting when he stood up on the Day of Pentecost and quoted the prophet, Joel:
And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
Acts 2:17-18 (quoting Joel 2:28-32)
Though some people believe that these displays of God’s power and authority were only for a dispensation in time, long enough for the Holy Spirit to lead the disciples into the truth and preserve it in what we now call the New Testament, I don’t see evidence of that in the New Testament itself. I think we should expect God to work through people today through prophecy, visions and dreams, and I believe He does!
We, in the west, are not very open to God working that way. We have staked out our position on the embankment of reason, logic, and “sound doctrine”. We are quite uncomfortable with the “messiness” of experiential phenomena like prophecy, visions and dreams.
Yet, outside our western sanctuaries and cloistered halls of learning, these phenomena are regular experiences of Christian life. People who have done short-term or long-term missions often encounter these phenomena in places where people are not presumptively skeptical of what God can do.
Visions and dreams are ubiquitous in the stories of Muslims coming to faith in Christ. I once spoke with a Muslim woman who described for me a vision of Jesus coming to her in the midst of a near death experience she lived through. She described a subsequent “waking vision” of Jesus gaining her attention in the nick of time to save her son from being hit by a bus. She became a believer in Jesus because of these visions, though no one preached a word to her.
Her supernatural visions, though, didn’t lead her to a place of sound understanding of God and His word. They caused her to believe in God and Jesus, but she gravitated toward extremes in biblical understanding. This is just an anecdote, but I think there is a lesson to take away from it.
It would be a mistake to dismiss out of hand the prophecies, visions and dreams that people claim to have today, but we also need to be careful. Paul admonished the Thessalonians, “Do not despise prophecies…!” (1 Thess. 5:20) But he added an important qualifier:
“…. test everything; hold fast what is good.”
1 Thess. 5:21
In keeping with Paul’s admonition and qualifier – to test everything – I have been unsettled in my spirit by the number of Christians, particularly evangelicals, and specifically certain evangelicals who claim to have “a prophetic ministry”, who have boldly and uncompromisingly preached support for Donald Trump.
I am not going to get into all the reasons I find this troubling. I have been writing about some of them since before the 2016 election. I am not going to repeat them here; nor have I even addressed all of the reasons I find it difficult to “go there” with them.
Still, I am troubled. The article of which this is the postscript was born out of that angst. The previous article about the Sons of Issachar was the result of much soul-searching, praying, listening to to people and reading Scripture.
The phrase that inspired that article was spoken at a time when God was about to reject Saul because of Saul’s failure to follow godly instruction and his erratic and self-exalting behavior. Saul had ceased to be a man who bowed to God, and he had begun to be a man who did what he wanted, caring more about his own reputation than honoring God.
Samuel heard that Saul had set up a monument to himself at Carmel and went to confront Saul. (1 Samuel 15:12) Saul greeted Samuel with a preemptive statement: “May the Lord bless you. I have carried out the Lord’s instructions”. Samuel knew better, however, and called Saul on it: “Then, what is this bleating of sheep and lowing of cattle that I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:13-14)
Saul obviously knew what he had done, but Saul tried to justify saving the sheep and cattle, though the clear instruction was to destroy them. He blamed others: “The soldiers did it”. He tried to claim religious motivation: “to sacrifice them to the Lord our God”. (1 Samuel 15:15)
Saul lied. He tried to cover up his disobedience. He blamed it on others. He tried to spin it with spiritual justification: “We did it for God!”
Even after Samuel detailed how Saul failed to carry out the instructions he was given, Saul insisted, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:20); “But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God.” (1 Samuel 15:21)
Saul revealed what was really going on in his heart when he identified God to Samuel as “your God“. Saul’s heart wasn’t right. Finally, when he couldn’t hold up the pretense any longer, Saul confessed that he didn’t follow the instructions because he “feared the people and obeyed their voice”. (1 Sam. 15:24)
Saul asked for pardon. Saul begged Samuel to return with him as if nothing happened, but Samuel refused: “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” (1 Sam. 15:26)
Not to be dissuaded, Saul insisted again, “I have sinned; yet honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel….” (1 Sam 15:30). The most telling things about this story, perhaps, are that 1) Saul set up a monument to himself; 2) even after learning that God was wresting the kingdom from him, Saul was more concerned about being honored by the people than being honored by God; and 3) he glossed over his sin and rejection by God.
What this all says to me is that character matters in a person who claims to be leading by the authority of God. In Saul’s case, he did lead by the authority of God. God did choose him, but Saul lost God’s favor when he exalted himself above following God.
Saul’s heart had turned from God. He was deceiving himself and attempted to deceive Samuel into thinking that he had followed God’s instruction. He was more concerned about being honored by his troops and the people from whom he sought acceptance (rather than God). The Lord became Samuel’s God, because he was no longer Saul’s God.
People have tried to liken Trump to the foreign king, Cyrus, who allowed the Israelites to return to the promised land and supported them with materials and protection to rebuild the temple. Cyrus was a foreign king, though. They didn’t confuse Cyrus as their own king.
Some Christians today are claiming Trump as their king. He isn’t a foreign king; he has become their king – the king they wanted.
I don’t know Donald Trump’s heart, but we can see the fruit of his character in everything he says and does. Jesus was clear when he said, “You shall know a tree by its fruit.” (Matt. 7:16; Luke 6:44) (I have addressed the fruit that is evident in Donald Trump in previous articles.)
Some Christians will say that a President is not elected to be a priest, pastor or Sunday school teacher, but this thought is what I keep coming back to: if Christians are going to rally around Trump as “our king”, his character (fruit) matters. If the fruit is rotten, we should not embrace it.
On the one hand, many people condemned Bill Clinton when his sexual indiscretions in the White House (and before) were disclosed. On the other hand, many of those same people looked the other way when Donald Trumps sexual indiscretions were revealed. The hypocrisy is damaging.
People might say that those indiscretions were in the past, and maybe they were. People said that Donald Trump is now a Christian. Perhaps, he is; I don’t know.
The list is long, though, more current statements and actions by Donald Trump that exhibit deep character flaws and ungodly thinking and behavior. Consider the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) or the description of what love is (1 Cor. 13:4-8), which are the very measures by which Jesus said people will know his followers (Matt. 7:16); John 13:35).
When we make Donald Trump our king, we are making him representative of us. We are lining up behind him, and people will see us as they see him.
Think about that…. Jesus gave us one grand instruction: to go into all the nations and make disciples. How does Trump help us or hurt us in the business of making disciples among the nations?
As I continue to think about the Sons of Issachar, who understood the times, I came across the following instruction from Jesus to his disciples right before he ascended to take his seat at the right hand of the Father:
“He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.'”
Acts 1:7-8 ESV
In the very same context as the instruction to be his witnesses to the end of the earth, he said:
It is not for you to know times….
I take that to mean that we should not focus on “the times”, trying to figure them out. We should not be preoccupied in speculation. Jesus said that no one will know the day or the hour of his coming back. (Matt. 24:36)
On the other hand, he was clear that we should be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. THIS is the focus Jesus urged us to have.
To me, if Jesus said we won’t know the times, we shouldn’t be focusing on trying to figure them out! Jesus said very specifically we won’t know!
The instruction Jesus gave was to be ready. Always. (Think about the parables of the oil and the lamps and other parables of people not being ready.)
We shouldn’t focus on knowing the times because it isn’t for us to know the times or seasons, but he said,
you will receive the Holy Spirit, and [so that]
you will be my witnesses to the end of the earth.
This should be our focus!
We receive the Holy Spirit, not so that we will know the times, but so that we can be His witnesses to the ends of the earth!
Do you remember the parables about about being prepared for the return of the master, responding to the invitation to the wedding feast, using the talents God gave us and of stewardship over the vineyard? They all suggest to us that we should be about the Father’s business. The Father’s business is found in the instructions to make disciples in all the nations.
Jesus didn’t say that he would give us a great nation – the United States – that we should jealously guard and watch over for Him. Jesus showed us in Revelations that the saints standing around the throne of Jesus will be from every tribe, and tongue and people.
We simply need to be obedient – obedient as his witnesses. We may want to be “in the know”, but Jesus said it isn’t for us to know. If that is our focus, we are missing the boat.
Paul admonished us not to despise prophecy, but (at the same time) to test everything. It’s tempting to think that maybe we know something the rest of the world doesn’t know, but Jesus said it isn’t for us to know. The thread of prophetic ministry that is hyper-focused on being in the know about the times and seasons doesn’t pass the test as I look at Scripture, think and pray about it.
I think some Christians have made a grave mistake to make Donald Trump the equivalent of our king in these times. That is not to say that God didn’t ordain him to be president. Clearly, I think he did.
That isn’t to say that Joe Biden is God’s candidate. He doesn’t pass the test either. God can work through a King Cyrus, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of embracing such a man as our king.