Postscript to the Sons of Issachar Who Understood the Times

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything….

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 had fallen from being Israel’s first king, which 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 and 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, of course, favored David because he was a man after God’s own heart.

David, for his part, loved and honored Saul who God had made 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), who were some of the first men to join David. The 200 chiefs of the Sons of Issachar, too, joined David, and Scripture says of them, specifically, that they were man “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, particularly in regard to Donald Trump.

I don’t dismiss what they say out of hand. God has spoken at various times through people who were considered 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 Scripture itself. I think we should expect God to be able 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, theology 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 and a subsequent “waking vision” of Jesus calling to her in he knick of time to save he 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.

I think it is 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:

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

1 Thess. 5:20-21 (emphasis added)

In keeping with Paul admonition and qualifier – to test everything, I have been unsettled in my spirit by the number of Christians, particular evangelicals, and specifically certain evangelicals who claim to have “a prophetic ministry”, who have boldly and uncompromisingly preached support for Donald Trump. Not only that, but they have declared that anyone who does not support him is going against the Will of God.

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.

In following up on my previous post about the Sons of Issachar, I note that 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 has 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 called him 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 taking the sheep and cattle, when the instruction was not to, by saying, “The soldiers did it”; and they spared the sheep and cattle “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, and he even tried to spin it as a noble and religious thing that he allowed to be done. “We did it for God!”

Even after Samuel detailed how he 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 blamed the people and revealed what was really going on in his heart when he called God, “your God“, to Samuel.

Saul’s heart wasn’t right. Finally, when he couldn’t hold up the pretense any more, Saul confessed that he didn’t follow the instructions because he “feared the people and obeyed their voice”. (1 Sam. 15:24) He asked for pardon and for Samuel to return with him as if nothing happened, but Samuel refused, saying, “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 Saul set up a monument to himself; and, even after learning that God was wresting the kingdom from him, Saul was focused on receiving honor from the people (glossing 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. But, he was more concerned about being honored by his troops and the people than he was concerned about being accepted by God. The Lord, in Saul’s heart, became no longer Saul’s God, but Samuel’s God.

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.

It is true 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.

Most recently, Trump has been soundly criticized for statements he has been making that he will not cede the presidency if he loses. On election night, aven as the votes were still being counted, Trump called the election a “fraud on the people”. Not just that there was evidence of impropriety that occured in a specific place or places that he could specify, his gut reaction was to call the whole thing a fraud.

I don’t know whether he is right about some election improprieties taking place in various places, or not, but frankly, neither does he! He may have some reports of improprieties. He might even have some actual proof (not just reports), but that is a far cry from wholesale fraud that would invalidate the entire election (or even the results of a particular state).

This is only the latest in a very long list of examples of statements by Donald Trump that exhibit deep character flaws and ungodly thinking and behavior. Just 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.

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

It isn’t for us to know the times. I take that to mean that we should not be focusing on “the times”, trying to figure it out and being preoccupied with it. Just like Jesus said that no one will no the day or the hour of his coming back. (Matt. 24:36) To me, that means we shouldn’t be focusing on it! We won’t know! Rather, we simply need to be ready. Always.

So, with the instruction Jesus gave to his disciples: it isn’t for you to know the times or seasons, but you will receive the Holy Spirit, and you will be my witnesses to the end of the earth.

Why will we receive the Holy Spirit?

To be His witnesses!

Not so that we will know the times and the seasons. Jesus already told us we won’t! So we shouldn’t be preoccupied with knowing the times and the seasons.

We simply need to be obedient – obedient as his witnesses. Our focus should not be on the times and seasons. We may want to be “in the know”, but Jesus said it isn’t for us to know. If that is our focus, I think 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, but we shouldn’t give in to that temptation. 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.

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