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)
Continue reading “Postscript to the Sons of Issachar Who Understood the Times”

The 2020 Election: Daylight Had Spoken

I woke yesterday to these words:

Daylight had spoken 
So clear and so plain 
I’m the keeper of nothing 
But an old flame 
Consuming the shadows 
Caught in the light 
Blinded by hunger 
And fed to the night 

I went to bed with the presidential election in the balance, teetering on the brink of madness – madness that we are so divided as a country over, perhaps, the two most unpopular candidates in our country’s long history.

We have gotten used to the “lesser of two evils’ voting mantra. Not that each candidate doesn’t have their crazy fans. And, that’s part of the madness too.

But daylight broke once again. Like Groundhog’s Day the movie, its constancy is inimitable. So, it is fitting that the Book of Lamentations states thus (3:22-23):

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

In my daily Scripture reading, the passages were no less apropos:

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Matthew 27:57-60

So, it was the night Jesus was crucified.

The passages for the day also included the description of a small entourage of women waking in the morning to bring spices to the tomb. When they got there they found the tomb empty. (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1-3)

Finally, the passages for the day included the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. (Mark 16:9) Mary was the first person to whom Jesus appeared. That significance can not be understated.

The men back were still hunkered down where they had been since darkness draped over the world the night Jesus died. They didn’t believe her when she told them she saw Jesus. (Mark 16:11)

So it is that we arrive quickly at assumptions and hold on to them. Jesus died before them and the onlooking world. Jesus was dead. Who would believe otherwise?

Of course, he had been telling them since they met him that his body would be destroyed, and he would raise it up three days later, but they never quite got what he was saying.

I left for the office pondering these things.

The votes are still being counted today. The outcome is less than certain. There is talk of fraud, injunctions and refusing to step down, and I can’t bear to think of four years of Biden… or Trump.

But the new day has dawned. God’s mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. Jesus defied sin and death, rose again and ascended into heaven. He sits, now, at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead – so the creed goes that was canonized over three centuries after Jesus died.

Pontius Pilate, the leader who presided over the death of Jesus, is nothing but a footnote to the world’s greatest event – the death of God at the hands of His creation, for the sins of His creation, to provide His creation a real hope that cannot not be eliminated by an election, injunction or even crucifixion – and the resurrection!

So, Donald Trump or Joe Biden will become their own footnotes in history as the purposes of God unfold. The world may seem to be teetering out of control at every turn, but the only thing teetering is our illusion that we are in control. God’s word goes out, and it does not come back void. Jesus is still on the throne.

The song that woke me yesterday morning ends like this:

My search was unending 
And my soul was bare 
And Darling, you came to me like a midnight flare 
Out of the ocean 
The stars had all gone 
My heart was broken 
Lost and alone 

[Outro] 
Darling, you came to me like a beacon, leading me home

Substitute Jesus, for Darling, and it’s just about perfect.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Job poetically says of God that He gives orders to the morning and shows the dawn its place. (Job 38:12) Because of the tender mercy of God, the “Dayspring” [Dawn/Jesus] came to us from heaven to shine on us who live in darkness – in the shadow of death – to guide our path into peace. (Luke 1:78-80)

Contemplating the Influence of Power and Wealth on The Church

It is “a supreme paradox” that ‘the church in freeing itself from the secular itself became a state”, says Tom Holland.

Miniature showing siege scene of conquest of Jerusalem, 1099. Nunez de Balboa House-Museum, Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain

I am working my way through Tom Holland’s book, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. I have just finished the segment on Pope Gregory VII and Pope Urban II at the turn of the first millennium since the birth of Jesus Christ.

Since Jesus first told an antagonistic group of religious leaders that people should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto God that which is God’s”, and for centuries afterward, the church was at the mercy of the state. Not even a generation after Jesus died, the Roman government, which controlled Judea where Jesus lived and his following sprung up, ransacked Jerusalem, scattering Jews and Christians into the countryside and beyond.

Through the first three centuries, the best the followers of Jesus could hope for was an indifferent Caesar or provincial ruler. At various times, they suffered at the hands of a Nero or more local prefects of local Roman rule in places like Lyons, Vienne or Carthage. The powerful Roman government was to be suffered and obeyed.

Christianity was illegal until Constantine decreed the prohibition lifted. Within a generation or two, Christianity was not just legal in the Roman Empire; it became the favored religion. Christian rulers became part of the governing structure of Rome, serving by the appointment and the pleasure of ruling authorities from mid-way through the 4th Century on.  

Over the centuries, the Roman Church became a player in the ebbs and flows of power and influence in western and central Europe. When Gregory VII was made Pope by acclamation of the people, however, he hid himself, not having been chosen through the usual protocols. When he was affirmed, nevertheless – his affirmation having as much to do with popular will as with political protocols, it marked the beginning of a change.

Gregory and Henry IV, the Roman Emperor, had a fitful relationship. Gregory excommunicated him three times, each time undoing it, the last time on his death bed in a remote outpost to which he been banished by the powers that be. Henry IV, for his part, declared antipopes in opposition to the papacy of Gregory, but his antipopes never rose to the position of acceptance by the people. The tide was turning.  

When Pope Urban II gathered and commissioned a vast army in the sacred duty of marching on Jerusalem to reclaim it from the Saracens who had overrun it a couple centuries earlier, the victory they attained in 1099 AD (the First Crusade) marked the completion of a transition. Carrying forward the efforts of Pope Gregory to divorce the church from the state, the goal was accomplished by the military victories won for Christendom – not by any Caesar or secular emperor, but by people marching under the banner of The Church.

Holland described the irony that, in obtaining freedom from the state, the church became a state. Holland calls it is “a supreme paradox” that ‘the church in freeing itself from the secular itself became a state”.

Continue reading “Contemplating the Influence of Power and Wealth on The Church”

God Will Not Be Mocked; His Purpose Will Be Accomplished Among Us

I have no doubt God is accomplishing His purpose, but what role we play may surprise us

21 February 2016: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to several thousand supporters at a rally in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Washington Examiner was the first news source to report that Republican senator, Ben Sasse, said in a “campaign telephone town hall call that went to about 17,000 Nebraskans”, among other things, that President Donald Trump trash-talks evangelicals behind their backs”. After briefly citing some points of agreement with Trump, Sasse “began to unload” on the President.

Sasse identified a litany of issues he has with Trump – careening “from curb to curb” on COVID (first ignoring it, then going “into full economic shutdown mode”), selling out allies, “the way he treats women”, spending “like a drunken sailor” and flirting with white supremacists – but the issue I want to focus on is the charge that Trump “mocks evangelicals behind closed doors”.

Sasse commented, “I think the overwhelming reason that President Trump won in 2016 was simply because Hillary Clinton was literally the most unpopular candidate in the history of polling.” It’s true, and most evangelicals I know said they were voting “only” for Trump as “the lesser of two evils”. They couldn’t stomach another Clinton presidency, perpetuating that inbred political machine in Washington that is openly hostile to concerns of evangelicals.

So, where along the timeline did Donald Trump become our champion? When did he stop being an evil? (Albeit an ostensibly lesser one)

A little googling reveals (for those who’s memory is short) that “long before” Donald Trump ran for President of the United States, he was a Democrat. Donald was registered as a Democrat from 2001-2009. Have we forgotten the criticism leveled against The Donald by Jeb Bush? “He was a Democrat longer than he was a Republican. He’s given more money to Democrats than he has to Republicans.” (Including Hillary Clinton)

To be completely accurate, Donald Trump changed his party affiliation at least five times since 1987, when he registered as a Republican. He changed to Independent in 1999, to Democrat in 2001, to Republican in 2009, to Independent in 2011, to Republican again in 2012. (See Political positions of Donald Trump at Wikipedia) But should that give us comfort?

On the issue that has been historically most influential on the Evangelical vote, abortion, Donald Trump has been described as shifting “from pro-choice to pro-life only as he planned a presidential run”. Robb Ryerse, a pastor at Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville, AR, said earlier this year, “I personally believe that the President is cynically using pro-life voters for his own electoral purposes and doesn’t actually care about protecting innocent life at all.”

The LA Times was less skeptical in its description of Trump’s turnabout recently, calling him “a late convert” to the pro-life cause. Noting Trump’s position in 1999 (“pro-choice in every respect”), Trump told the March For Life crowd in Washington this year that “every life is worth protecting”.

The Times added: “Trump is counting on the support of his base of conservative activists to help bring him across the finish line.” While I don’t share the Times’ anti-pro-life stance, that’s what concerns me – that Trump is saying simply what a large block of his constituents want to hear. (To be fair, my skepticism runs deep with all politicians, especially in campaign mode.)

After all, moderates aren’t tolerated by voters anymore. Both political parties have “taken harder-line positions for and against abortion rights”. Trump had to choose sides. As former White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, said recently, “There used to be a middle”, but now candidates must choose sides in an increasingly polarizing political environment.

Digging deeper, Trump’s political views have shifted from moderate populist (2003) to liberal-leaning populist to moderate populist (2003-2011) to moderate populist conservative (2011-12), to Libertarian leaning conservative (2012-15) to “hard-core conservative” just before the 2016 election. Interestingly, he back-stepped to Libertarian-leaning conservative, then moderate conservative after the election, but he may (again) be described as “hard-core conservative” … now that he campaigns for re-election. (See Political positions of Donald Trump ibid.)

I can’t help noticing that his hard-core conservativism seems to be timed with election campaigning, and that’s one of the things that troubles me about him. So, I began wondering today: what are his long-standing convictions? From my reading, I would say populism, authoritarianism, and nationalism, so let’s take a closer look at those threads of Donald Trump’s political life.

Continue reading “God Will Not Be Mocked; His Purpose Will Be Accomplished Among Us”

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?

Continue reading “Who Were the Sons of Issachar? And What Might They Mean for Us Today?”