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, and so I am following up to dig a little deeper.
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. Thew context in which this description was 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 banishment, men began coming over to 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 touch with God. His head had gotten to big. Pride had taken over, and he was no longer favored. He was losing his grip on reality and the kingdom.
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. There were 200 chiefs from the tribe of Issachar. And, then I noticed something else.
Men from all twelve tribes of Israel joined David at Hebron, but only 200 men came from the tribe of Issachar. The number of men who came from the other tribes were far greater, including 120,0000 men from Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 50,000 men from Zebulun, 40,000 from Asher, 37,000 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. They were men who continued to support Saul, the king God was rejecting. Only 200 of the entire tribe of Issachar were men of understanding – by far the least number of any of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Of all the tribes of Israel, the men of the tribe of Issachar were the least in tune with God’s plan and purposes! So much so that, while hundreds of thousands of men from the other tribes joined David, only 200 from the tribe of Issachar did so. Most of the sons of Issachar did not understand the times and did not know what Israel should do!
The backstory to all of this is that Saul was chosen (by God) as king, but only 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?