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, 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?

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

Voting Christian: What Does Your Faith Allow?


I have to admit that I don’t look forward to the days ahead: the “election season”. I likely be “snoozing” quite a few people in the coming months. Voting, of course, is a protected right and a privilege in a free society, as is the freedom to speak our minds.

Still, I approach the inevitable increase in exercise of that freedom that will certainly escalate as we get closer to November with no small amount of angst. Daily reminders of the polarized, schizophrenic nature of our society with so many voices, each speaking with near absolute certainty, their diametrically opposing opinions is not my idea of fun or meaningful discourse.

That our voices in the church, the body of Christ collective, is no less disparate is downright disconcerting.

Of course, it’s always been that way. Even in the New Testament, even among the apostles, we find disagreement: Paul and Apollos, Peter and Paul, the Jewish and gentile converts, Gnostics and others. Having spent an entire Sunday exploring the early church fathers in North Africa last week, I waded through one example of disagreement after another.

Many of those disagreements at that time led to the formation and establishment of the fundamentals of orthodox belief: original sin, the Trinity, the nature of Jesus, how the church should deal with “lapsed” believers in times of persecution and the authority of the church.

Some, like Cyprian and Augustine, were sainted by the established church for their positions that became the accepted stance of a majority of the church leaders at the time. Others, like Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Tertullian, despite their significant contribution to early Christian thought, were not because they took positions that did not line up exactly with the majority (even if many of their other positions did).

We tend to view church history in the west through a decidedly western lens. We forget that those early expressions of Christianity took different tracks: Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Coptic and others. Some of those early leaders are viewed as saints by some of those “churches” and not by others.

Western Christianity has had its own splinters: Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Anabaptist and others. I found the Charismatic movement in the early 1900’s fascinating as a young Christian for the way it moved through the various denominations at once and brought people together through the collective experience of the Holy Spirit. It too, though, resulted in new divisions: the Pentecostal and “independent” charismatic churches.

Thus, when I think about how Christians should vote in the next election, I find no solace in a clear direction. Christians are torn and divided. Continue reading “Voting Christian: What Does Your Faith Allow?”

Comments on Freedom and the Clash of Ideas

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.


“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.”  (Lady Bird Johnson)

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, bring born at the very end of 1959. My young, impressionable mind recalls the assassination of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember watching the riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Kent State protest and shooting, the footage of the Vietnam War and the Nixon impeachment on the nightly news.

The world seemed a chaotic place, no less than it does today, on this 4th day of July, 2020.

In the 1960’s, the dissident voice championed First Amendment rights that included the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. I remember that freedom cry as a child superimposed over news footage of a burning US flag. The patriot in my young heart was equally repulsed by the flag burning and impressed of the necessity of the freedom that allowed that flag to burn.

In law school, I learned the nuances of the jurisprudence that grows out of our US Constitution in which the First Amendment is enshrined. The clash of ideas is so sacred in our constitutional framework that it allows even the idea of abolishing that very framework to be heard.

In the 21st Century, many things have changed, while somethings have remained the same. Many of the dissident ideas from the 1960’s have become mainstream, and more “conservative” voices have become dissident. I am no longer repulsed by the burning of the flag (and, perhaps, the point of burning a flag is no longer poignant for the same reason).

The angst of the 1960’s of my youth has been replaced by the angst of the 21st Century of my middle age. The reasons for may angst are much different, yet very much the same at their core. I have grown and changed in my views, but the emotional strain of the human condition remains.

I fear, at times, that the framework that protected the freedom to burn US flags in the 1960’s might, itself, be destroyed in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children, by the fire of ideas that are antithetical to that freedom.

The ideas in colleges and universities around the country that seem to predominate promotes the silencing of dissident voices. Speaker engagements are canceled as the loudest voices want not even a whisper to be heard in opposition. Dissident speakers that are allowed on campus are shouted down.

These social, philosophical and political theories are built on the foundation of the idea that certain voices should be silenced, while other voices should be magnified – a kind of totalitarianism of ideas. This worldview would destroy the marketplace of ideas along with the idea of capitalism from which the idea of a marketplace of ideas is derived.

I am repulsed by this worldview as I was once repulsed by the burning of a US flag. The repulsion stems not from the evils in society this worldview aims to address, as I find some common ground in those concerns. I am concerned that the proposed remedy involves weakening the most fundamental freedom that protects freedom itself – the freedom of ideas and the right to express them.

The idea of “hate speech”, as wholesome and reasonable as it sounds, is inimical to a framework of freedom that protects the clash of ideas. Nowhere is freedom more necessary to be protected, than at the intersection of ideas and the right to express them. One person’s hate speech is another person’s ideas.

If we allow the idea of hate speech into the fabric of First Amendment jurisprudence, we threaten its very foundation. What we characterize as “hate” today is subject to change with changing societal norms tomorrow. No speech is safe from the label of “hate”.

While such a worldview has some appeal, seeking to right real wrongs and has laudable goals, it does so with the threat of  abolition of freedom of speech. Yet, freedom, real freedom, protects these even those ideas that are antithetical to freedom and demands that they be heard.

As repulsed as I was in my naive youth to watch the US flag burn in the streets of America, I understood the importance of allowing that expression to be heard. That I am no longer repulsed by that expression is of no consequence. In fact, freedom of speech is nowhere more vital than the protection of speech that is offensive. Favored speech doesn’t need protection. 

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.

Continue reading “Comments on Freedom and the Clash of Ideas”

Christian: Where is Your Focus?

If Christianity is true, individuals are not only more important, but incomparably more important, than nations.

Brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States (and anywhere around the world), I urge you to read this:

Don’t Let Your Politics Ruin Your Witness

If you don’t have the present time or inclination, consider at least this statement:

“[W]hen we blindly follow the agenda of party over the values of the kingdom, we are in danger of making politics our functional god. When our public discourse parrots the talking points of blue or red rather than the radical call of neighbor love, we are in danger of losing the credibility of our witness…..

“So how do we carry ourselves politically? Fuller spoke with characteristic wisdom on that issue as well: ‘If a wise man wishes to gain over a nation to any great and worthy object, he does not enter into their little differences, nor embroil himself in their party contentions; but, bearing good-will to all, seeks the general good: by these means he is respected by all, and all are ready to hear what he has to offer. Such should be the wisdom of Christians. There is enmity enough for us to encounter without unnecessarily adding to it.'”

“The gospel is offensive enough, so let’s allow people to be offended by it. When we replace the gospel with politics in our affections, we will draw the battle line in the wrong place and drown out the mesmerizing voice of Jesus beneath tired drone of petty partisan squabbles.”

I posted yesterday, Questions for Christians in America, out of frustration. My frustration is that so many Christians seem to be so colored by their politics that the Gospel is obscured in their rhetoric and the things they are focused on, at least on social media. The field is ripe for the harvest, and we seem to be stuck in out political tents, fixated on political platforms, defending actions Scripture condemns and  fighting for our own rights to a comfortable existence in which the world bows to us.

I don’t pretend sit in judgment on individuals in their personal walks with God. I don’t want to come across self-righteously. When I post things like that (and this), I am stirring up and exhorting myself and the tendencies I see within me. I don’t exempt myself from the fray.

But, I can’t stay silent. My soul grieves within me. We are missing opportunity to share the Gospel, to introduce people to love of Christ. Worse: we are turning people away from the Gospel by focusing too much on temporal things. We seem to be spending ourselves to protect institutions and current political positions, when eternity yawns ahead. Think about it:

“If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual.

“But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of the state or civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.”

–C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

Why do we spend so much time trying to reform a temporary nation when individuals with eternal value are getting lost in our rhetoric?

The following statement from Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, served in the last three Republican administrations, sums it up pretty well in an Op Ed in the NY Times (originally written in September 2016):

“Like water that refracts light and changes the shape of things, politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations and lack of charity. There is a good deal of hating and dehumanization going on in the name of Christ.”

We can – we must – do better for the Shepherd who died for us while we were yet sinners and gave us the blueprint for His purpose – to go into all the world spreading the Gospel (the Good news) of Christ.

Questions for the Church in America

There were many so-called prophets who said what the people wanted to hear, but they weren’t the real prophets of God.


The NPR headline reads – Survey: White Evangelicals See Trump As ‘Honest’ And ‘Morally Upstanding’. Some of the comments on social media include the following: “Nothing new to me as they are all my racist, homophobic relatives”; and “Scary”.

I am reading through the Old Testament in chronological order this year, and I am currently slogging through Kings and Chronicles. It’s a tough go, and especially tougher as I think about the current political and religious landscape in the United States. It’s hard to know where religion ends and politics begins.

The depressing thing about Kings and Chronicles is how far the people of God go off the ranch. Starting with King David, the man after God’s heart, it’s a steady downward spiral with a few brief interludes of an effort to rid the kingdoms of idols and immorality.

I say kingdoms (plural) because the people began to split under King Solomon and formed two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, immediately after he died. They spent much of their time before the Babylonian captivity fighting and killing each other!

Let me just say this: the United States is NOT a nation of God’s people like Israel was. Yes, we have been blessed by God. Our “founding fathers” (more or less) honored God and used some biblical principals (among other things) on which to form the Constitution and laws by which we are governed. BUT, The USA is not God’s chosen people like Israel was.

We shouldn’t flatter ourselves that way. The Roman Empire became a Christian nation too after Constantine. England, and France, and most of the European countries were Christian nations even more than the US is today. Church and State were married together in governance through the Dark Ages (though it didn’t stop them from warring with each other either).

There is only one people to whom God chose to reveal Himself and to enter into covenant relationship for the purpose of blessing all nations by setting the stage for His own humble entry into history and eventual sacrifice for our sins. Those chosen people aren’t us. God already accomplished His purpose for those chosen people, and now He is on to redemption of the world for all who would follow Him.

We can say with biblical confidence that God ordained Donald Trump as President (Romans 13:1), but for what purpose? God gave Israel King Saul when they demanded a king, but their demand for a king was a rejection of God. Is Trump the king we wanted?

Not that God is thrown off by those things. He works His purpose regardless of the vagaries and ambivalence of His people. I am not concerned about God accomplishing His purposes. He will! But what about the church in America? Where do we stand?

Continue reading “Questions for the Church in America”