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?