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”

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?”

Time for a Re-Set: Repent and Return to God

I don’t believe that God caused the virus, but I believe God can use it to draw our our attention to Him


A friend of mine, my closest friend in college a dear brother in Christ, shared with me something a friend of his shared with him.  His friend claimed it to be a prophecy from God. I give it you as it was given to me. He said:

“In the wake of the panic-demic, a great national re-set will settle into the culture. We will witness clarifying ‘adjustments’ to what we value or hold dear. Healthy ones. Already this has served as a great sifting….. [W]e (collectively) have not lost much, though we have faced the specter close on the horizon. When the dust settles, we may be surprised to find ourselves in a much better place. Immunized perhaps by just a taste.”

Many people don’t believe that God gives people prophecies today as He did in Scriptural times. Indeed, if God does still do that, we should be careful to accept them. As Paul said then, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)

Were all of the prophecies Paul was talking about then written down?

No. We have letters from Paul and other close associates of Jesus, but we don’t have the prophecies Paul was talking about to the Thessalonians. Those prophecies, I believe, were for them. They weren’t to be despised [ignored, treated as nothing and lacking value][i], but they were to be tested.

Testing prophecies means taking them seriously. The word for “test”[ii] here implies that the prophecies are to be put to the test, examined and proven by testing. This is not a skeptical exercise, as a 21st Century believer (or unbeliever) might suppose. The idea was to prove what is good.

Perhaps, our reluctance to think that prophecy is a way God still communicates to us today is based in our lack of understanding of what is meant by prophecy. We think of predictions of things to come. Indeed, the Old Testament is full of such prophecies. Jesus also predicted things.

Prediction and foreshadowing of future events is partially what prophecy can mean, that isn’t all that prophecy means. The Greek word translated “prophecy”[iii] can mean simply speaking the mind of God. Hopefully, your pastor does that when he preaches!

Prophecy does tend to have predictive elements to it, but that isn’t all that it is, and prophecy doesn’t have to be predictive. It can simply be admonishment, encouragement, provide comfort or otherwise speak the mind of God in a particular moment or circumstance. When we seek to comfort or speak a timely word to a friend, praying to God for wisdom, we are attempting to use the gift of prophecy.

Sometimes we fail. We kind of know it when we do. What we say falls flat. But sometimes, we feel the Holy Spirit in the words that are spoken that confirms we have hit the mark. This is prophecy.

Prophecy is a timely word, a fitting word, a word that resonates with Scripture in the moment. It’s a word that carries some weight in the moment such that it encourages, comforts, rebukes, corrects or has whatever affect the Holy Spirit gives it. If you are blessed to have a good preacher in your church, your preacher may speak the mind of God (prophesy) most Sundays.

Prophecy isn’t to be confused with the gift of teaching. Teaching is the gift of being able to pull the meaning out of a text and communicate it clearly. The gift of prophesy is the ability to make Scripture poignant and apply it in the moment providing direction for the future. A preacher with the gift of teaching and the gift of prophecy is a rare gift.

So, back to my friend’s friend.

I am not going to hang on what he said like Scripture. I don’t think that is the purpose of prophecy, and especially not since the time of Christ. Still, I take it seriously. It rings true to me.

Continue reading “Time for a Re-Set: Repent and Return to God”

Is Donald Trump the King We Wanted?


Paul, speaking to the Christians in Rome, penned these words that echo today in the minds of people who seek to do God’s will: “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

Lest we gloss over the historical context, Paul wrote these words from a Roman prison cell. He wrote them not knowing that he would never live free again. He would remain a prisoner until his public execution at the hand of those same Roman authorities established by God.

Not that Paul would have said anything different if he had known his fate. I don’t believe knowledge of his future would have changed anything he said. In the same letter to the Romans, Paul said, “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

I have heard many people recite Romans 13:1 in support of defending Donald Trump. Many of those same people would not have given that verse much consideration during the Obama presidency.

The Scripture didn’t change. Our application of it changed.

Many people who have championed Trump for President, and Trump as President, have claimed that God wanted Trump to be President. Like Daniel in the Persian palace, they say Trump is God’s man in the White House.

I have been skeptical of that claim. Not that it couldn’t be true. It’s that I don’t see the fruit of it.

I admit that I had to be cautious in my skepticism as I read the story of a fireman, Mark Taylor, who prophesied that Trump would be President dating back to 2011. This was an entire term before Trump became president. Those prophetic words echoed in the back of my mind as the election results slowly revealed a Trump victory in 2016 to a nation of shocked newscasters and political pundits on live television.

(I note that the same man who claimed God told him Trump would be president, claimed he would defeat Obama in 2012. He was wrong about the timing. He has also claimed a number of things that have not occurred. “Taylor’s other prophecies have proven to be less than accurate. The Guardian reported that he said a ‘red tsunami’ would solidify Republicans’ hold on Congress, and that he predicted former President Barack Obama would be arrested for treason. Taylor also says Trump will release evidence of cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”)

Paula White, who is now an adviser to Trump in the White House, said after he was elected, “Trump had ‘been raised up by God’ and added, ‘It is God who raises up a king. It is God that sets one down. When you fight against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.’” Of course, she would have been just as right if she were speaking of Barack Obama eights years and four years earlier.

I wondered then, as I do now: does Trump’s victory mean that we (believers) won too? Did God give us what He wanted? Or did God give us what we wanted?

Continue reading “Is Donald Trump the King We Wanted?”

Christmas Thoughts: Psalm 22

We celebrate the humble birth of Christ, knowing that the redemptive work God started then is finished, even as it is playing out in our own lives and the times we live in.

canstockphoto32323116
(c) Can Stock Photo / realcg

I don’t typically think of the Psalms when I think of Christmas. My Christmas thoughts this season have revolved around prophecies in the Old Testament, and that is where the Psalms enter the picture. The Old Testament is full of prophecies that came true in the person of Jesus from Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem a little over two millennia ago.

Psalm 22 was written by David during his time of exile, either when he was on the run from King Saul, who had turned against him in jealousy, or from his son, Absalom, who sought to wrest the kingdom from David. Psalm 22 is David’s cry to God in the midst of his own circumstance.

But Psalm 22 is more than that. Psalm 22 is a foreshadowing of God’s own cry when His creation turns against Him. It becomes the cry of God, who shed his divine glory to enter His own creation in the form of a man, which we celebrate at Christmastime.  Continue reading “Christmas Thoughts: Psalm 22”