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 men “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 do, 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 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 gaining her attention in the nick of time to save her 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.

Her supernatural visions, though didn’t lead her to a place of sound understanding of God and His word. They caused her to believe in God and Jesus, but she gravitated toward extremes in biblical understanding.

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:

“…. 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)

If the sons of Issachar knew the times, one might assume that they were the first to join David, who would eventually replace Saul as king, but that assumption would be wrong. They were not the first. They weren’t even in the first group. The 200 sons of Issachar joined David at Hebron, later.

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.

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.

We know the rest of the story, but they surely didn’t. They just believed that it was time for a change.

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 only 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?

God often works through the least, the smallest, the most unlikely. 

The backstory to all of this is that Saul was chosen (by God) as king, but God only chose a king for the people because they 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 all they needed. (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?”