Jesus berated the Pharisees and Sadducees because they sought signs but didn’t know the times:
‘When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.,’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today for the sky is red and threatening. ‘You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.’
Have you noticed there are parts of the Old Testament that read like something out of Lord of the Rings? Kings and princes, loyalty and betrayal, victories and defeats, thrones to win or lose, a shepherd boy who would be king, a king who would grow to hate and despise him, a friendship between that king’s son and the shepherd boy; it’s all there in Kings and Chronicles.
1 Chronicles 12 is a particularly dramatic chapter and has struck me as something that might speak to our times. Following the death in battle of the once mighty king Saul and his sons, the tribes gather in Hebron to David’s side:
‘Then all Israel gathered together to David at Hebron and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and flesh….So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD. And they anointed David king of Israel, according to the word of the LORD to Samuel.’ (1 Chronicles 11:1-3)
Chapter 12 then records the ‘mighty men’ who joined David. There were Benjamites, those of the same tribe as the lately slain Saul; Gadites, experienced warriors, expert with shields and spears; Simeonites, might men of valour; Levites; Ephramites, famous men in their father’s house; those of Manasseh with the express task of making David king; of Zebulun, seasoned troops; of Naphtali armed with shield and spear; Danites, equipped for battle; Asher, ready for the fight.
‘All these men of war, arrayed in battle order, came to Hebron with full intent to make David king over all Israel.’ (12:38)
Issachar; to Know the Times
In the midst of this mighty throng of fierce and determined warriors stood the tribe of Issachar. I am sure they came as well equipped for battle as all the others, but nothing of this is mentioned of Issachar. We are told of Issachar that they were, ‘men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.’ (12:32)
Issachar was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. When Jacob, who became Israel, blessed his twelve sons Isachar’s blessing was:
‘Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the sheep-folds. When he saw that a resting place was good and that the land was pleasant, he bowed his shoulder to bear burdens, and became a slave at forced labour.’ (Genesis 49:14-16)
Issachar has the role of prophet/shepherd. Horses and donkeys are, apparently, often turned out with herds and flocks to protect them, and they are fiercely protective. Hence, ‘lying down between the sheep-folds.’
Issachar’s service was the patient, sacrificial, watchful, wise and prophetic service to God’s people, expressed in the blessing as finding ‘a resting place that was good and a land that was pleasant.’ It is said God’s people wouldn’t make decisions without turning to Issachar for wise advice; Issachar who would know the times.
According to the Targum (explanations of the Hebrew Scriptures in Chaldaic/Aramaic) the men of Issachar were astronomers and astrologers who excelled in the words of the law, and were imbued with wisdom. They were men who knew their times.
Know the Times
Jesus tells us how important it is to know our times (Mt.16:3). Next to our Bibles (Mt.22:29) and the condition of our own hearts (2 Cor.13:5), we are to know and understand our times.
We live today in times when we need the wisdom of Issachar. Times when it is required of us that we should have an active sense of unscriptural teaching, soul-destroying deceptions, a resting place that is good, and a land that is pleasant. Times that demand of us a lively sense of the holy, of a close walk with the Lord in our daily lives. These are times that require of us perseverance in walking the established paths commended to us by Scripture. Jeremiah writes to Israel:
‘Thus says the LORD; ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’ (Jer.6:16)
Note the plural, ‘roads.’ There are ‘roads’ open to us, so many insistent voices calling to us to follow, but ultimately roads that we should not walk. God expects us, commands us, to choose from among them, to seek ‘the good way.’ It is not enough that a great crowd walk a path. Jesus said the gate is narrow and the way is hard and few find it (Mt.7:14) Popularity is not the test.
Beware the Popular, the Novel
God, through Isaiah, condemns Judah for following the popular, the novel, the exotic, ungodly ways; fortune-tellers, idols, treaties with foreign nations. But God promises to take away from among his people all the insubstantial support and supply they thought they could depend upon; ‘the mighty man and the soldier, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty and the man of rank, the counsellor and the skilful magician and the expert in charms.’ (Is.3:2/3)
All these they put their faith in, the wrong path.
When the reed on which they leaned breaks, panic ensues: ‘a man will take hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying: You have a cloak; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins will be under your rule.’ (v5)
A time will come when a man with better clothes than others will be regarded as sufficiently qualified for leadership. But top show doesn’t make a leader.
Many today claim to be leaders, to be healers, to have gifts of foresight, bring words of comfort and encouragement, ‘saying, ‘Peace’ when there is no peace.’ (Ez.13:10) But when a crisis comes where are these people? If they are true Christians they are in their prayer closets like the rest of the faithful. They have no more to draw upon than you or I, and what we have is sufficient for the day (Mt.6:25-34).
If they are not true Christians, you will find them in such times working to maintain their revenue streams via slick and deceptive online initiatives, selling the gospel by subscription, drawing people in with their worthless gewgaws and gimcracks.
Many today insist they speak for God, but when the test comes they have no answer except a plea to continue believing for good things and giving to their ministry. But when answers seem to go wanting we know God has provided everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 1:3)
The Christian Who Knows the Times
The Christian who knows the Lord and his Word, who knows himself, and who understands the times, knows the good way and walks in it, answering the call to faithfulness. Such a believer walks the good way confident in the knowledge that the world may beckon, false prophets may abound, but God’s word never fails. Indeed, how are we to begin ministering truth in this fallen world unless we know the Lord and his Word, ourselves, and the times?
The Christian who is ready will, like Esther, be a believer for such a time. But heed Mordecai’s words to his niece:
‘Do not think to yourself that in the kings palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ (Esther4:12-14)
Clinging to empty ‘authority’ will not help, just as it wouldn’t help Esther. Being in the perceived safety of the crowd, following the mighty man, the prophetic leader of fame and reputation, won’t help. Our help comes from the Lord, his Scripture the light to our path, his established ways, assurance in our walk.