November 30, 2010

Issachar: Picture of Grace

What to say about Jacob’s ninth son, Issachar? Well, like his brothers Levi, Naphtali, Dan, and Asher … much of what the Bible has to say about Issachar is more about his descendants than about the man himself. And, like his brother Reuben, what is recorded is an up and down story, filled with triumphs of faith, alongside gross failures.

For instance, in Genesis 49.14, Issachar’s father prophesied that his descendants would eventually give themselves over to be slaves. And when, alongside their countrymen, they were carted off as exiles to Assyria, that prophecy came true! And yet we also read that the men of Issachar were among those who came to the aid of David in his struggles against the tyrant Saul (1 Chronicles 12.32). The men of Issachar understood the times, knew what needed to be done, and served the Lord and His people by following through and doing it!

But then we also read that, a few generations later, it was a descendant of Issachar named Baasha (1 Kings 15.27-16.7) who usurped the throne of Israel and led the people to worship idols … and who incurred the curse of God because of it. What a black mark on the name of Issachar! And yet it was also the men of Issachar who came to the aid of Deborah, the Hebrew judge, as she fought off the oppressive Canaanites (Judges 5.15).

So the story of the tribe Issachar is much like the story of many of our lives. Depending on what snapshots a bystander might observe, they could walk away thinking of me as a scoundrel and a loser … or as a mighty man of God. And the same could be said of any believer who is reading these words … and surely of the man Issachar himself. We are all so up and down, aren’t we? We can be so irritable, and selfish, and proud, and ugly sometimes. And then, often within the same hour, the light of Christ can shine through us in amazing ways so that people see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven!

And it’s all a reminder of God’s grace, isn’t it? When someone gets a Genesis 49.14 kind of glimpse into your life – watching you submit yourself to a yoke of sinful slavery – that is a reminder of our need for the forgiving grace that comes to us in Christ Jesus! And yet, on the other hand, when someone catches us in a 1 Chronicles 12.32 snapshot – showing wisdom and doing what ought to be done – that too is a reminder of grace; a reminder of the transforming grace of God in our lives, molding us more and more into the image of His Son!

And there is, perhaps, one other way in which Issachar points us to Jesus. Think it out with me. Issachar’s father, Jacob, had two wives. And, before Issachar was born, one of them (his mother, Leah) bartered a night in bed with Jacob by paying her rival off for access to his bedroom (Genesis 30.14-18). Now, I know, none of that sounds like Jesus, or his mother or Father. Not at all! And yet, as a result of that transaction, Issachar was born. Indeed, his very name means “wages” (see Genesis 30.18). That is to say that Issachar’s very name reminded him, every day, that he had been bought with a price; that he was alive because someone paid for him to be so!

And, in much purer, holier ways … we may say the same about ourselves. If we bear the name ‘Christian’, that name ought constantly remind us that we, too, have been bought with a price; that we are alive because someone – in His forgiving and transforming grace – paid for it to be so!

So, when you think of Issachar, remember his name. Then remember yours (Christian). And thank God that, in far more profound ways, you have been bought with a price. Your life is the “wages” of Jesus’ death!


Anonymous said...

And again, thank you Kurt, for every bit of research and study and thought that went into this 'overview' of Issachar. Mostly, praise to our Blessed Holy Spirit Who helps in such writing.
kathy S.

Kurt Strassner said...

Thanks, Ms. Kathy. And yes, praise to the Lord. "We have only done what ought to have been done".

Thought of you all today as I was visiting with Tim Harris. He, and we, are doing well in Cincinnati ... except that the high temperature today was like 19!

Hope the Lord is prospering your soul there in the home country! Say hello to the whole gang for us.