J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple
As Jacob's workmen were busy harvesting the wheat crop, five-year-old Reuben played idly in the field. He noticed some attractive little cup-shaped white and purple flowers growing wild. Uprooting some of these plants, he took them to show his mother, Leah, who was with his aunt Rachel nearby. The flowers had a strong scent and the plant was of the taproot family (related to the potato). They were unmistakably mandrakes. In the Middle East, the large root of the mandrake, resembling the human form in shape, was supposed to have the medicinal property of inducing fertility. Consequently when Rachel, who was still childless, saw what her nephew had found, she greatly wanted to have some. The sisters bargained to the effect that Rachel had some mandrakes, or love-apples, and Leah bore Jacob's ninth son Issachar, Gen. 30. 14-18. It was a further two years before Rachel had a child!
The name "Issachar" carries the thought of "working for payment". The Hebrew spelling Yesh sakar is found in 2 Chronicles 15. 7, and in Jeremiah 31.16 with the translation "thy work shall be rewarded". Leah received full payment for her agreement with her sister, Gen. 30. 16-18. She gave birth to two sons and a daughter before "God remembered Rachel" and "hearkened to her"., v. 22. God is in every sense "a rewarder of them that diligently seek him", Heb. 11. 6. As Leah watched Issachar and Zebulun playing together with their sister Dinah, she would be reminded that generous and compassionate actions do not pass unnoticed by our Father in heaven.
In the New Testament, rewards for consecrated service are spoken of under the symbol of crowns.
a. An incorruptible crown for those who complete the
Christian race, 1 Cor. 9. 25.
b. A crown of rejoicing for soul winners, 1 Thess. 2. 19.
c. A crown of righteousness for those who love the Lord's
appearing, 2 Tim. 4. 8.
d. A crown of glory to those who are examples to the
flock, 1 Pet. 5. 2-4.
e. A crown of life for those who are faithful unto death,
James 1.12; Rev. 2. 10.
The Words of Jacob. "Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens", Gen. 49. 14. There are almost a hundred and fifty references to the ass in Scripture. In none does the context indicate that the animal is silly. In fact, in Isaiah 1.3 the ox and ass are said to be wiser than Israel! There is therefore nothing derogatory about Jacob's statement here; it is a commendation of Issachar's capability and patient labour.
The word mishpethaim, translated "two burdens", is found elsewhere only in Judges 5.16 where it clearly has the meaning of "sheep-pens". It is therefore logical to follow the Revised Version which suggests that the patriarch visualized his son "couching down between the sheepfolds", a prosperous sheep-farmer whose noble ambition lay with his flocks.
"He saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute", Gen. 49. 15. According to Josephus the descendants of Issachar settled in the plain of Esdraelon, with Mount Carmel, Mount Tabor and the River Jordan as boundaries. This is an extremely fertile area. In Solomon's day, "Jehoshaphat the son of Paruah, in Issachar" was one of the twelve officials responsible for providing farm produce for the royal household, 1 Kings 4. 17. The districts of Taanach and Megiddo are mentioned in the same connection, 4. 12. These lands, ceded to Manasseh, were originally in the territory of Issachar, Josh. 17. 11. The tribe of Issachar formed a rural community who stolidly "worked for reward".
The phrase "a servant unto tribute" is better rendered "a worker for levy"; see 1 Kings 5. 13. Much of what the Queen of Sheba saw on the king's table had been produced by members of this tribe. The patient toil of these country folk enabled the servants in the palace kitchens to prepare such a spread as added to the glory of king Solomon. If the men of Issachar had failed, Solomon would have suffered a diminution of honour. This carries a solemn lesson. The Holy Spirit, in us, is intent on providing fruit to the glory of Christ. We are God's husbandry, 1 Cor. 3. 9, "that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ", Eph. 1. 12.
It is interesting to note that it was at Shunem, among these food-producing people, that "a great woman" provided for Elisha's needs, 2 Kings 4. 8.
The Words of Moses. Moses, in his remarks about Zebulun and Issachar, endorses the sentiments of their father, and again identifies them with the sea and the sand.
"Rejoice . . . Issachar, in thy tents", Deut. 33. 18. During the journey from Egypt to Canaan, the size of Issachar increased by nearly ten thousand men, Num. 26. 25. It would appear that this tribe advanced in influence also. Its leaders must have been skilful and wise advisers. Under David, they were "men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do", 1 Chron. 12. 32. This stands in sharp contrast to the later leadership of the nation under Herod: "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes", Luke 19. 42.
Generally the men of Issachar did not ascend to eminence in Israel. They lived quietly, gaining well-earned rest in their homes at the end of each day's labour. Their simple, rural life of "sweat and toil" makes the tribal stone, the topaz, most suitable. It is likely that the name of this stone came from a Greek word meaning "to seek". First found on a remote island in the Red Sea, this golden-yellow gem had to be sought assiduously, but, when found, it well rewarded the efforts of the sailors searching for it. It was said to bring wisdom and longevity to its owner. From Tola, who judged Israel for twenty three years, to the widow of Nain, who received her son from the dead, the people of the land of Issachar seem to have been this type of good, honest, straight-forward folk. Baasha was an exception, I Kings 16. 1-13. For the sinful worship of calves, he ultimately suffered the same punishment that he was instrumental in bringing upon the evil house of Jeroboam.
"They shall call the people unto the mountain", Deut. 33. 19. Bearing in mind the topology and ecology of the country claimed by Issachar, it is not surprising that this became a frequent battlefield in Israel's history. Through these plains nine hundred chariots of iron under Sisera failed against Barak's thousand men, Jud. 4. Here Gideon delivered his country from the Amalekites and Midianites, 6. 12-25. Here too, on the slopes of Gilboa, Saul died in battle, 1 Sam. 31.1-6, and Josiah was killed by Pharaoh-Necho, 2 Chron. 35. 23-25. The last antagonists to meet on this war-scarred ground will be the contestants at the future battle of Armageddon. Then, the Captain of our salvation will defeat the armies gathered around the hill of Megiddo, that ancient fortress on the plain of Jezreel. The scene, in some ways, will be a re-enactment of the manoeuvres that took place long ago on nearby Mount Carmel when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. The enemies of God will be arrayed against Jehovah, called together by a power beyond their control. They will do their utmost to evoke all available energy to destroy the very concept of God among men. Sorrow, anguish, disorder will prove the impotence of their endeavours. God's remnant, with indomitable courage, will stand firm as the onslaught approaches. Then, at the appointed time, heaven will open and it will be manifested to all that "Jehovah, he is the Elohim; Jehovah, he is the Elohim". The false prophet and his adherents will be doomed, God's people delivered, and Gentiles will come up to the mountain where Jerusalem stands, to pay homage to the King, mighty in battle, whose reign shall know no end. Then again will the people be able to exclaim: "a great prophet is risen up among us; and . . . God hath visited his people", Luke 7. 16.