Asher

J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple

Part 10 of 13 of the series The Twelve Tribes of Israel

The keynote is happiness! This emotion seems to impregnate all the recorded facts about Asher. The name itself, given to Zilpah's second boy, means "happy". The plural form of the word, ashere, begins the Psalter with the word "blessed" of Psalm 1. 1. Who can measure the "happinesses" of the man whom Jehovah is pleased to bless? "And this life is in his Son", 1 John 5.11. The corresponding New Testament word, makarios is also rendered in its plural form in passages such as Matthew 5.1-n.

The Words of Jacob, "Of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties", Gen. 49. 20. This is a poetic reference to the rich arable lowlands from Carmel to Zidon, which were Asher's allotment. Josh. 19. 24-31. This fertile Mediterranean seaboard produced much corn, oil and wine. King Hiram supplied Solomon with timber from the Phoen­ician forests that darkened the higher inland slopes, 1 Kings 5. 11. The Asherite of old enjoyed materially what the Christian may delight in spiritually. Both could say:

I've reached the land of corn and wine,

And all its riches freely mine.

Believers today may taste royal dainties at the King's invitation. How insulting to the Head of the table if my place remains empty! It is important, also, to check that we do not gather to partake of spiritual food that the Lord has not provided, or that we do not take pleasure in being where His presence is not recognized: "we will not sit down till he come hither", 1 Sam. 16. 11. To the indiscriminate eye there may appear to be little difference between the table prepared by the Shepherd for His own, Ps. 23. 5, and "the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?" 1 Cor. 10. 21-22.

The Words of Moses, "Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren", Deut. 33. 24. Asher had five children, four boys and a girl. The prayer Moses expressed here is more a wish that the tribe "be blessed among the sons", that each rising generation of Asherites should receive divine favour. In this respect the great leader used a higher word for blessedness, baruch. Ashere and makarios were employed to describe human happiness, but baruch has a divine quality in its bliss. Later, Deut. 33. 29, the word ashere is used of the whole nation: "Happy art thou, O Israel". Here, however, Moses prayed that the peace-loving people of Asher might know the joy of a deeper and fuller kind of peace.

This prayer for the tribe was needed. Like most prosperous folk, the Asherites were self-satisfied, settled on their lees. This contentment led to apathy. In short, life had become too tranquil for spiritual health. They found it easier and less disturbing to compromise with the Canaanites than to make the required effort to drive them out of the land, Jud. 1. 31-32. They turned a convenient blind eye to the struggles of their kinsmen against Sisera, 5. 17. This laxity in failing to deal with God's enemies and in omitting to support their relatives instanced their general spiritual lethargy. The outcome was only to be expected. Heathen practices and idolatry were introduced, weakening them to such an extent that, by David's era, the tribe had become too insignificant to have any representative among the chief rulers of the nation, 1 Chron. 27. 16-22. In fact, Asher and Simeon were the only tribes west of Jordan to produce no outstanding hero or leader.

Now Moses wanted a spiritual improvement to be felt; he longed that they might have a full share of the joy of the Lord.

He looked at the children playing merrily among Asher's tents. "Peace from God" was theirs, but he yearned that they might know not only "peace with God", but also "the peace of God", enabling them to develop a mature communion with "the very God of peace". Do we need a similar prayer to be made on our behalf? Are we blessed in our children?

Moses was also concerned that no estrangement occur between Asher and the other tribes. Some might have been jealous of Asher's prosperity; others angry at Asher's selfish attitude; while yet others might have been annoyed at Asher's complacency. So Moses pleaded: "Let him be acceptable to his brethren"; cf. Paul's position as indicated in 2 Corinthians 7.2.

"Let him dip his foot in oil". The words "fat" of Genesis 49. 20 and "oil" in this verse have a common root When water failed in Israel, oil and meal were discovered in Zidon in Asher, 1 Kings 17. 9-16. The area is still rich in olives. In the present century, however, through the old olive groves mineral oil has been piped to Haifa from Iraq in millions of gallons. When Moses wrote these words, who but God knew that in the twentieth century, prior to the recommencement of divine activity among the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the land of Asher would throb with the flow of oil, essential to keep the wheels of technology turning?

Anyone who dips a foot in oil leaves a trail behind. As oil speaks to us of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3. 34 with Hebrews 1. 9) so we are reminded that our footprints should reveal the guiding influence of the Spirit of God. "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace", Rom. 10. 15.

"Thy shoes shall be iron and brass", Deut. 33. 25. This is a difficult clause to interpret. Some consider that the word "shoes" ought to be "bolts" or "bars"; it is so translated elsewhere. This would give a metaphor parallel to Psalm 91.12. Moses thus showed concern for Asher's peace, prosperity and protection, suggesting that the tribe should hold fast against opposition. Only once are we told that the men of Asher took up arms to fight, Jud. 7. 23. Like their fellow tribes, however, they supplied forty thousand warriors to join in the celebration of David's accession, I Chron. 12. 36.

Alternatively the Authorized Version margin may be followed, in which case Moses was alluding to valuable ores lying beneath the surface of Asher's territory.

"As thy days, so shall thy strength be". Sufficiency from heaven commensurate with the length of our days—could anything interrupt the felicity of those who receive such a blessing?

As in previous cases, we can swell the volume of this expression to canopy Israel's future when "the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine". Jehovah has stated: "Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith] and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen", Joel 2. 19.

A future foreshadowing of the unification and peace of Israel is to be noted in the part played by Simeon and Anna, the Asherite, when the child Jesus was circumcised. In all probability Simeon was a descendant of a family of Judah, while Anna, of course, belonged to those who had, at one time, formed the larger northern kingdom at the secession which had followed Solomon's death. As Anna entered the temple area, Luke 2. 38, and joined Simeon in adoring "the Lord's Christ", we foresee the time when the sign of the two sticks of Ezekiel 37. 16 will reach its ultimate fulfilment. "And they all shall have one shepherd" within an everlasting covenant of peace. Centuries before, when the northern kingdom collapsed before the Assyrian onslaught, men of the remnant of Asher joined some from Zebulun and Manasseh in humbly re­sponding to Hezekiah's invitation to share in the special celebration of the passover with the people of Judah, 2 Chron. 30. 1-12. This was a small but vital step in healing the tragic schism that had split the twelve tribes into two kingdoms for so long. The felicity of the scene, during which Simeon and Anna unite in testimony to the Consolation of Israel, is completed by Mary's own joy: "henceforth all generations shall call me blessed", Luke i. 48. Emblematic of all this is the onyx which was Asher's stone. It has been widely held that this gem was one whose Hebrew name indicated "a flashing forth of splendour", shining with the lustre of fire. The third Gospel shows the splendour of the dayspring from on high who has visited us, 1. 78. Hanging as a backcloth to Luke's record we have the priestly benediction: "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord make his face shine upon thee . . . and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them", Num. 6. 24-27.

Asher and its happiness will form part of the future Messianic kingdom, Ezek. 48. 2, which will be ushered in some time after the rapture. We have our part in that "blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ", Tit. 2. 13.