Who was Issachar?
In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Issachar was Leah's oldest son, Reuben, by presenting to Rachel, hired Jacob for Leah, the fruit of which intercourse was a fifth son by her, the first born after the interval from Gen. 29:35 to Gen. 30:17; the ninth son of Jacob.
Two reasons for his name are assigned: first, because she hired Jacob by the self-denying gift of the mandrakes; secondly, as she says "God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden (Zilpah, Gen. 30:9) to my husband." Both, in her view, were successive parts of one self denial (her aim being the multiplication of offspring) and the ground for naming him Israel. His sons Tola, Phuvah, Job (or Jashub, Num. 26:24), and Shimron, were heads of the four chief families of the tribe (Gen. 46:13).
Jacob prophetically describes the tribe, "Israel is a strong donkey crouching down between two burdens (the cattle pens or sheepfolds, Speaker's Commentary; `the hurdles,' Keil; found only in Judg. 5:16); and he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant (slave) unto tribute" (Gen. 49:14,15), namely, unto the tribute imposed by the various invaders attracted to his land by the abundant crops.
The strong boned he-ass used for field work (not the lighter and swifter she-ass for riding), crouching down between panniers or amidst sheepfolds, symbolizes a race content with agricultural labours instead of aspiring to political rule; a robust race, with a pleasant inheritance inviting to ease, as not requiring such toil as less fertile lands; ease at the cost of liberty. Pleasant serfdom, however suitable to Canaanites, was unworthy of Israelites, called of God to rule not serve (Deut. 20:11; 1 Kings 9:21; Isa. 10:27).
The name Israel is akin to the Hebrew "daily labourer." But in the conflict with Jabin and Sisera "the princes of Israel were with Deborah, even Israel and also Barak"; indeed the battle was perhaps on Israel's territory, "by Tadhath at the waters of Megiddo" (Judg. 5:15,19). Conder however suggests that the whole scene of the battle was near Tabor within a radius of five or six miles.
The kings assembled at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; but their fall was at Endor, according to Ps. 83:10. Barak would not be likely to desert the fastnesses of Tabor and march 15 miles over the boggy plain to attack the Canaanites strongly placed on the sides of the low hills at Taanach. Scripture says, "I will draw unto thee Sisera ... unto the river Kishon."
From Endor the kings ventured into the open plain S.W. of Tabor. Megiddo thus answers to Mujedda, a mound with ruins in the Jordan valley. From it flowed "the waters of Megiddo" in the valley of Jezreel. The defeat of Sisera drove his host into "that river of battles (so Gesenius translates for `ancient'), the river Kishon." Harosheth of the Gentiles answers to El Harathiyeh.
The "wooded country" answers to the oak woods on the hills W. of Kishon, to which those Canaanites who went through the swamps fled. The Kedesh in Judg. 4:9 is not that of Naphtali 30 miles off, but that on the sea of Galilee 16 miles from Tabor, a place suited for a gathering of the tribes, and within Naphtali's boundaries. Between this Kedesh and Tabor there is a broad plain in which is a place called Bessum = Bitzanaim, the plain to which Sisera fled (Palestine Exploration Quarterly Statement, October, 1877, p. 191).
On the march in the desert Issachar was on the E. with Judah and Zebulun his brothers, the foremost in the march (Num. 2:5; 10:14,15); Nethaneel was their commander. Igal represented Issachar among the spies (Num. 13:7). Paltiel, Israel's representative, was divinely appointed to take part in dividing Canaan (Num. 34:26). Israel was appointed to stand on Gerizim to bless (Deut. 27:12). The tribe's number at Sinai was 54,400 (Num. 1:29); at the close of the wilderness march it reached 64,300, inferior to Judah and Dan alone. In Canaan Issachar's proximity to Zebulun continued.
"Of Zebulun Moses said, Rejoice, Zebulun in thy going out (enterprise), and Issachar in thy tents" (comfortable enjoyment): i.e., not merely Zebulun was to be noted for "going out" in maritime traffic and Issachar for nomad life" in tents," and grazing, and agriculture; but, according to poetical parallelism, the whole is meant of both tribes, Rejoice Zebulun and Issachar in your labour and your rest, in your undertakings at home and abroad, both alike successful. The thought is individualized by its distribution into parallel members.
"They shall call the people unto the mountain (they will not make their riches into selfish mammon, but will invite the nations to `the mountain of the Lord's inheritance': Exo. 15:17; a moral not physical elevation, the Holy Land and its sanctuary), there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness (not merely outwardly legal sacrifices, but also in a right spirit of faith and loving obedience: Ps. 4:6; 51:21; inviting all men to the sacrificial feast, and to join them in the happy worship of Jehovah: Ps. 22:28-31; Isa. 60:5,6,16; 66:11,12), for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand" (not merely the fish, purple dye, sponges, and glass; but the richest treasures of sea and land shall flow into Israel, of which Zebulun and Issachar were to be flourishing tribes.
Here in Galilee Jesus imparted the spiritual riches, to which the Galilean apostles in due time "called" all "peoples"): Deut. 33:18,19; Mt. 4:13-16. Its inheritance extended in length from Carmel to the Jordan; in width to Mount Tabor on the N. (Josephus, Ant. 5:1, section 22); it consisted of the very rich plain of Jezreel or Esdraelon. Jezreel (whose name ="the seed plot of God" implies fertility) stood in the center, with Mount Gilboa on one hand and Little Hermon (Ed Duhy) on the other (Josh. 19:17-23).
It is the thoroughfare from E. to W. and from N. to S. Here Ahab had his palace, selecting the site doubtless for its beauty. D. Kerr thinks that Issachar lay to the E. of Manasseh and Ephraim, along the entire line of the Jordan from the sea of Chinneroth on the N. to nearly the Salt Sea on the S. Its lot thus was of a triangular form, having its apex at Jericho and its base to the N. of the plain of Jezreel, where it was met by Zebulun (Palestine Exploration Quarterly Statement, January, 1877, p. 47).
Tola the judge was of Issachar, though his abode was at Shamir in Mount Ephraim. The nomadic character of Issachar appears in 1 Chr. 7:1-5; no less than 36,000 of its men were marauding mercenary "bands (g¦duwdiym) of soldiers for war," a term applied elsewhere only to Gad's "troops" and to the irregular bodies of Bedouin-like tribes round Israel. Two hundred "heads" (not as KJV "bands," for it is rosheey not g¦duwdiym) of Issachar came to Hebron to help in "turning the kingdom of Saul to David"; they were "men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do ... and all their brethren were at their commandment" (1 Chr. 10:14 ff; 12:23,32).
Spiritually, Christians are men "knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Rom. 13:11; Eph. 5:16; see 1 Pet. 4:1-4). We should help to transfer the kingdom from Satan to its coming rightful Lord (Luke 19:12-27,44). Jerusalem fell "because she knew not the time of her visitation." They are truly "wise" who "turn many from the power of Satan unto God" (Dan. 12:3; Acts 26:18).
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IBSE, (in the public domain) with minor edits.