Issachar, the Strong Donkey
When Jacob gave his prophetic blessings to his twelve sons (the tribes of Israel), he called Issachar “a strong donkey lying down between the sheepfolds” (Gen. 49:14). Christians have wondered if Jacob was insulting his fifth son, or complimenting him in a backhanded way. Actually, he was prophesying that Issachar would be a type of pentecostal, for as we will see in this chapter, the lowly donkey is a biblical symbol of a pentecostal.
We have already seen in previous chapters that the donkey appeared in the stories of both Saul and Samson. Recall that Saul was searching for his father’s donkeys when he went to Samuel and was crowned king of Israel on the day of Pentecost. Samson, too, burned the wheat of the Philistines, and then slew a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey around the time of Pentecost.
Both of Samson’s acts run parallel to each other: burning the wheat is like killing the Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.
When the fire came down on the 120 disciples on the day of Pentecost, it was the baptism of fire designed to burn the wheat chaff. We understand this also as a destruction of “the flesh,” brought about first by fire and then by the jawbone of the donkey (i.e., “speaking with tongues.” Please note that this is God’s humor, not mine.)
Before we pursue the “donkey” theme, however, we must go back a few chapters in Genesis to circumstances surrounding Issachar’s birth. Genesis 30:14-18 provides the real key to proving Issachar’s connection with Pentecost.
14 Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes. 15 But she said to her, Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son’s mandrakes also? So Rachel said, Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes. 16 When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him and said, You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes. So he lay with her that night. 17 And God gave heed to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, God has given me my wages, because I gave my maid to my husband. So she named him Issachar.
Leah already had borne Jacob four sons, while Rachel was still childless and worried. Reuben was not yet four years old when he found the mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother as any child might. Mandrakes were considered to be a semi-magical plant that could somehow help women conceive. This is why Rachel wanted them so badly.
Leah, however, resented her sister because Jacob had always loved Rachel. Apparently, Jacob had been sleeping with Rachel all the time without giving Leah her turn (Ex. 21:10). So a deal was struck where Leah gave Rachel her son’s mandrakes in exchange for a night with Jacob. This resulted in the conception of Issachar “in the days of wheat harvest,” later known as Pentecost.
Thus, Issachar is a type of pentecostal.
Issachar, the Servant
Leah and Rachel portray the difference between the Church and the overcomers (wheat and barley companies). Leah was married to Jacob, but Jacob loved Rachel, his other wife. In this context, we see that Issachar, Leah’s son, is connected to the Church, rather than to the overcoming body.
Leah named her son Issachar because she had, in effect, “hired” Jacob to spend the night with her. This is the Hebrew meaning of his name. Thus, while Issachar was technically a son, he was also a manifestation of a hired servant. This has great implications throughout Scripture, particularly in dealing with the realm of Pentecost.
During the pentecostal age (33 - 1993 AD), the Church has been in a stage of servanthood. As Paul tells us so eloquently in Gal. 4:1-5,
1 Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave, although he is owner of everything; 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the Father. 3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world; 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order that He might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Paul was born in the age of Passover (from the Exodus to the Crucifixion, 1446 BC to 33 AD). Thus, he uses the servant/son theme to explain how he and others were sons in a servanthood stage of development. This lasted until they came to Christ and received His Spirit, for then they entered experientially into the higher realm of Pentecost. Paul calls it “the time appointed of the Father” and “the fullness of the time.”
While this is certainly true, we must keep in mind that there is yet another appointed time to come which we know as the feast of Tabernacles. Even as Passover was a servant stage leading to Pentecost, so also is Pentecost a servant stage leading to Tabernacles.
Three Levels of Sonship
When Paul refers to “the adoption of sons,” it comes from a single Greek word: huiothesia, “sonship.” It does not denote “adoption” in the modern sense of the word, where a man might adopt an orphan from another family. In those days when a son reached maturity, his father would formally give him the “sonship.” That is, the son could then act in the name of his father, and any contract he might sign would be legally binding as though his father had signed the contract himself. In other words, “sonship” deals with a position in the family, not in adopting orphans.
We need to understand this in order to make sense of Galatians 4:1. In Biblical days there were actually three ceremonies dealing with sonship. As might be expected, these correspond to the three feast days of Israel. The first ceremony took place shortly after the birth of the son. In earliest times the people had a great celebration at the time of the son’s weaning, which often took place at about the age of two. However, this seems to have been replaced, or at least superceded later by the circumcision ceremony when the son was eight days old. Yet either way, these deal with the celebration of the birth of a son.
The second sonship ceremony was performed when the son reached the age of thirteen, today called in Jewish circles, the bar mitzvah. That was the second level of sonship, when the father began to seriously teach his son wisdom and the family trade. One might think of this bar mitzvah as a taste of the huiothesia, or an earnest of the sonship position.
The third sonship ceremony was the full sonship, often done when the son was twenty years old, so long as the son had proven himself to be an obedient servant. This ceremony gave the son full authority to make decisions in place of his father, for he possessed the mind of the father. He thought like his father. His values were the same as his father’s. Ideally, he was a replication of his father, and thus the father knew that he could trust his son to act in his stead.
Relating these ceremonies to the feast days of Israel, we see that Passover is like our birth as infant sons of God, when we are justified by faith. In this sense, all Christians by definition are sons of God. And so, John tells us that we are NOW the sons of God (1 John 3:2). But this does not mean we are fully-grown sons, or that we have received the huiothesia, for John also tells us that receiving Jesus (first level of sonship) gives us the additional authority to become the sons of God (John 1:12).
Pentecost is our bar mitzvah, the second level of sonship as teenagers. This is the real time of training, when the father begins to train his son in his craft as an apprentice and teach him the law. We who have received the Spirit of God also have entered into such training to prepare for the third-level sonship position.
The feast of Tabernacles gives us the prophetic pattern of third-level sonship, the huiothesia. It will be conferred upon those who have learned and matured under the first two stages of sonship. It will be conferred upon those who have the mind of their heavenly Father, who do only those things that they see their Father do. It will be conferred upon those who have learned to appreciate their Father’s disciplines and rules of the house. It will be conferred upon those who have come into full agreement with their Father in all matters, for as long as there remains basic disagreements with His laws, methods, and policies, such sons do not yet have His mind, nor do they really understand Him at all.
If we look at the bigger picture, we can see how these three levels of sonship apply to Israel, the Church, and the Overcomers in the progression of history. In the Passover Age, Israel operated under the first level of divine authority, and God was with them from the beginning. Then came the time for God to do a new thing, for God’s people had reached the spiritual age of thirteen. The day of Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts was, in this sense, the bar mitzvah of His sons.
In this pentecostal age the Spirit of God is within us. Our level of spiritual authority increased considerably to do the work of restoring the earth to Himself, for this is God’s “trade” that He is teaching His sons. However, the “teen-age” Church has gone through its rebellious stage and generally thinks it knows everything. It has the impatience and overconfidence in its doctrinal positions that one would expect of a typical teenager. The Church knows just enough of the truth to think itself wise and has just enough sonship authority to be dangerous.
The biggest problem is that the Church thinks itself to be an adult and capable of deciding right from wrong without the need to consult the rules of the house (God’s laws). In fact, some of these sons think God is too oppressive and does not really know what He is doing. They disagree with Him and make new rules that suit their understanding. It is not long before they think their own rules are, in fact, their Father’s “new laws.” These are traditions of men.
Our growth in Christ is manifested mostly by our willingness to be a servant, not upon our insistence upon being treated as privileged sons. Those of our brethren today who insist upon being enthroned now are really acting like “spoiled brats.” They run around naming it and claiming it like children in a toy store. Their prosperity teachings closely resemble a teen’s appetite for all the fine things in life – without working for it.
But who is willing to undergo the privations of the wilderness, so that they might be trained and disciplined as sons? Who is willing to learn the craft of their Father? Who is willing to step into the fire? In their immaturity many think of themselves as perfected sons, no longer in any need of such disciplines and training as servants. They think of themselves as spiritually mature and expect to be served, rather than to serve. Their revelation of sonship is distorted by their impatience.
We must learn responsibility today, in order to be given authority later. God always has His appointed time, and we need to know His Appointed Time as revealed in His Word.
The Tribe of Issachar
The descendants of Issachar manifested the same servant character as their father. They received a good report in that they had a greater knowledge of God’s timing than their brethren had. Their good report is found in 1 Chron. 12:32.
32 And the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred.
These understood the times, and therefore they knew what Israel ought to do. This particular passage deals with the men of Israel who came up to crown David king of all Israel (vs. 23 & 38). It was a Jubilee year, the 59th Jubilee from Adam. (See Secrets of Time.) The children of Issachar understood this, and so they knew that they were doing the right thing at the right time. In other words, if Pentecost truly has done its work in our hearts, we should have some idea of when David will be crowned king over all the earth, because we will have some understanding of “the times.”
On the other hand, the tribe of Issachar also manifests the realm of partial understanding and of insufficiency that is characteristic of Pentecost. The number of the children of Issachar who came to crown David king was just two hundred. Two hundred is the biblical number of insufficiency. (See Bullinger’s Number in Scripture, p. 279.) For example, in John 6:7 we read,
7 Philip answered Him, Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.
Issachar’s delegation was thus a numerical manifestation of insufficiency. We know, of course, that Pentecost is only an earnest of our inheritance. The level of spiritual anointing under Pentecost is insufficient for our perfection and obtaining the full promise that God has for us. The earnest of the Spirit is enough to make us good servants and to learn the mind of our Father, but we need a greater anointing of Tabernacles to bring us fully into third-level sonship.
Thus, when Jacob blessed his twelve sons, he said this about Issachar in Genesis 49:14, 15.
14 Issachar is a strong donkey lying down between the sheepfolds. 15 When he saw that a resting place was good, and the land was pleasant, he bowed his shoulder to bear burdens, and became a slave at forced labor.
In Bullinger’s notes on this passage, we read: “He preferred to pay tribute to the Canaanites, rather than engage in the struggle to expel them.” In other words, the tribe of Issachar lived in the Promised Land, but they did not fully INHERIT it until the reign of David. They remained as a servant, paying tribute to the Canaanites as a hired servant. The motive is what we call today the “prosperity message.” Pentecostals see that the resting place is good and the land pleasant. The goal becomes wealth, rather than truly inheriting the Promised Land. So they are content to be enslaved to worldly concerns.
As a pentecostal, Issachar is a “mixed bag.” There are good things about him, but there is also a level of insufficiency or incompletion. He is a lesson to us that we are to be good servants during our spiritual childhood, but that we are to grow up into Christ to inherit the full sonship.
How To Be a Faithful Servant Under Pentecost
In the pentecostal age we are to learn the art of good stewardship as a servant of God. Some learn this; most do not. Thus, there are two kinds of servants: the faithful and the oppressive. We are to strive to be good servants, learning to treat our fellow servants in a responsible manner. Those who learn this will be rewarded at the first resurrection, while those who oppress others will have to await the general resurrection of the dead.
The law of God forbids the oppression of one’s servants, even bondservants. The foremost indicator of oppression was a master’s refusal to give rest to the servants on the Sabbath days and Sabbath years. Exodus 21:2 says,
2 If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.
In other words, if a man had sold his land inheritance to pay off debt, he probably would not be able to get it back until the year of Jubilee, which occurred at the end of every 49 years (ten days into the 50th year). In such a case he would have to work for someone else as a servant on another man’s land. God mandated that the master was not to oppress the servant, but let him go free each seventh year to the year of Jubilee.
The refusal to observe these rest years caused Israel much grief. Ultimately, the rest years they did not observe became the measure of Israel’s judgment. For example, Judah went into the Babylonian captivity for 70 years, because they had been liable for 70 rest years and Jubilees which they never kept. In 2 Chron. 36:20, 21 we read,
20 And those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia; 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept Sabbath until seventy years were complete.
Although Judah had never observed a Sabbath rest year or a Jubilee, God did give them one final opportunity to repent just prior to the Babylonian captivity (Jer. 34:8-16). In fact, at first the people did repent by setting free all their servants to keep that rest year. However, this repentance was short-lived, for we find them forcing all the servants back into servitude.
10 . . . they obeyed and set them free. 11 But afterward they turned around and took back the male servants and the female servants, whom they had set free and brought them into subjection for male servants and for female servants.
God would have turned aside the Babylonian armies if Judah had repented of oppressing their servants. But they did not, so Judah went into a 70-year captivity of their own. The judgment fit the crime. They would now know how it felt to be oppressed by the lawless ones of Babylon.
In the New Testament we find Jesus referring to this same law in Luke 12. Here He speaks of two kinds of servants: the “faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants” and, in contrast, the oppressive servant in verse 45:
45 But if that slave says in his heart, My master will be a long time in coming, and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him, and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces [i.e., by flogging] and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
We have already dealt with this passage in The Purpose of Resurrection. We showed how this refers to the separation between the Church and overcomers, or the wheat and barley companies. The faithful servants will receive the first resurrection, while the oppressive servants will have to wait another thousand years to get their reward at the same time as the unbelievers are raised – the general resurrection.
The question is, in practical terms, how does the Church oppress its members? Why does the wheat company not inherit the first resurrection with the barley company? What does the Church so often do that disqualifies them to receive their inheritance at the first harvest?
A Church or denomination tends to be characterized by its desire to increase its membership (servants). That is not wrong in itself, so long as they strive to bring those people into rest. Of course, the law of God is not being implemented in any nation in the world today. (The Israeli state makes some claim to be doing this, but they lease their land to Palestinians on the land-rest years, thus violating the whole spirit of the law.)
In general the Church has often operated much like the drug culture, making people dependent upon the Church for their spirituality or for their relationship with God. Other Churches or denominations are less oppressive, but they still have a tendency to make members dependent, rather than releasing them to God. Often the preacher beats the people, rather than feeding them, and such preachers think they are doing the will of God in this. There is more harangue than study of the Scriptures, more preaching than teaching, more stories and anecdotes than reading Scripture, more taking than giving.
In other words, the Church tends to manifest the character of King Saul, rather than of David. It tends to think of itself as a king that deserves the people’s time and money on the grounds of its calling. But that is how King Saul thought, and God rejected him from establishing an enduring dynasty.
The bottom line is that the Church often beats its servants and oppresses them without teaching them how to enter into God’s rest. Thus, these servants wander around in the wilderness all their lives, even as the children of Israel under Moses. They have no vision for the true House of God, as David and Solomon had, where the ark would finally find a place of rest (1 Kings 8:6-8).
In other words, the Church continues to teach the people about the Passover experience and even about Pentecost; but it has no vision of Tabernacles. Most have never even heard of it. This gap in their teaching oppresses their servant membership by hiding from them their right to enter God’s Rest. Without such a vision, the people perish.
We are now past the Age of Pentecost. Even as King Saul the pentecostal ruled for 40 years, even so has God given the Church to oppressive rulers for most of its 40 Jubilees (1960 years). Even as “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38) wandered in the wilderness under Moses for 40 years, so also has the Church in the New Testament wandered in its own wilderness for 40 Jubilees. This age came to an end in 1993, precisely 40 Jubilees after the pentecostal age began in the second chapter of Acts.
We are now in the transition between Pentecost and Tabernacles. The time to prepare our hearts for sonship is upon us. We are the generation that will receive the adoption of sons without seeing death. But to do this, we must let go of Pentecost and catch the vision of a better promise, a better anointing, a “better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35). We must understand and admit the insufficiency of Pentecost in our lives in order to strive for the fullness of the Spirit under Tabernacles.