Much is said, and rightly, of the two hundred men of Issachar who had “understanding of the times,” and who knew, as we may read in 1 Chronicles 12:35, “what Israel ought to do,” for, to have such an understanding and to know just exactly what to do in a season of crisis and perplexity is clearly a matter of supreme importance. It is the lack of this which has brought about many a disaster, while, on the other hand, the possession of it has resulted in victory and peace.
Let us consider our chapter, for it is one of the most interesting in the chequered history of Israel. It gives us particulars of the conduct, on a certain occasion, not only of the tribe of Issachar, but of all the others, not excepting the priestly tribe of Levi. Its burden is a general rally round David, whose fortunes, if we may so describe them, have suddenly undergone a mighty change.
Hunted by King Saul from place to place, followed by a handful of nobodies, and living constantly within “one step of death,” his prospects were very dark; but now, Saul being killed, and himself the secretly anointed king, the way to power is thrown open to him.
But enormous difficulties stood in that way. No doubt he was known as the vanquisher of Goliath and victor over the Philistines in the famous valley of Elah; but, besides that, he was but a guerilla-leader, and captain of some four hundred outlaws, whose one business was, apparently, to subvert the throne of the reigning and popularly-chosen king. It might fairly be questioned what headway such an one could expect to make in the face of these barriers. How could he turn the tide of public opinion, or sway the masses in his favour? The thing looked impossible.
And yet it came about! The day had come for this fugitive, this hated, dreaded, persecuted son of Jesse, to end his wanderings and to mount the throne.
But how? Let us read one verse (7) in chapter 17, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, that thou shouldest be ruler over My people Israel.” This explains it all. David had a wonder-working God in Jehovah, One to whom there is no impossibility; and whatever may have been the failure of faith in the bosom of David during the days of King Saul’s persecution, yet the purpose of God, as to him, must assuredly be accomplished.
“I took thee from the sheepcote that thou shouldest be ruler over My people.”
“When He makes bare His arm
Who shall His word withstand?”
No power can withstand that arm; and so the popular, humanly-chosen king was thereby set aside in order that the man of God’s choice should fill his place.
How deeply interesting it ever is to watch the gradual revolution of the wheel of God’s designs!
Is it wrong to think that the two hundred men of Issachar, these men who “understood the times,” had been carefully noting the revolution of this wheel? Had they not detected something fatal in Saul’s career, something unstable in the vox populi which demanded his kingship, something painfully deficient in him who “enquired not at the ark” of God during his forty years of rule? Had they not perceived something else than a “madman” in the sweet psalmist of Israel; something more than an outlaw in that most loyal of subjects; more than a bandit in the kindly wanderer? Yes; they were men of understanding. They read the times wisely. They apprehended aright the intention of God. They knew what Israel ought to do. And what was that? What amid all the national or tribal perplexities of the moment was the one distinct, clear, obvious, all-commanding issue?
What was the one outstanding act which should settle every feud, bury every hatchet, heal every sore, and produce universal harmony?
Question of questions!
It was—notice—to “MAKE DAVID KING OVER ALL ISRAEL” (v. 38).
That would solve the difficulty. Let David get his divinely appointed place as Ruler over the people, let him reign supreme, and then all minor matters, such as tribal or party jealousy, must necessarily sink and fade away. As David increased according to God, all such trifles would decrease. The stars would disappear as the sun arose—magnificent eclipse!
Issachar’s two hundred were right. The thrill and throb of a common devotion to David, the consuming desire to see him exalted, animated every bosom. “Day by day” (we read in verse 72) “there came to David to help him until it was a great host like the host of God.”
How grand the result. David had led 400 fugitives hither and thither; now, under this God-given impulse, he commands 334,100 “men of valour” and of a “perfect heart!” No longer a fugitive, he is king and centre; “he is God’s king, and ruler over a great host, like the host of God.”
How easily read is the moral! How readily applied today, if only we would apply it.
How all the poor, wretched, unworthy religious animosities of the day; all the defence of parties, as such; all the unnecessary “odium theologicum”; all the pride of mere position, would pass for ever out of the hearts of all the beloved, blood-bought saints of God, if only, instead thereof, Christ alone were exalted as the One Head and Centre of His body the church!
Imagine the difference between the blessed work of making David king and the misery of internecine strife; between the invaluable effort of positively glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ in all His offices and the unprofitable and very negative toil of fault-finding with our brethren!
If the men of Issachar knew what Israel ought to do in the crowning of David, how much more should we display our wisdom in obeying and following the Lord’s alone!