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The Issachar Factor

A. The Naming Of Issachar

Now Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest 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."

But she said to her, "Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son's mandrakes also?" And Rachel said, "Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son's mandrakes."

When Jacob came out of the field in the evening, 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." And he laid with her that night.

And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son.

Leah said, "God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband." So she called his name Issachar. (Genesis 30:14-18)

B. The Meaning Of The Name

The name Issachar comes from the Hebrew word yissakar. It means "he will bring a reward." It comes from the root word nasa meaning "to lift, to advance, arise, bring forth, carry away, exalt, high, hold up, lofty, raise up etc." The second root word is sakar meaning "payment of contract, salary, fare, hire, price, reward, wages."

His eldest brother, Reuben, found mandrakes in the field and brought them home to his mother, Leah. But when Rachel knew about the mandrakes, she demanded some from Leah. This made Leah angry. There was much rivalry and jealousy between these two precious sisters.

Leah has borne Jacob four sons at this moment in time. Rachel has no children but she had Jacob's love. But both are miserable. One has the love of husband but no children; and the other has children but no love of husband.

Mandrakes are fruit producing plants with dark green leaves and small bluish-purple flowers. The mandrakes are a relative of the potato family, which grew abundantly throughout Israel and the Mediterranean region.

The yellow fruit of the mandrake was small, sweet tasting, and fragrant. It had narcotic qualities and may have been used medicinally. The fruit of the mandrake was also referred to as the "love apple." It was considered a love potion, and could make a woman fruitful.

Therefore Rachel needed these mandrakes so that she could bear children. As Leah also had stopped bearing children, she needed them too. But what good were the mandrakes to her without the husband? Thus, she made a love transaction with Rachel, which Rachel herself suggested that Jacob would be "rented" or "hired out" to Leah for one night in exchange for the mandrakes. From this, we understand that Jacob had likely stopped sleeping with Leah completely. He has four wives by then, and must be busy with the other three - Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah.

When Jacob came in from the field, Leah went out to meet him and tell him about the arrangement she had made with Rachel. As the story unfolds, your heart will be filled with sympathy for this unloved and love-hungry woman, Leah. She was so unashamed, so humble to be able to humiliate herself to such as degree as to tell her husband that she had actually hired him for one night. And yet her motives are pure. She wanted children, and she also needed the love of her husband. Maybe, this will cause Jacob to love her.

That night, God opened her womb and caused her to conceive. Issachar was born, not by flesh alone but by the divine intervention of God. That is why she called this child Issachar, which means "I paid for what I hired" or "I got paid back." It also means, "It was worth it all."

Wherever Issachar went, he carried that token of his mother's deed in his life. "Hired! Hired! I was bought and paid for a few mandrakes." This token became stamped in the very character and personality of Issachar throughout his life. Issachar and his descendants carried the mark of servanthood and of being hired and paid for, upon their lives.

Issachar is a born servant. He is born to serve. He is both a humble and honorable servant; a man of compassion. He is unobtrusively present. His presence in a crowd is not noticeable; but just when he is not around, his absence will be felt. When a job needs to be done, Issachar is always ready to help and do it. This is his calling and his inheritance.

The wages of Issachar were not paid in silver and gold but the payment in love for the services of love. Issachar's service to the Lord cannot be counted in dollars and cents but in the height, depth, breath, length and intensity of love rendered and received. This tribe willingly accepted what was before them and with what they had.

Another significant thing about his name is the other root-word nasa which means "to lift, exalt, raise up etc." God had placed in each human being a desire to fly, be lifted, go up high, to nasa. Though Issachar was carrying burdens but he was able to lift up his burdens to the Lord and be released of the loads. He was able to fly even in times of difficulties and calamities.

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

The birth date of Issachar was significant personally to me. He is the fifth son of Leah but the ninth son of Jacob. I was born in 1959 (note: 59). He was conceived in the time of the wheat harvest, the month of Sivan, which is from late May till mid-June. So his birthday would be in the month of Adar, which is March, and possibly the first three weeks. I was born in the second week of March.

C. Symbols Of Issachar

The symbol of Issachar is the humble donkey coaching between two burdens. Another symbol of Issachar is the sun and the moon, which represents understanding the times and seasons.

D. Gemstone Of Issachar

The amethyst is the gemstone of Issachar. It is a violet or purple variation of quartz.

The name "amethyst" is derived from the Greek word amethystos, which means "not intoxicating." This expresses the belief that wine, drunk out of an amethyst cup, would not intoxicate its owner from strong drink.

The amethyst's royal colour makes it a favorite stone. It is symbolic of the balance and poise in the life of the Issacharite.

E. Jacob's Prophecy To Issachar

Jacob: Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens: And 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. (Genesis 49:14-15)

Issachar is symbolized by the donkey carrying two burdens, bearing their own burden and the burden of others.

Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)

They are said to be carrying the burden of Torah. They have hid the Word of God in their hearts so that they will not sinned against Him; and they have also carried the Word of God in their hearts so that they will be wise and know what to do in every circumstance.

As everyone knows today, the donkey is a dumb animal. Sometimes, we would not even dare to utter the King James name for "donkey," a more degrading word "ass."

However, in the Bible, it seems that the donkey was actually a very special animal - evidently Issachar didn't become offended when his father, in his deathbed speech, likened him to one. In fact, according to Isaiah 1:3, the donkey was smarter than Israel - "the donkey knows his owner's manger" but the people don't know their Lord.

The donkey is frequently seen in pictures of the holy family during their travels to Bethlehem and Egypt. The ass and the ox are painted in scenes of the stable at Bethlehem to show that although humans did not recognize their king, these, the least of God's creatures worshiped Him at His birth.

Isaiah foretells this scene when he writes, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: 'I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider.'" (Isaiah 1:2-3) Some people believe the donkey in the manger represents the Gentiles, while the ox stands for the Jews.

One of the great stories in the Bible is when a donkey was used by God to speak to the prophet Balaam. (Numbers 22:21-34) In another record, by just one donkey bone used by Samson as a weapon, he destroyed 1,000 enemy soldiers. (Judges 15:15, 16)

Laws were instituted by Moses to give special consideration to the donkey. It may surprise you to find out that, just like humans, donkeys were to be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb. "Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons." (Exodus 13:13)

Donkeys are right up there with other valuable possessions not to be the object of covetousness. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's." (Exodus 20:17)

Donkeys were also covered by the Sabbath law. "Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed." (Exodus 23:12)

Donkeys were to be looked after by neighbors (Exodus 21:33; Exodus 23:4,5). Jesus even makes mention of this when answering the critics who accused Him of breaking the law by healing a woman on the Sabbath: "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?" ( Luke 13:15, 16)

Notice also that some of the great events of the Bible, took place in the presence of a donkey:

The donkey was there when Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:3).

The donkey was part of the pilgrimage made by the brothers of Joseph to request food from Egypt (Genesis 42:27).

A donkey was with Moses and his small family during their trip back to Egypt to deliver the people from bondage (Exodus 4:20).

Donkeys witnessed the collapse of Jericho's walls (Joshua 6:21).

But the greatest story of all, is the one when Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey. Why did he call for a donkey? He was the "King of King and Lord of Lords", didn't he deserve the best? Didn't He deserve royal treatment? Yes, but Jesus rather chose to identify with the common person.

Horses may be for those who take pride in their positions, Jesus, on the contrary, took pride in being a servant. The Messiah riding upon a donkey offers forgiveness and peace with God, whereas Christ mounted upon a horse implies judgment and war.

"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 'Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.' (Matthew 21:1-5)

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet (Zechariah 9:9): 'Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"

The lowly donkey had the greatest privilege of all - to bear on his back the Son of God. Yes, he will carry the Lord instead of the Lord carrying him. Why was the donkey so honored? Of course, because he was available, but also because the donkey was a picture of humility, and the willingness to perform hard work.

Issachar wasn't embarrassed when his father Jacob likened him and his descendants to donkeys. They would be distinguished for their ability and readiness to work hard, even under the undesirable conditions of being under oppression - they would be known for their quiet, patient, and industrious habits - fit for, and inclined to labor.

Oh yes, if the load became too heavy, with sacks weighing him down on both sides, the donkey would have sense enough to sit down, and refuse to go on. That too is a lesson for us to learn. But most important of all, when we see Jesus coming into the city, and praise Him as the King, let us also think kindly toward the donkey He rode upon, and seek to be as ready to serve, and work hard for our Master, even while under the oppression that this world often lays on us.

The lowly donkey has been also used to represent Christ who, like the symbolic donkey, was both meek and mild. The donkey carried the material burdens of the poor, while Christ humbled Himself, and took on a life of poverty, in order to carry the heavy burden of man's sins. The donkey represents many of the characteristics of the self-abasing Christ: patience, courage, gentleness, peace, and humility.

Because Christ rode upon a donkey during His infancy and during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the donkey has been honored with the nickname "Christopher" or "Christ-Bearer." During the early days of Christianity, the teachers of the Gospel sometimes received the same nickname as the donkey to show that they carried the burden of the Torah, the teachings of Christ, and assumed His attitude of humility, poverty, and patience. The desert fathers were represented by the wild donkey whose hoof is invulnerable to the poison of the various biting and stinging animals found there.

F. Moses' Prophecy To Issachar

Moses: And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand. (Deuteronomy 33:18-19)

Zebulun and Issachar are joined in this Mosaic blessing to illustrate the cooperation of brethren. Zebulun was the merchants symbolized by ships while Issachar set up tents to study the Torah. One produced material blessing while the other produced spiritual blessing. The cooperation of themselves together set a great example for us all.

A healthy community has both financial and spiritual leadership. Calling peoples to the mountain is calling upon all to worship the Lord at God's appointed times on His holy mountain. There they were to offer sacrifices of worship and to enjoy the feasts and the joys.

Issachar was known for their study tents and keeping track of the sun and moon calculations to announce God's appointed times. The abundance of the seas and the treasures of the sand represent the material working with the spiritual in balance.

G. Understanding The Times

Issachar fathered four sons: Tola, Puvah or Puah, Job or Jashub, and Shimron. The sons of Issachar were not the same as the sons of Joseph. Issachar and his sons went with their father Jacob to Egypt to escape the famine (Gen. 46:13; Ex. 1:3; Num. 26:23-24; 1 Chr. 2:1; 7:1).

The sons of Issachar and their father were also being hit by the famine and they had to follow the else of the Jacob family to Egypt to get food and water. It was Joseph who prepared the storehouse in Egypt and not Issachar! And Joseph was not a son of Issachar, he was Issachar's younger brother. Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob.

Before his death, Jacob described Issachar as "a strong donkey lying down between two burdens" (Gen. 49:15). In other words, Jacob saw that Issachar could be a strong fighter but that his love of comfort could also cause him to settle for the easy way out.

The tribe of Issachar, consisted of four clans, the descendants of Issachar's four sons (Gen. 46:13; Num. 26:23-24; 1 Chr. 7:1). The territory allotted to this tribe was bounded on the north by Zebulun and Naphtali, on the south and west by Manasseh, and on the east by the Jordan River (Josh. 19:17-23). Most of the fertile Valley of Jezreel, or Esdraelon, fell within Issachar's territory. Its fertile, flat plains were well suited for the raising of cattle. In spite of its reputation for seeking comfort, the tribe did fight bravely against Sisera (Judges 5:15).

Moses prophesied a quiet and happy life for Issachar (Deut. 33:18). At the first census, the tribe numbered 54,400 fighting men (Num. 1:28-29); at the second census 64,300 (Num. 26:25). By David's time it numbered 87,000 (1 Chr. 7:5). Its leaders mentioned in the Bible were Nethaneel (Num. 1:8; 2:8; 7:18; 10:15), and Paltiel (Num. 34:26), the judge Tola (Judg. 10:1), King Baasha (1 Kin. 15:27), and Omri (1 Chr. 27:18).

In accordance with Jacob's blessing, the tribe of Issachar showed an unusual insight into political situations. The tribe switched allegiance from Saul to David (1 Chr. 12:32) - "men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do-- 200 chiefs, with all their relatives under their command". The sons of Issachar were mighty men in David's army and because of their ability to understand the times, all brethren heeded their command.

They understood the times that God was seeking true worshippers that would worship Him in spirit and in truth; and God was seeking a king that would follow after His own heart and not one who did his own thing. They chose to follow King David instead of King Saul even though David's camp was a small minority at that time! They understood the times that God's hand was no longer upon King Saul but was on King David. They chose the tougher and narrow road instead of the broadway where the majority was. They lived up to their name of being a strong fighter and their love of comfort did not cause them to settle for the easy way out.

Although the tribe of Issachar was a member of the Northern Kingdom, its members attended Hezekiah of Judah's Passover feast (2 Chr. 30:18-20). They were true worshippers and seekers of God despite their circumstances and status. "Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, ISSACHAR and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the LORD, who is good, PARDON EVERYONE WHO SETS HIS HEART ON SEEKING GOD-- the LORD, the God of his fathers-- even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary. And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people."

In times like ours, we must be like the sons of Issachar - understanding the times! God is seeking true worshippers and seekers of His heart! God is raising up a new army of priests, prophets and kings! Priests who will minister to Him first before they minister to others. Prophets who will hear what God is saying before becoming a voice of God. Kings who will follow after God's own heart and not their own hearts!

In John 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." We need to know the WAY, we need to speak the TRUTH and we need to live the LIFE! We need to take God and His Word seriously! It is now time for the sons of God to be revealed!

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." Romans 8:18-22 (NIV)


To summarise, the sons of Issachar will:

  • Serve the Lord because they love the Lord and not mammon. For the love He loves us, we can only return His love by loving Him through loving our neighbours as ourselves (Gal 5:14):

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

  • Bear the burden of the Torah.
  • Understand the times and seasons we are living in.

Special Note: If you are interested in reading more about the Issachar Factor, please click here.