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Chapter 3

Jacob’s Prophecy To Issachar

Genesis 49:14-15

Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between two burdens; He saw that rest was good, and that the land was pleasant; he bowed his shoulder to bear a burden, and became a band of slaves.

Before Jacob died, he described his ninth son Issachar as a strong donkey lying down between two burdens. In other words, Jacob saw that Issachar could be a strong fighter but his love of comfort could cause him to settle for the easy way out.

The tribe symbol of Issachar was therefore a strong donkey carrying two burdens. What were these two burdens? They were their own burden and the burden of others. In Galatians 6:2-5, Paul told us to carry our own burdens, and to bear the burden's of others. In doing so, we fulfill the law of Christ. For all the law is fulfilled in one word: "Love your neighbours as yourself" (Galatians 5:14). These two burdens are essentially to love ourselves and to love others.

The sons of Issachar were strong in the LORD. They were able to carry the burdens of God’s Word. And these burdens of the Word of God were not burdensome because they were carried in the hearts. This was the love of God that all His people kept and obeyed His commandments. And His commandments were not burdensome (1 John 5:3). The sons of Issachar knew this truth. They had hidden the Word of God in their hearts so that they would not sinned against Him. Because they had written the Word of God in their hearts, they were wise people. They knew what to do in every circumstance. They lived their lives based on the Word, pleasing both man and God.

To most human eyes, the donkey is a dumb animal. Its King James name was very degrading and indecent. They used the word "ass." But the Bible viewed the donkey as a special and precious animal. Issachar was not offended when his father depicted him as one.

Donkeys were among the first animals to be tamed by man. They were a great necessity in the Bible lands. Wild donkeys were headstrong and untamed. But the domesticated donkeys were obedient and submissive.

Donkeys were about 4 feet high. They were usually gray, reddish-brown or white. The long-suffering donkeys often won the affection of their households. They were decorated with beads and bright ribbons. Their roles were to serve their masters. They trampled seed, turned the millstones to grind grain, and pulled the plow.

Donkeys were great for transportation. Donkey caravans were the trains and trucks of the ancient times. These animals could carry great weight in spite of their small size. They were more economical to own as they consumed only a fraction of the feed required by horses. Donkeys were safe and comfortable to ride. Both the rich and the poor rode them. They were obedient to their masters.

In Psalm 32:9, we are instructed not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding. They must be harnessed with bit and bridle, or else they will not obey. The mule is not a donkey. It is the offspring of a male donkey (jack) and female horse (mare). The mule had the surefootedness and endurance of the donkey, and the size and strength of the horse. This crossbreeding was outlawed among the Jewish people (Leviticus 19:19). But from the time of Jewish kings, mules were imported and increasingly used by the Israelites (2 Samuel. 18:9; 1 Kings 1:33; 18:5). In Ezra 2:66, the Israelites brought 245 mules with them when they returned from their captivity in Babylon.

But donkeys were special in the eyes of God. He gave them some remarkable privileges when He gave His commandments through Moses at Mount Sinai:

  • Donkeys were to be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb, which was the same price required for men. "But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem." (Exodus 13:13)
  • Donkeys were listed among the valuable possessions not to be coveted. "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s." (Exodus 20:17)
  • Donkeys were to be properly looked after. "And if a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls in it, the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money to their owner, but the dead animal shall be his." (Exodus 21:33-34)
  • Thieves found stealing donkeys must pay double for their sin. "If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double." (Exodus 22:4)
  • Donkeys were to be properly treated even by the enemies of their owners. "If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it." (Exodus 23:4-5)
  • Donkeys were protected by the Sabbath law. "Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed." (Exodus 23:12) Jesus used this illustration when He was accused of breaking the law by healing a woman on the Sabbath: "Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-- think of it-- for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" (Luke 13:15-16)

Throughout the whole Bible, donkeys played some important roles in God’s redemptive plans and purposes:

  • Abraham saddled a donkey in his journey to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:3).
  • The brothers of Joseph used donkeys to carry the sacks of grains from Egypt (Genesis 42:27).
  • Moses set his family on a donkey to return back to Egypt (Exodus 4:20).
  • God used a donkey to speak to the evil prophet Balaam (Numbers 22:21-34).
  • Samson used a fresh jawbone of a donkey to destroy 1,000 enemies (Judges 15:15-16).
  • Saul came to Samuel seeking help to locate his lost donkeys. Saul found his donkeys, and Samuel found his king (1 Samuel 9:1-27).
  • Isaiah foretold the birth of Christ in Isaiah 1:2-3: "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."" The donkey was smarter than Israel. The donkey knew his Master’s manger but His people did not.

The greatest story in the Bible about a donkey was the one that Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem. He called for a donkey, and not a horse! He was the King of King and Lord of Lords. Shouldn’t He deserve the best? Shouldn’t He deserve some royal treatment? Yet Jesus chose to be humble. He identified Himself with the common people. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He revealed His peaceful mission by riding a young donkey rather than a prancing war-horse. The Messiah, riding upon a donkey, offered forgiveness and peace with God, whereas Christ mounted upon a horse implied war and judgment.

"Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them." All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’"" (Matthew 21:1-5) This fulfilled what the prophet had spoken in Zechariah 9:9: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey."

This lowly donkey had the greatest privilege of all. He was bearing the Son of God on his back. He was carrying the Lord instead of the Lord carrying him. Why was this donkey so honored? Simply because he was available, humble and willing to do hard work.

Issachar was not embarrassed when his father Jacob equated him and his descendants to donkeys. They were distinguished for their ability and readiness to work hard, even under bad conditions and intense oppressions. They were known for their quiet, patient and industrious spirits. They were fitted and inclined to work and serve. They became a band of slaves or servants.

The donkeys were very sensible. If their loads were too heavy, weighing them down, they would simply sit down and refuse to go on. In Numbers 22:23, we read about a donkey that saw the Angel of the LORD and refused to go on. His master, Balaam, tried to strike her to get her back on the road. But the donkey refused to conform in spite of the harsh beatings.

Hereby is a lesson we can learn from this amazing creature: "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) Though Issachar was carrying two burdens, he was able to balance them properly. At times, when the loads were too heavy, he would come to his Master, and cast them down at the feet of His Master.

Like the lowly donkey, Jesus was both meek and mild. The donkey carried the burdens of others. Christ carried the burdens of our sins. Donkeys served the will of their masters. Jesus came to do the work that His Father had commissioned Him to do.

The donkey had many Christ-like attributes such as humility, patience, courage, gentleness and peace. The donkey had been honored with the nickname "Christopher" or "Christ-Bearer." This name was given in reference to the donkey that carried Christ in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. During the early days of Christianity, many teachers of the Gospel received this nickname to show that they carried the burden of the teachings of Christ. They had His attitude of humility, poverty and patience.

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