Mr. Kalsbeek is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member in Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.

“And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their command.” 

I Chronicles 12:32

Saul was dead! 

Support for David had grown to the extent that all the elders of Israel came together to anoint him king in Hebron (I Chron. 11:3). Gradually David gained more and more support of the mighty warriors in Israel. We read in I Chronicles 12:22, 23 “…at that time day by day there came to David to help him, until it was a great host, like the host of God. And these are the numbers of the bands that were ready armed to the war, and came to David to Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the Lord.” What follows in I Chronicles 12 is a listing of the number of warriors that came from each tribe to fight in support of David. In the middle of that listing we find the verse quoted above: I Chronicles 12:32

Yes, Scripture records in the context that many of the other tribes also had specific, noteworthy characteristics, but only of Issachar is it noted that they “had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” 

One could hardly overestimate the importance for David and Israel of having these men of Issachar on hand. David faced many present and future challenges: How could he gain the total support of those within the tribes of Israel who had previously followed his antagonist Saul? Then there were the nations around Israel, notably at this particular time the Philistines. How should Israel be prepared in case they decided to follow up on their recent victory at Gilboa? Further, Israel was in a sad state of affairs spiritually, a situation to which wicked king Saul had contributed. 

In essence it is no different for the church of our day. It’s true that the glory days of valor on the physical battlefields of Palestine and the surrounding areas are over. We are thankful that those battles were only for the Old Testament period of types and shadows. Nevertheless, essentially we are confronted with the same challenges as Old Testament Israel. Consequently, like the men of Issachar we need to be “understanding of the times to know what Israel (the church) ought to do.” That will be the burden of this rubric: to scrutinize the times in which we live in order that we may grow in our understanding of the times, and consider what we ought to do.

The Big Picture

Before we look at some of the specifics of the times in which we live, it might be good for us at the outset to consider some broad, biblical truths concerning these times. The apostle Paul expresses the perilous situation for the New Testament church this way: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).

For the twenty-first century believer to be actively involved in this spiritual wrestling match, Paul says he must ” put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11). And the context clearly shows that this means the child of God must go to the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It would also suggest that the child of God, like the children of Issachar, must have “understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” 

For us to do battle effectively with these principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness, it is necessary that we see them for what they are as they reveal themselves in this present age. In his commentary on Ephesians John Calvin writes concerning these principalities and powers:

He (Paul) calls them…princes of the world; but he explains himself more fully by adding—of the darkness of the world. The devil reigns in the world, because the world is nothing else than darkness. Hence it follows, that the corruption of the world gives way to the kingdom of the devil; for he could not reside in a pure and upright creature of God, but all arises from the sinfulness of man. By darkness, it is almost unnecessary to say, are meant unbelief and ignorance of God, with the consequences to which they lead. As the whole world is covered with darkness, the devil is called “the prince of this world.”

By calling it wickedness, he denotes the malignity and cruelty of the devil, and, at the same time, reminds us that the utmost caution is necessary to prevent him from gaining an advantage. For the same reason, the epithet spiritual is applied; for, when the enemy is invisible, our danger is greater. There is emphasis, too, in the phrase, in heavenly places; for the elevated station from which the attack is made gives us greater trouble and difficulty.

Not only is it important for us as children of Issachar to know whom we fight against, we would also do well at the outset to have a general idea concerning what the conflict involves in our times. We are thankful that Scripture does not leave us in the dark. In fact, we are given the enemy’s battle plans. Revelation 12is very helpful in this regard. (The reader would profit by reading what Rev. H. Hoeksema writes about this in his commentary on the book of Revelation: Behold He Cometh.)

In the first place, Revelation 12:12gives the New Testament warrior a tremendous incentive. There we are told that the ultimate victory is already won. Although it is true that woe is pronounced to the “inhabiters of the earth” because the devil has come down to earth and he comes “having great wrath,” the comfort is that the devil “knoweth that he hath but a short time.” And he has but a short time because he has been defeated. Therefore, as children of Issachar, we do not fight for victory, rather we fight in victory. The Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension have accomplished that.

In the second place, we learn from Revelation 12 that, although the devil comes in “great wrath,” we have a place of refuge, namely, “the wilderness” (Rev. 12:14). Rev. Herman Hoeksema explains the meaning of this wilderness of refuge for the church in this way:

The church as such is a separate institution in the world. She has her own King. And as an institution the church does not recognize any other ruler…. From this it follows that the church has its own laws…. The church as an institute is a separate institution. She has her own King, her own laws, her own life. She does not mingle in politics as such…. She lives in separation. Even as the children of Israel in the desert lived in separation … so also the church of the New Testament is in the wilderness with regard to the world and its power and its life…. The church as an institution is separate from the life of the world. She has received a God-prepared place in the wilderness.

This information is of utmost importance for the New Testament children of Issachar. As we live in and consider the times in which we live, we must continually remind ourselves of the importance of the instituted church. The church is our life! To place ourselves outside the instituted church, to exclude ourselves from the many facets of its life, to minimize its importance, or to seek to change its mission is to put ourselves in grave danger.

In the third place, Revelation 12supplies the children of Issachar with a map containing the devil’s battle plan. It does this by informing us how Satan seeks to destroy the church, namely, by casting “out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood” (Rev. 12:15). Concerning this plan of Satan, Rev. Hoeksema writes:

He knows that he cannot approach the woman in her isolation in the desert. He cannot touch her…. Hence he casts a stream of water after her, that she might be borne up by that flood and be carried out of the wilderness…. He does not mean to drown her: that would be impossible. But he means to lift her from her isolation … and thus be borne into the world from which she fled.

Understood in this sense, the meaning is not difficult to grasp. The devil realizes that in the isolation of the church as an institution from the powers of this world lies her strength, and as long as the church remains in this state of separation he cannot do anything against her. And therefore he makes the attempt to establish an alliance, to unite the church and the world. He tries to carry the church into the world.

In the fourth place, Revelation 12reveals to the children of Issachar the devil’s last resort, namely “to make war with the remnant of her seed” (Rev. 12:17). It would appear that when his plan to push the instituted church away from her God-ordained mission is unsuccessful, Satan does what in his view is the next best thing: he focuses his attention on individual believers to persecute and destroy them and bring them to apostasy.

Equipped with that biblical, big picture, we plan, the Lord willing, to consider in future articles some specifics concerning this battle of faith as it must be waged in our times. 

As children of Issachar our goal and battle cry must be, “Understand the times and live.”