Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Genesis 49:14-15 Jacob's Blessing: Issachar

Jacob now has a word for his son Issachar.  I thought it was a bit strange that Issachar, who is Leah's fifth son, was blessed by Jacob after he gave Zebulun (the sixth son) his blessing, for the other sons of Leah seemed to be dealt with in their birth order.  However, comparing Genesis 29:31-Genesis 30 (the account of the births of the various sons except Benjamin) with the account of Jacob blessing his sons in Genesis 49, the birth order is not followed with the other sons, so perhaps it is not important here.  For all I know, Jacob may have blessed his sons in the order that they were ranged about his bedside while he was giving them his final words.

Or, there may be some reason Jacob chooses this order which I haven't discovered yet.  At any rate, Jacob next chooses to speak to Issachar:

"Issachar is a rawboned donkey
lying down between two saddlebags.
When he sees how good is his resting place
and how pleasant his land,
he will bend his shoulder to the burden
and submit to forced labor."

Genesis 49:14-15 NIV


Here are some of the observations about Issachar which I have read as I looked for information about this son of Jacob.  Sometimes the comments are pretty similar, while at times a totally new idea is advanced.  At times I wondered how to distinguish between accurate facts about the various sons of Jacob and someone's fiction.  I do not have the expertise about these matters to be too dogmatic, so I try to stick to what can be supported by Scripture.  I also try to include other interesting possibilities or reasonable conclusions, especially if the writer's ideas are backed up by some type of empirical evidence.  Needless to say, comments and corrections are welcome.

Now, back to Issachar:
  • There are differences of opinion about the meaning of his name.  Issachar sounds like the Hebrew for 'reward'.  Leah named her son this, for she figured that he was her 'reward' for having let her husband have her servant Zilpah as an additional wife. (Genesis 30:9-17)  That same passage also gives an account of how Leah hired Jacob to spend the night with her instead of Rachel by giving her sister some mandrakes (thought to increase fertility) which her son Reuben had found.  Issachar's birth as a further result of this transaction opened the way for the pun on his name 'man of hire'.  No doubt there is a pun intended -- both aspects are certainly present in the account of his birth.
  • Then there is the difference of opinion regarding the meaning of comparing Issachar to a patient donkey, bending to his burden and toil.  Some see it as Issachar submitting to paying tribute to Canaanite peoples rather than fight them, and engaging in agricultural pursuits.  Others see it as Issachar toiling in the study of the Torah, supported in his endeavors by the more mercantile tribe of Zebulun, with whom the tribe of Issachar is often associated.  I do not know enough of the tribe's history to have a definitive opinion on this matter, although I imagine that there could be elements of all three aspects in the history of this tribe.
  • Related to the "Torah" aspect of the above, some say that the men of Issachar are reputed to have great wisdom, especially in dealing with the intricacies of the Hebrew calendar.  I do know that I Chronicles 12:32 speaks of "...the men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do...", which certainly supports the idea that they had wide-ranging and practical wisdom.
  • Issachar also had some military prowess.  When Canaanites threatened their territory, Issachar joined the battle, as mentioned in Judges 5:15 in the Song of Deborah:  "The princes of Issachar were with Deborah; yes, Issachar was with Barak, rushing after him into the valley..." (NIV)  After this battle, the land had peace for forty years. (Judges 5:20)  This would seem to negate the above idea of the tribe of Issachar passively accepting subjection to the Canaanites!
That's all I have for the moment, although I suspect I may be coming back to update as I discover more about this interesting tribe.

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