You have no doubt noticed that we live in tumultuous times. Many of you have learned that you should no longer say things like “now I have seen everything,” because that sentiment always seems to be refuted by events that come down in the middle of next week. In our time, we have seen a number of transitions, in which a pattern of escalation can readily be seen. We began with certain cultural issues, of a very serious nature. There was the sexual revolution of the sixties, followed by its bloody reckoning in the 1973 Roe decision. A few years later, in a speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention, Pat Buchanan coined the phrase culture wars. And now, according to certain insightful observers, we are on the threshold of a cultural revolution, similar in outlook to what Mao launched in China in 1966.
And so how are we, as Christians, to understand and respond to all of this?
“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 commandment” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
Summary of the Text
Our text is part of the record of how David consolidated his reign over all of Israel, during the time when the house of Saul was being combined with the house of David. Judah, David’s tribe, brought in 6800 warriors (v. 24). Simeon, from the north, contributed 7100 men (v. 25). Levites are mentioned (vv. 26-28), some warriors but others were no doubt priests. Ephraim brought in a large number (20,800) and the half tribe of Manasseh did the same (18,000). But the really striking thing about this passage is what is said about the wise men of Issachar. There were only two hundred of them (v. 34), and their brothers with them were under their authority. The thing they contributed, ranked up here with tens of thousands of skilled warriors, was the fact that they understood the situation and they had a plan. They were oriented, and they were ready for action. True knowledge is priceless, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7).
Summary of Our Situation
In his book on preaching, John Stott says that the preacher stands between two worlds, which is also the title of his book. The preacher must understand the text, and be able to state faithfully what that text is saying. Because it is the Word of God, the meaning of it does not twist or shift from age to age. “The words of the Lord are pure words: As silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” (Psalm 12:6). The silver is always pure, and this silver is always silver.
But a preacher must also be a son of Issachar. He must be able to exegete the times, so that he can faithfully apply the constant Scriptures to an inconstant world. The challenge in exegeting the times is that men are slippery, and confused, and deceptive, and constantly changing. Man is like Reuben, unstable as water, and because he is a sinner, it is always dirty water.
There are secular thinkers who understand the times pretty well, but because they don’t have the Word, they are lost in the chaos, however accurately they might see the chaos. And there are biblical preachers who understand the text of Scripture well, but who have no idea how it might ever apply to anything. They are like an arms expert who knows how to assemble and disassemble a rocket launcher in a factory somewhere, but who has no idea what someone might do with it on the field of battle.
The sons of Issachar were not like this. They understood the times, first thing, and they knew how the Word of God should inform the plan of action. Feet on the Word, and eyes on the times.
But in these tumultuous times, let us remember the stages that our evangelical leaders—not being sons of Issachar—have brought us through: 1. There will not be any need to fight. 2. There may come a time when it necessary to fight. 3. It is too early to fight. 4. It is too late to fight. “We have to come to grips with the fact that this is a post-Christian era.”
The Perennial Temptation
Becoming a son of Issachar can at times be pretty lonesome. “Who’s that guy? Is he ranting again?”
“This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me: There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.”
Ecclesiastes 9:13–18 (KJV)
In David’s time, such men were recognized and heeded. But David’s son Solomon recognized how easy it is to neglect, overlook, or forget such men. The poor man may deliver the city, but thirty years later, when the next poor man is trying to sound a warning, everyone has forgotten what happened before.
But that still doesn’t matter. Wisdom is still better than weapons of war. Wisdom is still better than strength. The city is still delivered, and so we should always remember the wisdom of Ronald Reagan’s desk plaque. “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
What Israel Should Do
We of course are not the chosen nation the way Israel was. But we are a nation that has fallen steeply away from the faith we once professed, and we are consequently under the severe chastisements of God for our apostasy. And it has been a true cultural apostasy. In 1892, there was a SCOTUS decision that determined that we were in fact a Christian nation (Holy Trinity v. the United States, which was a wonderful name for such a court case). And despite that decision, 1893 was not a dystopic hellish year, a time when ayatollahs ruined everything.
So under this heading, I am merely saying what we as believers within this “Israel” should do.
First, worship God: our culture is in the state it is in because of all the true worship rendered to false gods, and all the false worship rendered to the true God. We become like what we worship, and this is no less true of societies than it is of individuals (Ps. 115). Worship the Most High God as though He were the Most High God.
Second, tie family ties tighter: Love your wife. Respect your husband. Educate your children in the Lord. Be done with porn. Sit down at your dinner table together. Confess your familial sins, especially anger and bitterness (Luke 1:17). Sing. Read stories where the bad guys are defeated.
Third, read books that orient you: You may be distressed because you don’t think you are among the sons of Issachar. But nothing prevents you from reading books that the sons of Issachar write. As a starter pack, try Strange New World (Trueman), Christianity and Liberalism (Machen), Idols for Destruction (Schlossberg), Love Thy Body (Pearcey), and The God of Sex (Jones).
Fourth, review and refurbish your doctrinal commitments: I would begin with your postmillennialism, then move on to the covenant, and then on to Calvinism. Get these truths, and the biblical basis for them, down into your bones. Our cause is desperate, but we will win nonetheless. Our God is a covenant-keeping God. Our God is Almighty God.
And last, muster your courage: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: But the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). The church lockdowns and masking orders (and such) were simply a beta test, seeking to find out how soft the church was. The answer for them was “pretty soft.” And so you need to be prepared for the time when the church is ordered to meet just once a month in order to help “fight climate change.” You need to know beforehand that you are part of a church that will not comply. Obedience is ours, and the results are God’s.