Genesis 49:14&15 “Issachar is a scrawny donkey lying down between two saddlebags. When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labour.”
We would all agree that the Christian lifestyle has to be very different from the lifestyle of men and women who don’t know and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The two lifestyles are represented by our Saviour as two different roads, a broad way and a narrow way, with two different destinations. Those on the narrow way are men and women who have presented their bodies as living sacrifices to God. They take up the cross and deny themselves and they follow the Saviour. They walk in the Spirit. They have as their chief end glorifying God and enjoying him for ever. No one on the broad way lives like that; not one.
You will have noticed that very often in Scripture the examples of birds and animals are used both to exhort us and to warn us about staying on the narrow way with its distinctive lifestyle. For example, positively we are to be as wise as serpents are, and as harmless as doves are. As we wait upon the Lord we’ll find that our strength is being renewed; we’re mounting up with wings, soaring like eagles. Again, we’re to heed the example of the constant activity of ants in an anthill and never stop working for God. Again, the church is sent out into the devouring world gently and meekly just like a flock of lambs. Then, conversely, the example of animals is used to warn us of enemies to avoid. Jesus compared Herod to a fox. “Beware of the dogs,” Paul tells the Philippian church, referring to the enemies of the gospel. He tells the Ephesian elders to be on the lookout because “savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” (Acts 20:29). Beware of the preachers of error, he tells the Roman congregation, “the poison of vipers is on their lips” (Roms 3:13). Again we are told that the devil goes about like a lion seeking whom he may devour. So there are two ways of life, and different animals are referred to as warning or examples.
In our text today the next of the sons of Jacob, Issachar, is compared to a scrawny donkey lying down between two saddlebags. Scrawny refers to his appearance; he is a working donkey not a pet, not a show donkey pampered for the competition. He is scrawny or strong, but Jacob pictures him as lying down with his bags of grain sprawled out on the ground alongside him. He is going nowhere; he is sleeping. We are encouraged to take this example of Issachar as a warning of the dangers of being idle believers. One reason encouraging this interpretation is simply because Issachar was actually born before Zebulun, and yet he is given second place to his blood brother Zebulun (who was the last son of Leah) in this list of blessings. Jacob initially passed over him to prophesy about Zebulun’s future and then he returned to Issachar. Instead of using his strength to good effect, bearing his burden and fulfilling the mission that his master had given him Issachar had stopped and he had lain down, the journey incomplete, the saddle bags still on his back but lying in the dust on each side of him. There is a rest for the people of God. It is promised to us; it will come, but it is at the end of our labours. It still lies before us in glory. Woe to those who wish to make their rest now. It is now to watch! To work! To war! And then – to rest for ever! Now our calling is to be steadfast, unmovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord. We are to work like the ants, keeping toiling away, not behaving like Isaachar – the lazy ass, someone capable of mighty effort but rather seizing any moment to take it easy just like any sluggard. Issachar loves his life; Issachar is going to lose it.
Are there any preachers who are sluggards? Some of you might say there are not, but if there were none why was it that to his apostles Jesus spoke warning them, “As long as it is day we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4). Do we not need such warnings? Why does that figure of the sluggard appear fourteen times in the book of Proverbs as a mighty warning to the followers of Jehovah? Why does the Lord Jesus tell us to watch and pray? Why does Paul warn New Testament congregations not to sleep while it is day? Think of the examples the apostle brings to our attention; “Be like these men” he says, heralds, stewards, good soldiers, workmen that need not be ashamed. None of them dare sleep. Think of his appeal to the athlete. We are told that one of the reasons that Wales has done better than expected in the current World Cup is the extraordinary fitness of those rugby players. They have gone to great lengths to build up their strength and endurance. They have trained in sub-zero temperatures. They have resisted excess of food and alcohol. They have gone to bed on time. They have daily endured training sessions often with their personal coaches. Missing training sessions is a serious matter. Athletes work on certain muscle groups in thousands of repetitions until they have mass and flexibility. Certain moves will be practiced again and again till they are second nature, the run-up to the ball, the kick and the follow through. Each time the athlete trains he gets a little better. Each time he works out then some sloppy old habit dies a little and some disciplined new one begins to come to life. It is as if in each training session a tiny conversion takes place. Increasingly he performs these skills by second nature. The mini-conversions from carelessness to accuracy through thousands of repetitions make a star sportsman. A duffer becomes a disciplined athlete.
That is the life of every disciple, a disciplined life, a trained life that gets stronger and more focused as the years go by. Think of Paul coaching the Ephesian congregation, exhorting them to put off the old way of life, old habits and attitudes, and put on new ways. He reminds them what they have learned: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour . . . He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephs. 4:22-24, 28-29). The pattern is putting off the old lazy, undisciplined flesh or remaining sin and putting on the new nature, encouraging the new man to have total sway in your life.
As Christians we are in the business of changing ourselves; we are committed to change; we seek for a church that will never cease encouraging us to change. The ass must become the ant; the sluggard must abound in the work of the Lord. He must be trained and trained and trained in godliness till holy attitudes and actions become second nature to him. Each time we go to church, or attend the prayer meeting, or pray and read Scripture; every time we resist a temptation, or visit a lonely person, or make ourselves think of the needs of others—each time we actually do such things our old self dies a little and our new self comes more to life. Add up all these mini-conversions across years of training and the ass has miraculously changed into an ant. It is the Lord’s doing and wonderful in our eyes. God more than conquers the persecutor Saul of Tarsus; he makes him a preacher of the gospel he once hated. John Newton the slave trader is more than conquered becomes the leader of the anti-slavery movement. But what of the reverse? Judas Iscariot the apostle becomes Judas Iscariot the betrayer. None of us is standing still. We are either progressing or we are regressing. Think of Franz Kafka’s short novel written almost a hundred years ago, The Metamorphosis, (Die Verwandlung) when a traveling salesman called Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover that he has changed into a monstrous insect-like creature. Isn’t that the avoidable future of many people? They are going to close their eyes in death and wake up in hell in grotesque ugliness? But here the Christian hope of gospel sanctification dawns, that we can change gloriously. A flabby and clumsy person can become trim and graceful. A polluted man may get cleaned up and made pure, and then, at the end of the journey, what a metamorphosis, when we see our Saviour we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.
Let’s never stop committing ourselves to change. Let’s be delivered from lying down like an idle donkey in stagnation! The Holy Spirit must decontaminate sinners who’ve become radioactive because of sin. He must strengthen sinners weakened by sin. He must make Christ-like sinners who’ve been following the god of this world. Let’s vow that henceforth we shall do good. There will be a delight in doing every kind of good work that God gives us to do. We must be ‘zealous in good works.” God has made up his mind to change us. We are lazy donkeys by nature and averse to doing good. It’s all too much like hard work or it’s all too boring. Maybe we are afraid of the sneering that “do-gooders” attract. We want to be macho men. Others do good—but sullenly, as if it’s a joyless chore. Jesus came to this world and became a personal coach and he deals with his out of shape disciples. They have back slid. They have broken training. They have forgotten what athletes know, that you need discipline to be free. It’s trained people who have fun. It takes hard work to be able to play well. Issachar is the example of a self-seeking life.
Remember that little booklet that Campus Crusade brought out; bad theology, but memorable illustrations. It is the picture of a person who professes to be a Christian, but on the throne at the centre of his heart ‘Self’ has pushed off the Lord Jesus Christ and Self is reigning over his life. He is ignoring God and doing his own thing and Bill Bright called such a disciple the ‘Carnal Christian.’ Now such a state cannot last; a professing disciple cannot live his whole life as a ‘Carnal Christian’ for either the carnality will kill the Christianity or the Christianity will kill the carnality pretty quick. However, we all know that there are actions and moments and even periods, as King David experienced them, when in one set of defiant actions he as it were pushed the King of kings off his throne onto the floor of his life and David did what his sinful self wanted him to do; he took Bathsheba and arranged the killing of her husband and he lived with her for a year unrepentant. For that whole time he wasn’t doing Christ’s will. He was a rebel. He wasn’t under the kindly reign of Jesus but Self the cruelly reigned – in this one area of personal relationships and in his failure to mortify the sin of lust. Of course in other areas of his life he acted as a true believer acts. He kept the Sabbath day; he was hard working; he was a kind father, he was generous and he was a good political leader, but in this single department of his life Christ had no control over his sexual instincts. He was acting carnally, just like the Corinthian congregation was split into cheer-leading groups of supporters, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Peter,” “I am of Apollos,” “I am of Christ.” This party spirit, in that one area of their lives showed that they were acting carnally.
That is how we are to understand Jacob’s picture of Issachar. There were too many times in Issachar’s life when he felt like resting. He got fed up that this Lord kept driving him on and on, new duties and fresh obligations, never ceasing. It constantly became all too much for Issachar, and he would stop and lie down under the weight of the burden of following the Lord; he stopped still; he gave up, in the midst of his pilgrimage. He became an idle donkey of a disciple. You understand that he didn’t feel like that about there being one God alone, or in respecting the Ten Commandments, or in being a good husband and father. However Issachar was a lazybones, and in that one area of his life he was carnal, and, alas, being an idle donkey of a disciple affected his whole life and the lives of his descendants. It had to. Three things about Issachar and his line:-
- HOW ISSACHAR’S LIFE WAS CONCEIVED.
We have been studying the lives of the patriarchs in the last few years and we’ve seen how contemporary they are in their behaviour – these men and their wives as well. You shake your heads at times and think, “Are we reading the Scriptures? Does the Bible actually record this?” Nothing is unbelievable any more, and so as we go through the Word of God at family devotions one of the things our children are confronted with is the great lesson of the multi-depravity of man. They don’t need to read the defunct News of the World to find out what men and women are capable of. So in Genesis 30 there is an incredible earthy story; we are told that the little boy Reuben discovered rare mandrake plants at harvest time and he brought them back to his mother Leah (v.14). Rachel, her sister, spotted them and immediately pleaded with Leah to give her some of them. Rachel, as yet had no children, and mandrakes had the reputation of encouraging fertility. Leah protested; why should she give these mandrakes to her sister. Their mutual husband Jacob was ignoring her. He wouldn’t share her bed, sleeping only with Rachel. So we are told of this dialogue and its consequences; “But Leah said to Rachel, ‘Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?’ ‘Very well,’ Rachel said, ‘he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.’ So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. ‘You must sleep with me,’ she said. ‘I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he slept with her that night. God listened to Leah, and she b
ecame pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son” (vv.15-17). That son was Issachar; that was the manner of his conception. All that carnal nonsense went on in the family of professing believers in the Lord.
It is a great testimony to the inspiration of Scripture that the writers of it (in this instance Moses) face up to such sub-Christian behaviour in this dysfunctional family – the grandson of Abraham – and record this incident just as it happened. No one comes out of this smelling of roses, neither Jacob nor his two wives make us love them more when we read of this behaviour. We are told these things to give us courage, that from it we may also derive the kind of comfort that you and I need when many a time we look upon the disasters in our own lives and the lives of our congregations.
This was setting for the conception of Issachar, and the prophet, his father, speaks when this son stands up before him and he says about him to the rest of the brothers and to him, “Issachar is a scrawny donkey lying down between two saddlebags” (v.14).He is strong, but he enjoys his rest. That is the characterization that he father gives him after observing him and hearing stories about his idleness for decades, and Jacob looks into Issachar’s future, and that is how this son is always going to be. That is the influence he will have on his line. They are going to be non-achievers because of laziness. Think of the condition of the inhabitants of the island of Crete at the time of the apostle Paul. Crete’s villages and towns were consumed by falsehood, deception and lying. Their deceit was proverbial throughout the Mediterranean area; you could not trust anything men from Crete said. Falsehood was endemic, and truth was mocked on that island generation after generation, so that even Paul by the Holy Spirit could quote the proverb that “All Cretans are liars.” So it would be amongst the sons and grandsons and the whole line of Issachar, a crippling laziness would characterize his descendants. They were sinfully laid back. “Take it easy,” was their motto. They were always putting off tasks and challenging duties for another day, and another year. They had strength but they did not always employ it. They used it when it served their purpose.
Let me remind you that more than the accurate observation of father Jacob is here; this is a man speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He is being borne along by God to prophesy like this. This is not Issachar’s father having his revenge on his son after years of exhorting him, “Issachar, wake up and get cracking. There is so much to do.” Rather Jacob acknowledges that this son of his has strength, tremendous strength, and he is capable of using it at times, but at other times life quickly gets on top of him and Issachar feels weary. He turns aside from duties thinking that a rest is a good thing and he lies down. Issachar is a man who seeks himself and his own comforts. At those times Self pushes the Lord off the throne of his heart; Self dominates and then even religious people behave like Jacob and Leah and Rachel behaved at the time of Issachar’s conception.
This is what we see in the life of this man and in his tribe. Issachar is one of those tribes of which very little is heard. We get a glimpse of him when Deborah sang concerning the tribes of Israel which came together with Barak and fought against Sisera. She tells us that Issachar was there, and that he was right behind Barak running into the hand to hand combat. “The princes of Issachar were with Deborah. Yes, Issachar was with Barak rushing after him into the valley” (Judges 5:15). He had the strength and the inclination and then he used it to drive out the enemy. Fighting was certainly better than paying taxes to Sisera. But then, at other times, Issachar was going to rest. In other words there were times when he said, “Oh, let’s pay them our taxes. Let’s get them off our backs so that we can take it easy.” So his mother Leah before he was born was standing at the edge of the compound waiting for her unloving husband to come home from his work, and when he came up to her she said to her husband . . . her own legal husband, “I have hired you. You are sleeping with me tonight.” And the son that came from that union, Issachar, picked up this attitude, knowing how he had been born, and he thought throughout his life, “I’m for sale. I’m for sale to the highest bidder!” There was no consistency about Issachar; no one line that he followed; he was often pushing the Lord off the throne and seeking himself. He loved to rest; resting was good; the land was pleasant and down he sank, the saddle bags each side of him, even though he was strong and could have kept going, and kept going and kept going, abounding in the work of the Lord, yet he enjoyed taking it easy. That was the conception of Issachar.
- HOW ISSACHAR’S LIFE CONTINUED.
What happens to Christians who are often doing it their own way? Nothing of any note. What do you hear of such men and women who frequently marginalize Almighty God from his lordship over their lives? Not much. They are not the kind of men who will leave their mark on their own day, not on their families or on their congregations or on their generation. And so it was with Issachar; he is mentioned very few times in the Scriptures. But when we examine those incidents and occasions when Issachar is referred to we find the same pattern of a strong scrawny donkey on his way somewhere, a man with a mission, and yet not arriving. He is lying down somewhere with his saddle bags each side of him. Let’s look at three of the occasions Issachar and his line are involved.
i] At the time of the Judges. Did any of the judges who ruled Israel for four hundred years come from the tribe of Issachar – Gideon and Deborah and Samson and heroes like that? No, none of them was from this tribe. Of course there were other similar tribes who failed to produce leaders, but it is significant how peculiarly barren was the line of Issachar. However, there was one man from the tribe of Issachar who rose to save Israel. He led Israel, but alas he is typical of this kind of follower of the Lord who limps between two opinions. Let me read to you about him in the book of Judges chapter ten and the first two verses. The passage is significant as much for what it fails to say as what it says: “After the time of Abimelech a man of Issachar, Tola son of Puah, the son of Dodo, rose to save Israel. He lived in Shamir, in the hill country of Ephraim. He led Israel for twenty-three years; then he died, and was buried in Shamir” (Judges 10:1&2). Tola! I have never heard of anyone named after him. Tola delivered Israel; how, we’re not told. I don’t know any more about him than this, and neither does anyone else. He delivered them, and he judged them for 23 years, and he died. End of story. Typical of the best men of Issachar. Something was done; not a lot; the nation remained unchanged. The man who led them is forgotten. Another example of an Issachar man . . .
ii] At the time of David. King Saul is killed in battle and Abner is in charge of a military junta. They put on the throne of Israel a weakling named Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, and he hangs in there for two years. Then he passes from the scene, because this is the time to begin mighty David’s reign. There is a great populist movement to make David king; the tribes come flocking in to fight for great David; they are listed in I Chronicles chapter 12 where we read of 20,000 men coming from Ephraim, 37,000 men from Naphtali, 40,000 men from Asher and 120,000 men from Reuben and Gad, and so on and on, all giving wholly impressive support for David, but from the tribe of Issachar come . . . how many? Two hundred (I Chron. 12:32), and then we learn that they’re not two hundred warriors who’ll lay down their lives so that David might become the unchallenged king. No. Two hundred ‘wise men’ – two hundred ‘suits’ who understood the times and know what Israel should do. That sort of calling fits men who enjoy sitting back! They all come to David, not three representatives, but the whole two hundred sit at the conference table and talk to him. They did not line up on the fields of battle. That was left to others; fighting would upset Issachar’s rest. He sends two hundred men who understand the times and they all tell the king what he should do, and soon David is established upon the throne. That is typical of the men of Issachar, not mixing fighting with resting.
iii] At the time of the division of the kingdom into Israel and Judah, north and south. Jeroboam became the king of the northern kingdom, Israel, where he reigned for a few years and then the wrath of the Lord homed in on him, not so much for the division of the tribes as for the fact that Jeroboam erected two altars, one in Dan and one in Bethel for the worship of the true God. Very soon all kinds of idolatry developed; golden calves were set up in Dan and Bethel, and then the people were told “Behold your gods who delivered you from the land of Egypt!” and Israel sacrificed to these images of cows of gold that glittered in the sun – Israel did this. What a provocation of Jehovah! The anger of God was stirred up as the years went by and this idolatry in Israel went on and on. So he sent a prophet called Ahijah to warn the royal line in Israel – the descendants of Jeroboam, kings like Jehoshaphat and Nadab – of his displeasure. “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.” That is always God’s way; first the rebuke by a man of God speaking to them. Then, when it goes unheeded, the chastening. For that chastening God sent a man from the tribe of Issachar to devastate the whole royal household. If God chose a man from Issachar then it shows that the people had some strength; Issachar was scrawny, that is a tough and strong donkey of a man, and the warrior God chose from Issachar sent to execute his judgment was called Baasha. So this is what we are told in I Kings 15, “Nadab son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel for two years. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, walking in the ways of his father and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit. Baasha son of Ahijah of the house of Issachar plotted against him, and he struck him down at Gibbethon, a Philistine town, while Nadab and all Israel were besieging it. Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of Asa king of Judah and succeeded him as king. As soon as he began to reign, he killed Jeroboam’s whole family. He did not leave Jeroboam anyone that breathed, but destroyed them all, according to the word of the LORD given through his servant Ahijah the Shilonite – because of the sins Jeroboam had committed and had caused Israel to commit, and because he provoked the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger”(I Kings 15:25-30). So Baasha from Issachar blew them away. There wasn’t a single one of the line of king Jeroboam left alive, any more than there were prophets of Baal left alive on Mount Carmel at the time of Elijah after fire fell on Jehovah’s altar. Do we see some hope here, some rays of light for the beginnings of a great reformation in the northern kingdom, that the golden calves will be smashed to pieces, and their temples destroyed and the people of God reunited at the feet of Jehovah? Root and branch reformation – may it come! But Baasha was a scrawny donkey of a man who came from Issachar, one of those men who stopped on a mission and rested. There was no progress; there was no awakening. So the very next verses we read are these, “ . . . . In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha son of Ahijah became king of all Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned for twenty-four years. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, walking in the ways of Jeroboam and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit” (I Kings 15:33&34). The man from Issachar accomplished nothing, no more that Jeroboam had, and then he was guilty of the same sins as the man whose family he had wiped out. Then what happened? In turn his whole house was also butchered, wiped out by a man named Zimri. That is what happens in the tribe of Issachar.
- HOW ISSACHAR’S LIFE WAS CATASTROPHIC.
What happened to Issachar? Look at our text again; “Issachar is a scrawny donkey lying down between two saddlebags. When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labour” (vv.14&15). He’s got to enjoy his resting place. All this wearisome toil, resisting the world, taking up one’s cross, going to church every single Sunday, following the Lamb whithersoever he leads . . . how demanding it all seemed to be! How comfy the donkey’s resting place has become without the weight of the saddlebags. How pleasant this life can seem without God. “No thank you,” the unbeliever says, “we admire your faith but it’s not for me.” So where does he go and what does he do? You expect some description of how he takes his ease, and that he is content without God, and that he eats, drinks and is merry. No. That is not what happens to Issachar. He discovers what many other compromising Christians have found, that the way of the transgressor is hard. Issachar humiliates himself by once again taking up burdens, but these are burdens that the world brings into his life. No escape from burdens! He bends his shoulder to the burdens the world gives him. He submits to its forced labour. Issachar thought that he was getting freedom but in fact what he got was a far worse burden and merciless forced labour. He could look back to the time when he knew that Christ’s yoke had been easy and Christ’s burden had been light.
What a burden the godless man carries! The burden of living a life which has no overall meaning. The burden of a life without Jesus Christ the Son of God. The burden of a life without the Bible. The burden of a life with no Christian friends. The burden of a life without prayer. The burden of a life that speeds by into nothingness. I was preaching in some meetings that had been arranged for me by a certain man who didn’t show up in the church all the time that I was there, and he’s not been in his church since. His wife and children were there, but he was not. Why? Because he had found another woman at work. He has subsequenty said this in justification for his conduct, that he no longer believes in Christianity or the Bible. He will not hold himself responsible to any outer code of conduct. He has chosen to become the captain of his fate and the master of his own destiny. He will do what is right in his own eyes, and so he feels it’s OK for him to take another woman. Is he now burdenless? No. He is now carrying new burdens, the burden of his destroyed marriage, the burden of his broken wife and fatherless children. He has ceased carrying Christ’s light burden and he is now bending his shoulder to the burden of unfaithfulness and the burden of the pain he has given others whom he’s loved and still loves, and the forced labour that his lusts demand from him. That is the bed he has made for himself. I am saying that there is no release from burden bearing in this world. There’s many a false rest of being idle when one should be pulling one’s weight, and doing one’s duty. There is also the new burden of saying, “I did it my way,” of no satisfaction in your new labours, of many regrets, of increasing guilt and all that is crippling. It is not freedom; it is submitting to forced labour and your shoulders bending under that burden.
Think of the burden David bore after his dalliance with Bathsheba. He tells us that he groaned all the day long; night and day God’s hand was heavy upon him – what a burden! His strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. What excitement to sleep with Bathsheba, but the legacy was his shoulders bending under a new burden. David the king was submitting to forced labour – like the most menial of his slaves. It was no rest. Let me exhort you – let not your heart envy sinners! The way of the transgressor is hard. One woman cannot fill the vacuum that a grieved Spirit has left behind.
I fear that very many church attenders are half asleep or deluded. They are open to any temptation that comes along, to any promise of an easy Christian life that offers rest today rather than in heaven. Remember that Christ did not die to give us beds of ease. He died to make us zealous in good works, to make us steadfast, unmoveable and always abounding in his work. He warned us not to sleep in the day, “The night comes,” he said, “when no man can work.”
I fear that many preachers are resting, waiting for someone else to begin. The time of waiting is past! The hour of God has struck! War is declared! In God’s holy name let us arise and build. “The God of Heaven, he will fight for us,” as we for him. Should such men as we be lying down, folding our hands? Before the world, aye, before the sleepy, lukewarm, faithless, religious world, we will dare to trust our God, we will venture our all for him, we will live and we will die for him, and we will do it with his joy unspeakable sounding in our hearts. We will a thousand times sooner die trusting only our God, than live trusting in man, and when we attain that position then the battle is already won, and the end of the glorious campaign in sight. We will have the real holiness of God, not the sickly stuff of talk and dainty words and pretty thoughts; we will have a masculine holiness, one of fighting faith and zealous works for Jesus Christ.
Difficulties, dangers, disease, death, or divisions are no excuse for us to lie down ceasing to carry our saddle bags. When someone says there is a lion in the way, the real Christian replies, “That’s hardly enough inducement to stop me; I want a bear or two besides to make it worth my while to advance.” There are many trials and hardships facing Issachar. Disappointments are numerous. Come and follow Christ if you feel there is no greater honour after living for Christ than to die for him. That does the trick in the end. It’s not the flash in the pan but the steady giving forth of light shining on and on that we need. Our job is to make all hear the word. As C.T. Studd said,
Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell.
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.
Don’t you get afraid of going to heaven? Don’t you have a glimpse of the shame we’ll suffer when first we see the face of the Lord Jesus, his majesty, power and marvellous love. And we could presume that we were doing him a favour in serving him! No wonder God shall have to wipe away the tears from all our faces, for we shall be broken-hearted when we see the depth of his love and the shallowness of ours. We rested too often on our way, lying down with the saddle bags in the dust.
Let us not glide through this world and then slip quietly into heaven, without having blown the trumpet loud and long as the watchmen of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Let us see to it that the devil will hold a thanksgiving service in hell, when he gets the news of our departure from the fields of battle.
23rd October 2011 GEOFF THOMAS