The man who is content to sit ignorantly by his own fireside, wrapped up in his own private affairs, and has no public eye for what is going on in the Church and the world, is a miserable patriot, and a poor style of Christian.”

Bishop J.C. Ryle wrote those words, which are as true today as they were in the 19th century. God’s people should be concerned about the welfare of His world and His church. This is particularly true of pastors. We who God has called to shepherd His flock are stewards who must one day give an account to Him for how we have fulfilled our responsibilities (Hebrews 13:17).

Faithfulness requires pastors to be alert and thoughtful about the world in which we live so that we might help God’s people live faithfully amidst many temptations. Failure at this point can compound the trials that believers must endure in this world.

Discerning the signs of the times

When Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before He was crucified, He paused to weep over the city and prophesied its coming destruction by the Romans. All this will come upon you, He said, “because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44). Previously, He chided the Pharisees and Sadducees because they could not “discern the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3). They failed to think carefully and wisely about the days in which they lived and, as a result, did not recognise the opportunities and dangers peculiar to their times.

The sons of Issachar did not make that mistake. 1 Chronicles 12:32 says they “had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” That chapter describes the consolidation of David’s rule as King of Israel. After Saul’s death, the northern tribes of Israel determined they should pledge their allegiance to David. It was on that occasion that the chronicler made this astute observation about the descendants of Issachar, marking them as men whom spiritual leaders of every age ought to emulate.

The fact that they “understood the times” means they were not numb to the political and social conditions of their day. And what a day of political and social upheaval it was! King Saul had been dead for seven years. Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, made Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, king of the northern tribes (including Issachar), while God’s anointed king, David, ruled Judah (2 Samuel 2:8-11). After Abner and Ish-bosheth were murdered, the Philistines threatened those tribes.

Hear and heed God’s word

Beyond the political intrigue, it was a time of widespread spiritual apathy. Samuel, the spiritual leader of Israel (as a priest, judge, and prophet) for more than 50 years, was dead. The Israelites lost their moral compass and began to neglect the Word of the Lord.

The sons of Issachar recognised the connections between the spiritual apathy and social disarray of Israel. The northern tribes were living in a season of rebellion. God had appointed David to be king, yet only the tribe of Judah acknowledged his rule and reign. The sons of Issachar knew that to continue in rebellion was unsustainable. They recognised the day of decision had come, and they had to make a change.

They knew what Israel had to do. How did they come to that knowledge? By remembering and taking seriously what God had previously revealed as His will. In the summary of the events surrounding the consolidation, we learn the answer to this question. 1 Chronicles 11:1-2 states, “Then all Israel gathered together to David at Hebron and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, even when Saul was king, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord your God said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over my people Israel’” (cf. 1 Samuel 5:1-3). God had revealed His will for Israel through the prophet Samuel—that David was to be the “shepherd” and “prince” over the nation.

When God speaks, God’s people must hear and heed. Such simple, determined obedience is always the right thing. For Israel, that meant humbly repenting of their rebellion and returning to God’s appointed leader by submitting to the rule and protection of David as king.

Two lessons for today

What do the sons of Issachar have to teach Christian leaders today? Two lessons immediately suggest themselves.

First, we must learn to understand our times. Essential to that is honestly admitting the social and moral issues confronting us. When the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017, passed the Australian Parliament, that decision was a harbinger of things that followed, clearly showing that Christian beliefs are now a decidedly minority view in Australia.

As Aaron Renn helpfully describes it, we now live in a world where the culture is no longer positive or even neutral toward Christianity but opposed to it. Drag Queen Story Hours are now common occurrences, and those who want to groom children into sexual perversity have weaponised it in the name of “diversity.” Paedophiles tirelessly lobby to normalise their unnatural and criminal desires as mere proclivities of “minor-attracted persons.” Corporations and municipalities eagerly promote LGBT agendas as proud allies.

Pastors and other Christian leaders must face the fact that God has called us to minister His grace in what Scripture calls a “time of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1) and an “evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). To stand firm and lead wisely, we must recommit ourselves to the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word. Evil may manifest itself in different and more strident forms than previously in our lifetimes, but the antidote has not changed. God has given us His unerring Word that reveals His powerful gospel and can save all who believe.

That is the second lesson we learn from the sons of Issachar. We must hear and heed God’s Word. Paul instructs Timothy to do just that in 2 Timothy 3. After warning about perilous times of widespread evil in society, he admonishes his young colleague, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (vv. 14-15). 


We must take God at His Word no matter how much the world around us pressures us to compromise. And we must help God’s people recognise the truth and power of that Word to provide stability when cultural foundations crumble beneath us. As we live by faith in God’s words and lead others to do so, we can commend Jesus Christ as the true Lord of all and encourage others to trust Him for this life and the life to come.

© 2023 Thomas Kennedy Ascol. Used with permission. Originally published at

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