Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command. [1 Chronicles 12:32; NASB]
I’ve seen a lot of talk on social media and in Hyper-Charismatic circles about the “Sons of Issachar Anointing,” based off this single verse. The idea is that, just as the sons of Issachar “understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do,” so to should we “understand the times” (that is, the approaching end times), with knowledge of what the church should do (that is, what the church is to do before Christ returns). It’s been brought forward by Rick Joyner’s Morning Star Ministries, as well as Mike Bickle’s International House of Prayer.
Let’s quickly examine the context, by first discussing what is unfolding in 1 Chronicles 12…
In this chapter, men from all across Israel are gathering together to support David in his struggle against King Saul, in order to overthrow him and give the kingdom to David (v. 23). These forces include: the sons of Judah (v. 24); the sons of Simeon (v. 25); the sons of Levi (v. 26); the house of Aaron (v. 27); Zadok with his father’s house (v. 28); the sons of Benjamin (v. 29); sons of Ephraim (v. 30); the half-tribe of Manasseh (v. 31); sons of Issachar (v. 32); those of Zebulun (v. 33); those of the Naphtali (v. 34); those of the Danites (v. 35); those of Asher (v. 36); and the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh from the other side of the Jordan (v. 37). All of these men are gathering with David at Hebron, with the intent to make him king (v. 38).
One thing you notice about these various groups is that various kinds of talents and attributes are said about them: the sons of Judah brought shield and spear (v. 24); the sons of Simeon were “mighty men of valor” (v. 25); the sons of Benjamin are said to belong to Saul’s own house (as he was a Benjaminite), and had supported Saul until now (v. 29); the sons of Ephraim are, like the sons of Simeon, said to be “mighty men of valor” (v. 30); the sons of Issachar are said to have “understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (v. 32); those of Zebulun came with various kinds of weaponry for war (v. 33); the Naphtali, like the sons of Judah, are said to have come with shield and spear (v. 34); those across the Jordan are said, like those of Zebulun, to have come with various kinds of weapons (v. 37); later on, those of Issachar, Zebulun, and Naphtali are said to have brought food and provisions for the army (v. 40).
Focusing on the sons of Issachar, what does it mean when it is said they “understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do”? In old Jewish commentaries, the phrase “understood the times” was actually believed to reference a study of astrology. To quote from Charles John Ellicott’s commentary:
The old Jewish expositors concluded, from the former part of this verse that the tribe of Issachar had skill in astrology, so that they could read in the heavens what seasons were auspicious for action, as the ancient Babylonians professed to do. [source]
Given the context, however, this is probably not the case. It is said that they understood the times “with knowledge of what Israel should do,” and this is being said in the context of various tribes and Jewish sects coming over to David, against Saul. Therefore, they “understood the times” in the sense that all Israel must turn over to David, the Lord’s anointed, against the corrupt and fallacious king Saul. Mr. Ellicott summarizes as much:
But all that the text really asserts is that those men of Issachar who went over to David thereby showed political sagacity. No similar phrase occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament. [ibid]
Ellicott is not alone here. Albert Barnes states that this passage “is best interpreted politically” (source). John Gill suggests that this passage may refer to the fact that these “were men of prudence and wisdom, and knew that this was the proper time for making David king” (source). John Wesley says that “they understood public affairs, the temper of the nation, and the tendencies of the present events” (source). Matthew Guzik, while mentioning the astrology argument, says that “we should simply see that these sons of Issachar were men who supported King Saul up until the right time, and at the right time gave their support to David” (source). Finally, Matthew Henry likewise writes:
Those of that tribe were greatly intent on public affairs, had good intelligence from abroad and made a good use of it. They knew what Israel ought to do: from their observation and experience they learned both their own and others’ duty and interest. In this critical juncture they knew Israel ought to make David king. It was not only expedient, but necessary; the present posture of affairs called for it. The men of Issachar dealt mostly in country business, and did not much intermeddle in public affairs, which gave them an opportunity of observing others and conversing with themselves. [source]
Therefore, given the testimony of learned Christian men through history, and (more importantly) the plain meaning of scripture, what is 1 Chronicles 12:32 teaching us? That the gift of the sons of the Issachar, among all the tribes and sects among the Jewish people, was that they recognized the events happening in Israel, and they understood that it was time to give support for David against Saul.
With this established, let us now review how the Sons of Issachar Anointing applies the passage, by asking a few questions.
First, is there anything about an anointing here? No. Absolutely not. This is describing one of the groups which came to David and supported him in his struggle against Saul, and states their most strongest trait. The sons of Issachar were not under a special anointing any more than the other tribes were.
Second, is there anything commanding us or telling us to seek or obtain something? No. Absolutely not. This is a descriptive passage, not a prescriptive passage. Many in Hyper-Charismatic circles, trying to get around that this passage is not a command, will argue that it is simply an image of what we are to do – nonetheless, they are using it in a prescriptive manner for something believers are supposed to seek or obtain. This is not how such a passage is to be treated.
Those who support the Sons of Issachar Anointing will sometimes admit that the verse is speaking of supporting David’s claim to kingship, but will add that there are “End Times Sons of Issachar” who are prophetic and understand the signs of the end times. The problem with this is that nowhere in scripture is such a connection made, nor is 1 Chronicles 12:32 thought of as a verse for a prophetic group of people – in fact, no one in the history of the church, until the last decade or so, has ever interpreted the passage in this manner. Such an interpretation, therefore, can only be considered extra-scriptural revelation, absent from the teaching and understanding of the plain meaning of Holy Writ. It certainly does not come from any method in accordance with the doctrine of sola scriptura.
Even more dangerous is that this Sons of Issachar Anointing, like Mike Bickle’s Forerunners or Lou Engle’s Nazirites, presents a kind of anointing which creates a branch of “super Christians,” who have special knowledge and insight into God’s will which other Christians do not have. To quote from one website speaking on the anointing:
I believe there is an Issachar anointing which brings an understanding of the times and seasons we are in and the knowledge of what to do. This anointing brings with it vision and counsel. In these difficult days in which we are living, we need to have an Issachar anointing to understand the times prophetically so that we will have discernment of how to move with God. We need this for our personal lives, for the body of Christ as a whole, and for our nation. We must learn how to draw on God’s prophetic word to guide us through this prophetic season. God wants us to understand the times and what needs to be done in midst of each situation and season. The Issachar anointing brings with it that understanding of what time and season we are in and also the knowledge of what to do. This anointing also brings with it vision and counsel. The Issachar anointing puts in proper timing the plans of God. This anointing understands time and has an anointing for timing. How well do we perceive God’s seasons and timing for His purposes? [source]
Therefore, if one wishes to have “vision and counsel” about these end times, we must “draw on God’s prophetic word to guide us through the prophetic season,” which the Issachar anointing can bring us. In fact, we need this, and we must learn how to do this – otherwise, how will we “perceive God’s seasons and timing for His purposes”? Just as with Mike Bickle’s concept of forerunners (which is unbiblical) and Lou Engle’s concept of New Testament Nazirites (which comes from a dream his son had one night), such a teaching borders on Gnosticism, an ancient heresy which, in some forms, taught that there was a special knowledge Christ had for those willing to discover or learn about. No such promise is made in scripture, however: the only “anointing” in regards to believers is that which is given to all believers (1 John 2:27), and it is by holy scripture that a person can become better equipped to understand the will of God (2 Tim 3:16-17). Putting all this aside, the passage itself here does not teach of any kind of promised “special knowledge” for Christians to pursue…that is complete and utter eisegesis.
The fact is, there is no such thing as a Sons of Issachar Anointing. The Bible is silent about it, and no one in the past 2000 years of the New Testament church (save for recently) has taught on the subject. It is an unbiblical doctrine which some teachers are attempting to seduce people into following and seeking. Such doctrines and practices have a name in scripture: burdens. This addition to the Christian lifestyle and beliefs comes from unbiblical doctrines, and utilizes an abuse of God’s text to attempt to prove it. Any doctrine or teaching sourced to a wild misuse of holy writ should be avoided at all costs. I would plead with any involved in this “Sons of Issachar Anointing,” if you believe yourself to be honoring God’s word, to really consider what scripture says on this subject. God bless.