Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be to Zidon.…
If we consider nothing more than Issachar after the flesh, we shall have done with the text almost immediately upon noticing it as a prediction that Issachar should become a tribe of laborious husbandmen. But there is a spiritual Issachar, a borderer between good and evil; and would to God that his tents were nowhere to be found in our church. With this Issachar, or in other words, the wavering and undecided, for the description of whose character we find appropriate words in the text, let us now endeavour to become better acquainted. We shall notice —
I. WHERE HE COUCHES DOWN. Issachar has a strange and unprepossessing appellation, that of a "bony ass." But who shall say how many amongst ourselves may not be thus unflatteringly designated in various parts of the book of God? We shall see why to the spiritual Issachar this name may be given, when we have learnt the characteristics which belong to him. Where do we find him? It is between the borders. He is couched down between the borders. Now, if we give a spiritual application to these words, we may take them as describing an evil and unhappy condition. How awfully does the Lord rebuke those whose hearts are halting in indecision — who are neither cold nor hot! To each of such lukewarm ones He declares, "I will spew thee out of My mouth." He would that they were either one thing or the other: either cold or hot. Indecision is to Him an abomination. Where, then, is it that the spiritual borderer couches down, and between what borders has he pitched his tent? Strictly speaking, he is not one of those who are neither for nor against religion, neither Christian nor heathen. He is professedly for that which is right. He appears, indeed, to many, to have pitched his tent within the kingdom of God, and yet he is in a very deplorable situation. He has mettled down, as it were, between Canaan and Egypt. He cannot exactly be classed with the people of the world; but still less can he be numbered with the children of God. He cannot properly be placed in the same rank with the crooked and perverse generation; but still less can he be accounted one of the chosen generation and royal priesthood. He is couched down between the borders of the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of Belial. In this unhappy middle situation he can never sit down with the subjects of the former; but he will perish and be consumed with the subjects of the latter. He is a nominal Christian without a birth into a new life; he acknowledges the corruption of human nature without feeling his own; he is conversant with spiritual things, but not truly enlightened in them; he professes to believe in Jesus, but is insensible of his need of Him; he numbers himself among the saints, without being one; he knows how to talk of a life of grace, without having entered upon it; he imagines his life and conversation to be quite Christian, and yet is in thought and disposition no better than a natural man. His heart and mind are unchanged.
II. How DID HE COME INTO THIS CONDITION? "He saw rest, that it was good; and the land, that it was pleasant." "He saw rest," or repose, "that it was good." What rest or repose? Was it rest for his soul in Christ? Was it peace with God? Was it repose in the great Redeemer's merits? Was it a release from the burden and curse of sin? Was it deliverance from the servile drudgery of legal bondage? Oh no! quite another repose attracted him, and provoked his longing desire. "He saw the land that it was pleasant." What land? Was it that better country, namely, the heavenly? Was it that blissful and glorious region of light and love, in a superior state of being, unto which Jesus Himself is the Way and the Door? Or, was it even that region of grace here on earth, wherein His people live by His dew and sunshine? Did his soul really desire this? Did he long after it? Nothing of the kind can be said of him. Very different inducements was he conscious of. It is sometimes one thing, and sometimes another, which leads persons of this character into their dubious situation between the borders. Some are attracted by the harmony and mutual love which they find among those who are quiet in the land. Another has naturally a soft and yielding disposition. He is easily affected and influenced. Another has a natural inclination to thought and inquiry. This leads him to search the Scriptures, where he finds abundance for his mind to feed upon, and to exercise his quickness of understanding. Another, from being naturally gifted with a keen perception of what is intellectually beautiful, is charmed with the sublimity of the inspired writings. The moving descriptions, the luminous imagery, the parabolic language, the lovely and touching scenes with which Scripture abounds, beget in him a kind of enthusiasm. In such various ways men may be spiritually couching down between the borders. "He saw rest, that it was good; and the land, that it was pleasant." Thus it may be no real longing for reconciliation with God, no hunger for Christ's righteousness, no thirst for the graces of the Holy Spirit, which induces them to renounce the world, and to join the people of the Lord.
III. In the last place, briefly notice THE SPIRITUAL TOILS AND PAINS THAT NECESSARILY ATTEND THIS STATE, AS ALSO THE FEARFUL PERILS WHICH SURROUND IT. This toilsome and harassing condition is depicted in the words, "He bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute." Having bowed his shoulder to bear, he has a burden laid upon him, under which he sighs and groans; and this burden is — not the burden of sin! Would that he felt this, for his state would then soon begin to amend. But this burden is, alas! his Christianity itself: that notional Christianity, to the drudgery of which his own wisdom has allied him.
(F. W. Krummacher, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.