Genesis 49:14
Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:
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(14) Issachar.—The description of Issachar’s lot is derived partly from the cognizance he had chosen for his signet, and partly from his personal character, He had taken for his symbol the ass—a very noble, active, spirited, and enduring animal in the East. (See Genesis 16:12, where Ishmael is compared to the wild ass, which adds to these qualities the love of freedom.) His real character was slothful, inactive, and commonplace. Jacob therefore likens him to a “strong ass;” Heb., an ass of bone, that is, one coarsely bred, as animals of high parentage have small bones. He is thus fit only to be a drudge, and with the laziness of a cart-horse lies down “between two burdens.” The word occurs again in Judges 5:16, and is there more correctly rendered sheepfolds. More exactly it means the pens in which the cattle were folded during the nights of summer; and it is in the dual form, because these pens were divided into two parts for the larger and smaller cattle. Thus Issachar, stretched at ease between his cattle-pens, gives us the idea of a tribe occupied with pastoral pursuits, and destitute of all higher aspirations.

Genesis 49:14. Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between two burdens — The men of that tribe shall be strong and industrious, fit for and inclined to labour, particularly the toil of husbandry; like the ass that patiently carries his burden. Issachar submitted to two burdens, tillage and tribute.

49:13-18 Concerning Zebulun: if prophecy says, Zebulun shall be a haven of ships, be sure Providence will so plant him. God appoints the bounds of our habitation. It is our wisdom and duty to accommodate ourselves to our lot, and to improve it; if Zebulun dwell at the heaven of the sea, let him be for a haven of ships. Concerning Issachar: he saw that the land was pleasant, yielding not only pleasant prospects, but pleasant fruits to recompense his toils. Let us, with an eye of faith, see the heavenly rest to be good, and that land of promise to be pleasant; this will make our present services easy. Dan should, by art, and policy, and surprise, gain advantages against his enemies, like a serpent biting the heel of the traveller. Jacob, almost spent, and ready to faint, relieves himself with those words, I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord! The salvation he waited for was Christ, the promised Seed; now that he was going to be gathered to his people, he breathes after Him to whom the gathering of the people shall be. He declared plainly that he sought heaven, the better country, Heb 11:13,14. Now he is going to enjoy the salvation, he comforts himself that he had waited for the salvation. Christ, as our way to heaven, is to be waited on; and heaven, as our rest in Christ, is to be waited for. It is the comfort of a dying saint thus to have waited for the salvation of the Lord; for then he shall have what he has been waiting for."An ass of bone," and therefore, of strength. "Couching between the hurdles" - the pens or stalls in which the cattle were lodged. Rest in a pleasant land he felt to be good; and hence, rather than undertake the struggle for liberty and independence, he became like the strong ass a bearer of burdens, and a payer of tribute. He is thus a hireling by disposition as well as by name Genesis 30:18.Ge 49:14, 15. Issachar—

14. a strong ass couching down between two burdens—that is, it was to be active, patient, given to agricultural labors. It was established in lower Galilee—a "good land," settling down in the midst of the Canaanites, where, for the sake of quiet, they "bowed their shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute."

A strong ass, Heb. an ass of bone, i.e. of great bulk and bones, and strength of body, but of little spirit and courage,

couching down between two burdens, which are laid upon his back, and which he is contented to bear. Or, lying down, i.e. enjoying his ease and rest, between the borders, to wit, of the other tribes, with which he was encompassed and secured from foreign enemies, which made him more secure and slothful. Or, between the borders or folds of cattle; as a word very near akin to it, and proceeding from the same root, signifies, Judges 5:16, to the feeding and minding whereof he wholly gave himself, neglecting more generous things.

Issachar is a strong ass,.... Or as one, the note of similitude being wanting, as Ben Melech observes; "a bony" (e) one, as the word signifies; not one that is lean, and nothing but skin and bones, as some interpret it, but that is strong and robust, able to carry burdens; and this tribe is compared to an ass, not for stupidity and sluggishness, but for its strength, and its use in husbandry, in which this tribe was chiefly occupied: the Targums of Jonathan and Jarchi interpret this figuratively, of his being strong to bear the yoke of the law: and it is a notion of the Jews, that this tribe were skilful in the doctrines of the law, and the intercalation of years, &c. from 1 Chronicles 12:32 couching down between two burdens: one hanging on one side, and another on the other; which Kimchi and Ben Melech interpret of bales of goods; and may as well be understood of sacks of corn, or anything else, carried by these creatures, which, when they come into a good pasture, and for the sake of that and ease, will lie down with their burdens on them, and rise up again with them: the Targums of Onkelos and Jerusalem paraphrase it, "between two borders" (f), or the borders of his brethren, as Jonathan, Zebulun and Dan, between which this tribe lay; and this is the reason Aben Ezra gives why Issachar, who was older than Zebulun, is mentioned after him, and between him and Dan, because his land lay between them; and so it may be observed, that in the division of the land in Joshua's time, Issachar's lot came up after Zebulun's, Joshua 19:10 but Doctor Lightfoot thinks (g) it refers to the two kingdoms, between which it lay, that of Phoenicia on one side, and that of Samaria on the other.

(e) "Asinus osseus", Montanus, Tigurine version, Munster, Vatablus, Drusius, Piscator, Cartwright. (f) "inter terminos", V. L. "inter terminos duos", Pagninus, Montanus, Drusius, Cartwright; so Ainsworth, "inter duos finos", Tigurine version. (g) Works, vol. 1. p. 698.

Issachar is {l} a strong ass couching down between two burdens:

(l) His force will be great, but he will lack courage to resist his enemies.

14. a strong ass] Lit. “a bony ass,” as Aquila ὄνος ὀστώδης; Lat. asinus fortis. Issachar is compared, not to the wild ass, high spirited and swift, but to the strong domestic beast of burden. The territory of Issachar included the southern part of Galilee and the Valley of Jezreel. Slightly different readings are represented by the Sam. gêrim (instead of gerem), i.e. “the ass of strangers,” “bearing the burdens imposed by foreigners,” “a tributary.” The LXX τὸ καλὸν ἐπεθύμησεν = “he desired the beautiful,” gives an entirely different turn to the sense.

between the sheepfolds] For this word, see Jdg 5:16, “why satest thou among the sheepfolds?,” and Psalm 68:13. Issachar is represented as lying contentedly among his flocks, regardless of his brethren. Instead of “sheepfolds,” the versions give “boundaries.” Thus LXX ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν κλήρων = “between the lots”; Lat. inter terminos. Another proposed rendering is “dung-heaps” or “ash-heaps.” Skinner conjectures “panniers,” which would be more appropriate to the metaphor.

Verses 14, 15. - Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens - literally, an ass of bone - hence a strong, powerful animal, asinus fortis (Vulgate), asinus walidi corporis (Gesenius), asinus robustus (Rosenmuller) - lying down between the folds, or cattle-pens, which received and protected the flocks by night, the dual being used probably because such pens were divided into two parts for different kinds of cattle (Gesenius, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy, 'Speaker s Commentary,' &c.), though the word mishpetaim has been also rendered ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν κλήρων (LXX.), inter terminos (Vulgate, Rosenmüller), "within their own boundaries" (Onkelos, Targums of Jerusalem and Jonathan), "between two burdens" (A. V., Lange, Murphy, &c.). And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant. Issachar was to manifest a keen appreciation of the land or portion of territory that should be assigned to him, and to renounce the warlike spirit and military enterprises of his brethren for the indolent and luxurious repose of his fat pastures, crouching between his sheep-folds, or rejoicing within his tents, like a lazy ass, capable indeed of mighty efforts, but too self-satisfied to put forth much exertion, devoting himself to agriculture and pastoral pursuits, and preferring rather to pay tribute to his brethren, in order to secure their protection, than to leave his ploughshare and cast aside his shepherd's crook to follow them into the tented field of war, as the patriarch next describes. And bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute - or a tributary servant. The phrase מַס־עֹבֵד, though sometimes used of servitude under a foreign sovereignty (Deuteronomy 20:11; Joshua 16:10), commonly refers to tribute rendered by labor (1 Kings 9:21; 2 Chronicles 8:8), and is correctly rendered ἄνθρωπος εἴς φόρον δουλεύων (Aquila), factusque est tributo serviens (Vulgate). The translation καὶ ἐγενήθη ἀνὴο γεωργος (LXX.) discovers in the clause an allusion to Issachar's agricultural pursuits. Genesis 49:14"Issachar is a bony ass, lying between the hurdles. He saw that rest was a good (טוב subst.), and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute." The foundation of this award also lies in the name שׂכר ישּׂא, which is probably interpreted with reference to the character of Issachar, and with an allusion to the relation between שׂכר and שׂכיר, a daily labourer, as an indication of the character and fate of his tribe. "Ease at the cost of liberty will be the characteristic of the tribe of Issachar" (Delitzsch). The simile of a bony, i.e., strongly-built ass, particularly adapted for carrying burdens, pointed to the fact that this tribe would content itself with material good, devote itself to the labour and burden of agriculture, and not strive after political power and rule. The figure also indicated "that Issachar would become a robust, powerful race of men, and receive a pleasant inheritance which would invite to comfortable repose." (According to Jos. de bell. Jude 3.3, 2, Lower Galilee, with the fruitful table land of Jezreel, was attractive even to τὸν ἥκιστα γῆς φιλόπονον). Hence, even if the simile of a bony ass contained nothing contemptible, it did not contribute to Issachar's glory. Like an idle beast of burden, he would rather submit to the yoke and be forced to do the work of a slave, than risk his possessions and his peace in the struggle for liberty. To bend the shoulder to the yoke, to come down to carrying burdens and become a mere serf, was unworthy of Israel, the nation of God that was called to rule, however it might befit its foes, especially the Canaanites upon whom the curse of slavery rested (Deuteronomy 20:11; Joshua 16:10; 1 Kings 9:20-21; Isaiah 10:27). This was probably also the reason why Issachar was noticed last among the sons of Leah. In the time of the Judges, however, Issachar acquired renown for heroic bravery in connection with Zebulun (Judges 5:14-15, Judges 5:18). The sons of Leah are followed by the four sons of the two maids, arranged, not according to their mothers or their ages, but according to the blessing pronounced upon them, so that the two warlike tribes stand first.
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