“Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between two burdens; he saw that rest was good, and that the land was pleasant; he bowed his shoulder to bear a burden, and became a band of slaves” (Genesis 49:14, 15).

Donkeys were the original mode of transportation for people and have served mankind as a work animal for thousands of years. Originally from Africa and the Middle East, this domesticated member of the horse family has been used to carry loads, plough fields, draw water, and be a pet. Though smaller than horses, they are much stronger. Mules are a cross between a donkey and a horse.

Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn. Actually, they are very cautious animals and will dig in their heels if a situation seems unsafe. Donkeys have a much greater sense of self-preservation than do horses. It is much more difficult to force a donkey into doing something it thinks is dangerous. People who have worked with donkeys consider them highly intelligent, friendly, playful, and eager to learn.

The Bible describes both the wild donkey and the domesticated donkey. The latter was used to pull ploughs and carry burdens. Many references are made to people riding donkeys, such as Abraham, Balaam, Abigail, and even Jesus. As unclean animals, they were never used in Jewish sacrifices or were eaten.

Jacob compared his ninth son, Issachar, to a strong donkey. Today we hear people using the donkey as a derogatory name to make fun of others, but it would have been a compliment to the son of Jacob to be compared to this powerful and useful animal. The descendants of Issachar, whose name means “for hire,” were men of strength and devoted to agriculture. They were not aggressive in warfare and were content to live peacefully.

When David became king, the Bible complimented this tribe as having “understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Perhaps we need to be more stubborn (and intelligent) like the humble donkey.

Dear God, may I learn to work hard, be content, and understand what to do—always guided by Your Word.

For Further Study: Genesis 30:17, 18; Isaiah 1:3; Matthew 21:1–7

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