Tribe of Issachar: History, Symbol & Facts

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  • 0:04 The Tribe of Issachar
  • 0:48 Issachar
  • 1:32 The Blessing of Jacob
  • 2:04 Issachar & The Tribe
  • 3:38 Issachar's Role in Israel
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel had its own role in the region. In this lesson, we'll see what the Tribe of Issachar was responsible for and the relevance of Issachar's role.

The Tribe of Issachar

Many people who have siblings have compared them to donkeys…of some variety. Turns out, there is an ancient precedent to this. The ancient history of Judaism tells of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, each one founded by a son of Jacob, the progenitor of the Israelites. These twelve brothers each had their own role in the family and the faith, but only Jacob's ninth son, Issachar, was known as the donkey of the group.

It's actually not as bad as it sounds. However, to understand it we need to take a deeper look into Issachar's life, and the group of Israelites who bore his name. The Tribe of Issachar was one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and later one of the Lost Tribes of Israel as well.

Signs of the Twelve Tribes, with the donkey representing Issachar


So, who was Issachar? In the Jewish and Christian traditions, Issachar was Jacob's ninth son, who he had with one of his wives named Leah. Jacob's other wife at the time was named Rachel, who had problems conceiving. In exchange for some roots that would aid her fertility, Rachel traded one of her nights with Jacob to Leah. On that night, Issachar was conceived.

This history is important because Jewish sources say that Leah ''hired'' Jacob for the night, basically renting him from his other wife. Issachar's name, therefore, meant ''man of hire'', which implied a person whose labor could be bought or rented. From the moment of his conception, Issachar was destined to a life of manual labor.

The Blessing of Jacob

Before each Jacob's twelve sons left to form their own tribes, Jacob bestowed a prophetic blessing upon each of them. This blessing defined the characteristics and fortunes of each son, as well as the tribe that would bear their name for generations.

Jacob's blessing of Issachar went something like this:

Issachar is a strong donkey,
Lying down between two burdens;
He saw that the rest was good,
And that the land was pleasant;
He bowed his shoulder to bear a burden,
And became a band of slaves.

Issachar & the Tribe

Jacob's blessing for Issachar doesn't necessarily sound that great, but let's see what it really meant. First, Jacob describes Issachar's personality. This was significant since the personalities of the tribe's founders would long define the traits of that tribe. Issachar is defined as a strong donkey. This reaffirms descriptions of Issachar as somewhat wild and crass, like a wild donkey kicking and braying.

At the same time, however, a donkey is a beast of burden. Again, remember that Issachar's name even implied that his life would be one of labor. So, Issachar's personality was one of a worker with something of a wild side.

Issachar's personality translated into the fate of his tribe. As the blessing implies, Issachar's tribe found a pleasant land to settle in once the region of Canaan was conquered and divided between the twelve tribes. It was a fertile land, somewhere in the central spans of the region, and the Issachar people eventually became prosperous from their manual labor working the land. Due to this, they also became the third most populous of the tribes (according to biblical censuses), which could be reflected in Jacob's reference to them as a ''strong'' donkey.

The Tribe of Issachar was located in the center of the region

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