(Isʹsa·char) [he is wages or he brings wages].
1. The ninth son of Jacob and the fifth of Leah’s seven children born in Paddan-aram. Leah viewed this son as Jehovah’s reward or wages paid for her having allowed a maidservant to bear sons by her husband during a period when she was barren.—Gen. 29:32–30:21; 35:23, 26; 1 Chron. 2:1.
Issachar was perhaps eight years old when his family moved to Canaan in 1761 B.C.E. After that nothing is known of his life aside from the recorded events in which, as one of “the sons of Jacob,” he mutually participated. (Gen. 34:5-7, 13, 27; 37:3-27; 42:1-3; 45:15) In 1728 B.C.E., when Issachar was about forty-one years old, he moved to Egypt together with his sons Tola, Puvah (Puah), Iob (Jashub) and Shimron as part of the “seventy souls” of Jacob’s household.—Gen. 46:13, 27; Ex. 1:1-3; 1 Chron. 7:1.
When Jacob was on his deathbed, Issachar was the fifth of the twelve sons to receive his father’s blessing: “Issachar is a strong-boned ass, lying down between the two saddlebags. And he will see that the resting place is good and that the land is pleasant; and he will bend down his shoulder to bear burdens and he will become subject to slavish forced labor.” (Gen. 49:14, 15) In pronouncing this blessing, Jacob was not only pointing out certain individual characteristics and events in the personal life of Issachar; but, as with the blessings bestowed on his brothers, Jacob was foretelling tribal traits and conduct that would be displayed in the future by Issachar’s descendants “in the final part of the days.”—Gen. 49:1.
2. One of the twelve tribes of Israel; descendants of Jacob through his son Issachar. When the first census was taken after leaving Egypt, the number of able-bodied men twenty years old and upward fit for warfare among this tribe was 54,400. (Num. 1:17-19, 28, 29) A similar census about thirty-nine years later showed the tribe had increased their registered ones to 64,300, and in David’s time the fighting force numbered 87,000. (Num. 26:23-25; 1 Chron. 7:5) There were 200 head ones of the tribe that went to Hebron in 1070 B.C.E. when David was made “king over all Israel.”—1 Chron. 12:23, 32, 38.
In the layout of the great wilderness camp, the families of Issachar, together with those of their full-blood brother-tribe of Zebulun, were situated on Judah’s flanks on the E side of the tabernacle (Num. 2:3-8); when on the march this three-tribe division was assigned to take the lead. (Num. 10:14-16) Moses’ parting blessings on the tribes grouped Issachar and Zebulun together (Deut. 33:18), but a few years later they were separated when the tribes were divided into two groups to hear the reading of blessings and cursings of the Law between the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal.—Deut. 27:11-13; Josh. 8:33-35; see EBAL, MOUNT.
In dividing up the Promised Land, Issachar was the fourth tribe chosen by lot to receive its inheritance, which proved to be mainly in the fertile valley of Jezreel. Bounding Issachar were the tribal territories of Zebulun and Naphtali on the N, the Jordan River on the E, Manasseh’s territory on the S, and a portion of Asher’s allotment on the W. Mount Tabor lay along its northern boundary with Zebulun, while the city of Megiddo was near its SW border and Beth-shean was toward its SE boundary. Within this territory there were a number of Canaanite cities and their dependent settlements. (Josh. 17:10; 19:17-23) It was here in this choice valley that the tribe of Issachar, according to Moses’ blessing, ‘rejoiced . . . in their tents.’—Deut. 33:18.
The likening of Jacob’s son Issachar to “a strong-boned ass” evidently pointed to a quality reflected as well in the tribe descended from him. (Gen. 49:14, 15) The land assigned them was indeed “pleasant,” a fertile part of Palestine, good for agriculture. Issachar seems to have accepted well the hard labor involved in such work. Willingness is indicated by his ‘bending down his shoulder to bear burdens.’ So, while the tribe was not particularly outstanding, it apparently could be commended for taking on the load of responsibility that was its share.
Certain cities within Issachar’s possession were designated as enclave cities belonging to the neighbor tribe of Manasseh, including the prominent cities of Megiddo and Beth-shean. (Josh. 17:11) A number of towns in its territory, together with their surrounding pasture grounds, were also set aside for the tribe of Levi. (Josh. 21:6, 28, 29; 1 Chron. 6:62, 71-73) Later, Issachar supplied its share (one-twelfth of the annual needs) for the support of Solomon’s court.—1 Ki. 4:1, 7, 17.
Among the prominent individuals of Issachar was Igal, the tribe’s selected spy who joined others in advising Israel not to enter the Promised Land. (Num. 13:1-3, 7, 31-33) As chieftains of the tribe Nethanel served after the Exodus (Num. 1:4, 8; 7:18; 10:15), Paltiel when Israel entered the Promised Land (Num. 34:17, 18, 26), and Omri during the reign of David.—1 Chron. 27:18, 22.
For twenty-three years Tola of the tribe of Issachar was one of the judges of Israel. (Judg. 10:1, 2) Prior to that Issachar was listed among those who had supported Judge Barak in the overthrow of Jabin’s forces under Sisera. (Judg. 4:2; 5:15) After the split-up of the united kingdom, Baasha of Issachar was the third ruler of the northern kingdom. A wicked man, Baasha murdered his predecessor to gain the throne and held it for twenty-four years. (1 Ki. 15:27, 28, 33, 34) Some two hundred years later Hezekiah, king of Judah, invited those of the northern kingdom to join in keeping the Passover, and many from Issachar, in response, traveled up to Jerusalem for the celebration.—2 Chron. 30:1, 13, 18-20.
In the books of Ezekiel and Revelation, Issachar is enumerated with the other tribes and, in view of the prophetic nature of those visions, obviously has symbolic meaning.—Ezek. 48:25, 26, 33; Rev. 7:7.