One of my favorite movies is “300.” Though they faced certain defeat, 300 Spartan warriors helped block the Persians’ advance on Athens in 480 B.C. Though the movie is sensationalized, the story is true. 300 men took a stand against an army that possibly numbered in the hundreds of thousands. And though they could not defeat them, they delayed them. Though Athens was overrun for a time, Greece eventually emerged victorious – defeating the Persians the next year.
But it started with 300 men. 300 men who separated themselves from the rest of the army to make a stand. They turned around and faced their enemy. And they were all killed.
But did they lose? No. They accomplished their goal. They saw the threat that was coming. They turned around, faced it head-on, and lost the battle – BUT, they bought the remaining army the time they needed to eventually win the war.
300 men knew what had to be done.
Rewind the Calendar over 500 years. King Saul was now dead. Facing certain defeat, he fell on his own sword. The first, mighty King of Israel was gone. And while an entire post could be written discussing his egomania and defiance of God (and the ramifications that can have on one’s leadership), 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 sums up the whole of Saul’s reign nicely:
So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord. He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he even consulted a medium instead of asking the Lord for guidance. So the Lord killed him and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.
Saul had lost God’s blessing, and David was now King. In the next chapter, you see how David retakes Jerusalem and begins to surround himself with an army made up of those who had recognized God’s blessing upon him and his leadership already (1 Chronicles 11:2).
Then, in chapter 12, you see entire armies rally around David to confirm him as their King over Israel.
And the numbers are staggering:
6800 warriors from Judah. 7100 from Simeon. 4600 from Levi. 3000 from Benjamin. 20,800 from Ephraim. 18,000 from Manessah. 50,000 from Zebulun. 1,000 officers and 37,000 warriors from Naphtali. 28,600 from the tribe of Dan. 40,000 warriors from Asher. An army of 120,000 stood ready from the east side of the Jordan river (1 Chronicles 12:37). Just adding the numbers above yields an army anywhere from nearly 220,000 to 340,000. And they all came “in battle array” with the purpose of making David their king (v. 38).
But in all these numbers, another number stands out: 200.
It is a small number compared to the thousands they are standing among. But they are counted.
From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take. (1 Chronicles 12:32).
200 people. Not thousands. Nor the tens of thousands that were represented in other tribes. Just 200.
Were they military advisors? Were they prophets? Were they number crunchers or strategists? Were they a think-tank?
Personally, I believe they fit the description of “prophet.”
The only thing this verse makes clear is that they understood the signs of the times, and knew the best course for Israel to take. There was something about them that Israel needed. They offered guidance. They were in-tune with Israel, their culture, their times, AND their God. I am confident that they are counted here because of their importance in being in-tune with those things. David needed them. He needed a group of people who would raise their voices when needed and say “David, this is the route you should take,” or “David, this is not a good idea.” He needed the leaders from Issachar.
200 men who knew what had to be done.
As I read this passage and look at the numbers, I cannot help but think of the mighty things that still happen in churches today. Sure, we can discuss the church’s struggle to find its footing in an ever-changing culture. But you also cannot ignore the mighty ways God moves in many congregations. And while congregations are not armies armed with spears and shields, it is exciting to see some of the numbers that literally rival the numbers of the armies that rallied around David. There are mega-churches that are growing rapidly all over the country. They number in the thousands and the tens of thousands. They are drawing people to Christ every week, and their impact has become the inspiration for churches everywhere.
There are congregations – armies, if you will – in California, South Carolina, Miami, North Carolina, Atlanta, Chicago, and many other places. They have name like Saddleback, Willow Creek, Newspring, Elevation, Potential, Highlands, and North Point (just to name a few). Then there are ministries like Passion, which draws in tens of thousands of college students alone every year. The things that are happening in these ministries are epic in scale.
Thousands. Tens of thousands. But it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the fact that – in addition to these – there are churches in every city that are making a difference. These might be congregations you and I have been a part of or heard of that only number in the hundreds – or less – but their impact is felt in their communities because they want to see Christ glorified – and when even ONE life is changed, the whole body celebrates. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the excitement of seeing God move.
But in the midst of all this excitement and energy – of story after story of how God is moving in BIG ways – there is still that small number: 200.
There is still a need for people who know the signs of OUR time and are willing to speak up and say, “Church! This is the way we should go!”
No, I’m not talking about the guy in the 5th row who thinks the music is too loud. I’m not talking about haters of the church who hide have been hurt by the church in some way (maybe) and now hide behind keyboards or picket signs. I’m not talking about that person who wants to meet with the pastor for the sixth time because he feels “called” to critique the sermons. I’m not talking about the person who has gotten hung up on a theological issue and now wants to rip a church in half over it. Nor am I talking about the person holding a grudge against an individual leader, pastor, or staff person because of a past history with them.
These people are selfish, void of grace, and dangerous, and you can usually spot them quickly because they are never happy and they’re surrounded by people who are never happy. These are not the 200. Steer clear of them.
The men of Issachar did not steer clear of the celebration and scoff at it from a distance. They were a part of it. They contributed to the party and to the excitement (1 Chronicles 12:40).
The 200 are also not merely experts in the business or marketing world. While we can learn a lot from them (and there are many godly businessmen and marketing experts), church is more than a business or a commodity to be marketed. If we are not careful, we risk making Saul’s mistake of consulting today’s “mediums” instead of God and godly men who now where to draw the line between business and church.
We need to find this generations’ 200 and listen to them.
They may come from all walks of life. They may be business leaders. They may be college students. They may be career Christians or they may be new believers with a keen insight and a fresh perspective. They will love God and they will love his church. They may be writers. They may be pastors. They – most likely – will be people in the trenches ministering to people where no one else wants to go.
They are prophets in our time. They are in tune with our culture. They are in tune with what’s happening in our churches – and not just one church, but ALL churches. Their relationship with God is strong. They are in tune with His Word.
Amidst all the excitement and sheer scale of things happening around them, they will be the voice that might cry out and say, “Wait.” They might challenge us – even in the peak of all that we think we are doing right – and say, “We need to change direction.”
- “Our excitement has turned into hype.”
- “We need to focus less on marketing our churches and more on making disciples for Jesus.”
- “We need to make sure that we are learning to serve people beyond the walls of our churches.”
- “If you are still doing church the same way you did it ten years ago, then you are not as effective as you could be.”
- “Pastor, why do you need name-recognition when you serve someone?”
- “Worship pastor, do you not realize that truly leading people in worship means so much more than singing?”
- “Children’s pastor, do more than entertain kids. Pour into them.”
- “Discipleship pastor, you need to do more than design a life group program or Sunday school curriculum. You need to model discipleship as well and invest in people personally.”
- “Church, you need to learn to be nice. You have forgotten how to do this.”
- “Don’t just claim to love people, REALLY love them – regardless of their faults.”
- “Jesus was not a Republican or a Democrat… a northerner or a southerner… a Bama fan or an Auburn fan… “
There is much to celebrate, and like the men of Issachar, we should join in and celebrate what is happening in churches.
But we should also – amidst the metaphorical roar of the 200,000 soldiers around us – turn our ears to the 200. David counted them. David needed them. And so do we.
The question is, will we be willing to listen when they speak up? Will we recognize their wisdom and their insight (their gift of prophecy, even), and take it to heart?
Or will we laugh at them? Will we dismiss them because we are too busy reveling in our “successes?”
“I’ve got an army of 18,000. You’re just 200 men. Where is Issachar, anyway?”
Jesus himself cautions us. In Luke 4:24, right before being driven out of Nazareth, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.”
We will be tempted to ignore them. We will be tempted to stay the course of what we think it is best because it has worked for us. We will even be tempted to think that WE are the ones who have figured it out. We will want to tout our success stories. We will want everyone to join up with what we are doing, and go nowhere else. We will wear t-shirts bearing our logo and march full speed ahead, and ignore the voices that are trying desperately to yank us back from our own hype.
What if the Spartans had not been allowed to remain behind? They knew what had to be done, but what if they had been ignored? What if the 300 had been forced to march forward with the rest of the army and the Persian army had caught up with them? Greece would have ended.
What if we ignore this generation’s 200? What will the church look like in 5, 10, or 25 years if we do not listen to people who are in tune with our culture and with our God?
We need the voices. Even when their words may be hard to hear.
We need to listen to those who know what needs to be done.