September 23, 2008
Sometimes You're the Dude, Sometimes You're the Donkey
Continuing our Fortnight of Donkey Tales, the following devotional is based on Genesis 49.
The logo for Likewise Books, proud not-for-profit parent of Strangely Dim, features a silhouette of a man pulling a donkey behind him. Inevitably the questions pour forth: Am I supposed to identify with the dude or the donkey? What does it mean?
Never ask a designer questions like that. It only ticks them off.
Besides, the answer ultimately, unavoidably, lies within. If you intuitively identify with one or the other, no amount of deconstruction on the part of a third party, even the creator of the image, is going to convince you otherwise. In fact, particularly if you identify with the dude, any suggestion to the contrary is as likely as not to cause you to snort and bray in defiance.
No, the answer ultimately, unavoidably, lies within, and as such it serves as a good barometer of your life-satisfaction index, a kind of Rorschach test for how you're currently perceiving yourself and your prospects. Do you pin your face on the dude, or the donkey? And how then should you live?
Of course, pinning stuff on donkeys is usually done blindfolded, under the watchful eye of a more mature observer, such as a parent. That's what happens in Genesis 49, as a matter of fact, as patriarch Israel tells the various unwitting patriarchs of twelve tribes-to-be what he really, really thinks of them and their prospects. Look closely and you'll see that Jacob sees one of them as the dude, and one of them as the donkey.
The part of the dude was played by Judah, of whom Israel had plenty to say, all of it good. Judah's brothers would praise him, bow down to him. His enemies would submit to him. Judah would hold the throne of Israel in trust until Messiah came to claim it. Judah would have dark eyes and white teeth, more wine than he knew what to do with, and the best parking place in the kingdom of God, where he would tether his donkey to a gilded branch. Judah would be the dude-ah.
That was lame. I apologize. But it's true-da. (Oops. I did it again.) The world, according to Israel, would be Judah's oyster, and prosperity, symbolized by the donkey and all its trimmings, would follow him wherever he went.
Not so with Issachar, I'm afraid. Issachar, according to Israel, is "one tough donkey," according to The Message, "couching down between two burdens," according to King James. Issachar would learn the joy of comfort and easy living, and would crave it so much that he would sell and even break his body to attain it. Issachar, in other words, would be a lazy idiot. So said Israel as he offered his children his blessings.
This wasn't just Israel being a bad parent; this was Israel prophesying the future of his family, his people. It bears out as the Old Testament unfolds: the tribe of Issachar barely distinguishes itself among the tribes of Israel, mentioned only in lists that nobody but a tenured Old Testament scholar would bother reading and as the parent-tribe of only one of a long list of wicked kings of Israel.
The tribe of Issachar comes to nearly nothing as the Old Testament unfolds, even as the tribe of Judah produces skilled artisans such as Bezalel, military giants such as Caleb and great kings such as David and Solomon. Ultimately, the tribe of Judah would yield the Messiah, Jesus, to claim the throne of the kingdom of God.
Yep, sometimes you're the dude, and sometimes you're the donkey. But Judah wasn't flawless; plenty of wickedness came through his tribal ranks. And for all that it had going against it in its birthright, the tribe of Issachar is also remembered for supporting the work of deliverance led by Deborah (Judg 5) and for understanding the times and knowing what Israel should do (1 Chron 12:32). And interestingly enough, in Deuteronomy 27 Judah and Issachar were selected together to be among the tribes that declared God's blessings on his people.
So whether you're seeing yourself today as the donkey or the dude, your future is still wide open, because your future is as yet unwritten. It's worth picking up the Rorschach test that is our Likewise logo again and again every so often, and even more important, following that self-assessment with a critical question: How then shall I live?