Dr. Dan Hayden •

Knowing what to do can give a person the edge. Not knowing what to do can get you fired. Recently Ford Motor Company has dropped to the bottom of the car market because of recent problems with recalls, including their popular small SUV (the Escape), and their association with Firestone tires. The real problem, however, appears to be a perception problem. Evidently, Jacques Nasser, the CEO of Ford is in danger of losing his job because of his inability to correctly analyze current trends in the automobile industry. Ford is falling behind in the market, not so much due to their SUV and tire problems, but because they have not paid attention to business. They are not keeping up with the times, and many are calling for a new CEO who knows how to get the company back on track. Nasser reportedly has until the end of the year to present the board of Ford Motor Company with a convincing turn around plan.

Every age has its unique challenges, and those who understand the times tend to lead the way. Whether it’s Ford Motor Company or a ministry like Truth in Grace that is seeking to influence people for Christ, the challenge is the same—know the culture and discover the best way to reach that culture.

There’s an interesting example of this in the Bible that comes to us from the days of Israel’s monarchy. Circumstances were changing as David was about to be crowned King of Israel. Saul was dead and the Benjamites had other ideas about the successor to the throne. But the other tribes were in favor of David as their king, and they had met in Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him. It was a tense time in Israel, and there was a need for great wisdom to discern those times. At that point, two hundred leaders of the tribe of Issachar are highlighted as men who understood what was happening, and knew exactly what to do.

And the children of Issachar, who were men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do… (1 Chronicles 12:32).

The word understanding is the Hebrew word binah, which means “to have insight or to act with prudence.” According to Strong’s Concordance, it comes from a root verb that means to separate something mentally, and distinguish its parts. The word reflects the presence of intelligence and wisdom, even cunning and skill, in the process. In other words, this is not just an understanding of the facts, but a skillful analysis of what something truly means.

The sons of Issachar had analyzed their times and had perceived correctly what those times were all about. They knew what to do because they understood what was happening. It was obvious to them that Saul had not been a good king and there was no established dynasty to keep the kingship in the tribe of Benjamin. David had emerged as a real leader by virtue of his character and ability. He was the type of king Israel needed during those turbulent times. Furthermore, hadn’t God said that the scepter would come out of the tribe of Judah? David was from that tribe and was indeed fully qualified to be the king. The sons of Issachar knew exactly what to do. All of the tribes should get together and crown David as the new King of Israel.

The ability to correctly analyze contemporary situations is what leadership is all about. Those who have this quality tend to rise to the top, and those who lack it lag behind. Every generation needs leaders who can understand the times and know what to do in light of them. So that needs to be our prayer in our own generation—“Lord, help us to understand the times, and to know what to do.”

This is not a matter of simply understanding the Bible, as crucial as that is. Rather, it is knowing how to apply the truths of God’s Word to the issues of our day. Where is the culture going? Why do people think the way they do? What are the real needs of people, as contrasted to their merely felt needs? How can we be effective with the Gospel by correctly perceiving the uniqueness of our times? How can we apply the truth of Scripture in a meaningful way to our generation?

Understanding the times is without question one of the keys to effective leadership. The Word of God has always been the answer to every culture and to each generation. But understanding the current wars against the truth, and discerning the best contemporary means of presenting the truth has always been the important challenge for every age. The need for understanding and discernment is no different in our day. Oh, that we might be like the sons of Issachar, “who had understanding of the times.” ■

For further study, read Fighting the New War