Jeremiah 35 – The Lesson of the Rechabites
A. The test of the Rechabites.
1. (1-2) God tells Jeremiah to speak to the Rechabites.
The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying, “Go to the house of the Rechabites, speak to them, and bring them into the house of the LORD, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.”
a. In the days of Jehoiakim: The chronology is difficult to follow and may have been of little concern to Jeremiah. Jehoiakim reigned before Zedekiah. Some (like Morgan) believed this prophecy was delivered during the reign of Zedekiah but recalled events from the days of Jehoiakim.
i. “No precise date is given, but the mention in verse 11 of Chaldean and Aramean forces coming up against the land seems to suit 2 Kings 24:2-4, when bands of Chaldean, Arameans, and other vassal contingents were sent against Jehoiakim.” (Thompson)
b. Go to the house of Rechabites: We don’t know much about the Rechabites, a radically committed sect among the Israelites who emphasized a nomadic life as Israel lived in the wilderness.
i. Their roots went back to Jethro the Kenite, the father of Moses. Judges 1:16 tells of how the Kenites – the descendants of Jethro, father-in-law of Moses – came from the area of Jericho and lived among in the Wilderness of Judah to the south (Judges 4:17, 1 Samuel 15:6). These nomads were the ancestors of the house of Rechab (1 Chronicles 2:55).
ii. The inspirational father of the Rechabites was Jonadab (Jehonadab) an associate of Jehu in the violent and radical purge of the House of Ahab in 2 Kings 10:15-28. He taught a life free from idolatry and its associations, and free from the corruptions of city life.
iii. It’s possible that the Rechabites were not only connected by family bonds, but also received others into their group who shared their ascetic, simple, nomadic commitment to God. In modern terms, they were something of a combination of back-to-nature hippies and zealously pure in their traditions Amish.
iv. “The Rechabites, these Spartan characters, saw themselves as living witnesses to the pilgrim origins of Israel, shunning the settled life of farms and vineyards for the simplicities of tents and flocks.” (Kidner)
v. “Possibly the group transferred itself to the more conservative Judah either before or after the fall of Samaria in 721 BC Most likely they were a voluntary sect rather than the literal descendants of Jonadab, and ‘our father’ (Jeremiah 35:8) is to be understood in this way.” (Cundall)
c. Give them wine to drink: Jeremiah was instructed to do this as he brought the Rechabites to the temple in what the following verses describe as a public, formal ceremony.
2. (3-5) Jeremiah does as God instructed him to.
Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, his brothers and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites, and I brought them into the house of the LORD, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door. Then I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine, and cups; and I said to them, “Drink wine.”
a. The whole house of the Rechabites: Jeremiah brought them all to the temple for this public ceremony. This would be the focus of attention.
i. “Being an acted parable, the little drama was to be given publicity by being presented in the Temple.” (Harrison)
b. Into the chamber of the sons of Hanan: Apparently at the time of Jeremiah, certain individuals had some claim to particular chambers or rooms at the temple. Hanan seems to have been a supporter of Jeremiah.
i. Hanan the son of Igdaliah: “He is here called a man of God. In earlier periods ‘the man of God’ was a title applied to a prophet, not merely the great prophets like Samuel (1 Samuel 10:6-10), Elijah (2 Kings 1:9-13, etc.) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:13), but also to various nameless prophets (1 Samuel 2:27; 9:6, 8, 10; 1 Kings 12:22; 13:1, 11, 12, 21, 26; 17:24; 20:28, etc.).” (Thompson)
ii. “If ‘sons’ in this verse has the same general force as the expression ‘sons of the prophets’ had in the tenth and ninth centuries BC, it would appear that Hanan was the head of a group of disciples.” (Harrison)
c. I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine and cups: Jeremiah tested the Rechabites the way God instructed him to. Jeremiah invited them to drink wine, but did not command them in the name of the LORD to do it. Since he knew of their commitment to not drink wine, the point of this test was not to persuade them to do it, but to publicly display their obedience to their customs.
i. “Yet if Jeremiah had said, Thus saith the Lord, Drink wine, they ought to have done it; but this he did not.” (Trapp)
ii. “We of course understand that it was known that they would refuse, and the offer was made in order to elicit that refusal.” (Morgan)
3. (6-11) The Rechabites refuse to drink the wine.
But they said, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever. You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.’ Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, nor to build ourselves houses to dwell in; nor do we have vineyard, field, or seed. But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us. But it came to pass, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, ‘Come, let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and for fear of the army of the Syrians.’ So we dwell at Jerusalem.”
a. We will drink no wine: The sons of Jonadab passed the test and refused the wine. The public nature of the ceremony, the presence of their entire clan, and prominence of the prophet, the proximity of the temple all added pressure to drink the wine. They also had the prior exception of coming into the city and leaving their nomadic life for a period; if that was an exception, it would be easy to make more. Yet they did not and were faithful.
i. The point was not strictly the drinking or not drinking of wine; it was obedience to the teaching of their spiritual father Jonadab. Jeremiah didn’t use this to make a point about drinking wine, but about obedience. Nevertheless, God honored the Rechabites for their steadfast refusal to drink alcohol, and they were not mocked or criticized for this obedience.
ii. According to Kidner, there was a flourishing temperance movement in nineteenth-century England that took the name The Rechabites.
b. You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever: Jonadab told his sons not to drink wine as part of a larger pattern of sacrifice and self-denial that also included not building a house and planting fields and vineyards. The sons of Jonadab could say, we have obeyed and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us.
i. “We find men so eager and devoted to the customs and traditions of their families, and so regardless of the yet higher claims of God.” (Meyer)
c. Let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans: The Rechabites were committed to life as nomads who avoided houses and cities and instead lived in tents. Yet they were refugees from the army of the Chaldeans and therefore reluctantly came to live in Jerusalem.
i. “If at present we appear to be acting contrary in any respect to our institutions, in being found in the city, necessity alone has induced us to take this temporary step. We have sought the shelter of the city for the preservation of our lives; so now we dwell at Jerusalem.” (Clarke)
B. The lesson of the Rechabites and the reward to the sons of Jonadab.
1. (12-16) The contrast between the Rechabites and the men of Judah and Jerusalem.
Then came the word of the LORD to Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Will you not receive instruction to obey My words?” says the LORD. “The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; for to this day they drink none, and obey their father’s commandment. But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me. I have also sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way, amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them; then you will dwell in the land which I have given you and your fathers.’ But you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me. Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them, but this people has not obeyed Me.”’
a. Will you not receive instruction to obey My words: God revealed the reason why He instructed Jeremiah to make the unusual offer to the Rechabites. Their remarkable obedience was a strong contrast to the refusal to receive instruction among the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
i. In a sense, God only asks from us what we are willing to give to other people or other things. The Rechabites were willing to obey their ancestral father; it was not wrong for God to simply expect the same heart of obedience from the people of Judah.
b. This people has not obeyed Me: A second contrast was evident in the way that the Rechabites obeyed the command of their father, while the people of Judah and Jerusalem disobeyed the commands of God Himself, though He repeatedly brought those commands to them through His prophets.
· The Rechabites obeyed a fallible leader; the people of Judah disobeyed the eternal God.
· The Rechabites received their command only once from their leader and obeyed; the people of Judah received their command from God again and again and still disobeyed.
· The Rechabites obeyed regarding earthly things; the people of Judah disobeyed in regard to eternal things.
· The Rechabites obeyed their leader’s commands over about 300 years; the people of Judah continually disobeyed their God.
· The Rechabites would be rewarded; the people of Judah would be judged.
2. (17) Application of the lesson of the Rechabites.
“Therefore thus says the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered.’”
a. I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced: The contrast between the Rechabites and the people of Judah and Jerusalem was another indication of their guilt and impending judgment.
b. I have spoken to them but they have not heard: Again, the contrast was plain. The Rechabites listened to their father Jonadab; the people of Judah and Jerusalem would not listen to their God.
3. (18-19) The reward of the sons of Jonadab.
And Jeremiah said to the house of the Rechabites, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts and done according to all that he commanded you, therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever.”’”
a. Because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab: God honored the obedience and the honor of the sons of Jonadab.
b. Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever: God promised that the sons of Jonadab would have a special service and standing before Him forever.
i. “‘To stand before’ is a technical expression which includes a sense of privilege in the very act of serving. It is used of prophets (e.g. 1 Kings 17:1), of priests (Numbers 16:9; Deuteronomy 10:8, etc.), and kings (1 Kings 10:8).” (Cundall)
ii. “It is a technical term for the privilege of service…Some scholars think the promise in verse 18 was literally fulfilled in the Rechabites being in some way incorporated into the tribe of Levi.” (Feinberg)
iii. “According to the Mishnah ‘the children of Jonadab son of Rechab’ had a fixed day in the year for bringing wood for the altar of the temple.” (Thompson)
iv. “To be beloved by me, and to be in special favour with me, lifting up pure hands in all places of their abode. Captive they were carried among the Jews; but they returned also again with them (as appears 1 Chronicles 2:55).” (Trapp)
v. “True Christians may be considered as the genuine successors of these ancient Rechabites; and some suppose that the Essenes, in our Lord’s time, were literally their descendants, and that these were they who followed our Lord particularly, and became the first converts to the Gospel. If so, the prophecy is literally fulfilled: they shall never want a man to stand before God, to proclaim his salvation, and minister to the edification and salvation of others, as long as the earth shall endure.” (Clarke)