Note: While I was trying to find an image to go along with this post, I stumbled on a fascinating tidbit from American history. Around 1835, an organization was founded that would provide fellowship for working class men, similar to the Masons or the Elks, called the “Independent Order of the Rechabites.” You can read more about them here.
5 Then I set before the Rechabites pitchers full of wine, and cups, and I said to them, “Drink wine.” 6 But they answered, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, ‘You shall not drink wine, neither you nor your sons forever. 7 You shall not build a house; you shall not sow seed; you shall not plant or have a vineyard; but you shall live in tents all your days, that you may live many days in the land where you sojourn.’ 8 We have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he commanded us, to drink no wine all our days, ourselves, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, 9 and not to build houses to dwell in. We have no vineyard or field or seed, 10 but we have lived in tents and have obeyed and done all that Jonadab our father commanded us. (Jeremiah 35:5-10)
Today the Rechabites got my attention. When Tara-Leigh said, “They have a heritage of obedience that puts Israel to shame,” I wanted to dig deeper.
According to Jeremiah 35:6, the Rechabites’ strict rules were put in place by a son (or descendant) of Rechab named Jehonadab (or Jonadab). He forbade his sons to drink wine, build houses, or plant crops. Scholars speculate that he was trying to preserve the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors the Kenites, so he commanded his sons to live in tents.
Now the descendants of Jonadab/Jehonadab show up again, two centuries later, as an object lesson for the Israelites. It’s interesting to me that their obedience is to their human ancestor and their family traditions, and not necessarily to God. In fact, their obedience could be seen as contradicting the specific command of God. God told Jeremiah to offer them wine. They refused.
To be fair, Jeremiah didn’t say to them, “Thus saith the Lord, drink wine.” And it is also worth noting that the most accurate translation is “offer them wine,” not “give them wine.” God set up this entire encounter as an object lesson about faithfulness. Later in the chapter God makes this explicit:
““This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: Go, say to the men of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem, ‘Will you not accept discipline by listening to my words? — this is the Lord’s declaration. The words of Jonadab, son of Rechab, have been carried out. He commanded his descendants not to drink wine, and they have not drunk to this day because they have obeyed their ancestor’s command. But I have spoken to you time and time again, and you have not obeyed me!”
Jeremiah 35:13-14 CSB
So we can’t speculate what the Rechabites would have done with a direct command. But if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rechabites also refused to live in houses when a few years later, when Jeremiah did say, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel… Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce (Jeremiah 29:5). Jeremiah 35 repeatedly emphasizes that the Rechabites are obedient to the command of their earthly father (verses 6,8,10,18).
It isn’t the specifics of the Rechabites obedience that we are meant to apply here. In another context, they might even have been rebuked for holding on to the traditions of their fathers instead of obedience to God (see Mark 7:8).
No, the lesson is that this is what obedience looks like. Faithfulness to the command of your father, passed down from generation to generation, even when all the world is going in a different direction.
Oh, Lord, give me the faith to live like a Rechabite today, but with one difference. Let me hold fast to the commands of my Heavenly Father. And let me pass that on to my sons.
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