JEREMIAH AND THE RECABITES

Jeremiah 35

The book of Jeremiah is special. It is the only prophetic book in the Bible that records the fulfillment of its main prophecy: the fall of Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. Chapters 34 through 44 tell that part of the story; the siege of Jerusalem is in chapters 34—38, its fall in chapter 39, and the events after the fall are found in chapters 40—44.

The prophet Jeremiah is just as special as the book that bears his name. He not only preached and foretold future events, he used his imagination in trying to get his message across to the people. Jeremiah’s favorite technique was to take everyday things or people –like the potter and his clay—to illustrate deep, spiritual truths. Here, in chapter 35, he used a whole tribe of people to teach a singular lesson to the people of Judah.

The people were known as Recabites. This was a separatist, nomadic family that descended from the Kenites. They are first mentioned back in 1 Chronicles 2:55—

...and the clans of scribes who lived at Jabez: the Tirathites, Shimeathites and Sucathites. These are the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Recab.

In spite of the fact that the Recabites lived on the outskirts, in the desert, they were followers of Yahweh, as far back as the days in Egypt, where they joined the Hebrews in their Exodus. Being related to the Kenites, they were actually part of Jethro’s family—the same Jethro who was Moses’ father-in-law. They were instrumental in purging the Northern Kingdom, Israel, of Baal worship during the time of Jehu.

Jonadab, was their spiritual father (see 2 Kings 10, 15, 16). He was a wise, strong man who had taken the vows Nazarite; whose life and testimony glued the tribe together. His whole life was a protest against the sins of his generation: Baal worship and rebellion against God.

Jonadab was absolutely zealous for the cause of God and, like any good father, consistently set a good, positive example for his people to follow. To paraphrase as well-known saying, “The good, and the evil, that men do live after them in their children.”

And Jeremiah was about to use the whole tribe to both rebuke Judah and teach them a lesson. In doing so, believers of the 21st century may learn some priceless lessons about the Christian life.

1. They were severely tested, verses 1—5

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord during the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah: “Go to the Recabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the Lord and give them wine to drink.” (verses 1, 2)

Chapter 35 has one purpose: to contrast the remarkable obedience of the Recabites with the consistent disobedience of Judah. The Recabites had come come to Jerusalem at this time seeking refuge from the Babylonian armies. Under the direction of God, Jeremiah was to go to the Recabites, offer them sanctuary in one of the rooms in the Temple and a drink of wine.

Some churches like to use the Recabites and their temperance as a way to teach abstinence from alcohol, but that’s not the purpose of this chapter. The Recabites had taken the Nazarite vow, which forbade them from consuming alcohol. It was their personal choice, just as living in the desert and avoiding life in the city was their personal choice.

Still, they had this set of beliefs and practices that they took very seriously and at God’s express direction, Jeremiah was to offer them a drink, in the Lord’s Temple. Talk about temptation! Imagine, turning the House of the Lord into a saloon! Especially troubling about what God asked Jeremiah to do is this verse in James 1:13—

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…

Two points need to be remembered here. First, God was not tempting the Recabites to sin against their consciences. The Recabites, like Job, were strong in their convictions. God, in His omniscience, knew they would never take that alcohol.

Second, because God knew how the Recabites would respond, God trusted them to provide the perfect living example for the people of Judah. This is another classic example of God’s sovereignty.

2. They remained faithful to their convictions, verses 6—11

But they replied, “We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jonadab son of Recab gave us this command: ‘Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine.” (verse 6)

No matter who was tempting them, these Recabites would not be tempted to go against the commands of their ancestor. Not only did they refuse to drink, they went so far as to instruct the prophet on why they would abstain. They reminded Jeremiah why they lived the way they lived and why they came to Jerusalem:

But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded this land, we said, ‘Come, we must go to Jerusalem to escape the Babylonian and Aramean armies.’ So we have remained in Jerusalem.” (verse 11)

They had come to Jerusalem for safety, not to indulge in the very things they were avoiding. They avoided the things that they perceived caused people to sin and rebel against God. Things like alcohol, living in big cities, building homes, and so on. For hundreds of years these people lived precisely the way their ancestors wanted them to.

These were the people God was using to teach Judah a lesson. The lesson had nothing to do with their lifestyle per se. God was not a teetotaller. He was not against people living in a house or even in a city, necessarily. God has never been big on the idea of asceticism. What impressed God, and what God wanted Jeremiah to impress upon his people, was how the Recabites remained faithful to their ancestor Jonadab:

We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab commanded us. (verse 10)

3. Their example, verses 12—17

“Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me.” (verse 14)

We can imagine what a stir this group of nomads caused in and around the Temple. A lot of people probably came, rubber-necking, trying to get glimpse of these strange looking people. Jeremiah had a captive audience and he seized the opportunity to drive home God’s message to the people of Jerusalem.

The Recabites had remained steadfastly faithful to a dead ancestor yet the people of Judah couldn’t seem to remain faithful to God, who had been sending them His prophets for centuries! This paragraph gives us the startling contrasts:

  • The Recabites obeyed a fallible, dead leader. Judah’s leader was the eternal God.
  • Jonadab gave his commands to the Recabites only one time. God repeatedly sent His messages to His people.
  • The Recabites’ beliefs dealt with worldly issues, not eternal ones. God’s messages to His people dealt with both eternal and temporal issues.
  • The Recabites obeyed Jonadab’s commands for some 300 years. God’s people had been disobedient since the days of the Exodus.
  • The loyalty of the Recabites would be rewarded. For their disloyalty, the people of Judah would be punished.

What a powerful message this should have been. But, as happened so often, the message fell on deaf ears:

“Therefore, this is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.’” (verse 17)

4. The Recabite’s Reward, verses 18, 19

Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Recabites, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.’ Therefore, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jonadab son of Recab will never fail to have a man to serve me.’”

Judah’s future looked pretty bleak. But not so for the Recabites. God promised to reward these desert nomads, not because of their odd lifestyle, but because they remained faithful to the wishes of their forefather. Their reward was, in reality, a striking rebuke against the rebellious, double dealing people of Judah. Both groups of people would reap what they had sowed! Judah would reap judgment and the Recabites would reap their reward. Yes, the faithfulness of the Recabites would forever stand as a living example of the kind of devotion and commitment wants from His people.

Conclusion

The Bible clearly teaches that obedience to one’s parents will be rewarded with a long life in this world.  The Bible also teaches us about our heavenly Father, and that our obedience to Him will bring about eternal rewards.

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