3 Lessons from the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35)

 (Old Facebook Post – Lightly edited and reposted May 31, 2015)

I recently heard a sermon based on the story of the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35), who faithfully obeyed the commands of their ancestor Jonadab, who lived several hundred years earlier and commanded them not to drink wine, etc. (See the end of this post to read the story for yourself.) I’ve pondered this story some since hearing that sermon, and here are my thoughts.

We can learn three lessons from this story. The first lesson is the lesson that is most central to the Jeremiah passage, but it is sometimes barely noticed by preachers and teachers. The second lesson is also noted briefly by the Bible, and is usually given due attention by preachers. The third lesson is not mentioned in the Jeremiah passage at all, but sometimes becomes the central theme of pastors who chose this text—especially conservative pastors, including conservative Anabaptists.

In reverse order, here are the three lessons:

Lesson 3 is based on the example of Jonadab, father of the Rechabites, who established rules for his descendents. These rules (don’t drink wine, build houses, or possess vineyards) separated his descendants from wicked Israelite society and, it is said, preserved his family for generations to come. The application is often made that we fathers (and perhaps churches) should imitate him and set rigorous rules for our own descendents—rules which call them to remain obviously and arbitrarily different and distant from surrounding culture. Problem: the text never once affirms either Jonadab’s rule-setting or the inherent value of any of his rules. Why didn’t God set these rules for the entire nation before they ever entered Canaan, instead of promising wine and houses and vineyards as blessings? Why didn’t Jeremiah learn from these rules and command the faithful remnant in Israel to start following the Rechabite rules? Why didn’t Jeremiah himself follow these rules? We are explicitly told that Jeremiah was commanded by God to buy a field, as proof that “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” after the exile (Jer. 32:15). Actually, the main point of the passage (Lesson 1) is strengthened by the fact that these rules were only man-made and did not necessarily have any intrinsic value. As Tremper Longman III writes: “God never required such a mode of living; these seem to be human laws. Whether their mode of life was right or not is not the issue in this chapter, however. It rather has to do with the quality of their obedience” (Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary series, 232). This observation leads us to the next two lessons.

Lesson 2 is based on the exceptional quality of the obedience of the Rechabite descendents to their ancestor Jonadab. This is emphasized in the text when God promises that they will be rewarded by never failing to have a man to stand before him. Notice he does not promise that their obedience to Jonadab’s rules will preserve the whole family from sliding into the sins of surrounding culture; only that Jonadab will always have at least one survivor serving God. One application of this lesson would be the value of honoring and obeying our own parents.

Lesson 1 is based on the contrast between Jonadab and God. This is an argument from the lesser to the greater: If the Rechabites faithfully obey laws that are merely man-made, then how much more should Israel obey laws that were given by God himself! Longman writes that the Rechabite “obedience to conscience is commended, but the point is that this requirement is one imposed by a human authority figure. While the Recabites obey their forefather, the rest of the people do not obey God himself” (234). The application for us today parallels the lesson God intended for ancient Israel: We should faithfully obey all that God has commanded us to do, eager to “receive instruction and listen to [his] words” (Jer. 35:13). In particular, we should respond with ready obedience when God calls us to repentance, for his promises of deliverance and his warnings of judgment far exceed anything that accompany obedience to any merely human commands. This call to repent and obey God’s own words is the true reason why God called Jeremiah’s attention to the Rechabites in the first place. Therefore, it should also be the main lesson we draw from their example today.

Here is the story of the Rechabites, from Jeremiah 35 (ESV). Read it for yourself to test my observations:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “Go to the house of the Rechabites and speak with them and bring them to the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers; then offer them wine to drink.” So I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, son of Habazziniah and his brothers and all his sons and the whole house of the Rechabites. I brought them to the house of the Lord into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, the man of God, which was near the chamber of the officials, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, keeper of the threshold. Then I set before the Rechabites pitchers full of wine, and cups, and I said to them, “Drink wine.” 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. 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.’ 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, 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. 11 But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against the land, we said, ‘Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and the army of the Syrians.’ So we are living in Jerusalem.”

12 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Go and say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will you not receive instruction and listen to my words? declares the Lord. 14 The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. 15 I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me. 16 The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me. 17 Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.”

18 But to the house of the Rechabites Jeremiah said, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because you have obeyed the command of Jonadab your father and kept all his precepts and done all that he commanded you, 19 therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall never lack a man to stand before me.”

What do you think? What can we learn does God intend for us to learn from this story? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Save page
Save in your favorite format (above). Share, email, or print (below).
  • 34
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
    34
    Shares

24 thoughts on “3 Lessons from the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35)”

  1. Becoming ever closer in relationship with God will find me obeying Him better . When my daily prayer time had dropped to near Zero, in October of 2010, God instructed me to develop a daily prayer list of 100 names. I obeyed and God kept flooding names to that list. I now am praying daily for over 1100 entries, every day. Don’t just do things FOR God, KNOW Him & OBEY Him. The Rechhabites faithfully obeyed Jonadab. How much more should I better KNOW God and obey Him!

  2. I was studying on Nazerites. But just got hit by the word rechabites. And earlier also I heard thi sword from my spiritual mother, Prophetess Mary Bushiri. So came here to study. It was all together a great experince . Amen. May God bless u. Amen.

  3. I have always pondered on the obedience of the descendants of Jonadab. How GOD blessed them, how much more will GOD bless us when we obey GOD as an exemplary life style to our children to follow our footsteps. Thank you for your enlightening post

  4. I wonder if we can find out, who the people of Jonadab are today? Since God’s promise is yes and amen, there should be a trace of people serving him from Jonadab.

      1. In our new moon service today, this is our bible lesson for d service. It explained how we should always keep to God’s commandments and not human commandments. Am blessed by his words. Hallelujah

  5. I just cannot wonder if there is a people as obedient as the rechabites today. Is it not better to obey than to disobey and pay the consequences of disobedient? This generation that Jeremiah was talking about never knew Jonadab, it was an instruction passed down. Hmmm! There is much to be said. I rest my case
    Pastor Innocent Omokagbo
    Ibadan, Nigeria

  6. I,think we as a Christians must obey God than man,And though it was curse that their father imposed on them,but with God,he’s capable of breaking yolk upon our lives

  7. This was a question as to who the people are today and your post helped clear the perspective. Yes it would be interesting if we can fathom the current inhabitants
    Thanks

  8. To me, it’s a simple concept that if one can perform a simple task of obeying one’s earthly father, then one should have no problem obeying the heavenly Father, the Most High God knew that we couldn’t keep all of the 613 commandments, so He told us to keep the ten which are not grievous. The Most High was pleased with the actions of the Rechabites, they should be an example to us all. I know after reading about them in Jeremiah, 35, I changed some things in my lifestyle, may peace be unto you!

  9. The lesson I learn is likely that Jonadab was observant of the effect of a mixt multitude on Israel and cities having the same effect (Jeremiah 35:11). Obviously, God would not have all people to leave Jerusalem and the city cease to exist but here is a father trying to insulate his offspring from the negative effects of cities. Our own nation’s large cities are hotbeds of liberalism and debauchery. Why is it the metropolitan areas are liberal mostly and the “fly over country” is conservative mostly? I am with Jonadab. I had much rather raise a family in a rural area than a city as far as the impact on the family! Having said all this I know there are needs in the large metropolitan areas for churches and missionaries but that does not eliminate the fact that Jonadab had so wisely observed as a pitfall for his family.

    1. Stan, thank you for taking time to read and respond. I agree that there are dangers to living in the city. I have lived much of my adult life in cities (including nearly 10 years total in NYC and now Atlanta), so I can see this is true. That said, I would like to gently push back against some of what you wrote. First, there is no indication in this biblical text here that cities are a moral danger or that Jonadab thought they were. The text simply doesn’t say that. Rather, it simply says that Jonadab’s family was initially living in rural areas but then moved to the city for military protection. That’s a natural, pragmatic, non-moral explanation that is right in the text, and I don’t think we need to add our own assumptions that are not written there. Second, neither do I see anywhere in the Bible the idea that it is wiser and safer to raise a family away from cities. In the Bible there is great condemnation on evil cities but also much great praise for good ones. The destination of God’s people is called the New Jerusalem, a city. And already in NT times, the majority of the first Christians were city dwellers, whether Jews in Jerusalem or Gentiles living in the many cities that Paul targeted for mission work. I have lived in fly over country (rural Iowa, as well as rural Ontario) and in cities, and I can honestly report that there are many evil and many godly people in both places. Liberals have a certain set of typical sins, and conservatives have their own set of typical sins. Both find it really easy to focus on the sins of the other group. Both need the gospel! May God help us each to raise our families faithfully wherever God has placed us.

  10. Your 3 points about this chapter are insightful and appreciated. What I’m a little stuck on is this: Jeremiah was a man of God. Jer 35: 1-5 makes it pretty clear that God told Jeremiah to go to people who, in fidelity to their ancestors, did not drink..yet Jeremiah put wine before them and told them “drink wine” v 5. Did the Rachabites know Jeremiah was God’s prophet, or did they just consider him, (for lack of a better phrase), a nobody? It just looks like God instructed Jeremiah to tempt the Rachabits, which doesn’t jive with God not being a temptor. Kind of portrays Jeremiah like a wolf (temptor) in sheep’s (prophet) clothing. What am I missing here? Is it: Don’t let even what appears to be a man of God lead you into what, for you, is disobedience?

    1. Good question, Luann. I think your answer is good, too.

      Another time when something similar happened is that story of the young prophet on his way home from delivering a message to the king. God had told him not to eat until he returned home. But on his way home, an old prophet met him and told him that God had said he could now eat. The young prophet did eat, and God sent a lion to kill him because of his disobedience. Of course, there is also the Job story, where God seems to incite Satan to tempt Job. God’s ways sometimes make us scratch our heads! You are right in saying that we must obey God no matter what voices might tell us otherwise. “Whatever is not of faith is sin” also might apply here.

  11. Glory be to God, sir with all humility you have emphatically disclose God’s true intentions of leading Jeremiah to that culture or should I say the testimonial of the Rechabites. The Lesson there is for us as believer to always pray for grace and act in God’s purpose for our individual life as His word entails. Why I use individual? Though there are general laws/will for all Christians but failure to heed to God’s personal will for your life will rob you of fulfilling the general will as well leading you to the path of perdition. Take for example the Richabites (seen as one group of people/individual) they were told not to buy land, build houses but live in tent, so I deduce as Christian we were created to compliment not compete, so if we fail to acknowledge that we are all created distinctly and uniquely we will at most time forfeit the general will of God for us, for eg. Love.. God’s intent for love is commanding irrespective of race, culture, religion, traditions, deformity, caucus or what.. We are to show love to all..it takes us understanding our true purpose of complimenting and not competing will help us fulfil that general will of God.. Most hate is brought up when low self esteem or pride sinks in.. And these are all created from competition.. So again as believer God wasn’t literally leading us to follow the laws of man.. But a lesson of obedience to the one who has created and called us all from darkness.. And I pray the Almighty grant us the grace not just to be obedient but completely obedient to the call in Jesus name.

  12. yes, i hope so that God want us to learn something from the story, the rechabites and there descendant listen to the commandment and instructions of there father as a sure sign as God hath to speak to them directly like he does to Israelite,Jerusalem and Judah they will listen more to him.The people of isrealites are living in sin and are grieving God.
    secondly i can pick a fact here that God love obedience as been said it is better than sacrifice,God expect us to obey him to live and inherit blessings look at the rechabites they obeyed to the letter not partial obedience.
    MAY GOD GIVE US THE STRENGTH AND GRACE TO BE STEAD FAST IN HIM.IN JESUS NAME

  13. This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible!! And what I glean from it is somewhat in line with lesson 2. If I’m not mistaken, one Hebrew name for God is El Roi, which I believe means that God Sees, but not only sees in the sense of where our physical bodies are, but He also sees the state of our hearts, our souls, our mind, will and emotions. I truly believe that those following the commands of Jonadab had hearts, minds, souls that were truly honoring to their ancestor AND to his word. God knew that the Israelites for the most part, had no honor, esteem or respect for not only His commands, nor for Himself as well. I really don’t think we know the value of our honor and respect. Obedience can be something that is done without one iota of genuineness in it, it can be done begrudgingly. But honor and respect bloom from the depths of the heart. What I love about this story is the heart of the Rachabites caught God’s eye!

  14. This is a clear lesson that people dont obey God’s commandments. The Rachabites obeyed and followed the instructions of their ancestors but the Israelites failed to obey God rather the deviated from the law which God commanded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.