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The lesson of the Rechabites ch. 35
The theme of Judah’s faithlessness carries over from chapter 34. The promise-breakers in Jeremiah 34:8-22 contrast with the promise-keepers in chapter 35. The events described in chapters 35 and 36 preceded those in chapters 32-34 chronologically.
This was another of Jeremiah’s symbolic acts that the Lord commanded. The chapter consists of three parts: the main narrative (Jeremiah 35:1-11), a prose oracle addressed to the people of Judah and Jerusalem (Jeremiah 35:12-17), and a prose oracle addressed to the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:18-19).
This oracle came to Jeremiah during King Jehoiakim’s reign (609-598 B.C.) after the Babylonians had begun to invade Judah (Jeremiah 35:11). 2 Kings 24:1-2 reads, "In his [Jehoiakim’s] days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years; then he turned and rebelled against him [in 602 B.C]. And the LORD sent against him bands of Chaldeans, bands of Syrians, bands of Moabites, and bands of Ammonites. So He sent them against Judah to destroy it . . ." This seems to be the setting for what follows. The year was probably 602 or 601 B.C. (cf. Jeremiah 12:7-13).
The meeting with the Rechabites 35:1-11
Jeremiah was to visit the Rechabite family and to bring them to the temple. In one of the rooms that surrounded the temple proper, Jeremiah was to give them wine to drink.
The Rechabites were a branch of the Kenite clan that descended from Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law (cf. Judges 1:16; 1 Chronicles 2:55). [Note: Gerald L. Keown, Jeremiah 26-52, pp. 195-96, wrote an extended excursus on the identity of the Rechabites. Keown wrote the commentary on chapters 35-45 and 52 for this volume.] They had previously settled in northern Israel (Judges 4:17; Judges 5:24) and in southern Judah (1 Samuel 15:6). Evidently Jonadab’s branch of the family had moved from the north into the Southern Kingdom following the Assyrian invasion of 722 B.C. (cf. Jeremiah 35:6).
The prophet did as the Lord had commanded him. He brought the whole extended family of the Rechabites into one of the large rooms on the second floor of the temple (cf. 1 Kings 6:5; 1 Chronicles 28:12; 2 Chronicles 31:11). The specific description of the location of the room in which this event took place contributes to the authenticity of the story.
Jaazaniah was evidently the leader of the clan at this time. The reference to Hanan ben Igdaliah as "the man of God" probably identifies him as a prophet, though it could simply mean that he was a godly man. His "sons" may have been his disciples. He appears to have been an ally of Jeremiah. Maaseiah was probably the father of Zephaniah the priest (cf. Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 29:25; Jeremiah 37:3). His position as doorkeeper of the temple, of which there were three, was an important one; those who held it received special punishment when the Babylonians took Jerusalem (cf. Jeremiah 52:24-27; 2 Kings 25:18-21).
Jeremiah also set before the Rechabites pitchers of wine and cups to drink it, and he told them to drink the wine. He did not just ask them if they would like some wine to drink, but He made it very easy for them to drink it. His position as a true prophet of Yahweh would have encouraged them all the more to drink.
The Rechabites refused Jeremiah’s offer, explaining that one of their ancestors, Jonadab ben Rechab, had commanded his descendants never to drink wine. Abstinence was not a requirement of the Mosaic Law; it was simply a requirement that Jonadab imposed on his family. Faithful Nazirites also abstained from wine and grape products (cf. Numbers 6; Judges 13:4-7; 1 Samuel 1:11), though the Rechabites do not seem to have been Nazirites. The Nazirite vow was normally for a brief time, but the Rechabites had abstained from wine for generations.
Jonadab lived in the Northern Kingdom during the reign of King Jehu (841-814 B.C.). He helped Jehu purge Israel of Baal worship about 840 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 10:15-27).
Jonadab had also commanded his family not to build a house, or plant crops or grapevines, or to own a vineyard. They were to live in tents as semi-nomads, rejecting all aspects of settled living. We do not know why Jonadab had imposed these restrictions, but he may have felt that settled living in a Canaanite culture involved some temptations that a nomadic existence guarded against. [Note: Thompson, pp. 617-18.]
The Rechabites explained that they had obeyed their ancestor’s commands faithfully since the time he gave them (cf. Exodus 20:12). For over 200 years they had been faithful and obedient (cf. 2 Kings 10:15-27).
The only time they lived in a city was when Nebuchadnezzar’s vassals invaded the Judean countryside. Then they moved into the city for protection out of necessity, for survival, not because they had abandoned their principles. Jerusalem was not under siege at this time, but the surrounding countryside was being invaded.
After this experience, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to speak to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. He was to ask them if they would not receive instruction from Him. Jeremiah may well have expected that when the Lord sent him a message it would have been one censuring the Rechabites for their eccentric lifestyle, legalism, and refusal to drink wine. But the Rechabites’ chosen lifestyle was no problem to Yahweh. [Note: Kidner, p. 118.]
The rebuke of the Judahites 35:12-17
The Rechabites had faithfully obeyed their ancestor, but the people of Judah and Jerusalem had not obeyed the Lord’s instructions even though He had spoken to them repeatedly. Jeremiah was not expressing approval for the nomadic life and ascetic convictions of the Rechabites, but only their faithful obedience to their forefather.
"Nor is it [this story] per se a temperance lesson, despite its use for that purpose by some Sunday school quarterlies." [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 600.]
The Lord had also sent His servants the prophets to His people-again and again-urging them to repent, to change their thoughts and actions, and to stop worshipping idols. If they did, they could continue to dwell in the land the Lord had given their forefathers. But the people had refused to listen.
The Rechabites had obeyed Jonadab’s instructions, but the Judahites had not listened to Yahweh (cf. Jeremiah 7:24-28; Jeremiah 11:1-17; Jeremiah 13:10; Jeremiah 25:4-8; Jeremiah 26:2-6; Jeremiah 29:17-29). The Lord used the Rechabites as a clinching argument in His "trial" against Judah.
Therefore, the Lord was going to bring upon the people all the disaster that He had previously warned them about. They had not listened to Him when He spoke to them, or answered Him when He called to them.
"Notice the telling contrasts between the Recabites and Judah.
"1. The Recabites obeyed a fallible leader (Jeremiah 35:14); Judah’s leader was the eternal God (cf. Malachi 1:6).
"2. Jonadab gave his commands to the Recabites only once; God repeatedly sent his messages to his people (Jeremiah 35:15).
"3. The restrictions that bound the Recabites did not deal with eternal issues; God’s messages to his people had eternal as well as temporal implications.
"4. The Recabites obeyed the commands of Jonadab for about three hundred years; the Lord’s people constantly disobeyed (Jeremiah 35:16).
"5. The loyalty of the Recabites would be rewarded; for their disloyalty God’s people would be punished (Jeremiah 35:17)." [Note: Ibid., p. 602.]
Jeremiah then took a promise from the Lord back to the Rechabites. The Lord praised them for their tenacity in clinging to what they believed to be right.
The promise to the Rechabites 35:18-19
Someone from their family would "stand before" Yahweh forever-because they had obeyed their father, Jonadab. "Stand before" usually describes someone who served Yahweh in some special way (cf. Jeremiah 7:10; Jeremiah 15:19; Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 10:8; 1 Kings 10:8; 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:15; 2 Kings 3:14; 2 Chronicles 29:11). However, it also describes simple worshippers of Yahweh (Jeremiah 7:10; Leviticus 9:5; Deuteronomy 4:10). The promise probably pointed to a continuing line rather than to a specific ministry. [Note: Dyer, "Jeremiah," p. 1180.]
"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. Other traditions refer to ’water-drinking’ sacrificers whose descent is traced to Jonadab." [Note: Thompson, p. 619. The references in the Mishnah and Talmud are Talmud, Ta’anit 4:5, and Midrash Rabbah, Gen. 98:10; Sifre, Numbers 28:81; Talmud, Ta’anit 4:2; 28a; 68a.]
"Even today, in Syria and Arabia, there are groups that claim to be Rechabites and that follow the Rechabite rule." [Note: Graybill, p. 681.]
"God is always looking for individuals whose lives are characterized by faithfulness. Such individuals will experience God’s blessing even in the midst of trials." [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 625.]
"Incidentally, as a secondary thrust of this episode, we are reminded that God, who loves unity and truth, is no lover of uniformity. By his own order of Nazirites he called some people, but not others, to an austerity not unlike that of the Rechabites, to make a particular point; and the fact that Jesus and John the Baptist glorified God by different lifestyles should open our minds to the reality and value of specialized callings-such as even the once-flourishing temperance movement which adopted the name of Rechabites in nineteenth-century England." [Note: Kidner, p. 119.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 35". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
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