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DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD CONDEMNED
Jeremiah 35:13-14. Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel; Go and tell the men of Judah and the Inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will ye not receive instruction to hearken to my words? saith the Lord. The word of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father’s commandment; notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto me.
THE service of God is called, by St. Paul, “a reasonable service:” and that it is most reasonable, appears, as from numberless other arguments, so especially from this, that we ourselves exact of our fellow-creatures that very kind of service which God requires from us. A father expects to be honoured by his children; and a master to be feared and obeyed by his servants: and God, acknowledging the equity of those expectations, says, “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if I then be a father, where is my honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear [Note: Malachi 1:6.]?” It is true, that, in respect of the degree in which these dispositions are required, there must be an infinite distance between what is due to God and to man: but if the smallest measure is due to man, much more is the greatest measure due to God: and if we are to obey man in any thing, much more ought we to obey God in every thing.
This is put in a very striking point of view in the chapter before us, where God brings forth the Rechabites, and their obedience to the commands of Jonadab their progenitor, to shame the Jews who were disobedient to his commands.
The Rechabites were originally Kenites, descended from Hobab the father-in-law of Moses [Note: 1 Chronicles 2:55.]: and, because they had no inheritance in Israel, it is generally thought that they still continued aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. But we apprehend, that, at some period subsequent to the division of Canaan, they had embraced the Jewish faith; because Jehonadab, the very person spoken of in our text, was the person whom Jehu took up into his carriage, saying, “Come, see my zeal for the Lord:” and, had he not been reckoned amongst the true Israelites at that time, we conceive that Jehu, at the very moment that he was usurping the throne of Israel, would not have courted so publicly his alliance and support [Note: 2 Kings 10:15-16.]: nor do we think that Jeremiah would have taken the Rechabites “into the house of the Lord,” and “into the chamber of a man of God,” if they had not been possessed of the full privileges of Israelites. The circumstance of their having no inheritance in Israel will sufficiently account for their being called “strangers” there, and for their wishing to avoid the jealousies and contentions which the acquisition of wealth might occasion. But however this might be, the complaint which was founded on their obedience, is the same, and is deserving of very peculiar attention.
Let us consider this complaint,
Jonadab had enjoined on his posterity not to build, or plant, or sow, or even to possess houses or vineyards; but to dwell in tents, and to drink no wine: and they had been observant of his injunctions now for the space of three hundred years. But on occasion of the Chaldean invasion, they had fled to Jerusalem for safety [Note: ver. 6–11.]: and the Prophet Jeremiah set wine before them, and invited them to refresh themselves with it. This was done by God’s command, not with a view to tempt and ensnare them, but for the purpose of displaying their adherence to the commands of their father, and of putting to shame the whole Jewish nation for their disobedience to the commands of God. At first sight, this appears to be an insulated fact, in which we have little concern; but there is in reality, at this day,
The same regard for the commands of men—
[It should seem as if a reverence for tradition were inherent, as it were, in our very nature; since we find it equally prevailing in every quarter of the world.
It is universally found in relation to civil and political institutions. However different the forms of government may be which obtain amongst the various nations of the world, there exists amongst the natives a partiality in favour of it, insomuch that they are ready to fight, and even to die, in its defence. Republics, and monarchies, whether limited or absolute, are on a par in this respect: whichever has been established, has on that account a great pre-eminence in the estimation of the people.
This zeal for what has been handed down from our forefathers obtains, if possible, yet more strongly in reference to religious ordinances. There are many of the same traditions, and the same fixed adherence to them too, amongst the different religious orders of the Papists at this day, as obtained formerly amongst the Rechabites. Rites, which God never enjoined, are venerated even beyond the plainest commandments of our God. In like manner, amongst us Protestants, every sect has its peculiar dogmas, which are adhered to from generation to generation, with a scrupulous and superstitious exactness. Notwithstanding it is manifest that there are pious men of every denomination, and that God may be served and honoured by one as well as by another, yet all are disposed to look with pity or contempt on each other, and to claim to themselves an exclusive conformity to the Divine will. Some, even in their dress and in their language, affect a singularity which they transmit to succeeding generations, and impose as distinctive badges of their community. And all these points of difference form, in the minds of each community, as great a barrier between them and others, as the self-denying habits of the Rechabites did between them and the house of Israel.]
The same disregard for the commands of God—
[To all of every denomination God says, as to his people of old, “Return ye now every man from his evil way.” But who regards him? Do drunkards, whoremongers, adulterers, and profane swearers, attend to his voice, or set themselves in earnest to amend their ways? Do the votaries of pleasure, or the people who are absorbed in the cares of this world, relax their pursuit of earthly things, and begin to set their affections on things above? Do those who rest in a mere formal round of duties without feeling any of the power of godliness, renounce their proud self-righteous conceits, and humble themselves before God as guilty and undone sinners? Do they receive with gratitude the glad tidings of salvation, and flee with becoming earnestness to the Lord Jesus Christ as their only hope? Do not sinners of every class retain their habits as much as if they had never been called upon to renounce them? We ask of every individual, Have you turned from that particular way, in which, from inclination or habit, you have formerly been led; and have you truly, and penitently, and unreservedly, given up yourselves to God? We put this question to the decent and the moral, as well as to those who have given a freer scope to their corrupt appetites; ‘Have the commands of God had any considerable influence on your minds?’ ‘Have you truly studied them, with a view to find out your departures from them, and with a determination of mind to conform yourselves to them to the very utmost of your power?’ As for any partial change adopted with a view to advance your character or interest in the world, we inquire not about it: your change must be founded on the authority of God, and be commensurate with his commands, or it is of no value in his sight: the conversion must be from sin to holiness, from the world to God: nothing less than that is required by God: and in this view of our duty, we ask again, ‘Has not God the same ground of complaint against us, as he had against his people of old, that however observant we may have been of the commands of men, we have not hearkened unto him?’]
But let us consider the complaint more minutely,
With its attendant aggravations—
In our text, there is an evident contrast formed between the obedience of the Rechabites and the disobedience of the Jews. We notice more particularly,
The authority from which the different commands proceeded—
[That which the Rechabites obeyed was human; that which the Jews disobeyed was divine. Yes: it is the God of heaven and earth, whom we also have set at nought. He created us for himself; yet have we considered ourselves as independent of him. He has preserved us every moment, yet have we lived in continued rebellion against him. He has redeemed us with the blood of his only dear Son; yet have we poured contempt on all the wonders of his love, as well as on the terrors of his offended Majesty. Let us only reflect on what we must all have observed, times without number: We tell a person, that such or such a line of conduct is contrary to God’s revealed will; and we produce little, if any effect upon him: but if we tell him that such a conduct will destroy his prospects in the world, or expose him to shame and contempt among his fellow-creatures, we at least excite very strong emotions in his mind, even if we do not prevail to change his deportment. The truth is, we are all very sensibly alive to the displeasure of men, but lamentably indifferent to the displeasure of God; and man’s authority weighs abundantly more with us than the authority of the Most High.]
The commands themselves—
[Whatever propriety there might be in the commands of Jonadab, they were certainly not necessary for the salvation of his descendants. But the commands of God are absolutely necessary, both to our present and eternal welfare. Which of them is there that can be dispensed with? Which of them is there that can be lowered or relaxed, without dishonour to God, and injury to man? Consider more particularly the commands relating to the Gospel: they are like commands to the blind, to see; to the deaf, to hear; to the lame, to walk; to the leprous, to be clean; to the dead, to arise and live for ever. Which of these commands would the person afflicted desire to dispense with? O! the horrible ingratitude of despising the Gospel of Christ! See, Brethren, what sad reason there is for God’s complaint against us!]
The manner in which they were enforced—
[The one injunction of Jonadab, that had been given three hundred years before, was all that had operated on the minds of his descendants; even though it had been merely suggested as a matter of expediency, without being enforced by any sanctions whatever. But God’s commands nave been, and still are, renewed from day to day, by ambassadors sent for that express purpose, and authorized to assure us, that eternal happiness and eternal misery depend on the regard which we pay to them. What an amazing aggravation of our guilt is this! Verily, whatever excuses we may make for our conduct now, our mouths will be shut in the day of judgments yea, and the whole house of the Rechabites will rise up in judgment against us and condemn us.]
To those who regard man, and not God—
[God himself rewarded the Rechabites for their adherence to the customs of their forefathers; and thereby expressed his approbation of an attention to rules, which have been derived from authority, and established by time. Whether the rules pertain to civil or religious duties, provided they do not militate against the law of God, or prove burthensome to the conscience, we conceive it is right to conform to them. But no punctuality in the observance of them can stand in the place of obedience to God. We may be zealous patriots, active partisans, strict religionists, and yet never render unto God any spiritual service, or take one step in our way to heaven. God must have the heart; Christ must be the one ground of our hope and confidence; the Holy Spirit must guide and sanctify our souls; or else we shall remain in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity. Let those, then, who are disposed to value themselves on their regularity and zeal in the observance of human ordinances, remember, that they are building on a foundation of sand; and that they only build upon a rock, who hear and do the commandments of their God [Note: Matthew 7:24-27.].]
To those who regard God, and not man—
[Though none would go so far as to say that religion supersedes all human obligations, and justifies a contempt of all established usages, there are many who act as if this were the real sentiment of their hearts. At the commencement of the French Revolution, this observation was verified to no small extent in our own land: many who should have been “the quiet in the land” were as eager as any to subvert that constitution, which has since approved itself the admiration and envy of the world. And it is still too often found, that persons professing a love for religion, neglect the duties of their place and station, and violate the most established usages of the society to which they belong. But such persons little think what spirit they are of, or what injury they do to the souls of men. The people who know not God will of course lay the greatest stress upon the observance of their own peculiar laws and maxims; and will blame, not the conduct only that violates them, but religion itself, as countenancing that conduct. On this account, St. Paid was careful to “give no offence in any thing.” He consulted the prejudices of men, and conformed to their views and habits as far as he conscientiously could, “becoming all things to all men, that he might by all means save some.” This is the conduct which we all should imitate; this is the life by which we should adorn our holy profession: this is the way to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, and to “win by our conversation” those who would never have been won by the written or preached word. Let the Apostle’s exhortation then be the rule of our conduct; “Whatsoever things are honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things.”]
To those who feel an united regard for both—
[It is well indeed if you have learned to “render unto Cζsar the things that are Cζsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” And we would wish every religious person to attain such a measure of consistency, as to be able to say both to the godly and ungodly, What have ye, which I have not? and, What do ye, which I do not? “Are ye Hebrews? so am I: are ye Israelites? so am I.” This kind of consistency will in due time create an influence over the minds of many; and may recommend religion to generations yet unborn. We would not indeed wish any one to be burthening himself or others with superstitious observances: but to adopt the spirit of Jonadab’s injunctions will be of incalculable advantage to us all. Self-denial and deadness to the world are amongst the most important duties of Christianity; and to live in the habitual exercise of these will be an effectual preservative from temptation. That we shall be tempted to violate our principles and our engagements, must be expected: both the world and the flesh will, as it were, “set pots of wine before us, and say, Drink ye wine.” But, if we have learned to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, we shall have our answer ready at hand, ‘My Father, and my God, has forbidden it: and I will do only the things that please him.’ Thus bear in mind your vows and obligations to your God, and you shall “never be led away by the error of the wicked, nor full from your own steadfastness.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Jeremiah 35". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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