In this chapter, God extolled the obedience of the Rechabite people and contrasted them to the disobedience of Israel.
Who Are The Rechabites?
The Rechabites were nomads. They came out of a group called the Kenites, which were descendants of Moses’ father in law. (Judges 4:11) They helped King Jehu fight against the forces worshipping Baal. The Lord here uses them as an object lesson for the Jews about obedience.
When this happened
This is one of the instances where the book of Jeremiah is not chronological. This word comes from the Lord during the reign of Jehoiakim, who was the son of Josiah the reformer. This is probably 12-15 years before the events of chapter 34.
So, why did Jeremiah put it here? I think because it makes a stark contrast to chapter 34. In that chapter, the Lord strongly condemned their violation of the covenant in their treatment of slaves. Then, in chapter 35, he offers the stark contrast of the radical obedience of the Rachabites. The Lord gave us the summation in verse 16, when he said “The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me.”
Setting the Stage
The Lord had Jeremiah take the Rechabites to the Temple, to the chamber of one of the prophets, and offer them wine. This is a high pressure situation for the Rechabites. They have already been forced to violate some of their principles by moving into the city. Now they are in the temple itself and given wine by the prophet of God. How do you refuse?
The Rechabites Obey Their Ancestor
The Rechabites refused the offer of wine. They explained the reason: they obeyed their ancestor Jonadab. He gave them a list of rules:
1. do not drink wine;
2. do not build houses;
3. do not sow seed (grow crops); and
4. live in tents.
For whatever reason, Jonadab wanted his descendants to be nomads and have no permanent place to live. They only came into Jerusalem because the countryside was overrun by Babylonians. He might have been trying to imitate the early days of the Hebrews when Abraham lived in tents.
The Lord pointed out the difference between the Rechabites and the Israelites. The Rechabites had scrupulously obeyed their ancestor, a mere man with man made rules. In contrast, the Israelites had disobeyed God and ignored his messengers the prophets.
Because Israel disobeyed and ignored God, he vowed to bring disaster upon them. (17)
In contrast, because the Rechabites were obedient to their ancestor, God would bless them. “Stand before me” probably means to serve God in the Temple. It is a great blessing to serve the Lord.
This is like God’s promise of blessing on Israel for obeying the covenant. For example, in Isaiah 1:19-20, he said:
If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the good of the land;
But if you refuse and rebel
You shall be eaten by the sword
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
What the Point is Not
The point of this story is not to give you a list of rules to obey. Do not go out and sell your house or move out of your apartment and move into a tent based on this story. It was not to give the Israelites a list of rules to obey. They already had that list.
What the Point Is
The point is to show that God values obedience. He honored these people who honored their ancestor with obedience to his rules, so that he could show Israel they dishonored God by disobeying his rules.
Why is it important that Israel obey God’s rules? Why is it important that we obey God?
The reason is this: willing obedience is the sign of love.
You knew we would end up back in the book of Deuteronomy, didn’t you? Well here we are. Look at Deuteronomy 4:5
You shall love the LORD your God will all your heart and with all our soul and with all your might.
The Israelites were to love God with their whole being. How did they express their love for God? Deuteronomy 7:9 tells us. It says “Know therefore that the LORD your God is god, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations…” Those who love God keep his commandments.
When the Israelites kept God’s commandments, they showed that they believed him, they trusted him and they accepted his governance knowing it was best for them.
In Matthew 22:38 Jesus said this same commandment was the first and greatest commandment. He added “mind” to the commandment. Again, the thought is to love the Lord will all our being.
How do we do that? Jesus explained it for us clearly in John 14:15. He said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”. Then in verse 21 he said “whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he is it who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him”. In verse 23 he said it a third time, “if anyone loves me he will keep my word”.
Finally, in verse 24, he said it in the negative: whoever does not love me does not keep my words”.
In Luke 11:28, Jesus said blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. In Luke 18:21, he said his family is those who hear the word of God and do it.
John echoed this idea in 1 John 5:3, where is said “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” You see in this verse both the idea that we demonstrate our love by keeping his commandments and the idea that we trust him that the commandments are good for us rather than a burden for us.
So, Jesus said the most important commandment was to love the Lord with all your being and that you love the Lord by obeying or keeping his commandments.
The Israelites were never able to obey God continuously. They were not able to love God completely. In the wilderness, despite their deliverance from Egypt, they complained about food and water. They did not trust God to provide.
When they got to Canaan, they worshipped the local gods and did not love the LORD exclusively. There were many revivals. There was a great period during David’s reign and part of Solomon’s. Then it was largely a downward slide.
God called them stiff necked. He called them rebels. He said they profaned his name. They just could not maintain the course.
So how God expect us to obey him?
First, God changes us when we receive Jesus and believe on him. He makes it possible for us to know and obey his law out of love. Remember Jeremiah 31:5. God said “I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be my people”.
Second, God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us. In John 14:16, after Jesus said we will keep his commandments if we love him, he said he will give us the Holy Spirit, another Helper to be with us forever.
Romans 8:15 tells us we did not receive a spirit of slavery but the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry “Abba Father”. The Spirit gives us the ability to look on God as a loving Father and to obey him as loving children.
What are the commands of Jesus?
First, it is to believe the gospel. The first sermon Mark records Jesus preaching is this: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15.
John records Jesus telling Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. (John 3:16)
Second, it is to bring our lives into conformity with God’s standards. Jesus perfectly reflected the holy character of the Father. He did what the Father said to do and he said what the Father said to say. Now we are to be imitators of Christ. As we read and study the Bible, we submit our selves to the Holy Spirit, asking him to convict us of unrighteousness and repenting when he does. We should continually grow into the likeness of Christ. Year by year we should be more and more like him.
Then, after loving Jesus, we are to love others as we love ourselves. Matthew 28:39. Remember that Jesus told a parable to explain who your neighbor is. It was a guy in a ditch. It was a guy of another race. It was a guy who did not go to your church. It was a guy who was hurt. It was a guy who was helpless.
It is whoever needs to be loved.
Lots of people need to be loved. Pick one and get busy.