For about five years, from 1969 to 1974, many Americans regularly tuned in to watch the family sitcom called The Brady Bunch. Even though the show lasted only five seasons, via syndication and spin-offs multiple generations have tuned in to view the adventures of this blended family. Like many of the old-style sitcoms, episodes not only had distinct plots but particular life lessons. In many ways many episodes illustrated how we could learn not only from individuals but from families. Well, the Scripture provides a similar lesson for us. To that end – here’s the story of a Rechabite family.
The opening verse of this chapter reminds us yet again that the book of Jeremiah does not follow a strict chronology. Here we are essentially provided with a flashback that served as quite a lesson in contrasts when set alongside chapter thirty-four – i.e. the treachery of Zedekiah contrasted with the fidelity of the Rechabites. This prophecy came during the days of Jehoiakim (vs.1) and later we find that it was (a) after Nebuchadnezzar invaded Palestinian territory and (b) before he besieged Jerusalem (vs.11). It was during this time that the word came to Jeremiah from the LORD (vs.1a). That message was:
“Go to the house of the Rechabites, speak to them, and bring them into the house of the LORD, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.” (vs.2)
Some immediate questions that may come to most readers’ minds include: Who are the Rechabites and why is Jeremiah inviting them to drink wine in the house of the LORD? Well, they were a group of nomadic people, not Jewish but of the Kenites (Jdg. 1:16; 4:11; 1 Chr. 2:55), descended from a man named Jonadab, aka Jehonadab (Jer. 35:6; cf. 2 Kin. 10:15). He was an ally of Jehu in the overthrow of Ahab’s house (2 Kin. 10:15,23), and likely a man of prominence given the way Jehu addressed and interacted with him. And he had laid down some rules for his family. And if you’re unfamiliar with what those rules were don’t worry it won’t take too long to find out; and, once you know, God’s command to Jeremiah becomes increasingly easier to understand.
Well, in Jeremiah-like fashion, the prophet heeded the command of the LORD, brought “the whole house of Rechabites” (Jer. 35:3) into one of the rooms adjoining the temple; namely, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan (vs.4b), and set before them bowls full of wine, along with cups, and said to them, “Drink wine” (vs.5). At this point, you might be confused, thinking, ‘Wait a minute, is this actually the right Jeremiah?’ I mean, I don’t know about you, but at face value this isn’t the kind of thing you’d expect from Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah. And, at any other time, I’m confident you wouldn’t see him doing this. But this wasn’t Jeremiah’s idea; it was Yahweh’s. It was not an attempt to endorse or incite drunkenness, it was the prelude to an important object lesson.
So there the Rechabites were, in a somewhat public environment, having recently settled in Jerusalem for fear of foreign armies (vs.11), and even more recently – having received an invitation from the prophet Jeremiah, followed by an injunction, and here’s how they responded,
6 But they said, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever. 7 You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.’ (vs.6-7)
Likely out of zeal for the Lord, and the protection of his descendants, Jonadab called his posterity to avoid alcohol altogether (vs.6), which would protect them from the intemperance and pagan worship which infiltrated and attracted Israel. Furthermore, he called them to dwell in tents (vs.7), not houses; likely so that they would avoid entanglements to the world. And the amazing thing was, despite the fact that their long-since-deceased ancestor had been gone for over two hundred years, they obeyed! To use their language: “We have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us” (vs.8).
Jeremiah’s invitation was the prelude to the examination and the Rechabites passed with flying colors. In fact, at the end of the chapter God honored the way in which the Rechabites honored their father with strong language and an incredibly precious promise (vs. 18-19). But God did not orchestrate these events to simply parade Rechabite family values. Nor was the point of the object lesson to advocate asceticism, prohibition, and nomadic living. It was to present a lesson in contrasts and an implicit ‘how much more argument.’ After asking the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Will you not receive instruction and listen to My words?” (vs.13) the LORD drove the point home in verse 14:
14 “The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; for to this day they drink none, and obey their father’s commandment. But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me.” (vs.14)
The Rechabite family was a lesson in contrast when compared with the house of Judah. Although Jonadab had been dead for over 200 years his posterity heeded his non canonical commands while the house of Judah repeatedly spurned the words of the living God who repeatedly spoke to them through the prophets (vs.15). However great Jonadab might have been, he was still a fallible man, not the infallible God. He may have cared for his posterity but He could never do for his posterity what God had done and would do for His. However powerful Jonadab’s words were, they did not carry within them intrinsic power to beget and sustain spiritual life. And all of these contrasts served to condemn the obstinacy of Judah even more (vs. 16-17). The way in which the Rechabites honored their father magnified the way in which Judah dishonored their God – the One who was much greater than Jonadab.
Sometimes comparisons can be a good thing. Sometimes seeing how people appreciate something ‘less than’ can help you appreciate the ‘greater than’ that you may be prone to neglect. Let’s not make Judah’s mistake. If it was reprehensible then, it’s exponentially more so now. We know much more about the ‘greater than’ than they did. Jonadab may have loved his posterity but he didn’t love them so much that he sent his only son to die for them (cf. Jn. 3:16). Jonadab may have been zealous to keep his seed from idolatry but he had no capacity to replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. Jonadab may have been a great leader but he could never be a sinless Savior.
Let us, then, learn from the Rechabites and be careful that the greatest faithfulness we offer is to the One whose faithfulness reaches to the skies (Ps. 36:5), seeing that, however much honor Jonadab commanded, our Father and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, are worthy of infinitely more.