Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “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. 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. 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. The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me. 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.”
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, 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.” – Jeremiah 35:12-19 ESV
The Rechabites had kept their word. Jeremiah had invited them to a private session somewhere within the temple and, under directions given to him by God, had ordered them to drink wine. But they had refused. They were not going to disobey the command given to them by Jonadad, their leader, and they were not going to break the vow they had made to him. When Jeremiah had placed the wine in front of them and ordered them to drink, they had politely deferred, saying:
“So we have obeyed him in all these things. We have never had a drink of wine to this day, nor have our wives, our sons, or our daughters. We haven’t built houses or owned vineyards or farms or planted crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed all the commands of Jehonadab, our ancestor.” – Jeremiah 35:8-10 NLT
Now, God commands Jeremiah to take yet another message to the people of Judah warning them of what is about to happen. Remember, this chapter is actually out of chronological order. It takes us back in time to the days when Jehoakim was king. Chapter 34 chronicled the last days of Zedekiah, the king who reigned after Jehoakim. There is no reason given for the out-of-order telling of these events, but it seems to be a simple retrospective recounting of just how things had gotten to the sad state of affairs that led to the fall of Judah and Jerusalem. God’s decision to bring judgment on His people had not been a spur-of-the-moment decision. He had not knee-jerk reacted and flown off the handle in a rage at a single, isolated incident. The nation of Judah, like its northern neighbor, Israel, had a long track record of disobedience and stubborn refusal to listen to the call of God.
And God allowed His prophet, Jeremiah, to see up close and personal what real faithfulness looks like. The Rechabites provided a living lesson of uncompromising, unwavering obedience. It’s interesting to note that the Rechabites were actually living within the city walls of Jerusalem when Jeremiah made his offer of wine to them. At first blush, this might aappear to be a violation of their vow to Jonadab.
“You and your descendants must never drink wine. And do not build houses or plant crops or vineyards, but always live in tents. If you follow these commands, you will live long, good lives in the land.” – Jeremiah 35:6-7 NLT
Yet, the Rechabites admitted that they were living in Jerusalem.
“But when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked this country, we were afraid of the Babylonian and Syrian armies. So we decided to move to Jerusalem. That is why we are here.” – Jeremiah 35:11 NLT
They made it clear to Jeremiah that their presence in Jerusalem was simply to escape destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. They were seeking refuge, not setting up residence. There is no indication that they had bought houses or had intentions of making Jerusalem their permanent home. Jonadab’s command restricted them from building homes. They were required to live in tents. And, more than likely, that was exactly what they had been doing when Jeremiah called on them and extended his invitation for a meeting in the temple.
God made it clear to Jeremiah just what the point of this little episode with the Rechabites was all about. Jeremiah was to tell the people of Judah: “Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me” (Jeremiah 35:13 NLT). Then, He had pointed out: “The Recabites do not drink wine to this day because their ancestor Jehonadab told them not to” (Jeremiah 35:14 NLT). These people were obeying the words of a man. But the people of Judah had refused to listen to or obey the words of God. “But I have spoken to you again and again, and you refuse to obey me” (Jeremiah 35:14 NLT). Jonadab spoke, and his people obeyed. God spoke, and His people refused to listen and obey. And God spoke repeatedly. He sent His prophets. They provided timely reminders. They warned and threatened. The offered promises of God’s blessings for obedience. They told of unprecedented curses for refusal to be faithful to their covenant with God. But the people refused to listen. They heard, but they did not obey. And makes a clear comparison between the Rechabites and the Judahites.
“But you would not listen to me or obey me. The descendants of Jehonadab son of Recab have obeyed their ancestor completely, but you have refused to listen to me.” – Jeremiah 35:15-16 NLT
Then God drops the bomb. He says, “Therefore…”. As a result of their blatant disobedience, the people of Judah were going to suffer the judgment of God. And God describes Himself as “the Lord of Hosts”. The New Living Translation reads, “the God of Heaven’s Armies”. And in the Hebrew, it can be literally translated, “Yahweh of armies”. God presents Himself as the commander-in-chief of all the host of heaven. He is all-powerful and has a limitless number of heavenly hosts (angels) at His disposal. Jesus Himself referred to God’s heavenly host on the night he was betrayed in the garden. Peter, in a vain attempt to protect Jesus from capture, had cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Jesus immediately responded, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 NLT).
By presenting Himself as Yahweh of armies, God was emphasizing His sovereignty and power. He also described Himself as the God of Israel. The Rechabites had Jonadab. But the Israelites had God. And yet, they still refused to obey Him. So, warns God, “Because you refuse to listen or answer when I call, I will send upon Judah and Jerusalem all the disasters I have threatened” (Jeremiah 35:17 NLT). No obedience? No mercy. But then, God spoke a word to the Rechabites, describing Himself with the very same term.
“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed your ancestor Jehonadab in every respect, following all his instructions.’ Therefore, this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Recab will always have descendants who serve me.’” – Jeremiah 35:18-19 NLT
The God of Israel was promising the people of Recab, who were Kenites and not Jews, that He was going to bless them. This group of people would have a place in God’s presence forever. They would be sustained and protected by God. This simple, nomadic people, would be rewarded for their faithfulness and obedience. And the people of Judah would suffer the consequences of their disobedience. It would seem that God would have us take away the obvious lesson found in this chapter regarding obedience. God puts a high value on faithfulness. When He speaks, He doesn’t just expect His words to be heard, but to be obeyed. It is not enough to read God’s Word. We must apply what we hear to our lives. Knowing what God expects of us is not sufficient. Awareness of His will is not the same thing as obedience to it. Like a sovereign over a nation, God, Yahweh of armies, stands over His people and demands their allegiance and obedience. He is Lord of all. He is the one true God. He is to be heard and obeyed. He is to be feared and revered. The Rechabites would never have considered disobeying their vow to Jonadab. But the people of God regularly and blatantly broke their commitments to God. As the prophet, Samuel, told the disobedient King Saul:
“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.