Jeremiah 35 serves as a contrast to Jeremiah 34.
In Jeremiah 34, we saw the last king of Judah – Zedekiah – and all the people of Jerusalem making a covenant. They made a covenant with their Hebrew slaves to let them go. And they actually followed-through on that covenant. But then they went back on their covenant and took back their Hebrew slaves.
And God took issue with them for two reasons. First, they broke their promise – a promise they made before God in his Temple. And second, this covenant that they made was biblical.
When God released all of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt back in the Exodus, he commanded them that if they come into possession of a fellow Hebrew as a slave – they need to let that fellow-Hebrew go after 6 years. So, by ignoring this command – even if they thought it was a small issue – they were not just breaking a promise they made. They weren’t just being unloving to their fellow-Hebrews. They were disobeying the God in whose hands were their very lives – the God who could send the Babylonians to come and destroy them or who could actually send the Babylonians away from them, if he so chose.
Well, in contrast to those oath breakers and rebels in Jeremiah 34, Jeremiah 35 showcases a group of individuals who paid attention to detail, as it were. This group, known as the Rechabites had obeyed the command of their ancestor in a relatively minor point – maybe something that some would ignore or consider superfluous. But they obeyed that command and thus they’re held up by God for all Judah to consider. God uses the Rechabites’ example to urge Judah to obedience. He also promises to bless the Rechabites and thus he shows them as an example to all of what happens when you Submit to God’s Authority.
So, let’s consider how God Blesses Obedience in Jeremiah 35.
We’ll start by reading the introduction to this story in verse 1.
KJV Jeremiah 35:1 ¶ The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,
So, note the king mentioned here. It’s Jehoiakim.
What this means is that as you step from the last verse of Jeremiah 34 and come into Jeremiah 35 you are actually going back in time. You are going from Jeremiah 34 with King Zedekiah – who is the last king of Judah. He was king for about 11 years.
Then you go backwards and have about three months of the reign of a king named Jehoiachin.
And then go back one more king to Jehoiakim who also reigned about 11 years. And that’s where you are in Jeremiah 35 – under the reign of King Jehoiakim.
So, keep that time frame in mind as we proceed through this chapter.
Commanded Action from God (35:2)
Now, back in the reign of Jehoiakim, God came to Jeremiah and gave him a command in verse 2.
2 Go unto the [house/community] of the Rechabites,
and speak unto them,
and bring them into the house of the LORD, into one of the [chambers/side rooms],
and give them wine to drink.
A few things here.
First, who is this group of people?
Second, why is God commanding them to drink wine?
Who were the Rechabites?
So, let’s address the issue of who these people are. They’re known as Rechabites. And it turns out that they’re named after one of their ancestors whose name was Rechab. But we don’t know anything about this man.
However, later on in this chapter we’re going to hear about another ancestor of these folks. His name is Jonadab. And he’s the son of Rechab. Now, we do know a little bit about a man named Jehonadab who is said to be the son of Rechab way back in 2 Kings 10. This man was an associate of the king of Northern Israel whose name was Jehu. Remember him? He’s the one who obliterated Baal worship from Northern Israel.
Well, Jehu met this Jehonadab, son of Rechab on the way to destroy Baal worshippers. And it appears that this man Jehonadab helped Jehu exterminate the idolaters.
Now, Jehu reigned from 841-814 BC. Jehoiakim – the king in power in this chapter of Jeremiah – he reigned from 608-598 BC. So, there’s at least a 200-year gap between the time of Jehonadab and the events of this chapter in Jeremiah. Keep that in mind for later.
Why did God command them to drink wine?
But now let’s consider what God is actually commanding. Because when we think of wine in our 21st Century American context, we are rightly opposed to its consumption. Our church has an official statement in our Constitution that says we’re not going to drink intoxicating beverages – and modern wine would be included in that category.
And let me register support for that stance. That position is safe. It’s biblical. Professing Christians these days want to argue that it’s within the bounds of their scriptural liberty to be able to drink wine – just so long as they don’t get drunk. And yet, that is what modern wine is made to do, with an alcoholic content of anywhere from 9-16%. My best understanding is that wine in Bible times was more like 4-6% and then it was diluted with two or three parts water. So, that would bring the alcoholic content down to maybe 2-3%. It would also kill harmful bacteria and flavor your water – AND take quite a bit to get you drunk – which the Bible forbids.
But, as with everything that has to do with one’s pleasure in this hedonistic culture – if there are three professing Christians in a room and they’re asked to give their opinion concerning alcohol, you’ll hear four different opinions. I think the scenario I just mentioned fits with scriptural descriptions of wine as well as the commands concerning it.
So, I say that to help us think about God’s command here. He’s not commanding Jeremiah to give the Rechabites the incredibly intoxicating stuff that we know of as wine – the stuff that they are able to refine a great deal and even add extra alcohol to it.
Can I draw what I think would be an appropriate parallel to what God is saying in Jeremiah 35? It’s like God commanding you to go tell someone to drink apple juice – more or less. Or a carbonated beverage. Or flavored water. I just think that God’s command involves nothing related to drunkenness or some unethical action.
So, when God commands Jeremiah to offer the Rechabites some wine, he’s not enticing them to sin or drunkenness in any way.
And what that means is that whether they drink or they don’t drink, objectively it’s not a big deal either way. If they wanted to drink the “flavored water” that would be OK. If they didn’t want to drink it, that’s fine, too.
Does that make sense? The options set before these people are both equally acceptable – all else being equal.
So, with those realities in mind, let’s continue.
Jeremiah’s Obedience (35:3-5)
We’ve seen the time frame of this passage. Then we just saw God give Jeremiah a command to go invite the Rechabites to have some wine.
Now, in verses 3-5 we have Jeremiah obeying the Lord and inviting the Rechabites to have some wine.
3 Then I took
Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habaziniah,
and his brethren,
and all his sons,
and the whole [house/community] of the Rechabites;
So Jeremiah gathers up all the Rechabites.
4 And I brought them
into the house of the LORD,
into the chamber of the [sons/disciples] of Hanan, the son of Igdaliah, [a man of God/the prophet],
[which/that room] was [by/next to] the [chamber/room] of the [princes/officials/temple officers],
[which/and] was above the [chamber/room] of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the [door/threshold]:
So, now we know where Jeremiah brought the descendants of this man named Rechab, who preceded them by about 200 years. Jeremiah gives us a lot of detail as to the exact location of where he brought them. And so that would typically make me think that this information is meaningful or important in some way. But all I can make of those details is the general location of this room that he brought them to. Perhaps that’s all that Jeremiah wants us to know.
They’re in the Temple. In one of these rooms that was built on the outside of the Temple to accommodate Temple-workers and their equipment. Apparently, they’re on the second level or story of such rooms. In the room of the disciples of a prophet named Hanan.
And then Jeremiah gives these men wine.
5 And I set before the [sons/members] of the [house/community] of the Rechabites [pots/pitchers] full of wine, and cups,
and I said unto them,
[Drink ye/Have some] wine.
The Rechabites’ Response (35:6-11)
So, here they are. Jeremiah on one side of the table (maybe) and the Rechabites on the other side. I’m not sure how many of them there are in this room. Maybe some of them stood outside the room if there were a lot of them.
But at any rate, they’re in the room with Jeremiah and these pitchers full of wine and cups that would allow them to drink it.
Again, Jeremiah is not inviting them to be drunk. He’s not commanding them to be immoral or to make some choice that is evil no matter what the circumstance. Jeremiah is simply giving them likely water mixed with wine, strong enough to kill bacteria and flavor the water, but diluted enough to be fairly low in alcoholic content.
From all that we know so far, their decision is really quite inconsequential.
And that’s why verses 6-11 are very helpful. Here we witness the response of this group and get more background as to why God commanded Jeremiah to offer them wine.
6 But they said,
We will drink no wine:
Why? Here’s their reason.
for Jonadab the son of Rechab our [father/anscestor] commanded us, saying,
Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever:
So, that’s why they don’t drink wine. Because of the command of a distant relative – maybe 200 years ago. None of the living Rechabites had ever seen this ancestor of theirs – Jonadab or Jehonadab if he’s the same guy in 2 Kings 10. They had never heard his actual voice. They just had a command from him from the distant past to not drink wine. And so, they simply didn’t drink wine.
And yet, that’s not the only thing they abstained from because of their ancestor’s command. We see a number of other restrictions placed upon them by this man in verse 7. He told them…
7 Neither shall ye build house,
nor sow seed,
nor plant vineyard,
nor [have/own] [any/one]:
but all your days ye shall dwell in tents;
that ye may live many days in the land where ye [be strangers/sojourn/wander about].
So, this distant ancestor of these people commanded them to basically live as nomads. They couldn’t own or work the land. They needed to wander around in tents as strangers or sojourners or resident aliens all their lives. I imagine that these people had animals that they let graze on whatever land they happened to be wandering through. Otherwise, I’m not quite sure how they would have survived. But that’s it. No settling down in comfortable houses. No farming, beyond maybe a few goats and other livestock. A pretty bare, austere, ascetic kind of life.
So, that much is fairly clear. Jonadab’s reasoning – though – is somewhat of a puzzle. He told them to do and not do all that he commanded so that something would happen. So that they would live many days in the land.
Now, I’m pretty sure that there is nothing about wandering as a nomad that causes you to live a long time. I think then that what Jonadab was saying is similar to the 5th Commandment to honor father and mother. The promise given to someone who obeys that command is long life. I think then that Jonadab is saying that if his descendants obey his commands then they will be obeying him and thus they will reap the blessing of the 5th Commandment.
So, we’ve seen the rules these people have been given which makes them reject Jeremiah’s offer of wine. And by rejecting that offer they were obeying this old command from Jonadab. And further they go on to testify to their obedience to Jonadab’s commands in every area in which he commanded them.
8 Thus have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab our [father/ancestor] in all that he hath charged us,
to drink no wine all our days,
nor our daughters;
Nobody’s drinking wine in their clan. And again, this is extraordinary obedience because there was nothing wrong with drinking the wine they would have had available to them.
Drinking the wine they would have had available would have been as normal as the following actions that they rejected in order to obey their ancestor’s command.
9 Nor to build houses for us to dwell in:
neither have we vineyard,
So, that’s their obedience negatively. It’s what they have not done. But here’s what they have positively done to obey.
10 But we have dwelt in tents,
and have obeyed,
and done according to all that Jonadab our [father/ancestor] commanded us.
And yet, the Rechabites did need to change their tactics just a little bit – simply to preserve their own lives according to verse 11.
11 But it came to pass, when Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said,
Come, and let us go to Jerusalem
for fear of the army of the Chaldeans,
and for fear of the army of the Syrians:
so we dwell at Jerusalem.
So, the Rechabites’ nomadic lifestyle was challenged and really in some ways ended – at least temporarily – by Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of the land.
Now, keep in mind that this is not the final invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. That’s not for at least another decade or so at this point. But this happened under Jehoiakim’s reign. And there may have been other times when Nebuchadnezzar came up against Judah during Jehoiakim’s reign, but we know at least that Babylon came to attack Jehoiakim at the end of his reign but he apparently died before they got there. So maybe that’s the timeframe we’re speaking of here or maybe a little earlier.
But back to the Rechabites’ obedience. Their being forced into the city of Jerusalem would surely have resulted in them not being able to perfectly obey Jonadab’s command to live a nomadic lifestyle. And they recognized that. But in every area in which they could still obey and at the same time keep their lives they did it.
So, living in Jerusalem for protection meant no more tents. They probably lived in houses. Maybe they had vineyards. I don’t know. So, in some ways they were actually forced to disobey. But where they could obey – in particular, in the matter of not drinking wine – they were still steadfastly seeking to obey Jonadab’s original commands to them.
What a contrast to what we see throughout the book of Jeremiah. No one in Jeremiah’s day needed to be forced to disobey God’s commandments. They could hardly be forced to obey them. And really, most people were flagrantly disobeying the Lord with their idolatry and abuse of their fellow-man.
God’s Commendation of the Rechabites (35:12-17)
And God takes note of that contrast. He sees – on the one hand – the chaos and widespread disobedience of the people of Judah. And on the other hand, he sees the steadfast attempt of the Rechabites to obey their ancestor.
By the way, I don’t think this means that the Rechabites were all really righteous individuals, necessarily. We all know people who obey some obscure tradition that was passed on to them by their family. That’s not necessarily the same thing as obeying the commands and traditions passed down to us from the Lord himself.
And yet, God is going to commend the Rechabites as an example for Judah to follow. We see that in verses 12-17.
12 ¶ Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying,
13 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 [from this example…] [to/and] [hearken/listen] to my words?
saith the LORD.
Well, what was it that God is wanting the people of Judah to take notice of? This: …
14 The words 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:
And then God contrasts the Rechabites’ obedience to Jonadab to the disobedience of Judah to himself.
notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, [rising early and speaking/persistently/over and over again];
but ye hearkened not unto me.
And it’s not just that the people didn’t listen to God. They also ignored the prophets that he sent to them.
15 I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, [rising up early and/persistently/over and over again] sending them, saying,
Return ye now every man from his evil way,
and amend your doings,
and go not after other gods to serve them,
and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers:
but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me.
And, as we’ve heard often in this book, this kind of disobedience had to be punished.
16 Because the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them;
but this people hath not hearkened unto me:
17 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel;
Behold, I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the [evil/disaster] that I have pronounced against them:
because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard;
and I have called unto them, but they have not answered.
God’s Promise to the Rechabites (35:18-19)
But that’s not where God leaves it. God finishes this chapter by giving a promise to the Rechabites.
18 ¶ [And/But/Then] Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites,
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel;
Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father,
and kept all his precepts,
and done according unto all that he hath commanded you:
19 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel;
Jonadab the son of Rechab shall [not/never] [want/lack] a [man/male descendant] to [stand before/serve] me for ever.
So, God promises that there will always be a Rechabite to serve the Lord always. This is one of those promises that we don’t have anything else in Scripture that would allow us to verify that it’s happened. But God said it would happen and we can believe that it has indeed happened.
So, what do we see in this chapter that we as New Testament Christians can learn from?
We see that God loves obedience. Even if that obedience is to some obscure command issued by an authority figure a long time ago. And yet, he loves obedience to himself and his word even more.
We also see that God hates when people disobey him. And especially when that disobedience takes the form of idolatry, the Lord is often moved to punish.
And yet, that punishment is often long-delayed. In the case of this chapter, the final punishment wouldn’t come for another decade. So, we see God’s patience as well in this chapter – allowing people a long time to repent.
Because that’s what he ultimately wants. He wants people to Submit to His Authority. And when they do, he often sees fit to bless them.