In the days of the reign of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, God told the prophet Jeremiah to go to a people group then staying in Jerusalem who were called Rechabites. One of their ancestors, Jonadab, had commanded them to follow certain practices. They had to live in tents, they could not plant crops, and they could not drink wine. The Rechabites were told to follow these laws, to pass them on to their children, and to keep on living in this separate way forever.
In the days of Jeremiah the Rechabites were still obeying Jonadab’s rules. They had only come within the protection of the city walls of Jerusalem because of the danger of the Babylonians. Their obedience to their own regulations was tested during a visit to the Lord’s temple. Jeremiah instructed them to drink wine. They explained that they could drink no wine, and they spoke of the heritage of their customs that they followed.
We know almost nothing else about this group of people except what we learn in Jeremiah 35. God honored them for at least being true to the law that they had been given. The Lord gave them an amazing promise that one of their descendants would always “stand before” Him.
Why did the Rechabites make it into the Bible at all? They proved that it was not physically impossible for people to keep laws that had been handed down to them from earlier generations. They were a living contrast to the people of Judah.
God had spoken to Judah persistently. He had performed great acts of deliverance for His people over many centuries. He had given them a beautiful system of moral, civil, and ceremonial statutes that could have defined the society as set apart from the world in the most wonderful ways. These laws were not mindless or random, but fit into the larger purpose of redemption. They comprised a system of justice, but also commanded the people in the way of mercy. God’s commandments gave them festivals and offerings that told the most important stories that they needed to know. They were of great aid to the poor, the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, the slave, and any one else in need. His statutes addressed issues of war and peace, property distribution, taxation, civil justice, restitution, and so many other matters which were necessary for a well-ordered nation.
How could it be that the Rechabites had no problem with their law of a nomadic existence, and yet the children of Jacob simply refused to follow God’s wonderfully and robust Law that He had given them?
At the most basic level, the people of God had abandoned Yahweh. They worshiped other gods instead of Him. If they would not worship God, of course they would not incline their hearts to hear and obey His Word. How would God overcome the problem of the lawlessness of His people?
The Lord Jesus Christ has taken care of our every need. First, He obeyed God’s Law more fully than any Rechabite every kept the commands of Jonadab. Second, through His death on the cross He paid the penalty that God’s elect had built up over many centuries. Everything that the Law taught the Jews was fulfilled by Jesus. His death on the cross has removed our blood-guilt. His record of perfect obedience has yielded us a happy verdict in the courtroom of the Almighty.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Our Father, the disobedience of Your people is so unusual. We have been given a very good and holy law. We would do well to follow it carefully. Yet we find obedience to Your commandments to be a great spiritual struggle. Others may be able to do what their ancestors have handed down to them. They follow old customs and do not hate the ways that their fathers have given them. Your people have treated You with such a dishonorable rebellion, despite the fact that Your moral law is so far superior to the traditions of men. Forgive us for this deep treachery, and remember the full obedience of Your Son on our behalf. Your ways are so very good. We will obey Your commandments. Have mercy on us.