In about 840 B.C. Jehu violently ended the rule of wicked Ahab’s family and instituted political and religious reform in the Northern Kingdom. Taking part in that reformation was a man named Jehonadab, the son of Rechab, a Kenite (2 Kings 10:15-17, 23). Sadly, Jehu’s reforms were incomplete; he rid Israel of Baal worship, but he failed to fully separate Israel from their idolatry. 2 Kings makes no other mention of Jehonadab, but Jeremiah 35 introduces us to his family, the Rechabites, around two hundred and forty years after Jehu’s reforms.
Jehonadab (or, Jonadab, as he is called in Jer. 35) had commanded his family to distinguish themselves from the Israelites in whose land they lived. He commanded the Rechabites to live in tents, to not farm the land, and to abstain from wine. The family had obeyed their patriarch for over two hundred years.
In about 600 B.C., God told Jeremiah to bring the Rechabites into the temple chambers and serve them wine. Jeremiah obeyed, but the Rechabites refused to imbibe, saying, “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’” (Jer. 35:1-6).
The point of all this is seen in Jer. 35:12-17. God asks Israel, “Will you not receive instruction to obey My words?” He declares to them, “But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me.” He adds that His many prophets had warned them to turn from their evil ways and quit their idolatry, but Israel had refused to hear and obey. He states in contrast, “Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them.” The children of Jonadab served as an example of the kind of loyalty and faithfulness God wanted, but was not getting, from His own children.
What can the Rechabites teach us, God’s children, today? Let me suggest three things:
1. They teach us that it is possible to be in the world without being of the world. The Rechabites were doing what many say cannot be done – they were living in the world without living like the world. That is what Jesus prayed for His apostles in John 17:14-16, and that is what John later reinforced as God’s will for us in 1 John 5:18-19.
How did the Rechabites pull it off? Through determination! They made up their minds to be faithful to their father’s charge. Paul wrote in Rom. 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Obedience begins in the mind. If we get our minds right – focused on what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God – our eyes, our ears, our feet, and our hands will follow along.
The moment our minds tell us that it is impossible to be moral in an immoral world, to dress modestly in an immodest world, to tell the truth in a lying world, or to be kind in an angry world, that is the moment we will begin to conform ourselves to a disobedient world. Can we be obedient to our Father in a disobedient world? If the Rechabites could, we can!
2. They teach us how to say “no.” In the Reagan years our society learned that our youth must be educated in how to “just say no” to drugs. The point of the “Just Say No” campaign was that it is not easy to say “no” when everyone else is saying “yes.”
So, how did the Rechabites “just say no” when Jeremiah said, “Yes”? Note that they made up their minds well beforehand that they would not defile themselves. They did not have to call an emergency meeting to decide what they would do. If we wait until the world’s temptation is upon us before we decide what we will do, we are likely to make the wrong decision.
They knew why, and told why, they were obligated to turn down Jeremiah’s request. If someone offered you a glass of wine today, would you know why you ought not to accept it?
And they appealed to what everyone knew to be righteous – the command of their father. I learned at an early age that when someone asked me to do something that I knew was forbidden and all arguments of logic failed, “My father said I couldn’t” was the ultimate answer. Who can argue with that? And when I became an adult, I learned that if I substituted the little “f” in father with a capital “F”, it is still the ultimate answer.
3. They teach us that time does not dull what is commanded, and need not dull our conviction and determination to obey. Two hundred and forty years? “Chronological snobbery” (C.S. Lewis) would have suggested that Jonadab had attained “old fogey” status well before then, and that more enlightened minds were now in play. But Rechabite determination to obey had not been dulled by time. “Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us” (Jer. 35:8).
Do we really think that New Testament truth has an expiration date? Do we really believe that two thousand years has given us some kind of increased sense of awareness, that we can see what Peter, Paul, James, John, and even Jesus missed? Has the world really become a more sophisticated place, so that ancient truths have no relevance in our lives?
John wrote of “the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2). Sorry, but the Father’s commands to us do not spoil with age and neither should our determination to be true to those commands. “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God; on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you will be cut off” (Rom. 11:22; see also 1 Cor. 15:2 and Heb. 3:14).
Our influence is important. God has always expected the righteous to see themselves as examples to the world. That is why Jesus referred to us as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are the Lord’s Rechabites today. May He give us the strength and courage to remain true to the Father’s commands.