Let me tell you a story. It’s about a small clan of people called the Rechabites. Never heard of them? That’s ok; most of us haven’t. You have to dig around the Bible to find out anything about them. Their forefather, Rechab, was a Kenite, related to Moses by marriage. So they were not direct descendants of Abraham. Another notable member of this people group was Jehonadab (or Jonadab). After the time of King Ahab, Jehonadab helped Jehu to rid Israel of Baal worship. (2 Kings 10)
The Rechabites were a nomadic people; they had no permanent place in the land of Israel. Jehonadab also put in place some strict rules for his people. They were to remain nomads, sowing no seed and planting no vineyards. They were also forbidden from drinking wine. No one is sure exactly why these oaths were taken.
From this obscurity, the Rechabites suddenly appear prominently in Jeremiah 35. Let me set the scene. About 200 years after Jehonadab, the kingdom of Israel is no more, those ten tribes having been exiled to Assyria. Judah is about to suffer the same fate at the hands of Babylon. Jeremiah has warned the people and the kings of Judah time and time again. But they continue in their sin and disobedience. They refuse to listen. Chapter 34 describes King Zedekiah’s disobedience and God’s promise to give him up to the sword. Chapter 36 is one of the starkest scenes of disobedience in the whole book. King Jehoiakim burns the scroll containing God’s words of judgment as it is being read to him. There is no fear of God in him and so God promises disaster on him and the people of Judah. The book of Jeremiah is not laid out in chronological order, but that’s by design. Chapter 35 is meant to stick out in comparison.
Jeremiah is instructed by God to call the Rechabites to the house of the Lord. They had moved into Jerusalem because of the siege of Nebuchadnezzar. They come to the house of the Lord and Jeremiah is told to offer them wine. God is testing them! But they categorically refuse, repeating the vow their father Jehonadab had made and they have kept these many years. They have obeyed their father and will continue to do so even when put on the spot by the prophet of God.
God then commands Jeremiah to speak to the people of Judah and Jerusalem and use the obedience of the Rechabites as an example against them. The Rechabites are nomads. They have no permanent place in Israel. The oath they’ve taken seems extreme. But they’ve kept it for hundreds of years. They have obeyed. The people of Judah have heard from God himself and his prophets for years, warning them of their idolatry and impending judgment. But they have not listened. They have not obeyed.
“I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently…but you did not incline your ear or listen to me.” Jeremiah 35:15
You might still have questions about this nomadic people, the Rechabites, but I want to focus on just a couple things: Obedience matters and God remembers.
What status did the Rechabites have in Israel? None. They were nomads and nobodies, not having a permanent place in the land or prominent position. But in God’s eyes they were worthy of attention because of their obedience. It stood out amidst the flagrant disobedience of the kings of Judah, the ones who should’ve known the Law and kept it with their whole heart.
Who remembered the Rechabites? God did. He was a witness to their obedience from the beginning. No matter why they took this oath, God saw it and God remembered. And God rewarded it.
Look at the end of Jeremiah 35. After God chastises the people of Judah using the example of the Rechabites, he speaks directly to them saying:
“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 35:18-19
The obedience of the Rechabites was seen and remembered by God and used hundreds of years later as a powerful example against the people of Judah. God sees and remembers our obedience as well. It doesn’t earn our salvation (Titus 3:4-7), but it does matter. The Rechabites’ obedience was directed toward their earthly father, Jonadab, but our obedience is to our heavenly Father who has given us his Spirit. So we can say with Paul, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)