Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJEREMIAH 35
THE EXAMPLE OF THE RECHABITES
The findings of a number of scholars regarding the date of this chapter are as follows: Robinson dated it in 598 B.C. ;F1 John Bright dated it in 603 B.C.;F2 Thompson placed it in 601 B.C.;F3 and Cheyne dated it in the summer of 606 B.C.F4 The conviction of this writer is that men do not really know exactly when it was written and that the exact date is not necessary anyway. Payne Smith did not offer a precise date but stated that, "The date lies between that of the Battle of Carchemish and the appearance of Nebuchadnezzar at Jerusalem."F5 Wiseman noted that chronologically, the chapter follows Jer. 25.F6 This example of the Rechabites, therefore, occurred some 12-17 years earlier than the events of the last chapter.
REGARDING THE RECHABITES
These were a branch of the Kenites, who were related to Jethro (Hobab), the father-in-law of Moses.F7 They followed the children of Israel into Canaan and continued to live among them as devoted worshippers of Jehovah. The Rechabites mentioned here were descendants of that Jonadab (the son of Rechab) who had enthusiastically aided Jehu in the overthrow of Ahab and the Baalim religion (2 Kings 10:13-23).
Jonadab was the founder of this puritanical group called the Rechabites. He commanded his posterity after him against the drinking of wine, the building of houses, or the ownership or cultivation of vineyards, thus committing the group to a nomadic life. His motives in the establishment of such an order seem to have been: (1) that of maintaining the mobility of the group in case of difficulties or attack by enemies, and (2) that of cultivating an austere lifestyle opposed to the comforts, luxuries, and vices of civilization. Their attitude toward the culture that began to flourish in Canaan following its habitation by Israel seems to have been well expressed by Plumptre.
"Not for you the life
Of sloth and ease within the city's gates,
Where idol-feasts are held, and incense smokes
To Baalim and Ashtaroth; where men
Lose their manhood, and the scoffers sit
Perverting judgment, selfish, soft, impure."F8
The event in this chapter took place some 250 years after Jonadab had founded his group; and, amazingly, the whole group had remained faithful to his orders. They lived in black tents; and when the approach of the Babylonian armies frightened them into moving into Jerusalem in the hope pf greater protection, the appearance of all those black tents within the city must have been a rather sensational sight. It provided a wonderful opportunity to show the rebellious children of Israel an excellent example of obedience and loyalty.
The word which came unto Jeremiah from Jehovah in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying, Go unto the house of the Rechabites, and speak unto them, and bring them into the house of Jehovah, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink. Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, and his brethren, and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites; and I brought them into the house of Jehovah, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, the man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, which was above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the threshold. And I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine, and cups; and I said unto them, Drink ye wine.
The house of the Rechabites. the house of Jehovah ..
(Jeremiah 35:2,4). Here is an example of the way in which the same word has multiple meanings. In the case of the Rechabites, the reference is to their group; but in the case of the temple it refers to a literal building.
Of the persons whose names are given in Jer. 35:3, Ash declared that "nothing is known."F9
Into the chamber of the sons of Hanan
(Jeremiah 35:4). By reason of Haman's having a chamber in the Temple itself, and his being called, the man of God, it is supposed that he was a prophet, his sons being a reference to his disciples. The fact that the whole house of the Rechabites, or at least, representatives of all their families could be seated in a single chamber indicates that the whole number of that community was probably not very large. The fact that he lent this room to Jeremiah for the purpose of this meeting indicates a measure of sympathy with the prophet.F10
I said unto them, Drink ye wine
(Jeremiah 35:5). By the inspiration of God, Jeremiah already knew what the outcome of this test would be. He did not command them to drink wine but politely offered it to them, making it available in sufficient quantifies to allow all to have plenty.
The force of this temptation was reinforced by the fact of the group's having been signally honored by this reception in the Temple itself, and by the famed prophet Jeremiah himself having been the one who offered it.
Note also that their dwelling in Jerusalem at this time did not mean that they had violated the ancestral order not to live in houses, a violation which some of the group might have been forced into by reason of the shortage of space to pitch tents within Jerusalem. The very fact that one of the ancestral tenets might have been being violated at this time would have also added to the temptation to drink wine. Once a rule of conduct is broken in a single particular, it is easier to break it in another.
Beyond this, there was the fact of their being in strange circumstances in a city not their own. Matthew Henry noted that the very situation suggested: "Go ahead and drink wine. It's free. You have broken one rule of your order by moving into Jerusalem, why may you not break this rule also?"F11 Who has not heard exclamations such as, "Well, everyone is doing it!" or "When in Rome, do as Rome does!"
The keeper of the threshold
(Jeremiah 35:4). There were three of these keepers in the Temple, answering to the outer and inner courts of the Temple, and to the entrance of the Temple itself. These were officers of high rank, having precedence next to the High Priest and his deputy.F12
But they said, We will drink no wine; for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons, for ever: neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any; but all your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days in the land wherein ye sojourn. And we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters; nor to build houses for us to dwell in; neither have we vineyard, nor field, nor seed: but we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us. 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.
We have obeyed. in all that he commanded us ..
(Jeremiah 35:8). The obedience of the Rechabites to their principles was indeed astounding. All of their days, they had obeyed all of Jonadab's injunctions; all of them obeyed at all times and in all particulars.F13 No greater contrast to the disobedience of Israel could possibly have been imagined.
It should be noted that, "What is praised here is not Jonadab's injunctions, but the faithful obedience of his sons."F14
The superiority of the obedience of the Rechabites over that of Israel is inherent in a number of elements: (1) the person they obeyed was only a mortal man; Israel was disobeying God. (2) Jonadab had long been dead, some 250 years in fact; God lives forever. (3) There was no one to repeat the commands of Jonadab and insist upon their obedience; but God had sent prophet after prophet to reaffirm God's commandments and to urge Israel to obey. (4) Jonadab gave no great blessings to his children; but God had endowed Israel with an entire kingdom. (5) Jonadab's orders were very difficult to obey and had caused much hardship upon the Rechabites, but God's commandments for Israel were not encumbered with such great difficulties. "And yet Jonadab's orders were obeyed; and God's were not!"F15
Jer. 35:11 is an explanation by the Rechabites that their dwelling in Jerusalem was of necessity and not because they were willing to violate the injunctions of their ancestor.
The following verses of this chapter stress the contrasts between the obedient Rechabites and the disobedient Israelites, which we have just enumerated.
Then came the word of Jehovah unto Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Go, and say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will ye not receive instruction to hearken to my words? saith Jehovah. The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; and unto this day they drink none, for they obey their father's commandment: but I have spoken unto you, rising up early and speaking; and ye have not hearkened unto me. I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and 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. Forasmuch as 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; therefore thus saith Jehovah, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil 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.
Little comment is required, for this text is the basis for the enumerated contrasts in the above paragraphs. These verses reach their climax in, "The thunder of judgment in Jer. 35:17. Such a course of action by Israel can lead to but one end, the destruction of the nation."F16
Verses 18, 19
And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith Jehovah 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 commanded you; therefore thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.
Attempts to pinpoint the fulfillment of this promise to the Rechabites have been made, but not very convincingly. Nevertheless, we know that God did indeed bless the Rechabites as indicated here. Payne Smith declared that, "Professor Plumptre proved that the prophecy here was literally fulfilled when the Rechabites were incorporated into the tribe of Levi, whose office it was `to stand before Jehovah' (Deuteronomy 10:8)."F17 It is also possible that the firm rejection of alcoholic drinks in the Arab countries today may have come about, in part, because of the influence of the Rechabites. "Even today in Syria and Arabia, there are groups that claim to be Rechabites and that follow the Rechabite rule."F18
Footnotes for Jeremiah 35
1: H. Wheeler Robinson, Jeremiah, p. 489.
2: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), p. 190.
3: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 615.
4: T. K. Cheyne, Jeremiah in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 94.
5: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 495.
6: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 838.
7: Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 629.
8: T. K. Cheyne, Jeremiah in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 95.
9: Anthony L. Ash, Psalms (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 249.
10: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), p. 189.
11: Matthew Henry's Commentary, p.-629.
12: Barnes' Notes (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), p. 235.
13: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 542.
14: Ibid., p. 543.
15: Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 630.
16: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 163.
17: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 497.
18: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 681.