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Faithful Model, Unfaithful People | God’s Word, Man’s Word

Jeremiah 34–35

Though the focus of this lesson is on the Rechabites and their determination to “stay true,” the teacher should not miss the opportunity to contrast the infinite difference between a dogged loyalty to a human ordinance, as helpful as it might be, and the determined hostility to the revelation of God. The lesson for this week (chapter 35) must be seen with that of next week (chapter 36) in the distressing contrast between diminished privilege but firm commitment on the one hand, and high privilege but hostile resistance on the other. In how many areas of our society and our churches and our lives do we find an infatuation with human learning and wisdom, and inherited traditions, more compelling to our thinking and conduct than we do the Bible.

Introduction: History reveals both great devotion to the Bible and great hostility towards it.  It reveals also that we often feel greater loyalty to human tradition than to divine truth.

I. The People’s Shameful Treatment of their Kinsmen (34:1–22)

A. God’s promises concerning King Zedekiah (vv. 1–7)

  1. The Babylonians will destroy Jerusalem by siege and fire (v.1–2).
  2. Zedekiah will live and die in exile, but peacefully 3–5 – The sovereignty and the variety of divine providence should amaze us. He would be in the presence of the king of Babylon, have his life preserved, live in peace, and be lamented at his death. In chapter 39, when this is fulfilled, one also sees that after having seen the king of Babylon face to face, and having seen his sons and officials killed, he sees no more for his eyes are put out.
  3. Jeremiah recorded a brief military account of Babylon’s conquest in Judah. His words to Zedekiah came as these things were happening. (vv. 6–7).
    A. A violation of God’s word as well as their own vow (vv. 8–22)

B. A violation of God’s word as well as their own vow (vv. 8–22) 

  1. The Babylonians will destroy Jerusalem by siege and fire (v.1–2).
  2. 2. Zedekiah will live and die in exile, but peacefully 3–5 – The sovereignty and the variety of divine providence should amaze us. He would be in the presence of the king of Babylon, have his life preserved, live in peace, and be lamented at his death. In chapter 39, when this is fulfilled, one also sees that after having seen the king of Babylon face to face, and having seen his sons and officials killed, he sees no more for his eyes are put out.
  3. 3. Jeremiah recorded a brief military account of Babylon’s conquest in Judah. His words to Zedekiah came as these things were happening. (vv. 6–7).

II. Admirable loyalty to human instruction (35:1–19)

A. God told Jeremiah to offer wine to the Rechabites, (1–5; see 2 Kings 10:15–31).

As we learn, the Rechabites had come to Jerusalem to avoid the danger of the ravaging army of Nebuchadnezzar throughout the countryside. They were living in accordance with the word of Jonadab, son of Rechab. 

  1. The Rechabites were descendants of the Kenites who came from Jethro, Moses’s father-in law. They had identified themselves with Israel and some of them served as scribes, those who kept records of events among the Israelites (Joshua 1:16; 2 Chronicles 2:55). Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, had killed Sisera by driving a tent peg through his temple (Judges 4:21). Jonadab, or Jehonadab, had aided Jehu in his destruction of the house of Ahab (2 Kings 10:15).  They had zeal for faithful living and devotion to the welfare of Israel.
  2. Jeremiah, according to the Lord’s instructions, gathered the leaders of the families of the descendants of Rechab. He brought them to a chamber of the House of the Lord, a chamber occupied by Hanan, a man of godly influence (4). The environment in which these people were to be tested was intimidating and awe-inspiring for its historic and religious pedigree. Also, it was a public place in which many of the religious leaders of Israel could be witness to the answer given by the Rechabites. Wine was kept in the chambers of the House of the Lord. It was a perfect setting for this object lesson.
  3. In that context, Jeremiah, under instruction from the Lord, set pitchers full of wine before them and said, “Drink wine.” God told Jeremiah simply to “give them wine to drink,” set it before them and offer it to them, but Jeremiah does not say, “Thus saith the Lord, ‘Drink wine’” (2, 5). Then, they would have been in a dilemma concerning an ancient tradition of obedience and an immediate revelational mandate from God. As presented, they could be true to their familial resolve. 

B. The Rechabites refused because they wanted to honor the instructions of their ancestors (6–11).

  1. The Rechabites recite their history of obedience to a mandate of Jonadab (6–10). 
    • They do not reason about this issue but state clearly their obedience to the ancient mandate, “We will not drink wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us …” (6). This respect for the command of Jonadab had been followed for three hundred years.
    • Although we can make a case that Jonadab’s advice was excellent in the caution it gave concerning any tendency to drunkenness, the point of this passage is not that one should avoid all consumption of alcoholic beverages. Rechab wanted them to avoid any kind of practice that would cause them to settle in one place. They were not to build a house (7), for that implies permanence of place. They were not to sow seed, for that would obligate them to stay for some time in order to tend the field and finally to harvest. They were not to plant vineyards or own one. That would involve some years of caring for the vines in order to produce a harvest. None of these were necessarily moral in their nature but were designed to maintain mobility of the people. They could leave their place of dwelling with very little notice. Theirs was a pastoral life, not a settled life.
    • The land had been given to the immediate descendants of Jacob. By this practice they avoided any presumption that they were heirs to the land that God had given to the twelve tribes. They maintained allegiance to the people but did not lay claim to their inheritance and thus kept their own intact. The Israelites were meant to enjoy stability, to plant vineyards, grow crops, build houses, and enjoy God’s blessings, each under “his own vine and fig tree” (See 1 Kings 4:24, 25).
    • They describe point by point their punctilious obedience to the instructions of Jonadab (8–10) concerning, wine, houses, vineyards, fields and living in tents. The knew that they only were sojourners in this land, but they wanted to live many days in it. Thus, they obeyed Jonadab, son (or descendant) of Rechab.
  2. The Rechabites give their reason for entering Jerusalem (11). As they were able to do, they picked up their belongings and moved into Jerusalem in order not to be completely unprotected from Nebuchadnezzar.

C. God commended the Rechabites for their faithfulness (12–14).

The Lord himself gave to Jeremiah the lesson he was to announce to Jerusalem and Judah from this example of the Rechabites (12). “Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying.…”

  1. He asked the inhabitants a rhetorical question, “Will you not receive instruction by listening to my words?” (13) The answer should be, “Without hesitation we will listen to the voice of the Lord and do that we are commanded to do.” When God speaks, who can give reasons not to obey? The answer that actually they had given, however, was couched in their actions in which each generation had failed to honor God’s commandments or keep the ceremonies in purity. Quite opposite to that, they had pursued worship of the pagan deities left in the land from their failure to eliminate these deities of malicious influence (Judges 2:20–3:6).
  2. The words of Jonadab, merely words of situational wisdom, not of moral oughtness or of pure worship, had been observed by generation after generation. The command had not been easy, for it had kept them as a pilgrim people void of the advantages that could be theirs in a more settled life. Nevertheless, they were faithful. On the other hand, the words of absolute right, of true worship, and of the great privilege of knowing God as their Father and provider had been ignored and blatantly disobeyed by this people rescued under the mighty and gracious hand of the Lord.

D. God accused the people of Judah of unfaithfulness to the heritage of their fathers (15–17).

  1. God had sent prophets with a message stamped with divine authority. He emphasized his great patience by saying that prophets had been sent “again and again” (15). This message called for repentance, for worship of the one true God, and promised peace and safety. They did not listen.
  2. He contrasts the obedience of the Rechabites to their human “father” with the disobedience of Judah to the word of the prophets (16). How is it rational for the merely cultural words built on social observations of a mere man to carry a more compelling sense of honor and obedience than the very words of God himself?
  3. The contrast between these two phenomena shows in stark relief the justice of God in his pronouncement of disaster. Their own stability will be destroyed, they will dwell as a people, in greatly reduced numbers, in a land that is not theirs, uprooted from the place, the houses, the vineyards, the lands, and the crops with which God had blessed them. The disaster that is coming on them is entirely just, “because I have spoken to them, and they did not listen” (17). Not only had he spoken, for that could be words of condemnation and destruction only; but he had “called them,” given earnest promises for repentance and renewal of obedience, “but they did not answer” (17). The word of God carries with it the most grave responsibility of hearing and doing. “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22). We see with clarity the need for the effectual power on the heart as revealed in the New Covenant.

E. The Lord pledged to bless the Rechabites (18–19).

  1. The Lord, according to the words of Jeremiah, looked on the Rechabites’ obedience to their ancestor Jonadab as having embraced the goodness of the law given to Moses as a confirmation of the law written on the heart. The fifth command of honor to parents is a bridge between submission to the authority of God and respect for order and justice among men. Their deep value of this command showed a work of grace in this group who attached to Israel though they were not given circumcision, the sign of the covenant, nor could they participate in any official way in the festivals and sacrifices administered by the Levites. They had done “according to all that he commanded,” which showed a deeper respect for divine order than had been practiced in Israel.
  2. The first indication of the sustaining of God’s promise to them is that they returned from exile with the people of Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 2:55). They were a part of the promise that in the seed of Abraham would “all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Even if it cannot presently be traced, the line has not ceased nor has the blessing of divine sonship left the descendants of Rechab, through Jonadab. Grace was promised and grace must prevail, and such descendants who know the saving grace of the Lion of Judah will never be wanting.

The love that gave to man the law
Was rich with joy and peace.
Its aim was worship filled with awe,
True knowledge to increase.

But sinful hearts delight to scoff
And fight against the light-
True knowledge shunned, true God put off,
The false embraced as right.

When human rules take root in sense
With care not to neglect,
The beauty of obedience
Gives voice to deep respect.

Traditions finite charm the soul,
The infinite meets scorn.
God hates our sin, the part, the whole;
To wrath we all are born.

If culture’s values make secure
Our weak short-sighted minds,
Then God’s commands, so clear, so pure
Give light to eyes so blind.

Honor parents for God and man
For home and land will thrive.
Worship God, embrace his plan,
See dead men come alive.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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