Explore The Bible Study: Faithful Obedience [title change]

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What are some good practices or habits you were taught by family or others that you continue to practice today? For example, you might have been taught to always say “thank you.” Are these practices something you desire to see passed on to other generations? Lifeway's Explore the Bible Study: Faithful Obedience (Original title: Worthy) introduces a nomadic clan of Israelites who were known for following certain practices that had been passed down to them for almost 250 years! 

They were called the Rechabites. Jeremiah’s encounter with the Rechabites in Jeremiah 35 took place during the reign of King Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim’s rule was between 609–597 BC. This was during the first of Babylon’s attacks against Jerusalem, when the prophet Daniel was taken into exile (2 Kings 24:1-4; Daniel 1:1-6).

Jeremiah describes a time when God commanded him to have a very public discussion with the Rechabites. Jeremiah delivers a message that draws a sharp contrast between the Rechabites who faithfully obeyed the commands of their earthly father and the children of Judah who had failed to obey and honor the commands of their loving heavenly Father. 

As you examine chapter 35, consider your own faithfulness to the Lord.

Who Were the Rechabites?

The Rechabites were descendants of Rechab (or Recab or Rekab). They were related to the Kenites; thus they were related to Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (see Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11). For over 250 years they had been together as a small clan in the nation, and their lifestyle resembled that of the Nazirites (Numbers 6:1-21). They lived in the southern deserts (1 Samuel 15:6) and in Israelite territory (Judges 4:17; Judges 5:24).

Jonadab was the main leader who instituted the separatist lifestyle. Jonadab is portrayed as a zealot who helped Jehu rid Israel of Baal-worship after the time of Ahab (2 Kings 10:15–27).  Jonadab put in place some specific commands because he desired for his clan to return to the simplicity of the nomadic life, and to be protected from “lax living and allurements to idolatry that plagued Israel in city life,” (Source: Charles L. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 6) 

His people were to abstain from wine, and they were to not put down roots by building houses, sowing seeds, or planting vineyards (Jeremiah 35:6-7).

With the fall of the northern kingdom (Israel), they moved south into Judah. When the Babylonians invaded Judah, they sought refuge in Jerusalem, yet still followed the commands of Jonadab, especially with regard to the drinking of wine. 

Chapter 35 begins with the Lord instructing Jeremiah to, “Go to the house of the Rechabites, speak to them, and bring them to one of the chambers of the temple of the Lord to offer them a drink of wine” (Jeremiah 35:2). This sets the stage for a powerful object lesson. As God directed, Jeremiah to set jars filled with wine before his guests and invited them to drink wine! Their response to this invitation would reveal the true purpose of this encounter as God provided a living illustration of loyalty in action.

A word of caution as you examine this passage. 

  • First, the purpose in God’s actions is NOT to force the Rechabites to compromise their standards. God is going to use the faithful commitment of the Rechabites to their ancestors’ commands to contrast the lack of faithfulness Israel and Judah had toward the commands of God.
  • Secondly, this passage is not intended to emphasize abstinence from alcohol. There are other passages that provide a more adequate defense regarding the dangers of alcohol abuse. However, we can’t ignore the fact that Jonadab’s prohibition communicates his concern related to the connection between alcohol and compromise for the Rechabites, who lived under the influence of a sin-broken society. If this passage is used to teach abstinence from alcohol, then the prohibitions related to not building houses, sowing seeds, and planting vineyards must also be treated equally.
  • Thirdly, we must be careful as we contrast the faithfulness of the Rechabites versus the disobedience of the rest of Judah. Both parties were part of the larger covenant people of God. To contrast the Rechabites’ faithfulness as that of pagans worshipping their ancestors versus the people of Judah not worshipping God is not an accurate comparison.

Simply put, "Jeremiah used the occasion to contrast their faithfulness to the commands of a dead ancestor with the faithlessness of the people of Judah to the commands of the living God." (Source: F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, vol. 16, The New American Commentary)

With that background, let’s look at what happens, and the lessons God teaches through the faithfulness of the Rechabites. 

Unfaithfulness Condemned – Jeremiah 35:5-17

The Rechabites refused to drink wine because they were committed to a lifestyle of abstinence.  Additionally, they affirmed that they had obeyed Jonadab in every way. Notice also that their commitment to their ancestor’s instruction was absolute and included entire families: we . . . our wives . . . our sons and daughters. No one had drunk wine, and they had not built houses. They possessed no vineyard . . . field . . . or seed. 

When their circumstances changed, the Rechabites, who lived in tents in the open country, sought the safety inside the walls of Jerusalem because they faced certain capture or death from the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  The Rechabites were only in Jerusalem due to pressing circumstances. Otherwise, they would have remained in their tents. They had not compromised their principles, and if the siege lifted, they would resume their nomadic lifestyle. 

Then God directs His message to the men of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem, many of whom had witnessed Jeremiah’s encounter with the Rechabites. He noted how the Rechabites had carried out their ancestors’ commands and faithfully obeyed those instructions over many generations. That very day, they had refused Jeremiah’s invitation to drink wine because of their great respect for Jonadab. 

Meanwhile, the residents of Judah could not be bothered to obey and honor their Creator and Provider. He points out their constant disobedience and their constant refusal to accept God’s warnings. Jonadab’s descendants had followed his instructions, but God’s people had failed to heed His persistent calls, “time and time again.”

If the command of a mere man, Jonadab, was respected and obeyed by his family for over two centuries, why didn’t the people of Israel and Judah obey the command of Almighty God—a command that the prophets had repeated over and over again? 

The sons of Jonadab passed the test and refused the wine. The public nature of the ceremony, the presence of their entire clan, the prominence of the prophet, and the proximity of the temple all added pressure to drink the wine. Jeremiah held up the Rechabites as an example for Judah to emulate. 

God wanted the best for His people and expected faithful obedience from them.  Sadly, the people of Judah refused to listen to God. God’s final statement in verse 17 is something we should all strive to avoid God saying about us. He emphatically stated again, “I have spoken to them, but they have not obeyed, and I have called to them, but they did not answer.”

What warning signs might God give today to believers when they aren’t obeying or are not answering Him?

But what about the Rechabites? How would God deal with them. Was following the traditions of Jonadab something that God would respect. Jeremiah 35:18-19 reveals how God would honor the Rechabites because their actions were deemed as a means to honor the covenant relationship they had with the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel.

Faithfulness Commended – Jeremiah 35:18-19

God commended the house of the Rechabites, who had provided a wonderful example of faithful obedience. God said the Rechabites would never fail to have a man to stand before me always. God promised to bless Jonadab’s line because of its faithfulness. The Rechabites’ family line would always have a place in God’s service.  “To stand before” is a technical expression which includes a sense of privilege in the very act of serving.

Remaining Faithful in a Challenging Culture

The Rechabites stood firm against assimilating into the culture of the time. They were commended by God for their faithfulness and obedience to their father. God desires His people to live in obedience and steadfastness to Him. Had the people of God in Judah honored God with their faithfulness, there would not have been a need to contrast their disobedience with the obedience to traditions exemplified in the clan of the Rechabites.

How might this be expressed today? 

When you observe professing Christians’ commitment to church traditions or healthy lifestyle traditions, how should you respond based on God’s treatment of the Rechabites? 

Should you be quick to criticize them, or should it drive you to evaluate if your commitment to the Lord is as strong as the commitments others have made to their traditions? 

While we might be quick to criticize the unwavering commitment of some professing Christians to live a life we might perceive as legalistic or “too traditional,” we should be careful to not point the finger at their commitment without first examining our commitment to Jesus Christ. If we are not obeying or listening to God when He calls for us to examine our hearts and our actions, then we are aligning ourselves with the people of Judah who refused to listen and obey God.

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study, along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. 

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LifeWay Explore The Bible Resources

These teaching helps are intended to be used as a supplement to your study of Lifeway's Explore the Bible curriculum resources. Portions of this material are taken directly from content copyrighted to Lifeway Christian Resources Explore the Bible and is used with permission.  This material has not been reviewed by Lifeway Christian Resources. 

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