Christians know the Old Testament heroes of faith on a first-name basis – Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Esther and David, among others. Each spring we watch Charlton Heston part the Red Sea. Even Jabez enjoyed a season of fame. This A-list should also include the Rechabites, an undistinguished Bedouin tribe mentioned briefly in the book of Jeremiah.
The desert dwellers come on the scene right before the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile. God uses the obedience and faithfulness of these people – they are proselytes, not Israelites – as an object lesson to stiff-necked Judah.
The LORD instructs the prophet Jeremiah to speak to the Rechabites and escort them into the Temple. Then offer wine to the tribesmen, who are descendants of Moses’ father-in-law Jethro. But this is not Happy Hour. God is setting them up to be a righteous example to the rebellious Jews in Jerusalem. The Rechabites are unwitting players in a test of obedience, which, in the end, earns them an everlasting reward. The tribe answers the prophet:
“We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rehab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever. You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.’ Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us.” – Jeremiah 35:6-8
Notice that the Rechabites obey ALL that their father commanded (Jonadab is the forefather who lived 300 years earlier). Rabbinic commentary in the Judaica Press Book of Jeremiah says the Rechabites “knew no benefit from this commandment. They observed it purely because if was their father’s wishes.” The book says Jonadab’s order to forbid wine is easily understood in light of the warnings against drunkenness in Proverbs and the prophetic books. Isaiah 28 attributes the exile of the northern tribes to overindulgence in wine.
It’s doubtful this meeting went unnoticed by the Jewish princes and priests, who had shut their ears to correction. What irony: the Rechabites obey their earthly father but the Jews refuse to obey their heavenly Father, even though He rose early to warn and teach them (Jeremiah 32:23). Judah continued to defile God’s house and Name with idolatry and the shedding of innocent blood. After the Rechabites refuse Jeremiah’s wine offer, God proclaims judgment on Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Then He makes this stunning announcement to the Rechabites through the prophet:
“Because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts and done according to all that he commanded you, therefore thus says the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever.’ ” – Jeremiah 35:18-19
That means somewhere today a person with Rechabite DNA is standing before the God of Israel. And obeying their Father’s Word.