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Rechabites: Honoring your Inheritance

The Rechabites are the third in our series on Faithful Family Legacies.
Read Time: 8 minutes

This story seems to be a tangent in the record of Jeremiah, occupying just one chapter (Jer 35). It is, however, something that has had one of the biggest impacts on my life. This is not only because of the amazing integrity of this family, but also because of how God views them. God uses the Rechabites to illustrate the entire power of His message to Israel through Jeremiah because of the longevity of their faithfulness in being willing to listen and obey their father’s commands.

We live in a world that doesn’t want to hear what God says.

Jeremiah’s message was, “Hear ye the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel” (Jer 2:4). He called on them to “return” (used over 47 times) and to “listen,” “obey,” “hearken” (used over 184 times) to God their Father. Yet, “I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not.” (Jer 7:13).

How powerful and relevant for us and our families today! We live in a world that doesn’t want to hear what God says. Anyone who tries to hold to God’s words is soon mocked as being bigoted or ignorant of modern scientific or progressive thought. The irony is that this is exactly what Jeremiah faced. God told Jeremiah; “Be not afraid of their faces, for I am with you, to deliver you, says Yahweh.” (Jer 1:8).

Jeremiah’s words of condemnation to a disobedient nation have caused many to think that this book is a very negative one. This is simply not the case. We have some of the most remarkable prophecies of God’s salvation and future hope for Israel in the middle of many of those judgments. We also have a little chapter, Jeremiah 35, about a small family, one of the most remarkable in the Bible, that God used to witness to Israel, and us, about what God really wanted in His family. Their legacy of faith is a great exhortation to every generation.

Just consider the context of Jeremiah 35 for a moment. If we look at Jeremiah 24-34, we see it is based in the time of Zedekiah, Judah’s last king. God was still warning them of coming judgment and providing them with glorious visions of the future. Then Jeremiah 35-36 is back in the time of Jehoiakim’s reign. From Jeremiah 37 on we again return to the time of Zedekiah. So, why are those two chapters (35-36), marked out and turn us back in time?

Jehoiakim was the king who cut up and burned the scrolls of the word of God, refusing to listen (Jer 36:23). He stood as a clear example of Israel and their dull ears. Yet the Rechabites stood as God’s illustration of a faithful family legacy, and their consistency in listening and obeying their father Jonadab was legendary.

Jeremiah is commanded to go to the Rechabites and to bring them into the temple and offer them wine (Jer 35:2). God was not trying to make them stumble; rather, He knew they would refuse because of their desire to uphold their father Jonadab’s commands (35:6-8). God loved their faithful and consistent legacy and He wanted to use them to illustrate to all Israel what He wanted His family to be like.

Even the meanings of their names tell the story: “I took Jaa-zan-iah [to listen to Yahweh] the son of Jeremiah [Yahweh will exalt], the son of Ha-baz-in-iah [Light of Yahweh].” Those who listen to Yahweh will He exalt to be His light.

Note the recurring phrases in Jeremiah 35 that illustrate their legacy. “House of Rechabites” (used four times), “obeyed” or “hearkened” (Hebrew: “shama” used nine times in the chapter. Four times used of Rechabites obeying/listening in contrast to four times used of Israel not obeying and listening), “done” (used twice of Rechabites v. 10, 18) and “have performed” (used twice of Rechabites v. 14, 16), four times in total.

When we follow the family of the Rechabites through Scripture we can see how powerful their desire to hold onto their father’s commands was. The phrase “the house of Recyab” can be traced back to 1 Chronicles 2:55. Here, they are mentioned right at the end of a long genealogy which begins in verse 1 with “These are the sons of Israel.” There are some interesting details in this verse.

First, they are described as “scribes” (think of Matt 13:52), but also as “Kenites.” This makes another link for us to follow back to Judges 1:16. Here they are described as coming into the Promised Land with the faithful family of Judah, to conquer their inheritance. Note how the Kenites are identified as being from “Moses’ father-in-law?” This means that they were Gentiles, who had been adopted into the family of Israel.

The origins of this family are found in Numbers 10:29-32. An amazing passage that speaks of Moses inviting them to join Israel because “The LORD had spoken good concerning Israel.” Numbers 10 leaves us without a definitive answer whether they joined. The power of 1 Chronicles 2:55 is illustrated by the fact that they are numbered with “the sons of Israel.” This means they did respond to the “hope of Israel.” They then became faithful Gentiles who were “grafted in” and were one of the faithful “tribes” who wanted the inheritance that God had promised. (Judg 1:16-19) In Judges 1, they stand in direct contrast to the unfaithfulness of other tribes who didn’t conquer their inheritance.

The Rechabites loved God’s ways and the hope He sets before all His elect. It was this that continued to burn bright in the heart of this family for generations. What an exhortation to us, who, like Israel, grew up in “the truth” and can overlook the value of the “pearl of great price” which we have. It can often be the “Gentile” who comes into the faith whose passion for the truth they have found puts us to shame.

Although many passages illustrate the legacy of the Rechabites, a key one is found in 2 Kings 10. This is set in the time of Jonadab, who Jeremiah 35 notes as the father whose commands the Rechabites obeyed. A little example of the proof of Biblical inspiration is found when counting the phrases in 2 Kings 10. The phrase “house of Baal” is used six times in the chapter, in contrast to “the house of the Rechabites,” also used four times in Jeremiah 35.

In 2 Kings 10, God commissions Jehu to judge the house of Baal, a problem still relevant in Jeremiah’s time (see Jer 32:33-41). Yet as he is riding along, he passes Jonadab, who he requests to join him in his mission to destroy Baal (2 Kgs 10:15-17). It is here Jehu asks, “Is your heart true to my heart as my heart is to yours?” Jonadab’s heart was in tune with Baal’s destruction, for he loved God’s ways. So, he joins Jehu in the chariot.

Jonadab’s name means “willing or impelled of Yahweh.” The root word is used in Exodus 35:21,29, speaking of those who brought a willing offering to God in the building of the tabernacle. The name Rechab means “rider,” as one who rides with God (see Deut 32:13 for another great connection of thought). The play on their names is evident in 2 Kings 10, where Jonadab’s willingness to serve God sees him step up into the chariot (Hebrew “Recab”) where he rides with God on a divine mission to destroy the evil influences within Israel.

Jonadab’s desire to see the judgment on Baal and the house of Ahab lays a strong foundation for the commands that he gave his family. In Jeremiah 35:6-8 we see a list of key things they were commanded not to do. This included not drinking wine, not building a house, not sowing any seed, not planting vineyards (or having them), but rather for them to always live in tents. This was not only the fear of God in their hearts (Jer 32:40), but also important to Jonadab in the context of his experiences.

Jonadab lived in the time of Ahab, the evil king, married to Jezebel. Ahab despised God and didn’t appreciate the desire Naboth had to hold onto his vineyard because it was his inheritance given by God. Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my father’s unto thee.” (1 Kgs 21:3) Naboth saw his vineyard not as his possession, but rather as his gift of eternal life from God. But Ahab’s desire was for material possessions, so he killed Naboth to achieve what the world could give him now.

Jonadab was like Naboth, who honored the inheritance of the fathers given by God to Israel (Judg 1). So, he commanded his family never to get caught up in the world by teaching them to be like their father Abraham (who dwelled in tents). Jonadab saw how many in Israel had despised their inheritance, so his family legacy was going to be the opposite.

Basically, he commanded them to not allow their mind to be affected or intoxicated at any time from being focused on God (not to drink wine); they were not to become a citizen or resident of any place, nor create foundations for themselves here (not to build a house); they were not to have earthly possessions, but rather to be free from ambition and materialism (not to sow seed); they were not to spend their time cultivating things that are temporal (not to have a vineyard), but they were to imitate their father (Abraham, who dwelt in tents) and look for eternal things! You can also parallel each of these to the High Priest, which of course points forward to imitating Christ.

How often we try to have the best of both worlds

What an amazing list of things that we should be trying to implement today in our families. How often we try to have the best of both worlds, professing our faith in God while at the same time trying to have the material possessions of the world How much time do we spend cultivating our name, our education, our qualifications, our bank accounts, our investment portfolios and our leisure time while at the same time sacrificing our family and spiritual time?

Jonadab had given them these commands because it was the answer to “living long in the land where they are strangers.” (Jer 35:7). From these words, we can see the echoes of Abraham and the Ten Commandments.

To “live long in the land” is found in Exodus 20:12 and is even picked up by Paul in Ephesians 6:1-4 as being the “first commandment with promise.” As “strangers,” they were to mimic the spirit of Abraham (see Heb 11:8-10, 13-16). Sadly, we often hear that even many in our community no longer want to be “strangers and pilgrims” now, choosing to participate in politics and the world increasingly. Let us be like faithful Abraham and Jonadab, who command our children to hold on to the legacy of “looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb 11:10)

The amazing blessing of holding on to such a legacy is illustrated right at the end of Jeremiah 35:19. God promises, “Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.” This phrase is a direct contrast to Jehoiakim in Jeremiah 36:30-31. Yet the promise to Jonadab’s family is the same for all those who listen to God’s commands and hold fast to His ways.

The primary fulfillment of God’s promise to Jonadab is found in Jeremiah 33:17-18. This is speaking of Christ (Jer 23:5-7), who is that one who is called “The LORD our righteousness.” It is Christ who will be that one to sit on the throne of David forever, as a king and priest. However, expanding the context of Jeremiah 33, note in verse 16 the change from “he” to “she”? This is “the name whereby she shall be called.” Here we have a beautiful illustration of the Bride of Christ, who will also be named “The LORD our righteousness,” just like our bridegroom, because we will be married to him (Isa 62, Rev 19, 22). 

This is the wonderful promise to those, who like the Rechabites, listen and obey their father’s commands, choosing to honor the inheritance that God has given them above anything that this world can ever offer. May we strive to be like Jonadab and command our families to be faithful in listening to God’s word and obeying His commands, so that we too may live long in the land that God has shared through His son, as the Bride of Christ.

James McCann
Riverwood Ecclesia, Australia

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