35 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord during the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah: 2 “Go to the Rekabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the Lord and give them wine to drink.”
3 So I went to get Jaazaniah son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, and his brothers and all his sons—the whole family of the Rekabites. 4 I brought them into the house of the Lord, into the room of the sons of Hanan son of Igdaliah the man of God. It was next to the room of the officials, which was over that of Maaseiah son of Shallum the doorkeeper. 5 Then I set bowls full of wine and some cups before the Rekabites and said to them, “Drink some wine.”
6 But they replied, “We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jehonadab son of Rekab gave us this command: ‘Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine. 7 Also you must never build houses, sow seed or plant vineyards; you must never have any of these things, but must always live in tents. Then you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads.’ 8 We have obeyed everything our forefather Jehonadab son of Rekab commanded us. Neither we nor our wives nor our sons and daughters have ever drunk wine 9 or built houses to live in or had vineyards, fields or crops. 10 We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jehonadab commanded us. 11 But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded this land, we said, ‘Come, we must go to Jerusalem to escape the Babylonian and Aramean armies.’ So we have remained in Jerusalem.”
(Jeremiah 35:1-11 NIV)
Chapter 35, like Chapter 34, is a self-contained story. The story is not complete without all of the details, so it is tempting to tackle the entire passage in a day. However, the learnings and applications are bigger, so we’ll break it up into few days.
Before we take a look at the story itself, let’s note the setting, especially the chronological timeframe Jeremiah mentions in verse 1. Remember during our introduction to Jeremiah that we said the book is not a chronological timeline of Jeremiah’s ministry, and several sections skip around? Well, we’re at another one of those points. Chapter 35 takes place during the reign of King Jehoiakim. This story goes back in time, some ten-plus years earlier than Chapter 34.
At the macro level, the story of Chapter 35 is pretty straightforward. God tells Jeremiah to set up another object lesson. This time, the Lord uses humans as part of the object lesson, rather than inanimate objects or animals. The Lord uses the faithfulness of a few to a human tradition to shame the unfaithfulness of the many to the Lord across Jerusalem and Judah.
Verses 1 – 2 document the Lord’s instructions to Jeremiah. In verses 3 – 5, Jeremiah follows through on the Lord’s instructions. Verses 6 – 11 record the Rekabites’ response.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of the participants:
- Jeremiah knows the vows of the Rekabites and likely wonders what the Lord will do next. Have they had a moral failure and the Lord is going to call them out? Or are they merely an illustration for a greater purpose?
- The Rekabites are probably wondering if Jeremiah has caved in and is now following the crowd of other prophets and no longer separating himself for the Lord. Are they in trouble, or just being tested to see if they will stand up for what they believe?
- The other prophets and priests at the Temple (where this story took place) are quite curious as to the odd request for a room, wine, and glasses, knowing the guest list. What crazy antics is Jeremiah about to begin now?
Note that the Lord did not call the Rekabites to a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:1-21) which forbade alcohol consumption among other practices. This tradition, while possibly helpful to some, was not mandatory to honor the Lord.
Also, the text says that the Lord told Jeremiah to offer the Rekabites wine. The Lord made no command to drink it. The wine was part of the ceremonies at the Temple, so there was no violation of God’s commands to Himself or His house by having wine there. The Rekabites likely felt a lot of social pressure to partake of the wine, with Jeremiah, the other prophets, and priests in attendance.
It’s clear that in this context, the Lord is neither condoning nor condemning the Rekabites for their traditions and practices. Likewise, I am not trying to legitimize or vilify alcohol consumption. That’s not the point of today’s devotional and is, in fact, a different discussion that merits separate study.
So what can we learn from today’s passage? Here are a few thoughts to contemplate:
- Life is not always about us. Sometimes it is, but other times, like with the Rekabites, the Lord may choose to use us as catalysts, as examples, or even object lessons, all for the benefit of others more than us.
- Struggles with faith and culture were as real in Jeremiah’s day as in our day. The people of Jerusalem and Judah assimilated the culture around them and walked away from the Lord. The Rekabites “froze” their culture as nomadic shepherds and lived apart from everyone else. But when faced with the annihilation of their clan by the armies passing through Judah, they sought protection within the safety of the city (Jerusalem). Did the Rekabites keep their vows by pitching their tents in the town square? Or were they technically in compliance because they did not build the houses where they stayed? And Jeremiah? As we have seen, he was called to live in his culture, but separate from it.
May we remember that our calling is to union with Christ, not in uniformity of thought or behavior to the culture around us (Christian or otherwise). We will talk more about engaging with culture next time.