12 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying: 13 “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?’ declares the Lord. 14 ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab ordered his descendants not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me. 15 Again and again I sent all my servants the prophets to you. They said, “Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your ancestors.” But you have not paid attention or listened to me. 16 The descendants of Jehonadab son of Rekab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me.’
17 “Therefore this is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.’”
18 Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Rekabites, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jehonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.’ 19 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me.’”
(Jeremiah 35:12-19 NIV)
From our last time together, we saw that Chapter 35 is a story that occurred some ten-plus years earlier than Chapter 34.
As we noted last time, 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 throughout Jerusalem and Judah.
In verses 12 – 17, the Lord speaks a second time to Jeremiah, giving the “lessons learned” follow-up to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. The Lord pointed out that the Rekabites were faithful to a human tradition for multiple generations, while the people of Judah were unfaithful to God over the same timeframe.
In verses 18 – 19, the Lord rewards the faithfulness of the Rekabites by having a descendant of Jehonadab serving Him.
As we noted last time, life is not always about us, and the ancients’ struggles with faith and culture were as real as our struggles are today.
So how are we to deal with faith and culture? Many individuals and groups have chosen different methods over the millennia. Some see faith and culture set against one another; others see faith and culture as intertwined. Others see faith above culture, while others see faith and culture as parallel tracks. Others see faith as an agent of change within a culture.
Our beliefs and assumptions then lead to actions. Some withdraw or separate from culture and seek to create a monastic-style existence to honor God. Others try to “freeze” culture at a particular point in history. Others fully absorb culture while some choose to fight culture as if it is a battle to be won. And others try to transform culture.
So what is the “right” answer to faith and culture? Is there a “balance”, or even a single answer? Rather than try to respond to these questions with a set of rules or guidelines, may we look to our Example in the life and ministry of Jesus.
Jesus engaged with the people and culture around Him, yet did not try to overthrow the government or do a “power play” to rule over others. He met physical and emotional needs of those who crossed His path but did not heal everyone of all diseases for all time. At times, Jesus would withdraw for time alone with the Father, then would be in the midst of the celebrations and feasts, enjoying the festivals with His disciples.
Jesus pointed people back to the Father, and to Himself, not to the Law and all the extra “rules” the religious leaders heaped on the people. Jesus offered (and continues to offer) relationship to God through Himself as the key to life both now and in eternity.
May we see the God who transcends time and culture as the One who gives us wisdom and strength to live in communion with God in our various cultures, with Jesus as our example and model.