There have always been counter-cultural movements. From the Amish who have maintained a very agrarian, communal, and non-modern approach toward life, and momentary movements like the hippies of the 1960’s, there has always been a segment of society that is living ‘off grid.’ Values shape how people live life. There are many who are at odds with the current culture and will not allow it to define who they are.
One of the best ways for us to determine what our values are is to be brutally honest with where we spend our time, resources, and what inspires passion from us. Living a counter-cultural lifestyle is not just a modern phenomenon. In Jeremiah 35 we discover a group of people who rejected the predominant lifestyle of the Jewish people. R. E. O. White describes the nature of the Rechabites and their lifestyle.
The Rechabites were a family guild who worshipped God strictly after the manner of the pilgrim patriarchs, living as nearly as possible in the nomadic fashion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Crops, vineyards, houses, towns, and cities all tied men to one place, they said, and so bred luxury, strife of possession, materialism, worship of fertility gods, and all manner of soft, lazy, extravagance, very different from the hard, disciplined life of herdsmen under the desert stars.[i]
In approaching Jeremiah 35, what we discover is a flashback to a decade or so earlier in the previous reign of Jehoiakim seen in the previous chapter of Jeremiah 34. These chapters are not in a historical, chronological order, but making a theological argument. Chapters 34 and 35 are designed as a contrast making a case between what had happened earlier where the faithfulness of a small clan in Israel highlights the unfaithfulness of God’s people in the last year of the monarchy before the city of Jerusalem is destroyed. We will learn something of Jehonadab, a reformer who shaped the outlook of his descendants for the previous 250 years. Jeremiah is not suggesting that this lifestyle ought to be emulated, rather the obedience which his descendants embraced toward their forefather’s instruction.
God never required such a mode of living; these seem to be human laws. Whether their mode of life was right or not is not the issue of the chapter, however. It rather has to do with the quality of their obedience.[ii]
With a close examination of the value of living a life in obedience to God’s word, a person discovers that obedience is the real fruit of faith in God. Faith in God is always manifested by obedience to God’s word. One thing that each of us can expect is temptations and testing that come to challenge faith. Will we obey God’s word or surrender to the pressures in the society in which we are living? Will we obey God or not? In Jeremiah 35, obedience to God is the heart of the issue. It is also the heart of the issue in each of our lives. What are we to learn from this message regarding listening and obeying God? Or will we disregard what He has to say? There are three aspects to this issue of obedience to God, which is the true manifestation of serving God.
THE FIRST ASPECT TO GENUINELY SERVING GOD IS OVERCOMING THE TEMPTATION OF DISOBEDIENCE
The ultimate test of life is whether we will live a life of obedience or live in rebellion. The decision we make affects the destiny of our lives. Here in Jeremiah we have an object lesson between a clan in Israel who obeyed the instruction of their forefather and the honor that God brought to them as a result. This was in stark contrast to the leaders and people of Judah who had been instructed by God but continued to disobey, and the ultimate results of that disobedience in their lives.
Jeremiah is now instructed by God to create an acted parable which was to be done publicly by being presented in the temple so there would be witnesses of this event and its meaning.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord during the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah:
“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.”
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.
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.
Then I set bowls full of wine and some cups before the Rekabites and said to them, “Drink some wine.”
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.
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.’[iii]
John Thompson relates with keen insight one possibility as to why the Rechabites felt so strongly about their manner of life.
The Rechabites in justification of their refusal explained their origins and their way of life…. They were thus reactionaries whose Yahwism had fossilized at the nomadic stage. They had rejected a sedentary culture completely. For them Yahweh was a nomadic deity. Perhaps they had grounds for their outlook. When Israel settled in Canaan and began to live the sedentary life and to practice agriculture they encountered the Canaanite culture and religion; increasingly they were drawn to the fertility-god Baal, to whom the Canaanites turned to bless their crops and flocks, and were tempted to accept the religion of Canaan. The Rechabites identified sedentary life with a particular religion.[iv]
The point is that they honored their forefather by obeying his instructions in order to receive God’s blessings.
A. The conditions for achieving the promised blessing.
Here Rekab sets out that if the people live a nomadic lifestyle they will always live in the land. What was so significant about living in the land? Why was this so important? We need to remember that it was the ‘land of promise by God.’ It spoke of God’s presence and blessings in one’s life. The New Testament equivalent is the ‘presence of God’ in our lives. To know God, to have God living within our lives, watching over us, protecting, providing and directing our lives is what makes life worthwhile. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8. “If God is for us, who can be against us (cf. Romans 8:31b)?
B. The testimony of the Rekabites.
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 or built houses to live in or had vineyards, fields or crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jehonadab commanded us.
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.[v]
Here we see that the only reason that they were living within the walled city of Jerusalem was the current invasion of the Babylonians. We should be asking ourselves, ‘What is our testimony? How is my obedience to God influencing and affecting the lives of those around me?’ Even in a time of spiritual darkness, we ought to be impacting the lives of others. Think of how difficult the days were in Noah’s time. Only Noah’s family responded to God’s message from Noah, while the rest of society rejected his message of repentance. We know the outcome of their obedience as they were the only ones spared God’s judgment of the flood.
C. The prophetic point that Jeremiah is making.
It is significant that these people were obedient to an earthly forefather, whereas the people of Judah were disobedient to their God, creator and redeemer. In reality this is an unthinkable state of rebellion.
The contrast between the Rechabites’ obedience and Judah’s disobedience was painfully apparent. Obedience to the Lord’s commands is not a problem unique to the Hebrews. From the beginning of history the human race has insisted on asserting its independence from God. It has not yet learned the lesson that declaring one’s independence from God does not bring happiness or blessing that the tempter promises (see Gen 3:5).[vi]
We see that from the very beginning in the garden of Eden and ever since when we choose our own way, it brings nothing but heartache and broken relationships.
THE SECOND ASPECT TO GENUINELY SERVING GOD IS THE POWER OF EXAMPLE
Our obedience or disobedience not only impacts our lives, but the lives of the people we are influencing. We are leaving a legacy for our children and those whom God brings into our lives. The question is what kind of a legacy are we leaving?
Here in Jeremiah 35 we have two examples, one positive and the other negative. One is designed to encourage us to do what is right and pleasing to God. The other is a warning against violating God’s word, especially after repeated warnings.
A. God’s complaint against the people.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying:
“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.
‘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.
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.
The descendants of Jehonadab son of Rekab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me.’[vii]
Walter Brueggemann relates regarding God’s charge against the people of Judah.
The argument begins with a question that is part urging and part accusation (v. 13). Could you not ‘learn a lesson’ (RSV ‘receive instruction’)? The term ‘lesson’ is ‘discipline’ (musar). …Thus the question is asked with some impatience and indignation: Can you not accept nurture into the true identity of the community? …The community is urged to accept what it means to be Israel: to come under discipline means to learn to listen, to become persons and a community whose very life consists in hearing what God addresses. Thus the listening urged is not to a particular command, but it is a posture and habit and inclination of life that acknowledges that the source of life lies outside of self. Thus the question means, ‘Could you not renounce your fraudulent autonomy?[viii]
As a nation, Israel’s existence was dependent upon listening or obeying God. They would then experience existence, security and ultimately prosperity. The same is true for us as God’s people. We cannot make it on our own.
Israel is not a self-starter and can never exist autonomously. Its life is always derivative as a gift from God which requires responsive obedience. To listen is to resist autonomy.[ix]
This is at the heart of the issue that Jesus faced in the wilderness temptation. It is equally the same for us. We are constantly called to make choices between what God is asking and what society is peddling that would attract our sinful nature. Will we listen or ignore the voice of God? Will we do what God requires or will we rebel and do what we desire that is in conflict with His word and will?
THE FINAL ASPECT TO GENUINELY SERVING GOD IS THE RESULTS OF BOTH OBEDIENCE AND DISOBEDIENCE
When we honor God by acting in obedience to His word, we can expect blessings in our lives, but when we live a life disregarding and disobeying God’s word, there are serious consequences that happen that are detrimental to our lives and those who follow our wrong example.
A. Serious consequences to ignoring and disobeying God.
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.[x]
War, loss, and exile was the outcome of their negligence and disobedience to God’s message. This was part of the Old Covenant agreement. The results of their disobedience was the people of Judah were cast from God’s presence and the temple was destroyed; they were exiled.
Jesus also warns us of this aspect of being eternally separated from God and His presence. The ultimate punishment which is the fruit of our autonomy is to be cast from God’s presence. That is the very nature of what hell is; an absence of everything good, including the ultimate goodness, which is God, Himself. Jesus, in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar, speaks of eternal destinies and the critical aspect of listening which means acting on God’s message.
The rich man also died and was buried.
In Hades where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.[xi]
We are told that there existed a gulf between them that could no longer be crossed. The day of grace and the opportunity for repentance had been lost.
He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
No, father Abraham, he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’[xii]
To listen means to obey what is being said. What is the sin that keeps people from heaven? It is the sin of unbelief or not acting upon what God has said. Belief is not a mental assent, but it is doing what has been said. Listening is acting upon God’s word in obedience.
B. Great blessings are in store for those who listen and act on God’s message.
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.’
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.’[xiii]
Here we find that God promises to bless their descendants because of the obedience of these Rekabites. Our obedience impacts the lives of others. Our obedience today impacts our outcomes tomorrow.
What is the fruit or result of obedience? Our obedience to God’s message brings love, joy, hope, peace, forgiveness and grace. Our rejection and rebellion leads to sorrow, regret, shame, despair, darkness and self-pity. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the life of God’s people, their constant rejection of God’s message of reconciliation led to death and exile. While we often divorce ourselves from the lesson this is designed to teach us, what we need to do is listen and then act upon what God is saying to us through His word. If we refuse, all that is left is the eternal consequences of our choice.
C. S. Lewis reminds us that God is reaching out to us in Christ and offering Himself to us for all eternity. That is what heaven is all about. The opposite is really our choice. Or as Lewis puts it:
There are only two kinds of people in the end; those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ [and do it] and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’ [they did what they wanted]. All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.[xiv]
What is God saying to you? Are you listening? Your future will be defined by your obedience to God’s word.
[i] R. E. O. White, The Indomitable Prophet: A Biographical Commentary on Jeremiah, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 91 as quoted by Philip Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2016), 536.
[ii] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 232.
[iii] Jeremiah 35:1-7, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iv] John Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 617.
[v] Jeremiah 35:8-11.
[vi] F. B. Huey, F. B. Jeremiah, Lamentations, Vol. 16, (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 317.
[vii] Jeremiah 35:12-16.
[viii] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 332-333.
[ix] Ibid, 335-336.
[x] Jeremiah 35:17.
[xi] Luke 16:22b-24.
[xii] Luke 16:27-31.
[xiii] Jeremiah 35:18-19.
[xiv] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 72-73; as quoted Wayne Martindale & Jerry Root, Eds. The Quotable Lewis, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishing House, Inc., 1990), 293.