Jeremiah 35
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. SO FAR AS IT WENT IT WAS REAL. The scene and the circumstances of authority and religious sanction given to the invitation were calculated to influence the mind. The "pots full of wine" were also an appeal to the eye. God has tried his servants often, but with no intention of making them fall. He tried Job, Abraham, David, etc. He often does this by his providence, the withholding of his grace, etc.

II. IT WAS DONE WITH THE CERTAINTY THAT THE TEMPTATION WOULD BE RESISTED. The same wisdom that devised the incident knew what would be its issue. We are assured of God that he tempteth no man (James 1:13), and that he will not suffer men to be tempted beyond their ability to resist (1 Corinthians 10:13). Yet God is continually testing and trying his people, that they may discover their own weaknesses and apply to him for succour.

III. A GREAT END WAS TO BE SERVED. The scene is dramatic and carefully arranged, that it may be publicly impressive. The lesson to be learnt on this occasion is not that of temperance, but simply of filial obedience in one of its most singular and emphatic illustrations. To Israel the lesson was a comparative one. They were put to shame by the steadfastness of men who had no such exalted Person to obey in the matter of their peculiar customs, but who yet had unswervingly adhered to it. Israel, with all the reasons for a similar fidelity, had been weak and fickle, and finally apostate. Men are tried, not only for their own sakes, but for the sake of others. The patience of the saints is a potent reason for our patience and obedience. Christ himself is the Example and Inspiration for all mankind. He was faithful when he was tempted by. circumstances infinitely more trying than any that can assail us; and his power is at our disposal when we ask for it. - M.

The Rechabite habit is, of course, brought forward here to contrast obedience to an earthly and arbitrary demand with the disobedience of Israel to heavenly and essentially righteous laws. But it is worth while to look into this Rechabite habit altogether, in its origin, its causes, its results, its power.

I. THE ORIGIN OF THIS HABIT. The only information we have here is that the habit originated in a command of Jonadab. But, of course, Jonadab must have had some reason seeming weighty to him; and on looking at 2 Kings 10. we can make a shrewd guess as to the ends he had in view. He sees the sanguinary and extirpating zeal of Jehu against the scions of Ahab and the worshippers of Baal, and is it not fair to presume that he wished to guard his kinsfolk and posterity against falling into idolatry such as would involve a like terrible fate? Then it occurs to him that he can best do this by separating his people from the dwellers in Israel This can best be done by urging on them to live a wandering and pastoral life; and still again, the tent life is to be secured by separating the Rechabites from the Israelites in their pleasures. The Rechabite has his plain rule of conduct: "I drink no wine." "Very well," says the indulgent, idolatrous Israelite, "I care not for your company." Idolatry was always connected with debauchery, sensuality, and indulgence of animal passions, and to all these things wine might come to be a minister. Unquestionably Jonadab was a shrewd man, and something of what he aimed at he seems to have gained.

II. THE TEST OF THIS HABIT. No doubt the habit had often been tested, and presumably the same answer would ever be given: "Our father has commanded us to drink no wine." Was it a sufficient reason, one may ask? To which it may be replied that, generally speaking, a father's command would not be enough. We must always ask - What is the thing commanded? Here the question is simply one of positive precept. No one could say that drinking wine was a moral duty, or that the Rechabites injured any one by refusing to drink it. And, indeed, they might have enlarged on the advantages that had come to them through their strict compliance with Jonadab's command, But, in doing so, they entered on debatable ground, and might have been forced into argument. They did the best thing in their position - they fell back on a simple, unreasoning assertion of ancestral custom. Notice, too, the circumstances in which this habit was tested. They are divinely prepared circumstances. It is not a band of revellers in the house of feasting who ask them to drink wine. God commands it to be put before them in the house of the Lord, and in the chamber of a man of God. God wishes his people to see for themselves the power of a paternal request; for never before surely had the reasons seemed so great for departing from the rule.

III. THE DISADVANTAGES OF THIS HABIT. The habit did secure what Jonadab meant it to secure. The Rechabites had been kept apart from Israel. But now notice that an advantage gained from some purely external practice is very likely to have some accompanying disvantage. The Rechabites become tent dwellers, and then, on the approach of the Chaldeans, having no continuing city, no place of defence, they flee to Jerusalem. After all, the principle of Rechabitism, the principle of separation and isolation, has its limits. If we would fairly claim the advantages of human society in times of peril, we must not play the hermit and ascetic at other times. To be in the world and yet not of it, that is both the problem and the possibility. - Y.

Intertwined with the history of Israel is that of a wild and independent tribe of Kenites. When the western Israelites abandoned the roving Arab life to settle in the cities of Canaan, the Kenites still retained their pastoral habits. One of the characteristics which we trace in their history was a fierce resentment against oppression and idolatry. It was a Kenite woman, Jael, who smote Sisera, even in her own tent. It was a Kenite sheik, Jonadab, the son of Rechab, who washed his fierce hands in the blood of Baal's worshippers and Ahab's house (1 Kings 16.). The free and eager air of the desert had passed into their lives, and they loved it dearly, and determined never to abandon it, especially when they saw the rum wrought by the oppression and luxury which were overspreading the inhabitants of the cities they knew most of. Hence the Rechabite vow. But the triumphant march of the vast squadrons of Nebuchadnezzar swept the deserts as well as the cities which lay in his way. And for the time even the hardy Kenites were compelled to set up their tents within the walls of Jerusalem. To them God sent Jeremiah, that he might test and behold and then declare their fidelity to their ancient vow. Amid a population given to excess and gluttony, their total abstinence from wine and their temperate habits could not but excite attention, as much as the strange sight of their black tents pitched in the open spaces and squares of the city. intimation was given to Jeremiah to teach from their obedience a lesson on the disobedience of the people amid whom they were sojourning. "Inviting these rude and faithful Bedouins into a chamber of the temple, he gave them the invitation which the revellers of Jerusalem would only have been too eager to accept, 'Drink ye wine.' But the Rechabites were not to be tempted. They had adopted their law of temperance at the bidding of a mighty ancestor, as a protection against the temptation of cities. They continued it because conscience approved and health rewarded a noble choice. Broken once - even to please a prophet of the Lord - it might be broken again, and soon the glory of their race would have fled. Therefore they at once replied, plainly, even bluntly, 'We will drink no wine; for,' etc." Now, learn from this -

I. GOD SANCTIONS THE TEMPERANCE VOW. (Cf. ver. 18,) How many and manifold are these sanctions! By the rewards of obedience thereto; by the doom which follows disobedience to the laws of temperance; by his providence and his Spirit speaking within; by the laws of health, of thrift, of social well being, of conscience; by sanctions negative and positive alike; by the example of some of the foremost and best of men, and by his Word; - by all, he witnesses in favour of the temperance vow.

II. AND THERE IS SORE NEED FOR IT. "If I were to tell you," says one, "that there is in the British Isles a being into whose treasuries are annually poured in unproductive consumption more than one hundred and forty millions of our national wealth; whose actions crush year by year more victims than have been crushed for centuries together by the car of Juggernaut; whose unchecked power causes year by year horrors incomparably more multitudinous than those which the carnage of any battlefields can present; if I were to say that the services wrought by this being were, if any at all, which is an open question, yet almost valueless in kind, infinitesimal in extent, while, on the other hand, the direct admitted indisputable miseries he inflicts were terrible in virulence and vast in ramification; if I were to say that at his right hand and at his left, as eager and ever active ministers, stood Idiocy and Pauperism, Degradation and Brutality; and at that point you were all to rise up at once and cry aloud, 'Tell us the name of this being, that we may drive him with execration from the midst of us, and that every one of us may strive to extirpate his power and expel his polluting footsteps from our soil;' and if I were to say that, far from doing this, we all as a nation, and nearly all of us as individuals, crown him with garlands, honour him with social customs, introduce him into gladdest gatherings, sing songs in his glory, build myriads of temples to his service, familiarize our very children with his fame and praise; - were I to say this, then sentence by sentence, clause by clause, word by word, it would be literally true, not of a man, but of a thing, and that thing intoxicating drink."

III. HOW MAY WE FURTHER THE TEMPERANCE CAUSE? Certainly there is no help equal to that of taking this vow ourselves. If, wherever we are, we will touch not, taste not, handle not, on the ground that we regard it as the curse of this land, that entire abstinence will speak more eloquently than aught beside. And besides this, train your children as Jonadab trained his; command them, saying, "Ye shall drink no wine." A generation so trained, what a difference they would make on the side of temperance and all that is good! Never allow a sneer at those who have taken the temperance vow. Strike at the aids and abettors of intemperance, such as badly drained, ill-lighted, comfortless, unventilated houses; lack of means of reasonable recreation and amusement; want of education and leisure, etc. Never treat drunkenness, however grotesque and absurd its forms, as a thing to be laughed at. We never really hate that at which we laugh. And let each one be sure that he does something in this great cause, that he comes "to the help of the Lord against the mighty." - C.

There is something very remarkable in this simple history. Originally aliens in race (1 Chronicles 2:55), they gained a place in the land of Israel (Judges 1:16). Jonadab the son of Rechab, the ancestor of the race, was the true founder of the family. His character was so high that Jehu affected his company in order to gain esteem from the people (2 Kings 10:15, 16). From him their ascetic rule of life was received, and they had continued to observe it with unswerving strictness. We have here an illustration of -


1. Their asceticism was a real virtue. In its various elements of temperance, simplicity, and hardihood, it presents a most exemplary and attractive aspect. It must have tended to holiness and happiness. It would be well for the men of our own day were they to imitate this race in these respects. Most of our social evils are easily traceable to the influence of intemperance, luxury, etc. It was a noble ideal nobly realized; yet:

2. It was exaggerated beyond natural limits. This is the penalty of those who rigidly observe one mode of life. Excellent as that may be at the first, and, as a whole, may still continue to be, it gets out of joint with the advancing customs of the age, isolates its votaries from the general current of the national life, and stereotypes the degree of civilization or barbarism which gave it birth. In its rigid observance it leads to anachronisms, inconveniences, etc. Its accidental features become more noticeable than its essential ones. Unless grounded on sufficient reasons and continually referred to these, unless adapted in its accidental features to the changing circumstances of the world, - it tends to become unreal, and to produce unreal moral distinctions. There is something of weakness to be detected in the explanation of their presence in Jerusalem (ver. 11). They were out of place.

3. The secret of this was float it was founded upon an exaggerated sentiment. Asceticism is in itself neither good nor bad. It receives its real moral importance from the motives and aims that underlie it. In this instance the motive was excellent so far as it was legitimate, but it was clothed with a factitious sacredness and obligation. Consistently carried out, such a principle would stay all progress and sanction the most horrible crimes. That their ancestor had enjoined their mode of life was hardly a sufficient reason for it, and the motive of policy with which he had commanded it was not an exalted one. The true justification for a peculiar mode of life, especially when of this trying description, must be found in the great human and spiritual aims which religion - especially in its later evangelical phase - presents for our achievement. To guard the weakness of a brother, to further the moral and religious welfare of men, and to glorify God by holiness and unselfishness of conduct, are aims that may be ours if we will

II. A MAGNIFIED PERSONAL INFLUENCE. The hold this man obtained over the conduct of his descendants through so many generations was most remarkable. A man or marked character, great reputation for sanctity, wisdom, and power of impressing others with his peculiar views, forms a conception of what life ought to be, especially for those who, like his own family, are strangers living on sufferance in the midst of another people. The Eastern feeling of respect for parents and reverence for ancestors and of the sacredness of tradition and custom associates itself with his teaching and example, and soon his rule of life becomes a fixed, ineradicable principle amongst his descendants far more potent than any law of the statute-book. This shows:

1. The power of personal influence. "Influence is the best kind of power." It belongs more or less to all of us; and we shall be held responsible for its legitimate increase and direction. The influence of any one of us is probably both greater and less than he suspects. It is a natural and proper instinct for man to seek this moral power, and the relations of life afford many opportunities for acquiring and exercising it. Parents.

2. The importance of securing that our influence shall be of the right kind. Ultimate results and effects must be left to God; but we have to do with our own character and aims, and with the known tendency of the means at our disposal. We should seek that our influence should be of the very highest kind. It is better to discover moral principles and' communicate spiritual inspirations than merely to initiate a custom. Jonadab's influence was on the whole very salutary, but it was not of the highest kind, because he did not famish his imitators with a morally sufficient motive. So fixed and mechanical, indeed, had their obedience become that they appeared to have more regard to his precept than for the direct command of God (ver. 5). In this respect Jesus Christ is immeasurably his superior. His precepts are self-evident, and commended by his own personal example. He did not appeal to mere self-preservation, but to the noblest moral instincts and principles of our nature. We are not coerced by the personality of Jesus, but persuaded by the sweet reasonableness of his doctrine and Spirit. Influence like this may be slower in making its way, but in the end it is sure to be more lasting and universal. - M.

I. HOW FAR THE MEN OF JUDAH WERE REALLY CONDEMNED; i.e. How far were the cases really parallel? The first question to be asked is - Were the men of Judah as able to obey the commandments of Jehovah as the Rechabites were to obey the precept of Jonadab? and, of course, the answer is that for many reasons they were not. But passing this over for the present, let us notice the one respect in which Israelites were lamentably different from Rechabites. The Rechabites gloried in their attachment to the precept of their ancestor; it was a sort of point of honour with them; whereas the Israelites were in no way grieved, humiliated, or ashamed because of their disobedience. If only it had been a continual and sore trouble of heart that there was not in them strength to obey God, why, this very trouble would have been a measure of obedience. But they both disobeyed and disobeyed in the most heedless and audacious way. Instead of receiving prophets with contrition and as messengers of God, they laughed them to scorn, abused them, and even put them to death. And similarly the Rechabites reprove us. In the midst of all our natural inability to give a true obedience to Divine requirements, we should be incessantly troubled by this; then would the way be made open for revealing to us how obedience becomes possible.

II. HOW FAR THE RECHABITES WERE REALLY PRAISED. After all, Rechabite and Israelite were really the same sort of beings. If they had exchanged places, they would have exchanged conduct. The Israelite was quite capable of sticking, with utmost tenacity, to some external rule. And the Rechabite, we may be quite sure, was equally incapable, with the Israelite, of obeying the commandments of God. But the Rechabite was to be praised in this that he recognized an authority outside of his own wishes. The law under which he lived might not go very far; but it operated with certainty so far as it did go. The Rechabite would have died rather than violate the ancestral prohibition. God ever recognizes conformity to law as a good thing. We must, therefore, not go seeking in these Rechabites more than God has appointed us to find. The one good thing in them was singled out to point a most humiliating lesson and vindicate the need of a severe chastisement. Compared with the benefits of Jehovah toward Israel, what had Jonadab done for the Rechabites? - Y.

The men of Judah were the children, inmates of God's house, members especially of his family. These Rechabites, a wandering tribe of the desert, were the stranger. But their fidelity to the command laid upon them by their ancestor Jonadab is contrasted with and rebukes the shameful disregard of the laws of God, of which the men of Judah were so guilty. For near three hundred years the Rechabites had, out of regard for their father's ordinance, adhered to their self-denying customs, and were adhering to them still, whilst God's own people had set at nought all his counsel and would none of his Law.


1. In the motives for obedience which existed on either side. The one was an earthly father, the other Divine; the one man, the other God. The one, long dead, and whose right to control the actions of his descendants had therefore lapsed; the other, the ever-living God, whose right is as eternal as himself. The one had given an arbitrary command against which much might have been urged; the other had given commands which reason, conscience, and experience alike consented to as wise and good.

2. In the nature of the obedience rendered. The one was full of self-denial - a hard, stern law; the other contemplated life in a land flowing with milk and honey, and its ways were ways of pleasantness, and all its paths peace.

3. In the results of obedience. In the one, obedience had kept together a small, hardy tribe of half-barbarian herdsmen, without home, friends, religion, wealth, or any marked earthly good. In the other, obedience had been crowned with every blessing, so that all men confessed," Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord." And yet, notwithstanding the service of the Lord was every way better, that service was disregarded by his people, whilst the ill-requited obedience to a long deceased ancestor had been so faithfully maintained.

II. AND SUCH CONTRAST STILL EXISTS. Look at the obedience rendered to the laws of the Koran by the followers of Mahomet; to the laws of honour, of trade, of human masters; everywhere we may see human law obeyed, whilst. Divine are set at nought. The world can Command the prompt, implicit obedience of her votaries; but God calls, and no man answers.

III. EXPLAIN SUCH CONTRASTS. It is because to those who faithfully obey human laws the transient and inferior are as if they were eternal and supreme, whilst to those who profess to be bound by Divine laws the eternal and supreme are as if they were transient and inferior.

IV. WHAT DO SUCH FACTS SAY TO US? Seek the purged vision, that we may clearly see the relative values of things, that our estimates may be corrected, and so we may come to regard as "first" the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and "all other things" as secondary thereto. - C.

I. WHAT IT INCLUDED. It is very startling to find that their blessing is precisely that which is pronounced upon the spiritual Israel of the future. There are two factors in the blessing.

1. Continuity of the fatally.

2. Perpetuation of its religious standing and moral character: "To stand before me forever. It is said that descendants of the Rechabites have been discovered in Yocan, and that they still observe the strict regimen of their forefathers.

II. WHY IT WAS BESTOWED. The reason given is simple enough, viz. their filial obedience; but it hardly seems to account for the character of the blessing. It is manifest that the bestowal of such a blessing is not to be taken as implying that their conduct had attained to the highest moral standard. But it is significant that the fifth commandment, enjoining this very duty, should be the first with promise. Why is emphasis laid upon filial obedience in the Old and New Testaments? Is it not because the sentiment of filial affection and respect is a necessary antecedent and preparative for the love of God, which is the supreme and universal law of life? Of the latter it is the shadow and type. Secondary occasions for the solemn utterance of the blessing on this occasion were probably found in

(1) the fact that their conduct had furnished a signal reproof of the apostasy of the nation from its true, eternal Father;

(2) that they acted up to the light which they had; and

(3) that the principle of filial obedience, and the habits of temperance which in their case it had enjoined, were thereby more powerfully commended to the observance of men. - M.

We have an instance here. Literally, the promise annexed to the commandment, "Honour thy father," etc., was fulfilled; for their "days were long in the land which the Lord their God gave them." Now -


1. Promised in God's Word (cf. passim).

2. Visible in happy home life.

3. Perpetuated in prosperous communities, nations, etc.

4. Sanctioned by the laws of nature, of man, and of God.


1. The heart of the parent is filled with love to his children.

2. This love leads to desire earnestly the child's well being.

3. To secure this, God has given

(1) a responsive love in the heart of the child towards its parent;

(2) the instinct of trust;

(3) the direct sanctions of his Word, his Spirit, his providence, to strengthen and maintain that filial piety which so ministers to the good of all.

III. THE GREAT EXEMPLAR OF SUCH PIETY. Our Lord Jesus Christ. "I do always," he said, "those things which please my Father." As God is the realization of perfect fatherhood, so is the Lord Jesus Christ the embodiment of perfect sonship. That sonship was tested and tried as no human sonship ever can be, and it never failed, even under the pressure of the agony, the cross, the seeming abandonment. In him, therefore, we see our Model, and in his exaltation now our reward. - C.

This is just in accordance with what we might expect. The Rechabites, when they have been used to put Israel to shame, are not allowed to go away without a sufficient stamp on their noble conduct. The Divine estimate of that conduct is sufficiently shown by the words Jeremiah is authorized to speak.

I. GOD WILL ALWAYS RECOGNIZE A SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE. Here we lay emphasis, not so much on actual obedience, as on a spirit of obedience. As to actual obedience, there may be dispute of claim and conflict as to authorities. But the spirit of obedience is one running through the whole of life. And God must have seen the spirit of obedience very strong in these Rechabites. Perhaps it is not too much to say that, if they had been in the place of Israel, it would have been a sore grief to them that they were not able properly to obey the commandments of Jehovah. Their obedience was tried, it must be remembered, not in the ordinary associations of life, but in extraordinary and difficult circumstances. They showed the stuff that martyrs are made of, and if God specially recognized their obedience in what was only a matter of external conduct, how sure we may be that he will recognize all obedience that goes deeper! The thing he would have us do is to find out the right Master, right Teacher, right Leader, and then follow him to the death.

II. THE PARTICULAR PROMISE WHICH GOD MAKES HERE. Very likely, in a certain sense, it was literally fulfilled. We must take "forever" in the limited meaning so often found in the Scriptures, and then we shall have no difficulty in believing that the Rechabites for many generations had a special providence surrounding them. But recollecting the spiritual significance of prophecy, we may take "forever" in its largest sense. The essence of the promise is not fulfilled to sons of Jonadab according to the flesh. Promises to natural succession were only to serve a temporary purpose. As all who have a spirit of trust in them are reckoned children of Abraham, so all who have in them the spirit of obedience may be reckoned children of Jonadab. Where the spirit of obedience is, knowledge of God's will becomes easy. Where the spirit of obedience is, actual obedience becomes easier and easier and more a matter of satisfaction. - Y.

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