"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 forever.'"
Israel were greatly depraved before the days of this prophet, who was sent to reprove and call them to repentance. The prophet faithfully discharged his trust; but labored to very little effect. The chiefs of the nation were offended at its warnings and predictions -- rose up against him -- shut him up in prison; yea in a dark dungeon, where he sank in the mire; and even sought his life! He was not, however discouraged.. He continued "to warn the wicked from his way, that he should turn from it. None of these things moved him."
This was not the only messenger sent of God to warn that people -- he sent to them all his servants, the prophets; but they would not hear; The Jews of that age flattered themselves, that God would never enter into judgment with them. "He might pour his fury on the heathen; but they should escape -- their place and nation would never feel the effects of his wrath, or become the theatre of his judgments -- they were his people -- necessary to his honor -- he was their God; and would continue their God, whatever their character, or conduct."
The prophets warned them of their mistake -- told them that the judgments of heaven hung over them -- that their city and sanctuary would be destroyed, many of them perish in the war, and the residue he removed into strange lands, there to serve their enemies -- "but they seemed to that degenerate people as those who mocked, and they believed them not."
There is a certain grade of depravity which scoffs at warnings and laughs at the shakings of God's spear! When this hath become the general character of a people, desolating judgments are near. Those who conceive mercy to be the only attribute of Deity; or the only attribute which he can exercise towards them, are commonly deaf to warnings. Sure evidence that they are given up of God -- that his spirit hath ceased to strive with them. Rarely are those brought to repentance who entertain such views of God. Perhaps never, unless their views of him are changed. They have no fear of God before their eyes. If mercy absorbed every other attribute, there could be no place for fear. And of what enormity are those incapable who have lost the fear of God? Such corruption of principle is the bane of practice, and prelude of ruin and wretchedness. The history of the Hebrews, and the history of mankind, confirm the truth of this remark.
This prophet having long warned his charge to no purpose, is here directed to apply to them in another manner -- to try to shame them into contrition, by setting before them the part acted by a particular family which dwelt among them -- the Rechabites, who had for ages religiously obeyed the injunctions of one of their ancestors, left probably as his dying charge.
Some of that progenitor's requirements seemed rigorous, but being the order of a respected ancestor the family considered them as obligatory; nor could they be persuaded to violate them in any particular, though publicly invited to it by a prophet.
It may be proper here to make some inquiries relative to these Rechabites -- to the person whose charge they conceived so binding; and the nature and design of the charge.
The Rechabites are said to have been a branch of the Kenites, and to have descended from Hobab, the son of Jethro, Moses' father in law. *
* Vide Henry and Brown's Dictionary.
While Israel were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, that Midianitish priest, or prince, visited Moses, bringing with him, Zipporah, the wife of Moses and her children, who had been sent to her father's as a place of safety, during the troubles in Egypt. Not long after, Hobab, the son of Jethro, appears to have been with Israel in the wilderness; and he was invited to go with them to the land of promise, and take his lot among them, and was promised an equal share of blessings with the seed of Jacob -- "If thou wilt go with us, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee." At first Hobab declined, but he eventually complied; as his descendants were among the Hebrews after their settlement in Canaan, and they continued among them, and remained a distinct family, down to the captivity.
One branch of these Kenites was denominated from Rechab, an illustrious chief of the house of Hobab; who had a son, or descendant, named Jonadab, or Jehonadab, as his name is sometimes written. Jonadab was renowned for wisdom and piety. He flourished in the days of Jehu, almost three centuries before the Babylonish captivity; and was so famed for sanctity and attachment to true religion, that only being seen in his company was a recommendation to the regard of its friends. Therefore was he treated with respect by Jehu, while he pretended a regard for the true God -- therefore was he taken up by that prince into his chariot, and made his partner in the destruction of idolatry. Such was the man who left this charge to his descendants, which was so sacredly regarded by them, for so long a term.
This was a remarkable family. Another who have paid equal attention to the orders of a departed progenitor, and in which none of the members appear to have degenerated from his virtue, is not perhaps to be found in the annals of mankind! But our surprise will increase if we attend to the nature of the charge.
The prophet was directed to gather the whole family of the Rechabites -- bring them into the house of the Lord -- set wine before them and invite them to drink. He obeyed; offering them a treat, as a family known and respected in Israel.
This was not done to tempt them, but to reprove the Jews, who resorted in great numbers to the temple; though they had cast off the fear of the God there worshipped. God knew, and had probably informed the prophet, that the wine would be refused. It was refused, and the reason, assigned -- "We will drink no wine; for Jonadab, -- the son of Rechab, our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, ye, nor your sons forever, Neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor have any: But all your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days, in the land where ye be strangers."
Some of these may seem to be strange restrictions; but they speak the piety of him who laid them, and his regard to the eternal, if not to the temporal interests, of his posterity. The prohibition seems to have been the same with the law of the Nazerites. Wine is doubtless here used in a large sense, for every kind of strong drink. "Wine was given to make glad the heart of man." He is allowed to use it with temperance and sobriety: But so many abuse it to their own hurt, and to the injury of society, that it is rather a curse, than a blessing, to the world. Seeing the evils which resulted from the abuse -- the devastation of men and morals, which it occasioned, this good man, from love to his offspring, warned them wholly to abstain from it. And what evils would many others have avoided, had they considered the counsel as given to them, and like this family, religiously regarded it? The ravages of intemperance, exceed those of the sword; and the moral evils it hath occasioned surpass description!
But why the other restrictions included in the charge? Why must the descendants of Jonadab be denied the comfort of warm and convenient dwellings, and reside in tents through every season of the year, to all generations? Why must they possess neither fields nor vineyards, which were allowed to others, and promised to Israel, as part of the blessing, when they should settle in Canaan?
Peculiarities unknown to us, might render it proper for them to submit to self denials to which others are not called. What they were we presume not to determine. *
* Mr. Henry undertakes to assign the reasons of all these injunctions; but as none can be assigned which are not merely conjectural, we choose rather to leave each one to make his own conjectures, as he may find occasion.
Mankind are exceedingly prone to set up their rest here, and promise themselves permanent dwellings on this rolling ball. Could this man of God persuade his posterity that this was not their home, and engage them to seek another country, that is, an heavenly, and lay up their treasure there, whatever self denials it might cost them, it must have been, on the whole for their advantage. This might be the general design of his counsel.
But whatever might be the design, admirable was the effect. The whole family seemed to have listened to his advice, and for many ages to have obeyed his voice! "Thus have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab, the son of Rechab our father, in all that he charged us -- and done according to all that he commanded us!"
This was not said only of themselves, who then flood before the prophet, but of the whole family, from the time the charge was given, down to that day. There is not the smallest probability that a numerous family would inquire after, and find out a code of rules and regulations which had been given nearly three centuries before, and all take it on them to observe them, if they had been neglected by their fathers, down to their time. They had doubtless been observed with punctuality from the days of Jonadab. Their answer to the prophet implies it. This had been known in Israel. Therefore were they brought into public view, and made the occasion of a solemn rebuke of that favored, but ungrateful people who had disregarded the injunctions of an infinite God! This was the end proposed in bringing the Rechabites into the temple at this time, and gave occasion to the record here made to their honor, and to the blessings promised them from above.
Some may laugh at the singularity of this strange family -- may consider it an evidence of weakness to pay such regard to the silly requisitions of a superstitious ancestor -- deny themselves so many comforts -- make themselves so singular -- engage those with whom they married to conform to the rules of their house, and instil the same into their children from generation to generation! But whatever we may think of them, it is manifest that this supposed weakness met the divine approbation. The prophet speaks of them with honor; blesseth them in the name of the Lord, and declares, in his name, that their filial piety shall not go unrewarded. "And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and -- done according to all that he commanded you: 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 forever."
These are not simply expressions of approbation, but contain invaluable promises. They are made in the language of the old testament, but to those blessed with gospel light, their meaning is not obscure or difficult. The promise secured the continuance of this family, and a succession of men of piety and virtue in it as long as God's people continued -- They should never want a man to stand before the Lord -- to serve him. That family had no office at the temple, but in a course of regular devotion, they stood before God, to minister unto him. This should continue -- they should remain a religious family. Men of piety should always be found among them.
When the prophet had laid these matters before the Jews, he made the application, and denounced the judgments of God against them, unless they turned by repentance. "Thus faith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, Go, and tell the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem -- Will ye not receive instruction to hearken to my words? Saith the Lord. The words of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father's commandment: Notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto me."
The prophet then proceeded to remind them of the warnings which had been given them, and the means which had been used with them, and to denounce the judgments of God against them -- "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, I will bring upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, all the evil that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and have called unto them, but they have not answered."
If we consider the state of that people, and the advantages which they had neglected and abused, we shall be convinced that their guilt was attended with many aggravations -- no other people had so many advantages and means of information; and few beside were equally depraved.
The family of Rechab might rise up against them and condemn them. That family had been long obedient to a man like themselves -- the Jews had been disobedient to the God who is above. Jonadab was dead -- if his descendants disregarded his injunctions, he might have no power to punish their disobedience; but the God of Israel lived -- was acquainted with all their crimes, and able to punish their sin upon them. Neither doth it appear that the Rechabites had ever been reminded of the orders of their progenitor, or their obligation to obey him; but the Jews had been often reminded of their duty; in the stated, and ordinary means of grace they were daily reminded of their obligation to obey God; and he had also sent all his servants the prophets, to call them to repentance; neither had God required such self denials of his people, as Jonadab of his posterity -- yet Jonadab had been obeyed, and God had been disobeyed! His people "would not receive instruction." Therefore were his judgments executed upon them, agreeably to his threatening; and they are left on record for our instruction. "Now these things happened unto them for ensamples [sic]; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come."
In the part acted by the father of the Rechabites, we witness the concern of a good man, that his children should mind the things of religion. That good man did not scruple to lay heavy burdens on his descendants, and cut them off from many temporal enjoyments, if it might serve to keep them humble, and cause them to stand before the Lord. He chose rather to have his family poor, than to have them proud and vicious. -- Hardships which might serve to keep them mindful of their situation here, he judged advantageous: Therefore the charge he left with them.
Pious parents do not generally leave such things in charge to their children. They do not, however, neglect the concerns of religion, or leave their families ignorant of them, or their obligation to regard them. They teach them to fear the Lord, and live in all good conscience before him.
II. In the historical sketch here given of the Rechabites, we see how good people of old, were influenced by parental authority -- how they considered themselves bound to remember and obey the injunctions of religious ancestors, as they wished the blessing of God. Where such injunctions are disregarded it is an evidence of great depravity.
Sad instances of this kind we sometimes witness in this degenerate age. We sometimes see godly parents, who had labored before in vain to render their children truely religions, spend their last hours in urging them not to receive the grace of God in vain -- see them with deep concern, and with their dying breath, charging them to mind the things of religion, and not rest until they have found the Savior. Though at first some impression seems to be made, it often soon wears off, and the warnings and counsels of those who loved them as their own souls, are forgotten and neglected!
Could these things be foreseen, sense of duty would only extort such admonitions from a pious parent, at the solemn period of his departure; for like a neglected gospel, they are "a favor of death unto death," to those who hear them!
But this is not always the case. No means have a more direct and powerful tendency to awaken the secure, and excite the attention of the careless, than the dying concern and counsel of the saints. Perhaps no other means are oftener blessed to this end. This leads us to observe,
III. That the part we act here may have consequences, long after we shall have gone off the stage. This venerable Kenite left a solemn charge to his posterity; but who could foresee the effect? There was little reason to expect that his descendants would regard it, and be advantaged by it for centuries; yet it seems to have been the case! His counsels, strengthened by his example, made an indelible impression, and were means of distinguishing his family for many generations!
This should encourage others to follow his example -- to charge their children to "keep the way of the Lord, and walk in his ordinances and commandments blameless." Who knows that his posterity may not imitate those of this man of God? And for as long a term? Who can determine that his good example, and counsels may not do good on earth, when his body shall be mouldering in the grave, and his soul rejoicing in the presence of his God.
On the other hand, there is more than equal reason to expect that a parent's bad example will be no less extensively influential to mischief. Many are seduced to their ruin by the contagion of evil example; nor is any other more perniciously prevalent than that of a parent, or progenitor.
Be it then the concern of all who fear the Lord to charge their children, to fear him, and to set them the example of "standing before the Lord." So to do, is to sow the seeds of virtue and piety. A harvest may follow, even after expectation hath failed. If no other advantage accrues, the faithful will deliver his own soul; he may be the occasion of delivering others; "converting sinners from the error of their ways; saving souls from death, and hiding multitudes of sins." *
* James v.19, 20.
IV. The honorable mention made of the Rechabites, and the blessings promised them, should influence children to listen to the pious counsels of their parents, and attend the duties which they consider important, and charge them to attend, especially at the close of life.
That the godly when on the verge of eternity, are divinely influenced to warn their friends, and predict the good or evil before them, was an opinion which prevailed among the ancients. Therefore the sacred attention paid to their dying words, and scrupulous regard of their dying counsels. Whether we admit, or reject the sentiment, the counsels which are given at such seasons are serious, solemn, and the effect of love unfeigned. Those to whom they are given commonly view matters in the same light, and consider them as interesting realities, when they come to be themselves in similar circumstances.
Have our pious ancestors left ought in charge to us? It concerns us to consider their counsels and injunctions; and unless we have clear and strong reasons forbidding, we are bound to obey them.
Children are usually safe in following the last counsels of their parents. Few who sustain that endearing relation, are devoid of concern for the honor and happiness of their offspring. However they may have themselves conducted, while in the pursuit of worldly objects, or under the influence of appetite or passion, when they come to stand on the brink of another world, the fascinating charms of this, lose their power -- the infinite difference between time and eternity appears; and the true value of objects is seen and estimated. Then the counsel which is given is that of wisdom -- it points to duty -- to peace and honor -- to joy and glory,
It is further observable that rich promises are made in scripture to those who honor and obey their parents, and dreadful curses denounced against those who despise and disobey them. "Honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee and that thou mayest live long upon the earth. This is the first commandment with promise. The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it." These scriptures are not of private interpretation.
V. Where the blessing of heaven hath long rested on a family, and religion been prevalent in it for many generations, the right way becomes comparatively easy. Those born there, grow up in the fear of God, and are early taught to know and serve him. But how aggravated the guilt of those who under such circumstances forsake the way of the Lord -- cut of the entail of mercy and entail a curse on their posterity -- shut up the kingdom of heaven against their own offspring; neither going in themselves, nor suffering those who are entering to go in?
Lost to the fear of God, such hardened sinners may cry peace, but there is no peace to them! It concerns them to look to themselves, for evil is before them! A descent from pious ancestors will not turn away the wrath of God, from those who harden themselves in sin. No -- It increaseth their guilt and will increase their condemnation. The Jews flattered themselves "because they had Abraham to their father; but many came from the east and from the west and set down with Abraham in the kingdom of God, and the children of the kingdom were cast out" -- Yea, having filled up the measure of their sins, wrath came upon them, to the uttermost, in this world; and in that to come, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha than for them.