Jeremiah chapter 35. Jerusalem.
The threat of invading Chaldeans is heavy in the air, and ‘weeping prophet’ Jeremiah is pleading in vain with the people of Judah to abandon their idols and return to God.
God speaks to Jeremiah:
“Assemble all the men from the clan of the Rechabites in a room in the Temple. Bring wine, and tell them to drink it.”
Jeremiah obeys. He sets the jugs of wine and cups in front of them. He says, “Drink.”
“But we can’t.”
is the unanimous reply.
“Jonadab our ancestor instructed us never to drink wine, nor to build or own houses or vineyards, nor to sow seed, but to live in tents, that we may live long in the land in which we are aliens. We –with all our wives, sons, and daughters– have carefully obeyed these instructions.”
This clan of Rechabites were longtime sojourners in Canaan, descendants of the family of Jethro (Hobab), Moses’ father-in-law. They had lived among the Israelites from the days of Mount Sinai (Num10:29-32), and had entered the Promised Land with them. They feared the God of Israel, and it was due to the zeal of Jonadab their father that they were spared when Jehu went ‘cleaning house’ in Israel after the days of Ahab. (2 Kings 10:15-17)
God speaks again to Jeremiah:
“Speak to Judah and Jerusalem: will you never learn? These Rechabites have meticulously followed the commandment of their ancestor, a man, not to drink wine.
“But I have spoken to you urgently, untiringly, sending servants and prophets to say ‘Turn back, change your ways, do not serve other gods, and you will live long on the land I have given you.’ Yet you have not listened to me nor paid attention to me.
“Therefore, I will bring upon these people all the disaster I have decreed for them…but as for the sons of Jonadab the Rechabite, because they have obeyed their ancestor and observed all his rules, they will never lack a descendant to stand before me.” (Jeremiah 35:12-18, paraphrased)
A small group, the Rechabites were faithful for generations. They didn’t put down roots anywhere, but sojourned. When the need arose, they moved without being bound to property or possession. Though not of the stock of Jacob, they feared the God of Israel.
And when the time came to be tested of God, they passed.
No doubt they were subject to ridicule.
“You don’t have to do all that…the Torah doesn’t require that!”
Living ‘in and not of’ Israel, they were a different breed, walking to the beat of a different drum. The cares of the world around them did not draw them. They had no ‘continuing city.’
They weren’t required to follow the Torah to the letter, yet they bound themselves faithfully to the conservative guidelines of an ancestor who feared God…and their convictions, borne of zeal, proved more ‘strict’ than those of the Jews.
They were a people set apart in a nation set apart. And because of their sincere faithfulness and obedience, God made of them an example to His own people.
The question of ‘standards’ is so often raised by so many. Countless hours of study have gone into the task of ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ as to how the church is to live in our day and age.
Perhaps the issue isn’t where exactly the lines are to be drawn for the church as a whole; perhaps we have lost focus of the goal in our attempts to clearly define ‘modesty’ and ‘holiness.’
What is my goal? To be faithful to the God I love, in every way possible, regardless of how it may change my lifestyle.
One might see me in my skirt and uncut hair, and say “you don’t have to do all that..”
Maybe what we do is over and above what is ‘required’ by the New Covenant. But what if God is using us to show faithfulness to His Word? Who else is watching?
Will we pass the test of faithfulness?
“Yahweh says this, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths: which was the good way? Take it and you will find rest for yourselves..” (Jeremiah 6:16, NJB)