The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “Go to the house of the Rechabites and speak with them and bring them to the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers; then offer them wine to drink.” So I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, son of Habazziniah and his brothers and all his sons and the whole house of the Rechabites. I brought them to the house of the Lord into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, the man of God, which was near the chamber of the officials, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, keeper of the threshold. Then I set before the Rechabites pitchers full of wine, and cups, and I said to them, “Drink wine.” But they answered, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, ‘You shall not drink wine, neither you nor your sons forever. You shall not build a house; you shall not sow seed; you shall not plant or have a vineyard; but you shall live in tents all your days, that you may live many days in the land where you sojourn.’ We have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he commanded us, to drink no wine all our days, ourselves, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, and not to build houses to dwell in. We have no vineyard or field or seed, but we have lived in tents and have obeyed and done all that Jonadab our father commanded us. But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against the land, we said, ‘Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and the army of the Syrians.’ So we are living in Jerusalem.” – Jeremiah 35:1-11 ESV
The events in this chapter actually precede those recorded in chapters 32-34. King Jehoiakim is sitting on the throne when the Babylonians make their first foray into Judah. As a result of the Babylonian invasion of that area of the Middle East, Jehoiakim will become a vassal of King Nebuchadnezzar, an arrangement that will last three long years, until 602 B.C., when he will rebel against Babylon. The book of 2 Kings records what happened as a result.
During Jehoiakim’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked. Jehoiakim was his subject for three years, but then he rebelled against him. The Lord sent against him Babylonian, Syrian, Moabite, and Ammonite raiding bands; he sent them to destroy Judah, as he had warned he would do through his servants the prophets. – 2 Kings 24:1-2 NLT
Jehoiakim found himself having to deal with not only the Babylonians, but raiding parties made up of Syrians, Moabites and Ammonites as well. Jehoakim could attempt to resist the control of Babylon and refuse to submit to King Nebuchadnezzar’s control, but he would not succeed. What he failed to realize was that this was all part of God’s plan. Jehoakim succeeded Josiah as king of Judah. But he did not continue Josiah’s efforts to bring reform to the nation.
Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother was Zebidah, the daughter of Pedaiah from Rumah. He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done. – 2 Kings 23:36-37 NLT
God has given Jeremiah some fairly stern words to speak to King Jehoakim regarding his reign.
“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty!
You murder the innocent,
oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.” – Jeremiah 22:17 NLT
“I warned you when you were prosperous,
but you replied, ‘Don’t bother me.’
You have been that way since childhood—
you simply will not obey me!” – Jeremiah 22:21 NLT
Jehoakim was greedy and godless. He was unjust and disobedient to God. And God had some bad news for this egotistical, money-hungry king:
“It may be nice to live in a beautiful palace
paneled with wood from the cedars of Lebanon,
but soon you will groan with pangs of anguish—
anguish like that of a woman in labor.” – Jeremiah 22:23 NLT
So, sometime in the middle of Jehoakim’s reign, God sent Jeremiah on a mission. He was to go to a settlement where the Recabites lived. The Rechabites were descendants of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. Jethro had been a Kenite, or non-Hebrew, and Moses had married his daughter. When the Hebrews entered the land of Canaan, the Kenites accompanied them, many of them settling into their own towns and villages. But Jonadab, the son of Rechab, had forbidden his people to drink wine or to live in cities. Instead, they were to live nomadic lives, set apart and compliant with the wishes of their patriarch. And, they had done so for hundreds of years.
God commands Jeremiah to extend an invitation to the Rechabites, requesting that they join him at one of the inner rooms of the temple in Jerusalem. And, oddly enough, God instructed Jeremiah to offer them wine, which he did.
I set cups and jugs of wine before them and invited them to have a drink… – Jeremiah 35:5 NLT
These men, representing their families and clan, found themselves within the city walls of Jerusalem and sitting in a room located in the inner recesses of the temple. There, hidden from view, they were tempted by the prophet of God, under orders from God Himself, with the chance to drink wine. But we’re told, they refused. ‘No,’ they said, ‘we don’t drink wine, because our ancestor Jehonadab son of Recab gave us this command: ‘You and your descendants must never drink wine. And do not build houses or plant crops or vineyards, but always live in tents. If you follow these commands, you will live long, good lives in the land.’ So we have obeyed him in all these things. We have never had a drink of wine to this day, nor have our wives, our sons, or our daughters. We haven’t built houses or owned vineyards or farms or planted crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed all the commands of Jehonadab, our ancestor’” (Jeremiah 35:6-10 NLT).
They flatly said, “No!” They turned down Jeremiah’s offer. It didn’t matter to them that the wine was offered by the prophet of God in the very temple of God. They were not going to disobey their vow. We are not told why Jonadab required his people to make this vow. That point doesn’t seem to matter. What seems to be the issue is that Jehoakim, the king of Judah, had been accused by God of disobedience. He had not kept the laws of God or lived in keeping with the will of God for His people. He did what was evil in the sight of God. But here were the Kenites, these non-Jews, who, when offered the chance to break their vow to abstain from wine, refused to do so. Even though it was being set in front of them by the prophet of God in the house of God. They were committed. They were faithful. There’s was a vow made to a man, but as far as they were concerned, it was unbreakable. And yet, Jehoakim, the king of Judah, and the people over whom he ruled, were guilty of having broken their covenant with God. Not once, but many times and over many centuries.
As we will see in the rest of this chapter, God will use this example of faithfulness and obedience as a living lesson of what He expected from His own people. But they had failed to follow through. Their lives had been a perpetual display of what it means to be unfaithful and unwilling to keep their commitments to God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.