Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Jeremiah 35:1-19. The incident of the Rechabites and its application
The settlement of Israel in Canaan, involving as it did the adoption of agricultural pursuits, led to a certain amount of recognition of local deities (Baals) supposed by the Canaanites to bestow the produce in return for appropriate rites. The adoption of such local rites was considered by the majority of the people as quite consistent with the worship of Jehovah as the national God or “Baal,” lord. In this way the licentious practices connected with the service paid to the local Baals were extended to the worship of Jehovah Himself. Jehu, in his bloodthirsty zeal for the extermination of the Tyrian Baal, Melkart by name, was supported by Jehonadab son of Rechab (2 Kings 10:15 ff.), whose object in insisting on his followers refusing an agricultural as opposed to a nomadic life was simply to maintain strict loyalty to Jehovah as the wilderness God, and so to abolish all other worship whether imported from without or otherwise. Thus the significance of his action was solely of a religious character and not a protest against luxury. There is no real reason to doubt (with Schmidt) the historical character of the narrative. It contains details not likely to be invented.
We may summarize the account as follows. (i) Jeremiah 35:1-11. Jeremiah brings the Rechabites into one of the Temple chambers and offers them wine. They decline the offer, on the ground that their ancestor Jonadab had forbidden them any practices inconsistent with a strictly nomadic life. They add that they are now in Jerusalem only for self-preservation. (ii) Jeremiah 35:12-19. The prophet is bidden to point the moral for the people. The Rechabites have held Jonadab’s precept binding ever since. Jerusalem and Judah on the contrary have ignored the repeated warnings of Jehovah through His prophets against idolatry and other sins. Therefore punishment shall come on the rebellious people; while the Rechabites shall never want descendants to serve Jehovah.
The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,1. The word which came … in the days of Jehoiakim] This and the following chapter form a remarkable break in the narrative of chs. 32–44. They at once bring us back from the tenth year of the reign of Zedekiah to the later part of Jehoiakim’s reign, when the Babylonian army had entered Palestine and compelled many of its inhabitants to take refuge within Jerusalem. Among these were the Rechabites.
Go unto the house of the Rechabites, and speak unto them, and bring them into the house of the LORD, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.2. Go unto the house] The family (so in 3, 5, 18; Genesis 7:1, etc.) are meant, not the dwelling-houses. See Jeremiah 35:7. It was some years after the burning of the Roll (in Jehoiakim’s fourth year), and it appears that the prophet could again appear in public without risk (see Jeremiah 36:19; Jeremiah 36:26).
of the Rechabites] They were a wandering tribe of Kenite descent (1 Chronicles 2:55) and thus connected with Moses’ brother-in-law (Jdg 1:16). Some of that family had settled in the south of Judah (ib.), others near Kedesh in Naphtali (Jdg 4:11). This branch however were nomad.
Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habaziniah, and his brethren, and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites;
And I brought them into the house of the LORD, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan, the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, which was above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door:4. The particularity in description points to the narrative being contemporary with the events it describes.
and I brought them into the house of the Lord] that so what was to follow might be made most prominent and be most widely known.
Maaseiah] probably father of the Zephaniah (Jeremiah 21:1, Jeremiah 29:25, Jeremiah 37:3) who is mentioned as “second priest” in Jeremiah 52:24.
keeper of the door] lit. threshold. There were three of these officers (Jeremiah 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18). They seem to have stood next in rank after the high-priest and his deputy (ib.), and were charged with the care of the money contributed for the restoration of the Temple (2 Kings 12:9).
And I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine, and cups, and I said unto them, Drink ye wine.5. bowls] large vessels, from which drinking cups were filled.
But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever:
Neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, 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.7. neither shall ye build house, etc.] Cp. the description of the Nabataeans by Diodorus Siculus who says (19:94) that they neither sow seed, nor plant fruit-tree, nor use wine, nor build a house. In their case, however, it was not from religious motives, but to avoid risk at the hands of powerful neighbours.
Thus have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab our father in all that he hath charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, nor our daughters;
Nor to build houses for us to dwell in: neither have we vineyard, nor field, nor seed:
But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us.
But it came to pass, when Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans, and for fear of the army of the Syrians: so we dwell at Jerusalem.11. Syrians] allies of the Chaldaeans at this period. See 2 Kings 24:2.
Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying,12. unto Jeremiah] LXX, better, unto me. It is more natural to retain the 1st person in accordance with the previous context, thus taking the proper name as a gloss.
12–19. See introd. summary to the section. This portion, which forms the application of the preceding narrative, seems to have received considerable later additions. The LXX seem to present it in practically its original form.
Thus saith 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.13. instruction] or, correction. See on Jeremiah 17:23.
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.
I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me.
Because the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them; but this people hath not hearkened unto me:
Therefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, 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 I have called unto them, but they have not answered.17. the Lord … Israel] This accumulation of Divine names (abs. from LXX), though it can scarcely be called strange, is without parallel elsewhere.
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 kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you:18. And Jeremiah said … Rechabites] The LXX, doubtless rightly, omit these words (see on Jeremiah 35:12), and seem to have preserved the original form, “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Inasmuch as the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have obeyed the commandment of their father to do as their father commanded them,” while the MT. has been compelled by the insertion to change the 3rd person into the 2nd.
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 for ever.19. to stand before me] It is by no means necessary to understand the expression here as implying priestly functions (cp. Jeremiah 15:19), although the hint that the Rechabites were employed in some capacity in connexion with the Temple is supported by (i) the LXX heading of Psalms 71; (ii) the account of the martyrdom of James the Just (Eusebius, Eccles. Hist. II. 23) where “priests of the sons of Rechab” are spoken of. Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish traveller of the 12th century, mentions a body of Jews who were called Rechabites, and whose customs corresponded with those detailed in Jeremiah. Dr Wolff (Journal, 1829) describes a body of Rechabites near Mecca who claimed to be sons of Jonadab. But it is by no means clear that the title in these three cases meant anything more than a certain amount of asceticism.