Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,XXXV.
(1) In the days Jehoiakim.—The prophecy that follows carries us back over a period of about seventeen of years to the earlier period of the prophet’s life and work. Jerusalem was not yet besieged. Jehoiakim had not filled up the measure of his iniquities. The armies of the Chaldæans were, however, in the meantime moving on the outskirts of the kingdom of Judah (Jeremiah 35:11) or were driving the nomad inhabitants, who had hitherto dwelt in tents, to take refuge in the cities. The first capture of the city by Nebuchadnezzar was in B.C. 607.
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 of the Rechabites . . .—The word “house” is used throughout the chapter in the sense of “family.” Among those who had thus taken refuge were the tribe, or sect, or even fraternity known by this name. Their founder was the Jonadab, or Jehonadab, who appears as the ally of Jehu in the overthrow of the house of Ahab (2Kings 10:15). It is clear from that history that he exercised an influence over the people which Jehu was glad to secure, and that he welcomed “the zeal for the Lord” which led Jehu to the massacre of the worshippers of Baal. He is described as the “son of Rechab,” but seeing that that name, which means “chariot,” was applied to the great Tishbite prophet, as in “the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof” (2Kings 2:12), it has been thought, with some probability, that the name “son of Rechab” means “Son of the chariot” (so in later Jewish history we have Bar-cochba = son of the star), i.e., “disciple of the great prophet.” Anyhow, the life which Jonadab enforced on his followers presented all the characteristic features of that of Elijah. It was a protest against the Baal-worship that had flowed into Israel from Phoenicia, against the corruption of the life of cities, against the intemperance which was tainting the life of Israel (Amos 6:4-6). It reminds us in this respect of the more ascetic sects, such as the Wahabees of Arabia in the eighteenth century (see Burckhardt’s Bedouins and Wahabys, p. 283; Palgrave’s Arabia), that have at times arisen among the followers of Mahomet. It has some points of resemblance to the Mendicant Orders of mediaeval Christendom. From 1Chronicles 2:55 it appears that “the house of Rechab” belonged to the Kenites who had joined the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt, and had settled in their lands, retaining their old habits (Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11; Numbers 10:29-32; 1Samuel 15:6; 1Samuel 27:10). Such a people naturally retained many of the habits of patriarchal life, and it is not improbable that Elijah himself issued from their tents.
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;(3) Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah . . .—The names (Jaazaniah = Jehovah hears, Jeremiah = Jehovah exalts, Habaziniah = Jehovah gathers) are not without significance, as showing that the Rechabites were sharers in the faith of Israel, perhaps, as an order, conspicuous witnesses for that faith. The name Jeremiah may possibly indicate that there was some previous connexion between the Rechabites and the prophet’s family.
His brethren, and all his sons . . .—The words may be taken in their literal sense, but on the assumption that the Rechabites were a religious order rather than a family, the terms may indicate different stages or degrees of membership, the “brethren” being those who were fully incorporated, the “sons,” those who like “the sons of the prophets” (2Kings 4:38; 2Kings 6:1; 2Kings 9:1; Amos 7:14) were still in training as probationers. Such a use of the word “brethren” would grow naturally out of that of “sons,” and is found in this wider sense of priests and Levites (1Chronicles 15:5-18; 1Chronicles 26:7-32 and elsewhere) and of prophets (Revelation 22:9).
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) I brought them into the house of the Lord . . .—The Temple of Solomon appears from 1Kings 6:5 to have had, like a cathedral, apartments constructed in its precincts which were assigned, by special favour, for the residence of conspicuous priests or prophets. Huldah the prophetess seems to have dwelt in some such apartments known as “the college” (see 2Kings 22:14). In this case the chamber was occupied by the sons of Hanan. He, or Igdaliah (the Hebrew punctuation is decisive in favour of Hanan), is described as “a man of God—i.e., as a prophet—and therefore sympathising, we may believe, with Jeremiah’s work (Deuteronomy 33:1; 1Samuel 2:27; 1Kings 13:1; 1Kings 20:28; 2Kings 4:7; 2Kings 4:9; 1Chronicles 23:14; 2Chronicles 11:2). It would seem, from the narrative, that Jeremiah had no chamber of his own. Here also “the sons of Hanan” are probably a company of scholars under the training of the prophet, Jeremiah introducing as it were the two religious orders to each other. The “princes,” as in Jeremiah 26:10; Jeremiah 36:12, were probably official persons who, though not priests, were entitled to residence in the precincts, as we see in the case of Gemariah in Jeremiah 36:10. The “keeper of the door,” as in Jeremiah 52:24, was probably one of the higher section of the priesthood. The stress laid on all these details was probably intended to show that the memorable dramatic scene that followed, daring as it seemed, was acted in the presence of representatives of the priestly, prophetic, and official orders. The name of Maaseiah has, however, a special interest attached to it. Shallum, the name of his father, is found in 2Kings 22:14 as that of the husband of Huldah the prophetess of the reign of Josiah, and he is described as the “keeper of the wardrobe,” i.e., probably of the vestments of the priests, and as dwelling in the “college” (literally, the “second” part, or annexe of some other building). It is hardly possible to resist the inference that in the Maaseiah who now appears as receiving Jeremiah and the Rechabites, we have the son of the prophetess who had taken so active a part in the work of reformation in the reign of Josiah, whose influence had coloured the whole of the prophet’s life, who had brought up her son within the precincts of the Temple. We are brought as it were into the innermost circle of the prophetic company of Jerusalem, and are reminded of Simeon and Anna, and those who waited for the consolation, for the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38). The influence of Shallum may, perhaps, be traced in the fact that the king who appears in history as Jehoahaz had probably been named by Josiah after him (2Kings 23:30; 1Chronicles 3:15), as David named one of his sons after Nathan (2Samuel 5:14). It is, perhaps, from this point of view, characteristic of Jeremiah that he adheres in Jeremiah 22:1 to the old name given on his birth, and not to that which he had apparently adopted upon his accession to the throne. The name Shallum, it may be noted, means “retribution,” whether for good or for evil.
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:(6-8) We will drink no wine . . .—We have here, as it were, the rule of the tribe or order which looked to Jonadab as its founder. Like Samson (Judges 13:4-5), Samuel (inferentially from 1Samuel 1:11; 1Samuel 1:15), and the Baptist (Luke 1:15), they were life-long Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-6). Jonadab’s intention was obviously to keep them as a separate people, retaining their nomadic form of life, free from the contamination of cities, or the temptations of acquired property, or the risks of attack which such property brought with it. They are now invited, and it must have seemed to them a strange invitation to come from a prophet’s lips, to break that rule, and they answer almost in the tone of a calm but indignant protest. They have been faithful hitherto, and they will continue faithful still. In the words “that your days may be long in the land” we may, perhaps, trace an echo of the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), viewed as extending to the relations which connect the members of an order with its head. The rule has descended to the followers of Islam, and the law of abstinence has been extended by Abdul-Wahab to tobacco. Diodoras Siculus (xix. 94) relates that the Nabathæans adopted the Rechabite rule in its completeness. Possibly they were Rechabites.
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) When Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon came up into the land . . .—The statement has the character of an apologetic explanation. They had been driven, as the peasants of Judaea had been (Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 8:14), to take refuge from the invading armies, probably in the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar in the eighth year of Jehoiakim (2Kings 24:1-2), bringing their flocks and their herds, as far as they could, with them, but this was only a temporary casualty, and they intended, when the danger was over, to return to their former mode of life. The Syrians are joined with the Chaldees in the invasion, as in 2Kings 24:2.
Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying,(12) Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah.—Up to this time the prophet had acted on the thought which came into his mind as an inspiration, without apparently more than a partial insight into its meaning. Now, as the words indicate, he passes at once into the prophetic state and speaks the prophetic words. It follows from Jeremiah 35:18 that it was uttered in the presence of the Rechabites and formed, we may believe, the conclusion of this strange dramatic scene.
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) Will ye not receive instruction . . .—The argument of the prophet is naturally an à fortiori one. The words of Jonadab had been kept faithfully as a rule of life for 300 years by his descendants or his order. The words of Jehovah, “rising early and speaking” through His prophets (we note the repetition of the characteristic phrase of Jeremiah 7:13; Jeremiah 25:3), were neglected by the people whom He had adopted as His children. They, too, had the same promise that by obeying they should dwell in the land which He had given them, but they had turned a deaf ear both to the promise and the warning which it implied.
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.(15) Return ye now every man from his evil way.—The words are more than a general summary of the teaching of earlier prophets, and we find in them an almost verbal reproduction of the burden of Jeremiah’s own preaching, in Jeremiah 25:5-6, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, i.e., before the incident here recorded.
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) Because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard.—The prophet in part reproduces his own earlier complaint from Jeremiah 7:13; Jeremiah 25:7, a complaint which has been the ever-recurring burden of all teachers of wisdom (Proverbs 1:24) and of all true prophets (Isaiah 65:12; Isaiah 66:4).
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) Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father.—The words decide nothing as to the obligation of the commandment referred to upon others. The law which Jeremiah received as given by God laid down no such rule of life. A righteous life was possible without it (Jeremiah 22:15; Matthew 11:19). What he was taught to praise was the steadfastness and loyalty with which they adhered to a merely human precept, not at variance with the letter of any divine law, and designed, like the Nazarite vow, to carry the spirit of that law—the idea of a life-long consecration—to its highest point. The temper of faithfulness to any rule of life sanctioned by prescription, whether it be that of a school, a college, a guild, or a religious order, is in itself praiseworthy as compared with that of individual self-assertion and self-will.
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) Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.—Taking the words in their simplest literal sense, they find a fulfilment in the strange unlooked-for way in which the name and customs of the Rechabites have cropped up from time to time. The Jewish historian Hegesippus (see Euseb. Hist. Eccl. ii. 23), in his account of the martyrdom of James the Just, names the sons of the Rechabites as looking on in reverential sympathy with one whose life, like their own, carried the Nazarite type to its highest perfection. In the account which Diodorus Siculns (xix. 94) gives of the Nabathæans as neither sowing seed, nor planting fruit-trees, nor building houses, and enforcing this rule of life under pain of death, we can scarcely fail to recognise the Rechabite type. Benjamin of Tudela, in the twelfth century, reports that he found 100,000 Jews who were named Rechabites, and who lived after their fashion near El Jubar, and that they were governed by a prince of the house of David. More recent travellers, Dr. Wolff (Journal, 1829, ii. 334; 1839, p. 389) and Signor Pierotti (Transactions of British Association, 1862), report that they have met tribes near Mecca, on the Dead Sea, or in Yemen and Senaar, who observed the rule of Jonadab, claimed to be his descendants, referred to Jeremiah 35:19 as fulfilled in them, and led the life of devout Jews. It is probable, however, that in these later instances we may trace the effect of the Wahabee ascetic movement among the Mahomedan Arabs, identifying its rule with the old practice of the son of Rechab (Burckhardt: Bedouins and Wahabys, p. 283).
The words “stand before” have, however, in Hebrew a distinct secondary meaning. It was a definitely liturgical expression for the ministrations of the Levites who were chosen to “stand before” the Lord (Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 18:5; Deuteronomy 18:7), and a like meaning is prominent in Jeremiah 7:10; Jeremiah 15:19; Genesis 18:22; Judges 20:28; Psalm 134:1. The Targum of this passage, indeed, actually gives “ministering before me” as its paraphrase. The natural inference would be that the Rechabites were by these words admitted, in virtue of their Nazarite character, to serve as Levites in the Temple—to be, in fact, a higher class of Nethinim (see Notes on 1Chronicles 9:2; Ezra 2:43)—and this view is confirmed (1) by the fact that the LXX. ascribes Psalms 71 to “the sons of Jonadab, the first that were led captive;” (2) that a son of Rechab is associated in Nehemiah 3:14 with priests and Levites and nobles in repairing the walls of Jerusalem; (3) in 1Chronicles 2:55 the Rechabites have become scribes, and in the Vulgate (evidence of a Jewish tradition as to the meaning of the words), the proper names of the English version, “Tirathites, Shimeathites, and Sucathites,” which add nothing to our knowledge, are represented by “canentes et resonantes et in tabernaculis commorantes” (“singing, and playing instruments, and dwelling in tents”), which unite the functions of Levites with the mode of life of the Rechabites. So Hegesippus (as above) speaks of priests who were of the sons of Rechab in the Apostolic age.