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‘The, house of the Rechabites.’
Among the tribes that sought safety in Jerusalem one attracted universal notice. It was the family of the Rechabites, who had come to Jerusalem for shelter. They had never lodged within city walls before, for they were gipsies, and their dwellings were in tents, and we may be sure that only stern necessity could have driven them within the city gates. They were not Jews, though they dwelt among the Jews, for they came of a stock that was native to the land. They were not idolaters, either in name or practice, for they worshipped God and clung fast to His laws. Yet they stood apart, like men who had a tradition of their own, and who scorned to accommodate themselves, even in Jerusalem, to the common life and habits of the people. The founder of that strange tribe was Jonadab. Yet it was not from Jonadab they took their name, but from Jonadab’s father Rechab; it was he who gave the tribe its name of Rechabites, a title that is perpetuated to this day. It is notable that the word Rechab means a rider, a fitting title for a friend of Jehu’s. He may have won his name from the daring of his horsemanship, and may have commended himself to Jehu thus. But everything is so shadowy about Rechab, that some have even questioned his existence, and thought of Jonadab as the disciple of Elijah, who was ‘the chariot of Israel and the horseman thereof.’
I. Now, what was the distinguishing feature of this family?—It was their severe simplicity of life. They were the Protestants and Puritans of Palestine, in a time of moral corruption and decay. We hear a deal of the simple life to-day, and that was the life which was practised by the Rechabites. They were apostles of the simple life, but their simplicity was born of patriotism. A good deal of the present craze for the simple life is based on the desire for better health. But the severe simplicity of this old family was Puritanism of the noblest kind; the high reaction of reasonable men against that moral corruption which is death. They saw the havoc that luxury was making of a people who were in covenant with God. They saw how the showy life of the great city was sapping all that was deepest in the nation. And they saw what ruin was being wrought by drink, and how it was degrading men and women, and how from the highest circles to the lowest it was claiming its victims by the thousand. Against all this the Rechabites stood firm, protesting not in word, but by their lives. They lived in tents, in a life of simple hardihood; they built no houses and they sowed no seed. But, above all, they refused to touch strong drink, not just because of its peril to themselves, but because they recognised the blight it cast on all that was the fairest in the nation’s life. It was this that attracted Jeremiah’s notice, and led him to use this tribe to shame his people. How brave and true they were, these uncouth men—how staunch to their pledge, how incorruptible! If the prophet could but inspire his people with that spirit, and keep them true to covenant and pledge, he knew that the thunder-clouds that were now gathering would pass away before the breath of God.
II. The great lesson of the Rechabites for us is the patriotic bearings of our conduct.—Patriotism, like charity, begins at home, in the kind of life that we are leading there. It is not every one who can fight his country’s battles, or serve his land in the heroic way. It is not every one who is called upon by God to take an open part in public matters. But every one is summoned to be good, and to lead a life of purity and temperance, and he who faithfully does that is a better patriot than he imagines. It was Dr. Samuel Johnson who once said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. He meant that a man whose character is worthless may talk in swelling words about his country. A patriotism like that is but a sham: there is nothing moral at the back of it; it never brings into the nation’s treasury that quiet strength which is the truest wealth. That lesson the prophet sought to teach, when he made these Rechabites his acted parable. In the long run, it is not strength of arm that saves a nation from being cast away. It is the lives that are obedient to the highest; that are lived in a growing scorn of what is bestial; that in an age of luxury and licence have the courage to be temperate and pure.
‘Dr. Wolff met a tribe in Arabia who claimed to be Rechabites; and may we not infer that where there is a close adherence to great principles, there is also an element of persistence and permanence? Let us be as eager to please God and to do His will, as the Rechabites were in consulting the will and pleasure of their dead chieftain. The abstinent life is the strong, happy, and permanent one; and let us remember to dwell in tents because we look for the city ( Hebrews 11:9-13).’
INDIFFERENCE TO DIVINE APPEALS
‘Ye have not inclined your ear.’
There can be no more convincing proof of the power of sin to harden the heart than the indifference with which multitudes have always received the declarations of Divine wisdom and the appeals of Divine love. It was so in the remote days of Jeremiah, and it is so now.
I. The disobedience of Israel appeared aggravated when compared with the loyal obedience of the Rechabites.—These persons, constituting a sort of sect, were quoted by the prophet as an illustration of filial reverence and loyalty. They scrupulously kept the ordinances they had received from their forefather. Yet Israel was regardless of the voice of God!
II. The disobedience of Israel was shown by their contempt of God’s messengers, the prophets.—There is something very condescendingly human and touching in the representation of the Eternal as rising early, in His solicitude for the salvation of His people, and sending messenger after messenger to instruct and admonish them. Let it be remembered by the hearers of the Gospel, that He Who spake in times past by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son!
III. By their defiance of God’s just and asserted authority.—He spoke to Israel, and He speaks to us, as one Who has a right to reverent attention and cheerful obedience.
IV. By their disregard of God’s gracious promises.—His language was not simply language of authority and command, it was language of gracious assurance and promise. The guilt is aggravated, and the condemnation is the sorer, in the case of those who resist the mercy and despise the promises of heaven.
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Jeremiah 35". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19