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Rechabite

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[properly Re'chabite] (Heb. always in the plur. and with the art., ha- Rekabin', הָרֵכָבַים , a patrial from Rechab; Sept. Ἀρχαβείν, ῾Ραχαβείν, etc.), a tribe who appear only in one memorable scene of Scripture (Jeremiah 35:2-18). Their history before and after it lies in some obscurity. We are left to search out and combine some scattered notices, and to get from them what light we can.

I. In 1 Chronicles 2:55 the house of Rechab is identified with a section of the Kenites who came into Canaan with the Israelites and retained their nomadic habits, and the name of Hemath is mentioned as the patriarch of the whole tribe. (See HEMIATH); (See KENITE). It has been inferred from this passage that the descendants of Rechab belonged to a branch of the Kenites settled from the first at Jabez, in Judah. (See JEHONADAB). The fact, however, that Jehonadab took an active part in the revolution which placed Jehu on the throne seems to indicate that he and his tribe belonged to Israel rather than to Judah, and the late date of I Chronicles, taken together with other facts (infra), makes it more probable that this passage refers to the locality occupied by the Rechabites after their return from the captivity. In confirmation of this view, it may be noticed that the "shearing- house" of 2 Kings 10:14 was probably the known rendezvous of the nomad tribe of the Kenites with their flocks of sheep. (See SHEARING- HOUSE)

Of Rechab himself nothing is known. He may have been the father, he may have been the remote ancestor, of Jehonadab. The meaning of the word makes it probable enough that it was an epithet passing into a proper name. It may have pointed, as in the robber-chief of 2 Samuel 4:2, to a conspicuous form of the wild Bedouin life; and Jehonadab, the son of the Rider, may have been, in part at least, for that reason. the companion and friend of the fierce captain of Israel who drives as with the fury of madness (2 Kings 9:20). Another conjecture as to the meaning of the name is ingenious enough to merit a disinterment from the forgotten learning of the 16th century. Boulduc (De Ecclesiastes ante Leg. 3:10) infers from 2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 13:14, that the two great prophets Elijah and Elisha were known, each of them in his time, as the chariot (רֶכֶב, Re'keb) of Israel, i.e. its strength and protection. He infers from this that the special disciples of the prophets, who followed them in all their austerity, were known as the "sons of the chariot," Beze-Rekeb; and that afterwards, when the original meaning had been lost sight of, this was taken as a patronymic, and referred to an unknown Rechab. At present, of course, the different vowel- points of the two words are sufficiently distinctive; but the strange reading of the Sept. in Judges 1:19 (ὅτι ῾Ρηχὰβ διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς, where the A.V. has "because they had chariots of iron") shows that one word might easily enough be taken for the other. Apart from the evidence of the name and the obvious probability of the fact, we'have the statement (quantum valeat) of John of Jerusalem that Jehonadab was a disciple of Elisha (De Instit. Monach. c. 25).

II. The personal history of Jehonadab has been dealt with under that name. Here we have to notice the new character which he impressed on the tribe of which he was the head. As his name, his descent, and the part which he played indicate, he and his people had all along been worshippers of Jehovah, circumcised, and so within the covenant of Abraham, though not reckoned as belonging to Israel, and probably therefore not considering themselves bound by the Mosaic law and ritual. The worship of Baal introduced by Jezebel and Ahab was accordingly not less offensive to them than to the Israelites. The luxury and license of Phoenician cities threatened the destruction of the simplicity of their nomadic life (Amos 2:7-8; Amos 6:3-6). A protest was needed against both evils, and, as in the case of Elijah, and of the Nazarites of Amos 2:11, it took the form of asceticism. There was to be a more rigid adherence than ever to the old Arab life. What had been a traditional habit was enforced by a solemn command from the sheikh and prophet of the tribe, the destroyer of idolatry, which no one dared to transgress. They were to drink no wine, nor build house, nor sow seed. nor plant vineyard, nor have any. All their days they were to dwell in tents, as remembering that they were strangers in the land (Jeremiah 35:6-7). This was to be the condition of their retaining a distinct tribal existence. For two centuries and a half they adhered faithfully to this rule; but we have no record of any part taken by them in the history of the period. We may think of them as presenting the same picture mwhich other tribes, uniting the nomad life with religious austerity, have presented in later periods.

The Nabathbeans, of whom Diodorus Siculus speaks (19, 94) as neither sowing seed, nor planting fruit-tree, nor using nor building house, and enforcing these transmitted customs under pain of death, give us one striking instance. The fact that the Nabathueans habituallv drank "wild honey" (μέλι ἄγριον ) mixed with water (Diod. Sic. 19:94), and that the Bedouin as habitually still make locutsts an article of food (Burckhardt, Bedouins, p. 270), shows very strongly that the Baptist's life was fashioned after the Rechabitish as well as the Nazaritish type. Another is found in the prohibition of wine by Mohammed (Sale, Koran, Prelim. Diss. § 5). A yet more interesting parallel is found in the rapid growth of the sect of the Wahabis during the last and present century. Abd-ul-Wahab, from whom the sect takes its name, reproduces the old type of character in all its completeness. Anxious to protect his countrymen from the revolting vices of the Turks, as Jelonnadab had been to protect the Kenites from the like vices of the Phoenicians, the Bedouin reformer felt the necessity of returning to the old austerity of Arab life. What wine had been to the earlier preacher of righteousness, the outward sign and incentive of a fatal corruption, opium and tobacco were to the later prophet, and, as such, were rigidly proscribed. The rapidity wmith which the Wahabis became a formidable party, the Puritans of Islam, presents a striking analogy to the strong political influence of Jehonadab in 2 Kings 10:15; 2 Kings 10:23 (comp. Burckhardt, Bedouins and Wahabis, p. 283, etc.).

III. The invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in B.C. 607 drove the Rechabites from their tents. Possibly some of the previous periods of danger may have led to their settling within the limits of the territory of Judah. Some inferences may be safely drawn from the facts of Jeremiah 35. The names of the Rechabites show that they continued to be worshippers of Jehovah. They are already known to the prophet. One of them (Jeremiah 35:3) bears the same name. Their rigid Nazaritish life gained for them admission into the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers assigned to priests and Levites, within its precincts. They were received by the sons or followers of a "man of God," a prophet or devotee, of special sanctity (Jeremiah 35:4). Here they are tempted, and are proof against the temptation, and their steadfastness is turned into a reproof for the unfaithfuilness of Judah and Jerusalem. (See JEREMIAH).

The history of this trial ends with a special blessing, the full import of which has, for the most part, not been adequately apprehended: "Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall not want a man to stand before me forever" (Jeremiah 35:19). Whether we look on this as the utterance of a true prophet, or as a vaticinium e e ventu, we should hardly expect at this precise point to lose sight altogether of those of whom it was spoken, even if the words pointed only to the perpetuation of the name and tribe. They have, however, a higher meaning. The words "to stand before me" (עֹמֵד לַפָנִי ) are essentially liturgical. The tribe of Levi is chosen to "stand before" the Lord (Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 18:5; Deuteronomy 18:7). In Genesis 18:22; Judges 20:28; Psalms 134:1; Jeremiah 15:19, the liturgical meaning is equally prominent and unmistakable (comp. Gesenius. Thesaur. s.v.; Grotius, ad loc.). The fact that this meaning is given ("ministering before me") in the Targuin of Jonathan is evidence (1) as to the received meaning of the phrase; (2) that this rendering did not shock the feelings of studious and devout rabbins in our Lord's time; (3) that it was at least probable that there existed representatives of the Rechabites connected with the Temple services in the time of Jonathan. This, then, may possibly have been the extent of the new blessing. The Rechabites were solemnly adopted into the families of Israel, and were recognised as incorporated into the tribe of Levi. Their purity, their faithfulness, their consecrated life, gained for them, as it gained for other Nazarites, that honor. (See PRIEST, HEBREW). In Lamentations 4:7 we may perhaps trace a reference to the Rechabites, who had been the most conspicuous examples of the Nazaritish life in the prophet's time, and most the object of his admiration.

It may be worth while to refer to a few authorities agreeing in the general interpretation here given, though differing as to details. Vatablus (Crit. Sac. ad loc.) mentions a Jewish tradition (R. Judah, as cited by Kimchi; comp. Scaliger, Elench. Trihaeres. Serrar. p. 26) that the daughters of the Rechabites married Levites, and that thus their children came to minister in the Temple. Clarius (ibid.) conjectures that the Rechabites themselves were chosen to sit in the great council. Sanctius and Calmet suppose them to have ministered in the same way as the Nethinim (Calmet, Diss. sur les Rechab. 1726). Serrarius (Trihaeres.) identifies them with the Essenes; Scaliger (loc. cit.) with the Chasidim, in ihose name the priests offered special daily sacrifices, and who, in this way, were "standing before the Lord" continually.

IV. It remains for us to see whether there are any traces of their after- history in the Biblical or later writers. It is believed that there are such traces, and that they confirm the statements made in the previous paragraph.

1. We have the singular heading of Psalms 71 in the Sept. version (τῷ Δανίδ, υἱῶν Ι᾿ωναδάβ, καὶ τῶν πρώτων αἰχμαλωτισθέντων ), which, however, is evidence merely of a tradition in the 3d century B.C. indicating that the "sons of Jonadab" shared the captivity of Israel, and took their place among the Levitical psalmists who gave expression to the sorrows of the people. The psalm itself belongs to David's time. (See PSALMS).

2. There is the significant mention of a son of Rechab in Nehemiah 3:14 as co-operating with the priests, Levites, and princes in the restoration of the wall of Jerusalem.

3. The mention of the house of Rechab in 1 Chronicles 2:55, though not without difficulty, points, there can be little, doubt, to the same conclusion. The Rechabites have become scribes (סוֹפְרַים, sopherimn). They give themselves to a calling which, at the time of the return from Babylon, was chiefly, if not exclusively, in the hands of Levites. The other names (Tirathites, Shimeathites, and Suchathites in the A.V.) seem to add nothing to our knowledge. The Vulg. rendering, however (evidence of a traditional Jewish interpretation in the time of Jerome), gives a translation based on etymologies, more or less accurate, of the proper names, which strikingly confirms the view now taken: "Cognationes quoque Scribarum habitantium in Jabes, canentes atque resonantes, et in tabernaculis commorantes." Thus interpreted, the passage points to a resumption of the outward form of their old life and its union with their new functions. The etymologies on which this version rests are, it must be confessed, very doubtful. Scaliger (Elench. Tihcer. Serrar. c. 23) rejects them with scorn. Pellican and Calmet, on the other hand, defend the Vulg. rendering, and Gill (ad loc.) does not dispute it. Most modern interpreters follow the A.V. in taking the words as proper names. It deserves notice also that while in 1 Chronicles 2:54-55 the Rechabites and Netophathites are mentioned in close connection, the "sons of the singers" in Nehemiah 12:28 appear as coming in large numbers from the villages of the same Netophathites. The close juxtaposition of the Rechabites with the descendants of David in 1 Chronicles 3:1 shows also in how honorable an esteem they were held at the time wmhen that book was compiled.

4. The account of the martyrdom of James the Just given by Hegesippus (Euseb. H.E. ii; 23) brings the name of the Rechabites once more before us, and in a very strange connection. While the scribes and Pharisees were stoning him, "one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of Rechabim, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet," cried out, protesting against the crime. Stanley (Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age, p. 333), struck with the seeming anomaly of a priest, "not only not of Levitical, but not even of Jewish descent," supposes the name to have been used loosely as indicating the abstemious life of James and other Nazarites, and points to the fact that Epiphanius (Haer. 78:14) ascribes to Simeon, the brother of James, the words which Hegesippus puts into the mouth of the Rechabite, as a proof that it denoted merely the Nazaritish form of life. Calmet (loc. cit.) supposes the man to have been one of the Rechabite Nethinim, whom the informant of Hegesippus took, in his ignorance, for a priest. The view which has been here talken presents, it is believed, a more satisfactory solution. It was hardly possible that a writer like Hegesippus, living at a time when the details of the Temple services were fresh in the memories of men, should have thus spoken of the Rechabim unless there had been a body of men to whom the name was commonly applied. He uses it as a man would do to whom it was familiar, without being struck by any apparent or real anomaly. The Targum of Jonathan on Jeremiah 35:19 indicates, as has been noticed, the same fact. We may accept Hegesippus therefore as an additional witness to the existence of the Rechabites as a recognised body up to the destruction of Jerusalem, sharing in the ritual of the Temple, partly descended from the old "sons of Jonadab," partly recruited by the incorporation into their rankls of men devoting themselves, as did James and Simeon, to the same consecrated life. The form of austere holiness presented in the life of Jonadab, and the blessing pronounced on his descendants, found their highest representatives in the two brothers of the Lord.

5. Some later notices are not without interest. Benjamin of Tudela, in the 12th century (ed. Asher, 1840, i, 112-114), mentions that near El Jubar (=Pumbeditha) he found Jews who were named Rechabites. They tilled the ground, kept flocks and herds, abstained from wine and flesh, and gave tithes to teachers who devoted themselves to studying the law and weeping for Jerusalem. They were 100,000 in number, and were governed by a prince, Salomon han-Nasi, who traced his genealogy up to the house of David, and ruled over the city of Thema and Telmas. A later traveller, Dr. Wolff, gives a yet stranger and more detailed report. The Jews of Jerusalem and Yemen told him that he would find the Rechabites of Jeremiah 35 living near Mecca (Journal, 1829, ii, 334). When he came near Senaa he came in contact with a tribe, the Beni-Khaibr, who identified themselves with the sons of Jonadab. With one of them, Musa,Wolff conversed, and he reports the dialogue as follows: "I asked him,' Whose descendants are you?' Musa answered, Come, and I will show you,' and read from an Arabic Bible the words of Jeremiah 35:5-11. He then went on. Come, and you will find us 60,000 in number. You see the words of the prophet have been fulfilled: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me forever'" (ibid. p. 335). In a later journal (ibid. 1839, p. 389) he mentions a second interview with Musa, describes them as keeping strictly to the old rule, calls them now by the name of the Beni- Arhad, and says that Beni-Israel of the tribe of Dan live with them. A paper On Recent Notices of the Rechabites, by Signor Pierotti, was read at the Cambridge meeting of the British Association (October, 1862). He met with a tribe calling themselves by that name near the Dead Sea, about two miles south-east from it. They had a Hebrew Bible, and said their prayers at the tomb of a Jewish rabbi. They toldl him precisely the same stories as had been told to Wolff thirty years before. The details, however, whether correct or not, apply to Talnudical Jews more than to Rechabites. They are described as living in caverns and low houses, not in tents-and this in Arabia, where Bedouin habits would cease to be singular; nor are any of the Rechabite rules observable in them except that of refraining from wine an abstinence which ceases to be remarkable in Arabia, where no one drinks wine, and where, among the strongholds of Islam, it could probably not be obtained without danger and difficulty. There were large numbers of Talmudical Jews in Arabia in the time of Mohammed, and these supposed Rechabites are probably descended from a body of them. See Witsius. Dissert. de Rechabitis, in Miscell. Sacra, ii, 176 sq.; Carpzov, Apparat. p. 148; Calmet, Dissert. sur les Rechabites, in Commentaire Litterai, 6:18- 21. For the modlern temporance organization by this name, (See TEMPERANCE).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Rechabite'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/r/rechabite.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Rechab