The Rechabites

Ryan Goodwin




          The Rechabites. If we determined the insignificance of characters in the Bible based on how much is written of them, the Rechabites would be, perhaps, some of the least noteworthy people in the history of the Israelites. Most students of the Bible have never even heard of the Rechabites, let alone devoted an entire sermon to a discussion of their significance. I propose to do just that, though. Because, as we all know, significance of a Biblical character is not determined by text space. Even some of the most minor roles in the Old Testament can contain gems of wisdom that are more than worthy of Christian application. 

          Before the application, I want to introduce you to a brief of history of this small sect of Israelites.

          The Rechabites were, supposedly, the descendents of a man name Rechab who was of the line of the Kenites. The Kenites were one of the groups of people who joined the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt. It is possible that these Kenites were of the household of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who joined the Israelites in Numbers 10:29-32

          The connection is derived, primarily, from the account of the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 2:55, which says, “And the families of the scribes who lived at Jabez were the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites. Those are the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab.” 

          The Rechabites remained a distinctive people from the rest of the Israelite culture after the conquest of Canaan. While most of the settlers acquired property and built houses on the land, the Rechabites remained semi-nomadic, never owning land or constructing permanent dwellings. Some historians believe this was because they appreciated and enjoyed the simple way of life that was found in their nomadic heritage. Consider the benefits; they could easily move from place to place as the need dictated; they had no property save their animals and clothes, so there enemies were few and far between; each family had the same as the next the family and had no reason to covet the other’s belongings. But more than anything else, they strongly held the belief that city-dwelling and land ownership was the death of liberty – one became tied and burdened by his own luxuries.

          As the generations passed, the Rechabites remained completely faithful to this tenant, as well as another vow. They drank no wine, nor did they ever eat from the produce of a vineyard. They considered drunkenness to be the end of life and happiness, so they rejected alcohol to the furthest extreme, allowing not even a drop of alcoholic substance to reach the tongue.

          One of the most important figures in Rechabite history was Jehonadab, who helped Jehu in his bloody revolt against the evil King Joram of the Northern Kingdom. We find in 2 Kings 10:15-23. Jehonadab joins Jehu on his chariot and helps his cleanse Israel from its sinful leaders, the entire household of Omri.

          Rechabite history continued into the time of Jeremiah and we find a special meeting between the Prophet and all the household of Rechab. With the armies of Nebuchadnezzar approaching the villages of Judah, the Rechabites sought refuge behind the walls of Jerusalem.

          This is the point at which I want to pick up the account of these supposedly insignificant people. It is a common mistake for Christians to discount the importance and value of many of these forgotten Old Testament stories. The names are a little harder to say, the text is usually long and detailed and a little dry, it is, put simply, hard to care about some of the Old Testament characters. But, as Paul puts it in Romans 15:4, “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction. . .” So we have to assume that there is something beneficial hiding in every chapter, in every verse even, of the Scriptures. I hope that you will find a study of the Rechabites as valuable as God intended it to be.


The Testing of the Rechabites

Jeremiah 35:4-10


          We find in the text that Jeremiah was asked by God to test the Rechabites in their obedience to the three simple precepts by which they lived. How would they respond to the temptation and allure of wine? How would they respond to the worldliness and infidelity of the city of Jerusalem? It is certainly not that the opportunity was not there before them! And it is not as if the Rechabites had a much better place to hide from the destruction of the Chaldean army.

          The same is true today of our temptations. The opportunity is always there, no matter how far we run and flee from sin, it always follows us. Sin is like those jars of wine in front of the sons of Rechab. It is overflowing, tempting, tantalizing, and there is always more than enough of it to go around for everybody! And, like these people in their distress at the hands of an invading army, we often turn to sin for the answers. We think that alcohol will make our problems disappear. We think that pornography will help us lead a fulfilling life. We think that murder will give us what we want. We see sin and lust and all that is of the devil as the redemption, the liberator from our troubles! Peter speaks of people like this in 2 Peter 2:19. “Promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” Indeed, sin is not the answer. It is the problem. As Jeremiah puts it, “They have wearied themselves committing iniquity” (Jeremiah 9:5).

The Rechabites could have easily seen their desperate situation and given up hope and made alcoholism their escape. But they knew better. They knew, unlike the rest of the people of Judah, that faith and hope would keep them alive, and obedience to the precepts of their forefathers would leave them with a posterity.

          With a clear mind and a pure conscience, they considered the three precepts of their Rechabite heritage and understood that life was better when they acted faithfully. Let us consider their tenants as well.

       First, they vowed to never drink wine. Why? Because abstinence of such substances was beneficial to them. Adam Clarke writes in his commentary, “Ye shall preserve your bodies in temperance, shall use nothing that would deprive you of the exercise of your sober reason at any time; lest in such a time ye should do what might be prejudicial to yourselves, injurious to your neighbor, or dishonorable to your God” (Clarke’s Commentary On the Old Testament). The New Testament scriptures teach the same principle. Paul states in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

          Second, the Rechabites never built permanent houses for themselves. This allowed them to remain free from the wanton pursuit of wealth. Without that motivation, they desired to live in harmony and friendship, peacefully pursuing quiet, simple lives. They had no worldly possessions to distract them from the ultimate pursuit of God and righteousness.

          Finally, they chose to never own land, but to be nomadic and dwell in tents all the days of their lives, from generation to generation. This they did to help remind them of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who also went about through their lives as wanderers and strangers in a foreign land. “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise” (Hebrews 12:8-9). With the constant reminder of this kind of life, it helped these people keep their focus on their eternal home, and not their temporal, physical homes.

          With these three regulations, the Rechabites maintained their course and kept their vows always. And when the time came to be tested by God through Jeremiah, they were so accustomed to and in favor of their faithful lifestyle that the alluring temptations of sin had little effect on them.

          There is a great lesson to be learned by the pious lifestyle of this small band of Israelites. Turn to Deuteronomy 10:12-13. “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” Notice the phrase “for your good” – God created and established His covenant with Israel for it sown good! That is amazing! All of the commands in the Bible are not meant to hurt us, nor are they meant as a some mean prank pulled by God. The Lord does not tell us what to do because He hates us, rather He tells us what to do for our own good! Notice also the words in Micah 6:8, and 1 Timothy 1:5,8. When we follow the Bible, it makes our lives better. It makes our marriages better. It makes our kids better. It makes our governments better. It makes everything better!

          The Rechabites knew this and believed it wholeheartedly. Why else would they have rejected the sin of drunkenness to such an extreme? Alcohol only leads to pain and suffering. The anguish of a hangover. The numbing effects on the brain. The foolishness of the babbling. It is just better for a man to avoid alcohol altogether than to push the limits and test the stormy waters of alcoholism.


The Significance of the Rechabites

Jeremiah 35:12-16


          All of the lesson so far may lead you to question the importance of the subject matter. After all, the Rechabites are only very minor players in the grand scheme of the Bible. But I hope that you will bear with me while I explain the significance of this story. Let us continue in the text and see what the Rechabites meant to Judah.

          God ultimately uses these people as an example of faithfulness, in stark contrast to the faithlessness of His people living in Judah and Jerusalem. For centuries, God had spoken both directly and indirectly to His people. He had led them from a land of slavery and punishment in Egypt through the desert for forty years and into a place of fertile soil and peace. He had been their defender and their advocate when it came to enemies. He had provided for them a Law of immense wisdom of practicality for daily living. He had instructed them and loved them, cared for them and taught them the ways of righteousness. He had provided prophets, kings, priests, messengers, and great heroes. His word was with them always. Yet they rebelled time and time again. Through all that God had done for them, even with every message from the mouths of countless faithful prophets, they still rejected His word. From generation to generation He had spoken to them and told them what to do! And they still rebelled!

          Yet the Rechabites had heard only three small commands from a single human ancestor, long since dead and silenced in the grave, and they never disobeyed, man, woman, or child.

          How can it be that those people who had only a dead ancestor to lead them showed more faith and obedience than those people with the true, living, mighty God who had never ceased to talk to them?

          And perhaps we, too, can learn a lesson from this. We have the completed Bible sitting right in front of us, with tens of millions of Bibles around the world, in almost every language, on every continent except Antarctica. And yet so few people take the time to read it. Like the people of Judah, we sometimes take for granted the availability of the Word of God. It is always there, and it will always be there, no doubt about it!

          But consider how different the religious world would be if I had the last Bible on the planet. If I was the only person who owned a Bible there would be people lining up to hear me speak its written words! So, too, the people of Judah had God right there, speaking through Jeremiah and Uriah and Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Just as God says, “I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not listened to Me” (Jeremiah 35:14).

          The point is that we must always cherish the Word that we have, as these Rechabites did. They had very little in the way of instruction, and even that was only the words of a long-deceased ancestor. But they took what they had and obeyed it diligently. We, brethren, have the Word of God, which is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Why would anybody waste that opportunity? Brethren, why would we take that for granted, knowing that even the “angels long to look” into this Gospel of ours (1 Peter 1:12).

          What a lesson of faithfulness we can learn from these Rechabites!


The Reward of the Rechabites

Jeremiah 35:18-19


          Continue reading through the end of the chapter and see what God has to say about the attitude of the Rechabites. For being obedient to only three simple laws, and by keeping themselves peaceful and unspotted, He promises that their descendents will always continue.

          It is fascinating to note what happens to these people as Israelite history continues. We know for a fact that God keeps His promises about all things (Isaiah 55:11, “So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it”), and God has, indeed, promised them a lineage, both physically and spiritually.

          In the physical sense, the descendents of Jehonadab were one of the families to return to Jerusalem after the exile at the hands of the Chaldeans. We find in Nehemiah 3:14 that one of the members of the house of Rechab returned with the rest of the people of Judah and helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem.

          In the spiritual sense, God promises that the people of Rechab will never lack a person of their noble character to stand before God. That is, in the present age, Christians are the modern-day Rechabites. Consider the similarities; we, too, are like strangers in a foreign land, never holding onto this physical world more tightly than is necessary. We abstain from the common sins and habits of our worldly neighbors, like alcohol, and we are trying to practice Christianity in the same way that our first century forefathers practiced it, in the same manner that the Rechabites tried diligently to live like Abraham.

          Beyond that, there is the theory that the physical descendents of the Rechabites were the Essenes of our Lord’s time (Clarke’s Commentary On the Old Testament). The Essenes were a strict and conservative sect of Jews, even more so than the Pharisees, who practiced the Law with all their hearts and souls. In many places in the first-century, it was the Essene Jews who were the first to be converted to Christianity. So, in the form of the Essenes, the Rechabites are both physically and spiritually alive – God kept His promise to them!

          Perhaps it is your desire to have the same kind of posterity and hope that these Rechabites had. Imagine their situation. They had only tried to live as peacefully and faithfully as possible, yet they saw on the horizon the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar. Instead of losing faith and confidence when they were tested, they remained strong and kept to the precepts of their forefathers. And for this righteousness, God rewarded them with a Promise that is fulfilled in the life of Christians today. We are Rechabites, my brethren!

          But we can only say that we are like them if we, too, show the same obedience that they did. We have the Bible before us today, with all of God’s revealed word contained therein. If we neglect so great a salvation, then what fools we are!

          Within this Word is found all the keys to eternal life. We must hear the Gospel and believe it with all our hearts (Romans 10:17). We must confess that belief before God and our fellow man (“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” Romans 10:9-10). But it must be an obedient faith that we have, for we must repent of our sins. John says in John 3:8 that we must “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance.” Finally, we must be baptized for the remission of our sins (“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” Mark 16:16).

          If you want to show God your faithfulness and obedience like the Rechabites, than obey the invitation now.