Today: [Jeremiah 35] When Should We Disobey the Prophets? In this chapter God sends Jeremiah to a family of nomads and commands them to disobey a covenant not to drink wine. In reality God was not testing this family, but rather demonstrating how faithful they were to the commands of their patriarch. The question comes, however are we to blindly obey outside authority? Does obedience to a pastor or leader take precedence over what we may feel the voice of God is telling us to do in a given situation? Where does the blessing of God lie, when we obey delegated authority, or when we follow what we feel God is saying within our own hearts as best we can? A challenging and controversial subject in our chapter today to be sure.
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[Jer 35:1-19 KJV] 1 The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying, 2 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. 3 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; 4 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: 5 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. 6 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: 7 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. 8 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; 9 Nor to build houses for us to dwell in: neither have we vineyard, nor field, nor seed: 10 But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us. 11 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.
This chapter of the book of Jeremiah marks the end of the first division of the book of Jeremiah. The first section (chapter 1) covers the call of Jeremiah to the office of a prophet. Then chapters 2 – 35 which we conclude today addresses warnings and exhortations to the southern kingdom. The remainder of the book recounts Jeremiah’s suffering, persecution and the ultimate fall of the nation of Judah itself. In terms of a timeline these events are taking place about 590 years before the birth of Jesus and therefore fall 200 years before the intertestamental period between Malachi and Matthew.
The events of this chapter are a digression to an earlier king before Zedekiah by the name of Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was the third king before the final ruler of Judah and a son of Josiah. He only reigned 11 years before dying by the hands of his own subjects. This was a time that the threat of Babylon was casting its shadow over the land. Because of this there was a family referred to as Rechabites who moved within the walls of the city of Jerusalem for safety. This was of note because the patriarch of the Rechabites had sworn an oath that his family would never dwell within city walls nor would they drink wine. The Rechabites, for their own safety temporarily suspended their nomadic lifestyle in the interests of safety and to test them God sent Jeremiah to their elders to command them therefore to violate the remaining edict not to partake of the fruit of the vine. What this initially looks like is a challenge by God over this family regarding their commitment to the commandment of their father. In reality however it was intended not to question the faithfulness of the Rechabites but to demonstrate it.
Jeremiah goes to the house of the Rechabites, within the city walls and sets out wine for them to drink. They have tacitly violated one command of their father not to dwell in city walls and now Jeremiah is challenging them to go one step further and drink wine, thus abandoning altogether what their patriarch had commanded them decades before. Now the question before us is, do we listen to God or do we listen to the prophets? When a prophet prophesies to us we do not expect to be told to do something that God does not want but are we not to listen to the prophets no matter what? The demonstrated truth of this chapter is this – you listen to Father God above the voice of the prophets. The voice of God in your life takes precedence over any outward authority. That includes the church, a pastor, a prophet or other delegated authority.
Now what are the implications of this? Does not your pastor know more about what God wants for you than you do? Not necessarily. You see Jesus said the following in the gospel of John:
[Jhn 10:27 KJV] 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
Notice that the sheep hear JESUS’ voice and follow him. What about following leadership? Paul clarifies this thought in the following verse:
[1Co 11:1 KJV] 1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also [am] of Christ.
This is more than a general principle. We can see from the case of the Rechabites that this mandate is not just a general moral principle but rather a very specific directive to every believer. Christ in you is your Father, Christ in anyone else is just your brother. You are to love your brother but follow your Father in all things. Of course that begs the question that you are therefore obligated as a believer to cultivate your own capacity to hear God for yourself and not just leave it to others to hear from God for you.
12 Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying, 13 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. 14 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. 15 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. 16 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: 17 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. 18 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: 19 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.
Remember that in the context of the chapter Jeremiah is actually not testing the Rechabites, he is seeking rather to demonstrate what God already knew – the Rechabites would obey their father patriarch’s mandate. The decision to dwell within Jerusalem’s walls was temporary only and not an actual abandonment of the decree of their founding leader. Thus God speaks through Jeremiah to the people of Judah questioning why it was that this small, nomadic group was faithful to their father but this entire nation was not faithful to God Himself? The Rechabites of necessity temporarily made a decision to live within city walls but for 100’s of years the children of Judah out of their own perceived expediency had abandoned God’s will altogether.
This is a very nuanced matter and implies eventualities that must be carefully considered. The Rechabite patriarch had commanded them not to live within city walls but here they are within the walls of Jerusalem. God does not rebuke them for doing so – temporarily. If we were to interpret this from a fundamentalist perspective we might have suggested that the Rechabites remain outside the city walls even if it meant the destruction of their family altogether at the hands of the Babylonians. After all, isn’t this what God commanded? Or was it? What is God after? Is He after unquestioned, inflexible compliance to the very last demand of the law no matter what? Many would say yes, but what about David and the showbread? When David fled from Saul, he asked the high priest for the holy bread that was only for the priesthood and was blameless before God when he ate. Jesus cited this instance when the Pharisees questioned his disciples about hand washing and gleaning wheat for food on the Sabbath. It is easy to condemn someone for their actions from an outside perspective, but we would do well to remember the case of the Rechabites and David’s instance of the showbread before we start pointing fingers and accusing others of violating commands that we ourselves consider ourselves exempt from.
Because the Rechabites refused to take wine God promises that their family would be established and that there would not fail a man to stand before Him forever. In this we can judge righteous judgment. We might conclude the Rechabites were in disobedience but as Paul says, who are we to judge another man’s servant? To his own Master he stands or falls, but what we really need to do is measure our own faithfulness, and see if we like the children of Judah have used expediency to eliminate the need to obey God altogether. The overarching lesson as well is, that the voice of God takes precedence over every outside authority, therefore it is incumbent upon us, and every believer that we hear God for ourselves.
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