The Rechabites

By Mark Morgan | Jeremiah

May 11
The Rechabites:

The Rechabites

In the book of Jeremiah, God uses a family called the Rechabites as a parable to teach a lesson about faithfulness.

This story is told in the micro-tale “Have a Drink” which is included in Fiction Favours the Facts – Book 2, and was included in the Bible Tales newsletter back on 22 September 2017. Otherwise, you can read the true story in Jeremiah 35.

God tells Jeremiah to arrange for the family of the Rechabites to come to the temple, but not to tell them why they have been called. When the family is assembled, Jeremiah offers them jugs full of wine and cups to drink from.

It sounds like a generous offer, but this was not an ordinary family.

They refused the prophet’s offer.

I don’t want to spoil the story by revealing all of the plot, but the family considered itself bound by an instruction from one of their ancestors – Jonadab the son of Rechab.

God wanted to teach a lesson about his desire for faithfulness, and this is still an important lesson for us today. Why not read the chapter from Jeremiah or the micro-tale so that you can see the background clearly?

In this article, we are looking at the background of this family to see what we can find out about them from the Bible.

Rechab is not a very common name in the Bible and only occurs in the Old Testament. In fact, there are probably only three people with that name:

  • 2 Samuel 4:2, 5, 6, 9: A captain who helped to assassinate Ishbosheth the son of Saul in about 1,010BC was called Rechab
  • 2 Kings 10:15, 23: A friend of King Jehu in about 840BC was called Jehonadab (a variant of Jonadab) the son of Rechab. See also Jeremiah 35:6, 8, 14, 16, 19, which names Jonadab the son of Rechab as an ancestor of the Rechabites.
  • Nehemiah 3:14: A ruler of the district of Beth-Haccherem was called Malchijah, the son of Rechab; he rebuilt the Dung Gate in about 440BC

The second Rechab mentioned above was the father of a man called Jonadab (or Jehonadab) who made some unusual rules for his family that were still being obeyed more than 200 years later in the time of Jeremiah. Just imagine if your ancestor had laid down rules for all of his descendants in about 1800: would you still be following his rules now?

God uses this example of faithfulness to emphasise that some people will be faithful even to a man’s commands and that God is pleased with this. How much more does he expect us to keep his rules now, even if they seem out of date or old fashioned. God said that he would bless the Rechabites for their faithfulness and that the rest of the nation should learn to show that sort of faithfulness to their God.

What do you think he expects of us today?

The House of the Rechabites

There is another interesting angle to consider when we look at the Rechabites.

There are two chapters in which we read of the House of the Rechabites. In both cases this means the family of the Rechabites rather than a building. The passages are:

  • 1 Chronicles 2:55
  • Jeremiah 35:2, 3, 5, 18

The time of Jeremiah is easy to identify, and at that time, the family was living in Jerusalem because of the danger of the Babylonian invasion. However, there is no way to tell what time period the verse in 1 Chronicles 2 is connected to – the time periods referred to in the first part of Chronicles spread over thousands of years. The context of the verse might suggest a time during the period the judges, before the monarchy began.

So are these two passages referring to the same family of Rechabites? The answer is that we simply don’t know.

If we look at the family referred to in 1 Chronicles 2, we see that they are descended from Kenites and are scribes. The Kenites are described as living in a part of Judah,[1] which would seem to fit with the context of 1 Chronicles 2.[2]

These Kenites were not Israelites: they were descendants of Moses’ father-in-law who came from Midian, but some of them went with the Israelites when they conquered the land of Canaan. A prophet called Balaam prophesied against them and said that they would be taken into captivity by the Assyrians,[3] which did not happen to the Rechabites we read of in Jeremiah because they were still living in Jerusalem after the Assyrian empire had collapsed.

In fact, there may have been more than one nation or family of Kenites. Abraham was promised the land of the Kenites[4] and Balaam was later able to look on their settlements and curse them. Yet some Kenites went into the land of Canaan with the Israelites and settled in the south in an area that would probably be quite close to the land of the Kenites referred to in Genesis. Maybe they were a subset of the original Kenites or maybe they were a separate family of the same name. After all, repeated names are not uncommon: the surname Morgan is most common in Wales, but there are families of Morgans all over the world.

Likewise with the Rechabites, there may well have been more than one family of Rechabites. Jonadab the father of Rechab lived in the north but his descendants were not taken away by the Assyrians; they were still around to move to Jerusalem to avoid the invading army of Babylon.

Were the Rechabites descended from non-Israelite Kenites who had joined themselves to Israel and worshipped Israel’s God? The names match, but I think there is still uncertainty because they were not carried away by the Assyrians.

Jonadab the son of Rechab forbade his descendants from living in houses and towns, so they would not have worked as scribes living in a town. They only entered Jerusalem because of the danger of a marauding army. Yet they were also forbidden from sowing seed and having vineyards, so the job of a scribe would have been one of the jobs they could actually have done while still obeying their ancestor.

Conclusions

After looking at all the details of Rechab, Rechabites, Kenites and so on, my conclusion is that the Rechabites referred to in 1 Chronicles 2:55 are probably not the same Rechabites as those referred to in Jeremiah 35. But this cannot be proved, and the strength of my conviction in this is not great.

Sometimes, our investigations can be fascinating, but don’t come up with clear-cut answers.


Notes

1. Judges 1:16.

2. Judges 4 tells us that Heber the Kenite separated his family from the rest of the clan and moved into the north of Israel. His wife Jael became famous for using a tent peg to kill Sisera, the general of a Canaanite king who lived in Hazor.

3. This prophecy is in Numbers 24:21-22. Interestingly, Heber the Kenite (the husband of Jael) moved north to a place near Kedesh (Judges 4:11) and hundreds of years later we are told in 2 Kings 15:29 that the Assyrians invaded and took away to Assyria people from the north of Israel – including those from Kedesh. Were Heber’s Kenite descendants still there at that time and was this the fulfilment of Balaam’s prophecy?

4. Genesis 15:19.

 

 

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This article is one of a series of articles on Jeremiah published as back-up material for the Bible-based fiction series Terror on Every Side!
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