“The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says this, Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me.”
In Jeremiah 35, Jeremiah is trying to warn the people of Israel to stop disobeying God and return to him as their leader and one true God. For hundreds of years leading up to this chapter, the Israelites had worshipped other Gods and ignored God and His principles. They were living the way they wanted to live, serving the gods they wanted to serve and turning a deaf ear to God’s warnings to them that consequences would follow if they didn’t change their hearts. Sounds like a lot of people in this world today, and if I’m honest, my own heart at times in some instructions from God.
Way back in Numbers 6, Jehonadab took a special vow of dedication to God. He and his family for the next three hundred years, abstained from wine, did not build houses or plant crops or vineyards. They lived in tents. God promised them that if they dedicated themselves to Him, they would live long, good lives in the land. And while I don’t know exactly how they supported and fed themselves, they kept true to their commitment to God and lived for three hundred plus years. I guess it might be debatable how large of a sacrifice living without wine for a lifetime actually is, but not being able to plant and grow food, and not being able to have a home is definitely a hardship and an unsettling way to live. The point is, the vow this family made to God was not simple or easy, and it wasn’t just for a short time. This vow was obeyed for lifetimes, generation after generation. So I have to ask myself, how do I measure up? Do I fall in the camp of the Recabites, (Jehonadab’s family) obedient to my commitments to God, or am I like the Israelites, living the way I want to live and not caring what God thinks?
As usual when we read about the Israelites turning their backs to God, it is easy to judge their wicked hearts and selfishness. It seems so glaringly obvious to us as we read through the Old Testament, how stupid the Israelites seem (Don’t they ever learn?) and how much they replaced God with other gods and idols. “Other gods and idols” seem ridiculous and irrelevant to us in this country and during this age, until we put our own version of “gods and idols” into the story. Our “other gods and idols” might be called, money, self promotion, power, travel, selfishness, homes, pride, electronics, accomplishments, a gluttonous desire for food and drink, our children’s achievements, a boss…the options are endless for what we can replace God with in our own lives. If I listed something that is a specific struggle for any of us, the Israelites look a bit less foolish, right? We are more like them than any of us wants to admit. It is easy to see the lesson and who God wants us to learn from in this chapter.
I can’t help but wonder, how did these people do it? How, for generation after generation did they refrain from wine, live in tents and never grow food to feed them selves? It seems impossible in the culture they lived in to have kept this vow. While the Bible tells us that the Recabites kept their vow to God for generations, we know that they were not perfect people. They certainly had sin in their lives, but they were faithful in their vow to God, which mandated the bulk of who they were. We don’t have other information that tells us what the rest of their lives looked like. Were they good husbands and wives, were they honest people, did they grumble and complain about their situations, did they get angry easily, were they proud because of the vow they took, did they envy others who lived differently, were they bitter inside because of their lifestyles?…the list goes on and on with possibility of what could have been in their hearts at certain times throughout their lives, but God still valued their vow/commitment and the fulfillment of that commitment. He valued it enough to have Jeremiah teach the Israelites and us what obedience looks like through the Recabites story. People are imperfect, but we can still be faithful to God and keep His commands. I think sometimes we get bogged down by the sin in our lives. We feel defeated when we see it and may be tempted to overlook all of the areas where we are being obedient, because of sin in another. We can learn from the Recabites that it is possible to be obedient to God while still missing His mark in other areas of our lives. So this morning, where do each of us land? How much of our lives are we willing to commit to God? What areas are we faithfully obeying like the Recabites, and what areas are we like the Israelites, turning away from God so we can live as we please?