Jeremiah 35 records a fascinating account of God’s dealings with the Rechabites and with Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Because the Rechabites’ abstention from drinking wine was a key reason for God’s blessing them, this post examines the issue of the relevance of this account for the contemporary debate among believers about the propriety of drinking alcohol.
Divine Initiative in Testing the Obedience of the Rechabites
God directed Jeremiah to bring the Rechabites into the house of the Lord and “give them wine to drink” (Jer. 35:1-2). Jeremiah obeyed and brought them all into a chamber of the sons of “a man of God” (Jer. 35:3-4).
He set before them a large quantity of wine and cups and told them, “Drink ye wine” (Jer. 35:5). They refused, saying that they would not drink any wine because “Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us saying, ‘Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your son for ever’” (Jer. 35:6).
They also spoke of the other things that he had commanded them to do that they might “live many days in the land where [they were] strangers” (Jer. 35:7). They then affirmed, “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 (Jer. 35:8).
They further related their total obedience to what their father had commanded them (Jer. 35:9-10) and how they now had come to dwell in Jerusalem (Jer. 35:11).
Divine Initiative in Rebuking Judah and the Inhabitants of Jerusalem Based on the Obedience of the Rechabites
Following the testing of the Rechabites, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to go to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and rebuke them (Jer. 35:13). Central in that rebuke was the Lord’s highlighting how the obedience of the Rechabites contrasted starkly with the disobedience of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem:
Jer 35:14 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.
Because of their disobedience and because of the shameful contrast between the Rechabites’ obedience of their father’s commands and Judah’s disobedience of the Lord’s commands, the Lord pronounced fierce judgment upon His people (Jer. 35:16-17).
Divine Pronouncement of Blessing on the Rechabites
After pronouncing the Lord’s upcoming judgment on Judah and all Jerusalem, Jeremiah declared the Lord’s blessing on the Rechabites:
Jer 35:18 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.
Because they had obeyed their father’s directives, God promised to bless the Rechabites forever! Thus, the Rechabites who had abstained perpetually from drinking wine because their father had commanded them to do so were greatly rewarded for their obedience.
Is This Account Relevant for the Contemporary Debate about Alcohol Consumption?
This account relates how a group of people perpetually obeyed directives given to them by their forefather for their good (Jer. 35:7). The passage provides no clear indication for the specifics of why he had commanded them to do so.
Furthermore, stylistically, although it does mention and reiterate that there were several commands that the Rechabites had obeyed, the account focuses special attention in at least two ways on the command for them to abstain from drinking wine. First, God specifically tests their obedience concerning only this command (Jer. 35:1-11). Second, God refers specifically only to this command when He rebukes His own people (Jer. 35:12-17).
These observations suggest to me that this account that records divine blessing for obeying parental admonition not to drink alcohol provides biblical justification for fathers today to direct their children authoritatively not to drink alcohol. Moreover, the account also provides justification for children to heed that admonition regardless of how much pressure they may get from others who tell them that their parents’ instruction to them is “legalistic,” contrary to “the gospel,” unbiblical, and does not need to be followed.
If your parents have instructed you to abstain from alcohol consumption, you will honor God and bring blessing on yourself by doing so. Doing so for your entire life, you will bring them joy in their old age by having treasured their instruction that will preserve you from ever suffering the great harm that alcohol consumption has brought to multitudes of families in human history.