Why Can’t You Do What I Say?

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem, ‘Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?’ declares the LORD. ‘Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me. Again and again I sent all my servants the prophets to you. They said, “Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your fathers.” But you have not paid attention or listened to me. The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me.’

“Therefore, this is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.’ ”

Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Recabites, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.’ Therefore, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jonadab son of Recab will never fail to have a man to serve me.’ ” (Jeremiah 35:12-19)

The Recabites were a peculiar group of people. Jonadab, the son of Recab, had told his children not to drink wine. He also told them, never to build houses, sow seed or plant vineyards. Instead, they always had to live in tents (Jeremiah 35:7). Ever after, every descendent of Jonadab had followed his words, despite the fact that the instructions were to put it mildly, rather nonsensical.

In contrast to the weird Reabites who strictly adhered to the most peculiar rules, the Israelites ignored the reasonable instructions of God. And so God used the Recabites as an object lesson. How is it that a mere human being can get generations of people to abide by his idiosyncratic beliefs, but the Israelites won’t listen to wisdom given to them by God himself? Wisdom that he gave them because he loved them and wanted what was best for them? Why would they turn from the living God and follow pretend gods? Why would they turn against love and toward hate for their neighbors? They are crazier than the Recabites ever were.

God does something remarkable: he makes a promise to the Recobites, that because of their faithfulness, he will make sure that there will always be descendents of the Recobites to serve God. God appreciates loyalty and rewards it.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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