I mean, I'm sure you've read it.
Jeremiah 35, right?
The one about the Recabites, of course.
You know what I'm talking about.
Ok, actually, I read this one recently and I realized that I had no recollection of ever having read this passage before in my entire life, or even having vaguely heard about the events in it.
I've "read" the Bible several times all the way through, meaning, of course, that my eyes saw every verse of it from beginning to end. Whether any of it actually penetrated by brain by the time I got to the various prophets in the Old Testament is an open question. (The anxiety-laden part of my brain would like to remind me at this time that it's entirely possible that I comprehended everything I read, but I'm just developing an early-onset case of dementia.)
At any rate, since there's a chance you may not have any more memory of Jeremiah 35 than I did, allow me to summarize (or you could go read it - that's always a possibility, right?).
The chapter concerns a nomadic tribe called the Recabites that lived in close proximity to Jerusalem. Although they were not Israelites themselves, they appeared to be God-fearing, and the Israelites were friendly to them. The story begins with God directing Jeremiah (the main prophet of the time) to go round up the Recabites and bring them into the temple and, for some reason, serve them wine.
The Recabites accept the invitation into the temple but refuse the wine, explaining that their ancestor instructed them to never touch wine, grow crops, or live in houses, and so, they don't. (It almost feels to me that God knowingly ordered Jeremiah to commit a faux pas just so he would get hit over the head with their customs.)
God then instructs Jeremiah to hold these people up as an example to Jerusalem, basically saying, "These guys can obey their forefathers, but you won't obey me. Consequently, I'm going to destroy you, and bless the Recabites." And, of course, he did destroy Jerusalem, not too long after this story took place.
So what's so interesting to me about this? Well, notice that list of things the Recabites were obeying - no wine, no agriculture, more or less adopting a Paleo lifestyle. None of these particular things are things that God ordered the Israelites to do. There is no command in Moses's law to be nomads or never touch alcohol. Nevertheless, God seems super happy to see the Recabites following their forefathers' wishes. The Recabites did good by tee-totaling not because God wants tee-totaling but merely because it's what old grandpa Jonadab wanted! It struck me:
Does God value obedience for its own sake?
Well, God certainly wouldn't value obedience to a human being when it contradicted his wishes. But you'll notice he never told the Israelites not to be nomads, right?
In fact, it seems to me that the whole Bible, both Old and New Testament, is shot through with an ethic of obedience and submission to authorities - parents, governments, even hypocritical religious leaders. Even going back to the Ten Commandments, God listed "Honor your father and your mother" before "You shall not murder." Both Jesus and Paul told their followers to pay taxes to Caesar (and Paul went one step further, commanding honor and respect be given to governing authorities!). Jesus criticized the religious authorities of the day with harsh language, but then he turned right around and told the people:
"The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat. Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach." (Matthew 23:2-3)So, in case you were thinking that Jesus's criticisms of the religious leaders of the time justified a general attitude of rebellion... nope! Jesus told the people to obey them anyway, even if they were horrible hypocrites and "children of hell," a "brood of vipers," etc. as he called them literally just a few verses down.
Now granted, God did reward Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for defying various Babylonian and Persian kings' orders to worship idols, and he did reward the midwives for not following Pharaoh's orders to murder Israelite babies in the book of Exodus. So clearly, sometimes defiance of earthly authorities is called for.
And I think it's also important that the Recabites were not preaching their particular family traditions as absolute moral statements on the same level as God's commandments. That's highly dangerous, as the religious leaders in Jesus's time found out. Instead, they were up front about the fact that old grandpa Jonadab wanted this, so that's what they were doing. They weren't contradicting God's will, nor elevating their traditions beyond their proper place. They weren't imposing their traditions on anyone else. They were simply honoring their forefather in the best way they could.
It's also interesting to me that God chose to honor this particular tribe while they were right in the middle of disobeying one of their traditions due to extraordinary circumstances. You see, they had just moved into Jerusalem (also known as a city) to protect themselves from invading armies. That seems remarkably reasonable to me.
So anyway, what do you think? How would you interpret this little narrative?