Godly Parents and Obedient Children
The fifth commandment in God’s Law is for children to honor their mother and father (Dt 5:16). The apostle Paul recognized the continuation of the moral law and instructed the children at Ephesus to obey their parents (Eph 6:1–3). God delights in His obedient sons, too.
In the days of the prophet Jeremiah (early 6th century B.C.), God drew an analogy from a family living among the children of Israel in Judah. His purpose was to use the Rechabites as a foil for the children of Israel, His beloved sons. Israel served God as His chosen people in the world. This meant that He chose to reveal Himself to Israel; and hence, to reveal Himself to the nations through Israel. He made a covenant with Israel, and they agreed to obey Him.
Israel’s whole history is a story of disobedience. God sent prophets to speak His Word of reproof and rebuke to Israel, but His judgment deemed they were not listening. God was Israel’s godly parent, but His beloved children were walking in disobedience. God emphasized Israel’s disobedience by giving them a living analogy in Jeremiah 35.
Rechab was the godly father of one family of the Kenite people in the midst of Israel. He understood his existence, and he desired for his sons to live a certain lifestyle. He set boundaries for his children including: no drinking of wine; no building of houses; no planting crops or vineyards; and no property ownership. We might call this, “the sojourner’s lifestyle.” Rechab and his progeny were to be tent dwellers.
Nomads serve us with great imagery for the fleeting temporal lives we occupy in the land of the living. This world is not our home, and many Christians love this imagery. However, there are but a few who live in this manner. Although this is an important observation for us to make in the story of Rechab, it is not the primary point of the analogy. Nor is this a story for Christians to refrain from drinking alcohol. It also fails to serve as a prescription for renting versus home ownership. Rechab chose to live in a certain way. His reasons may be obscured from our view, but this actually helps us to focus on the key point of the passage.
In the story, God comes to the prophet Jeremiah with instructions to gather up all of the Rechabites and bring them into the temple at Jerusalem (Jer 35:1–3). Jeremiah obeys God and brings them into a chamber inside the house of God (Jer 35:4). Next, he sets before them pitchers and cups of wine and orders them to drink, but they refuse (Jer 35:5–6). They explain their reason to the prophet (Jer 35:7). Their father Rechab ordered his sons to live as sojourners. Rechab was the grandfather to those gathered before the prophet. In giving their testimony, they claim to be obedient sons (Jer 35:8–10).
Next, God tells Jeremiah to go to the children of Israel and issue a rhetorical question about their unwillingness to listen to God (Jer 35:12–13). He employs the case example of Rechab, and he argues that these Gentiles were obeying their father; but Israel was not obeying God. The problem was not communication on God’s part. Repeatedly, He sent prophets to speak to Israel (Jer 35:14–15a). The message was one of repentance from their evil ways, dark deeds, and idolatry (Jer 35:15b).
The message from the Word of God, spoken through the prophet, was a pronouncement of judgment, of disaster, for Jerusalem and Judah. God had spoken, but they had not answered (Jer 35:17). Another message was delivered to the sons of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, “Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me always (Jer 35:19).” Here was their reward for obedience, permanent access and representation, in contrast with Israel’s disobedience to God their Father. There are some important lessons for us in this story about obedient sons.
First, God is the epitome of a godly parent. The fatherhood of God shows us the meaning of a personal relationship. Father and sons represent a close familial relationship. It is intimate. It thrives on knowledge of the other. God our Father is holy, righteous, just, and He has told us how we should then live. We should be like Him.
The problem is that we are not like Him. In the story, King Nebudchadnezzar of Babylon is scaring the rural dwellers into Jerusalem, as a city of refuge. Satan drives us to Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, for refuge. Ironically, it is the obedient pilgrims who shine in the temple, rather than the deaf and disobedient city dwellers. We must come into the house of our God, our godly parent, and claim our obedience. Who’s first?
Second, God demands obedience from His children, but Israel failed to be an obedient son. The imagery is rich here. God’s Word is preached by the prophets, again and again, but Israel is not listening. Wisdom waned, as proverbs became shibboleth. By not listening they are showing their disobedience to all that God has commanded them. In the torrent of sin, righteous Gentiles are the ultimate foil to unrighteous Jews.
The Jews had God. They had the covenants. They were in the land of promised blessing. They had the Law, the Temple, the priests and prophets. There was no separation from God, who was in their midst. However, God pointed the sons of Israel to the Gentiles, who were living better, because they were honoring their father. Israel was only a shadow or type of the Son who would come, as prophesied by the prophets. He would be the perfectly obedient Son.
Third, only One Son has perfectly obeyed God and forever stands before God His Father. Here is the glorious reward for the obedient, a place in the eternal presence of God. Jesus Christ is the obedient Son of God. He is the true Israel (Is 49:3), foreshadowed in the calling of ethnic Israel. He always did what was pleasing to His Father, who declared, “This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased (Mt 3:17; 17:5).” He was like us, yet without sin (Heb 4:15; 7:26).
Israel’s disobedience caused them to repeatedly lose their position before God, which had to be recovered repeatedly through ongoing sacrifices. Jesus offered Himself as the better sacrifice, once, for all His people and for all time. He then sat down at the right hand of majesty (Heb 1:3; 8:1), as the man to stand before God always (35:19), meaning Jesus Christ is forever in the unhindered presence of God (Ps 110:1). God has accepted His work done in perfect obedience. He is the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5), who ever lives to make intercession for His people (Heb 7:25).
Fourth, blessings and curses from God are determined in relationship to His obedient Son. All the spiritual blessings are ours in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:3). This is crucial for us to understand. Just as the Rechabites had a permanent representative in the presence of God, so do those people positioned in Christ Jesus. He is our federal head (Rom 5:12–21). All of our blessed benefits are linked to His perfect obedience and permanent position in the presence of God. He who has the Son has life, but he who does not have the Son does not have life (Jn 3:36; 1 John 5:11–13, 20).
Curses and their punishments remain for those outside of Christ (Jn 3:36; 6:53; 1 Jn 5:12). Israel was a disobedient son to God his Father; and just as Israel was cast out of the Promised Land into exile in Babylon, so are those outside of Christ cast into outer darkness in eternal hell (Mt 8:12; 22:13).
Each person must look at their own relationship with God. If you are trusting in yourself or your works for right standing in the presence of God, you are like the disobedient sons of Israel during the days of Jeremiah. They thought they were blessed to be children of God, but in reality they were children of wrath because the spirit of disobedience prevailed in them. Are you mistaken about your position before God?
There is only one way to stand before a holy God, and that is to stand in Christ’s righteousness. Jesus Christ, as we have seen here, is the only obedient Son. He always did what was pleasing to His Father. He has prepared a place, in the permanent presence of the Almighty, for those who love Him (Jn 14:2–3). Those who love Him are those who fully trust in His works of righteousness and not their own. They love Him because He first loved them and gave His life for them at the Cross (Jn 10:11, 15; Eph 5:25; 1 Jn 4:19), where He shed His blood so they could be reconciled to God and their sins be forgiven (Eph 1:7; 1 Pet 1:19). God calls out to all men with the Gospel (Mt 24:14; Mk 16:15), to repent of their evil ways and idolatries and turn to Christ for the blessings of the obedient One (Acts 17:30). Will you come?
In summary, we have considered the problem of disobedience to God and the cursed judgment that comes upon the disobedient. We have found one solution to this problem, and His name is Jesus Christ. We have concluded that the only way to stand in the presence of God, forever, is to be found in Christ, today. We can never be obedient children, until we are adopted into the obedient position of our elder Brother (Rom 8:15, 23; Eph 1:4–5; Col 1:13).
Our God and Father commands us to come to His Beloved Son (Jn 6:44, 65), so that we might receive His right standing. Are you listening? Have you heard this message again and again? Why will you die (Jer 27:13)? Repent, today, and receive the alien righteousness of the perfect obedient Son, Jesus Christ; and you will always have a man standing in the glorious presence of God, an advocate with the Father (1 Jn 2:1). In Him, you, too, will stand, forever…whether Jew or Gentile Rechabite (Gal 3:28). In this, you will honor your Father and be obedient children.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
January 28, 2021