Rechabites and Edomites Study No. 131

Jeremiah 35, gives a remarkable story of an obscure group of people  known as the Rechabites. Their example should be a lesson for us today.  Let's examine the Rechabites, and learn from them.

Rechabites Obeyed Their Father

In the days of King Jehoiakim of Judah, son of Josiah, Jeremiah the prophet was told by the Eternal to take the Rechabites into one of the chambers of the temple, put pots of wine before them, and tell them to drink. But they replied, verses 6-7, " . . . We will drink no wine: for Jonadab [or, Jehonadab] the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever: Neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any: but all your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers." These nomadic people had remained faithful to the traditions of their forefathers. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up against Judah, they had fled to Jerusalem for safety.

The Almighty told Jeremiah that the Rechabites were an example for Judah. God had sent prophet after prophet commanding His people to repent from their evil ways and return to Him. But Israel did not listen to their Creator. On the other hand, the Rechabites faithfully followed the commandment of their father, whereas Judah rebelled against their Heavenly Father. As a result, God would bring Judah into captivity. But, He would preserve and protect the Rechabites, because they had obeyed the commandment of Jonadab their father.

God praised the obedience of the sons, not the commandment of their father. The Eternal doesn't necessarily want us to be nomads living in tents and abstaining totally from wine. He does, however, want us to simply obey Him, and be childlike in our faithful obedience. This was the prevailing attitude of the Rechabites. Israel and Judah were, on the other hand, haughty and stubborn in their rebellion against God.

And so, today, some of God's people are like Judah of Jeremiah's day. They refuse to listen to the Truth. They refuse to repent and amend their ways. They divorce in order to remarry. They break His holy Sabbaths, steal His tithes, and trust in medical science rather than their Savior to heal them. Prophets have been sent to warn them, but they don't incline their ears to hear. They'd rather listen to false liberal prophets who in effect say that disobedience to the Commandments is alright.

Yet, there are "Rechabites" today. You can put the "wine" of false doctrines before them, and they refuse to drink. They follow their Heavenly Father and cannot be enticed to do evil. Others may look upon them with scorn, but the Rechabites conscientiously follow the commandment of their Father. They live as strangers,  like Abraham,  Isaac, and Jacob, who lived in tents and looked for the Heavenly Kingdom on this earth, Hebrews 11:8-10. Modern Rechabites donít court worldly possessions, for they put Godís Kingdom first. We should be like the Rechabites. Otherwise, we will suffer in the coming calamities rather than receive the Eternal's protection.

Who Were the Rechabites?

There is more to the history of the Rechabites. They were sort of a religious order among the Israelites, who, like the Nazarites, eschewed wine.

The worship of Baal was very offensive to the Rechabites. Jehonadab the son of Rechab aided Jehu in destroying Baal worshipers of the house of Ahab, II Kings 10:15-27. I Chronicles 2:55 indicates that the Rechabites were related to the Kenites, a Midianitish tribe who came into Canaan with the Israelites, and retained their nomadic habits. Adam Clarke says the Rechabites are most probably descendants of Jethro, father-in-law of Moses (see Numbers 10:29-32, Judges 1:16, 4:11).

Peloubet's Bible Dictionary admits that professed descendants of the Rechabites still live as nomads in Mesopotamia and Arabia. This is evidence that the prophecy God gave to Jeremiah concerning the perpetuity of the Rechabites has been fulfilled to this day. The Lord of Hosts said through Jeremiah that "Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever." Jeremiah 35:19. The Encyclopedia Britannica says "Later Jewish tradition states that the Rechabites intermarried with the Levites."

If we are to be "Rechabites" today, we have to do more than merely follow the commandments of our Heavenly Father. We must actively combat evil, as Jehonadab did against the worshipers of Baal.

Don't Be An Esau!

As the Rechabites are a premier Bible example of those who follow the commandment of their father, so Esau (Edom) is likewise a prime example of those who reject the teaching of their fathers. Let's look at Esau, and see the contrast between Edomites and Rechabites.

The lesson of Esau has been neglected and misunderstood. Since the Bible emphasizes the line of Jacob, rather than his twin brother Esau, we could lose sight of exactly what the character of Esau was like.

Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for bread and pottage (red lentil soup), Genesis 25:19-34. Later, Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him the birthright blessing, instead of the firstborn Esau, Genesis 27. However, there is much more to the story!

Esau means "hairy," for he was so when born. As a college student, I was amazed to see a Turkish boy in the dormitory showers. He was hairy all over his body! Because he was reddish colored, and because of the red pottage Jacob gave him, Esau also became known as Edom (Hebrew word for "red").

Esau Despised His Birthright

Genesis 25:34 says "Esau despised his birthright." What does this mean? According to Peloubet, the Hebrew birthright involved three things: (1) the functions of the priesthood for the family, (2) a double portion of the father's property, and (3) succeeding the father as the king, or prince of the tribe. First and foremost, Esau rejected the religion of his parents. He did not want to be a priest of the tribe. He did not want to follow in the steps of Abraham and Isaac in obedience to the commandments of God, Genesis 22:16-18, 26:5. He despised God's laws. Unlike the Rechabites who honored their father's commandments for hundreds of years, Esau quickly rejected the spiritual teaching of his father and mother.

Isaac and Jacob married among the righteous followers of God's ways in their own tribe. Abraham had made it a point for Isaac to not take a wife from the Canaanites, Genesis 24:1-4. Isaac's son Esau, however, rebelled against his parent's orders. He married two Hittite women. These were "a grief of mind [margin: bitterness of spirit] unto Isaac and to Rebekah." Genesis 26:34-35. Immediately after this sinful act, Esau carelessly sold his birthright blessing to his younger brother Jacob, Genesis 27.

Rebekah was so distraught about Esau's improper marriage that she was weary for her life, and urged Isaac to make sure this sin was not repeated by their other son Jacob, 27:46. Isaac charged Jacob not to take a wife of the daughters of Canaan, and Jacob obeyed his parents, 28:1-7. Esau, sorry for losing the birthright blessing, and knowing that his two wives were "evil in the eyes [margin]" of Isaac, took an Ishmaelite as his third wife, 28:8-9, adding to his sin.

Esau and Jacob later patched up their differences somewhat. However, Esau's bitter hatred of his brother Jacob seems to have been passed on to his posterity. The Edomites temporarily refused to permit the Israelites to pass through their land during the exodus, Numbers 20:18-21. Saul and David fought the Edomites, I Samuel 14:47, II Samuel 8:13-14. During Jehoshaphat's reign, the Edomites attempted to invade Israel, but failed, II Chronicles 20:22. Edomites even joined Nebuchadnezzar when he besieged Jerusalem, reaping the wrath of God, Isaiah 34:5-8; 63:1-4; Jeremiah 49:17. Edomites were idolaters, II Chronicles 25:14-20, contrary to the Eternal.

Esau Had a Root of Bitterness, Was a Fornicator

How can one summarize Esau's character? Esau fell from the grace of God because of sin. He was the firstborn and should have occupied his rightful place as priest and king of his tribe. But, Esau was bitter against God's laws and disobedient to his parents, spreading his bitterness to others. He committed fornication and adultery by multiple marriages to those he should not have married because of race and religion. And, Esau had no concern for God's ways; he despised his birthright and treated God's laws with profane contempt.

In Hebrews 12:15-16, Paul explains how Esau is a notorious example of someone NOT to follow: "Looking diligently lest any man fail of [margin: fall from] the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." Verse 17 shows that Esau's rejection is a type of the unpardonable sin. As the margin says, Esau found "no way to change his mind," for he had gone too far in his bitter rejection of God and His ways.

Esau's fornication was both physical and spiritual. Since Esau married at least three wives, where is the scriptural proof that he committed physical fornication? Genesis 2:24. God never makes three or four "one flesh," but only two. This is explained further in Malachi 2:11-16, where God makes only one and does not allow treacherous divorcing and remarrying. Jesus cites Genesis in Matthew 19:3-6, showing that polygamy, or divorce one at a time, is the sin of adultery, plain and simple. Herbert W. Armstrong's excellent 1963 article, "Here's the Plain Truth About Old Testament Polygamy," covers the cases of Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon, showing that the Bible is consistently against polygamy, and polygamy is adultery. Repeated rampant adultery is one kind of fornication.

All the characteristics Paul speaks of in Hebrews 12 apply to Esau. Otherwise, God would have inspired Paul to use a different example for each of the sins of falling from God's grace, having a root of bitterness, and being a fornicator. Instead, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to use Esau as an example of all these wicked characteristics.

The word translated "profane" in Hebrews 12:16 is from the Greek word bebeelos, Strong's #952. It comes from #939, basis, meaning "feet," and belos, "threshold." Bebeelos thus means someone who crosses the threshold, going beyond the boundary where they should not go, and thus to the Hebrews meant a wicked or heathenish person. Paul also uses the word bebeelos, or "profane" to describe the worst sort of sinners, I Timothy 1:9-10, 4:7, 6:20-21; II Timothy 2:16-18.

Now, how did Esau cross the boundary of propriety? He crossed racial boundaries (see Acts 17:26 and Deuteronomy 32:8) when he married two Hittites. He disobeyed his parents and left the ways of God. Esau is a major example God gives to warn us not to depart from His ways.

Esau Part of God's Plan

In Romans 9:1-16, Paul shows that Esau was part of God's overall plan of election. The Creator chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; not Abraham, Ishmael and Esau. Physically, Esau was greater than Jacob. God instead loved Jacob and hated Esau to show that He can use the smallest and least qualified people to perform His mighty work. That way, nobody can boast and say that they deserve to be God's chosen people. All glory belongs to God. Esau is a type, an example in God's plan, for the people God hates, "against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever." Malachi 1:1-5.

Jeremiah proclaims God's judgment against Edom in Jeremiah 49:7-22. Edom shall be a desolation like as Sodom and Gomorrah, verses 17-18. Ezekiel 25:12-14 and the entire book of Obadiah further detail their horrible fate. "For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever . . . . And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it." Obadiah 10, 18. The sins of Esau were passed down to his children and children's children. How different from the faithful Rechabites who obeyed their father for hundreds of years!

Conclusion: Rechab or Esau?

An excellent movie, The Hiding Place, the true story of Corrie Ten Boom, helps us to understand the meaning of "Esau." During one episode, Jews hiding in the Ten Boom house during Nazi occupation of Holland were reciting Jewish prayers. One Jew, not wishing to take part in these religious activities, exclaimed that he wished he had not been born a Jew. An observant Jew retorted, "Are you an Esau?" To be an Esau (Edomite) is to be a rebel against the faith of Abraham and Isaac. But to be a Rechabite is to conscientiously follow the faith of our fathers.

Some say that modern Turkey is Edom. Others say that Khazar Jews are today's Edomites. Regardless, the histories of Rechabites and Edomites should teach us valuable spiritual lessons.

How about you? Are you a Rechabite? Or, are you an Edomite?W