Jeremiah 35: The Rule of Man or the Rule of God
In Jeremiah 35, we have a story about the lifestyle led by the Rechabites. They had been commanded by their forefathers not to consume alcohol among a wide variety of other countercultural beliefs like not farming and not building houses to settle down. They has been very loyal about following these directions, so even when Jeremiah, a prophet of God, offered them wine, they turned him down because they do not want to violate the lifestyle they had been given.
Clearly, if God told Jeremiah to offer these men alcohol, then the consumption of alcohol itself could not be a sin. After all, God is not the type of God that would set people up in that manner. However, these men simply did not believe in consuming alcohol, so they turned down his offer.
What is interesting is how God responds to this strength of commitment.
Jer 35:13 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will ye not receive instruction to hearken to my words? saith the LORD.
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.
Jer 35:15 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.
I read in my commentary that these men, the Rechabites, were descended from Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. These rules that were outlined clearly came from a good, Godly source but were not divine. I think there is a lot of wisdom in not consuming alcohol at all, and that is why I will not consume any. We can’t absolutely say that simply the consumption of alcohol is a sin as I said above, but it can make us susceptible to sin by perhaps impairing our judgment when used improperly, so I avoid the substance altogether. Other people may be more comfortable with using, and that is your decision. I just don’t even want to open the door; maybe I am weak, but I believe it is wise to avoid. However, whether or not you agree with my reasoning or not is somewhat irrelevant; the point remains that these people were committed to following a rule that was not divine in origin.
God compares them to the people of Judah. The Rechabites are willing to adhere to a law given by a mortal man which might be good or wise but is not divine, but God’s own chosen people would not listen to the law which was divine in origin. God sent prophets to remind the people who they ought to be following, and there is no doubt that there were plenty of miracles in the history of the nation of Israel to indicate the validity of the existence of God. However, they still rebelled.
Why was it so hard for the people to follow God? That is the dilemma, and I think that is the same dilemma today. It is so easy for people to follow way of life established by our mortal man. For example, how many people have tried to build a utopian communities? Granted, most of them eventually failed, but the point is that it is possible for people to live by rules of men. It is interesting that it is so hard for some people to live by the will of God.