How many of you here have ever heard of a man named Jonadab, the son of Rechab? Jonadab was an obscure man in the Bible, but his life and the behavior of his descendents became important lessons that God used to teach His people. Today we will look at what the Bible says both about Jonadab himself and about his descendents and look at what lessons God used, through the prophet Jeremiah, to teach ancient Judah about their duty to honor God as a Father. It will then remain for us to apply these lessons to ourselves.
Come With Me, And See My Zeal For The Lord
The first and only time we see Jonadab himself in the Bible, he is a minor character in a rather bloody scene, where Jehu is fulfilling God’s command to wipe out the dynasty of Ahab from Israel and also wipe out Baal worship in Samaria. Both Jehu and Jonadab helped out in this task. Let us look at the story in 2 Kings 10:15-31. 2 Kings 10:15-31 tells about the zeal of Jonadab for the Lord, and the mixed record of Jehu in that regard. It reads: “Now when he [Jehu] departed from there, he met Jehonadab the son of Rechab, coming to meet him; and he greeted him and said to him, “Is your heart right as my heart is toward your heart?” And Jehonadab said, “It is.” Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.” So he gave him his hand, and he took him up to him into the chariot. Then he said, “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.” So they had him ride in his chariot. And when he came to Samaria, he killed all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had destroyed them, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke to Elijah. Then Jehu gathered all the people together, and said to them, “Ahab served Baal a little, Jehu will serve him much. Now therefore, call to me all the prophets of Baal, all his servants, and all his priests. Let no one be missing, for I have a great sacrifice for Baal. Whoever is missing will not live.” But Jehu acted deceptively, with the intent of destroying the worshipers of Baal. And Jehu said, “Proclaim a solemn assembly for Baal.” So they proclaimed it. Then Jehu sent throughout all Israel; and all the worshippers of Baal came, so that there was not a man left who did not come. So they came into the temple of Baal, and the temple of Baal was full from one end to the other. And he said to the one in charge of the wardrobe, “Bring out vestments for all the worshipers of Baal.” So he brought out vestments for them. Then Jehu and Jehonadab the son of Rechab went into the temple of Baal, and said to the worshipers of Baal, “Search and see that no servants of the Lord are here with you, but only the worshipers of Baal.” So they went in to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings. Now Jehu had appointed for himself eighty men on the outside, and had said, “If any of the men whom I have brought into your hands escapes, whoever lets him escape, it shall be his life for the life of the other.” Now it happened, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the captains, “Go in and kill them; let no one come out!” And they killed them with the edge of the sword, then the guards and officers threw them out, and went into the inner room of the temple of Baal. And they brought out the sacred pillars of Baal and burned them. Then they broke down the sacred pillar of Baal, and tore down the temple of Baal and made it a refuse dump to this day. Thus Jehu destroyed Baal from Israel. However, Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin, that is, from the golden calves that were at Bethel and Dan. And the Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done what was right in My sight, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all of his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin.”
Here in this passage Jonadab, who is called Jehonadab, meaning “God has donated” is a minor character. Based on Jehu’s militant zeal to destroy the religion of Baal and the dynasty of Ahab, and the fact that Jonadab was an ally in this struggle, we can assume that Jonadab was known as a godly Israelite famous for his devotion to God. Jehu wanted Jonadab’s presence to show his own supposed loyalty to God. Even though God judges Jehu as less than wholeheartedly devoted to God, we are invited to see Jonadab as genuinely faithful.
Nonetheless, the faith of Jonadab might seem abhorrent to us. Jonadab is pictured as being part of a deceptive attempt to wipe out Baal worship (which itself was abhorrent in its practices of child sacrifice) by wiping out Baal worshipers at one time. Jehu was nothing if not thorough in his killings of Ahab and his family as well as the Baal worshipers, and Jonadab seems supportive of this. Sometimes having your heart right with God means executing God’s judgment (albeit with direct prophetic command). It is these abhorrent killings that God praises Jehu for, giving his family four generations on the throne of Israel (the most of any dynasty in Israel; Ahab’s dynasty only reached the third generation, and no other dynasty in Israel’s bloody history made it beyond two generations). Compare that with the nine rulers who have ruled Thailand in the Chakri dynasty.
This is a significant detail. Despite the fact that Jehu’s partial obedience to God did not lead him to abandon the sinful “national” religion of Jeroboam, he was still blessed for his half-hearted obedience to God. This blessing allowed for a guaranteed long life for Jehu’s dynasty. If we are kings or other leaders and we want our dynasties to endure, the best way to ensure this is to make sure our hearts are right with God. Even a heart that is only somewhat right can ensure a long dynasty, as was the case with Jehu. I am spending some time on this point, because the blessing of having one’s “dynasty” survive is a key element of the story of Jonadab’s family, and a blessing that was not only provided to the royal dynasty of Jehu, but also to Jonadab’s family of commoners. Let us now turn to see how God promised a lasting dynasty to Jonadab because of his descendents’ obedience, and what implications that has for us.
For Jonadab The Son Of Rechab, Our Father, Commanded Us
2 Kings 10 is the only information we have about Jonadab and his family until we come to Jeremiah 35, which contrasts the obedience of the Rechabites to their righteous father Jonadab, whom we have just read about, with the disobedience of the people of Judah (and Israel) to our Heavenly Father. Jeremiah 35:1-19 gives a prophetic test and its surprising implications, along with a surprising divine blessing. Jeremiah 35:1-19 reads: “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying, “Go to the house of the Rechabites, speak to them, and bring them into the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.” Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, his brothers and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites, and I brought them into the house of the Lord, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door. Then I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine, and cups; and I said to them, “Drink wine.” But they said, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab, the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever. You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.’ Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no one all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, nor to build ourselves houses to dwell in; nor do we have vineyard, field, or seed. But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us. But it came to pass, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came into the land, that we said, ‘Come, let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and the army of the Syrians.’ So we dwell at Jerusalem.” Then came the word of the Lord to Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Will you not receive instruction to obey My words?” says the Lord. The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; for to this day they drink none, and obey their father’s commandment. But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me. I have also sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way, amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them; then you will dwell in the land which I have given you and your fathers.’ But you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me. Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them, but this people has not obeyed Me.” ’ “Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them, but they have not answered.’ “ And Jeremiah said to the house of the Rechabites, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts and done according to all that he commanded you, therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to sand before Me forever.” ‘ “
Let us think about this for a minute. Jonadab, who appeared in 2 Kings 10 as a fairly harsh enforcer of God’s judgment, was just as strict in the standard that he commanded for his household. It is not sinful to drink wine, or to build a house, or plant a field or a vineyard. But Jonadab, who lived about 840BC or so, commanded that no one in his household, not husbands or wives or sons or daughters, would ever be allowed to do any of those things, but they would instead live as nomads and herders in the land dwelling in tents as sojourners in the land. The commandments of Jonadab were being faithfully kept by his descendents about 600BC, almost two hundred and fifty years later. Jonadab’s family honored his commandments so much that generation after generation for at least 240 years kept the commandments of their father not to drink wine nor to build houses nor plant fields and vineyards. Because of this, God promised that the “dynasty” of Jonadab would endure forever because Jonadab’s descendants honored their father and faithfully kept his traditions, even though these were not biblical laws, but simply family traditions.
Let us think about this for a minute. The blessing God promises us for honoring our father and mother is that our days will be long in the land. Because the Rechabites honored the command of their physical father hundreds of years after he was dead, God promised that their family line would continue forever. God commanded that there would be a son to represent the house of the Rechabites for all time to stand before God because of their faithfulness to Jonadab’s earthly commands. Most of us would consider Jonadab’s commands to be harsh, rigid, and ascetic. But he was the head of his household, and he had the right to make those commands, and by obeying those commandments his descendents received a lasting blessing from God. God truly cares deeply about how we honor our ancestors, especially our godly ones, by carrying on their godly traditions and ways. I must admit that I struggle deeply with this commandment, as do many people these days. I am by no means a perfect example of what honoring and respecting one’s authorities should look like, and yet we see here how God views honoring one’s godly ancestor as honoring God Himself. For God is the Father of all, and when we honor our physical fathers and mothers, as flawed and imperfect as they may be, we learn how to show the proper respect and honor for God Himself.
For it was the great sin of Judah and Israel, a sin that led to their captivity, the destruction of their cities, and the end of their royal dynasties, that they did not respect their heavenly Father. Jehoiakim did not honor his godly father Josiah by following in his godly ways. Neither did any of Jehoiakim’s other brothers, nor his son Jehoiachin. And so their proud royal house did not endure, but they either died under siege or in captivity, the dynasty no longer reigning in the land of Judah. We see a contrast here. The Rechabites obeyed their earthly father and were given credit for obeying their Heavenly Father, and were promised an everlasting dynasty. The proud king Jehoiakim of Judah and the corrupt elites of Jerusalem did not honor either their physical or their heavenly Father, and their proud lineages were cut short and removed from power. We can learn a lesson from that here. Our titles and our families, no matter how royal or how noble or how proud they are, will not endure unless our hearts are right with God and we honor our earthly and our heavenly Fathers.
This is a difficult matter. If we were in the positions of the Rechabites, we could easily say that the traditions of Jonadab the son of Rechab were obsolete and unimportant, that his rules and commandments may have worked for a simpler time but were inadequate for our more complex times and too harsh that we should be expected to follow them. And yet God blessed the Rechabites for continuing to follow the ways of their father Jonadab, even though those commandments are not from scripture, but were his own traditions passed down from generation to generation, and even though none of the things that he prohibited were in fact sinful to do. This story has implications for us. If we honor our physical father and mother, we gain practice in showing honor to our spiritual Father in heaven, and our spiritual mother, the Church.
This is a serious matter in our times. One of our society’s most common sins is a lack of respect for others. We are to learn respect at home by respecting our fathers and mothers. We are not only to respect them, but are also to learn to respect our teachers and our employers, our rulers and governors, and God Himself. This does not mean that those leaders are perfect, or that they are above rebuke, but we are still commanded to respect imperfect authorities anyway, so that we will live long in the land. God meant what He said, as we see from His blessings to both Jehu and the Rechabites. Those who honor God partially receive some blessings, and those who greatly honor God (and their fathers) receive awesome blessings. Since God still takes the Fifth Commandment to honor our fathers and mothers seriously, we should do the same, even if this commandment is lightly regarded in our rebellious and disrespectful times. Even if we must struggle to honor our fathers and mothers, let us make that struggle, if we take God’s word seriously enough, that is.