This is, with modest changes, the sermon I preached for our online quarantine church here for Father’s Day.
Happy Father’s Day. Please open your Bibles to Jeremiah 35. We don’t read Jeremiah very often and it is not used in sermons a lot. Yet it is actually the biggest book in the Bible. It has more words in it than even the Psalms. And God has a lot to say in it.
In Jeremiah chapter 35, Jeremiah is talking to a group of people known as the Rechabites. A lot of names are shared and they get confusing. But we can focus on one person and one group. The group is the Rechabites, an extended family or clan. The other is Jonadab. He was one of the ancestors of the Rechabites. The rest of the names are not that important. Let’s read it together:
Read Jeremiah 35:1-11
So here is the story, God tells the Prophet Jeremiah to bring the Rechabites to the temple and offer them wine. Arguably it is a nice thing to do. But in reality, it was a test. So Jeremiah takes some of the leaders of the Rechabites to the temple. When they get there, there is wine and cups all prepared and Jeremiah invites them to drink,.
But the text says they, as if all of them said the same thing, NO, we will not drink. He goes on to explain. Generations before, their ancestor, Jonadab had told his children. None of you are to plant vineyards or drink wine. Rather they are to live in tents. They say that because of this, the entire clan has followed this guidance and they cannot have wine even if Jeremiah the prophet invites them to. This is actually pretty impressive. It is not like Jonadab would hear about them drinking wine and yell at them later. Jonadab lived approximately 250 years before this. Generally, I don’t even know who my ancestors were 250 years ago, and certainly would not take their guidance seriously. How about you.
This seems like an odd story… but God had a purpose to it.
Read Jeremiah 35:12-17
God gives a prophetic message to Jeremiah. God says, see how things are. The Rechabites obey the command of their ancestor Jonadab. Yet, I have been telling the people of Israel generation after generation what they need to do. And they have not listened and have not obeyed. Now God is angry. The Rechabites faithfully honored and obeyed their ancestor… for 250 years… yet the people of Israel could not seem to honor and obey God from one generation to the next.
Jeremiah goes on to say, that God would bless the Rechabites for their faithfulness to Jonadab. But the people of Israel would be punished for their unfaithfulness to God.
What can we take from this story?
First Idea. The obvious meaning is that we are supposed to be faithful to God. God said something… and He shouldn’t have to keep saying it over and over. As Christians, Jesus said “Love God. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “Love your enemy.” God should not have to keep reminding us. Yet, Christians don’t have a great record in following this. We tend to find reasons to forget to be loving or rationalize why God’s commands don’t apply to us. God really shouldn’t have to threaten to punish us for being disobedient. He is God. God shouldn’t have to try so hard to be taken seriously by those who claim to follow Him. And that is a good message. If God says we should do something, we should do that. If God says not to do something, we should not do that.
But let’s consider two other possible messages in the story. One of these possible messages I believe is not correct. But the other, I think may be quite true.
I have heard some people say that this story tells us that we should always obey our fathers… or our grandfather… or our ancestors. That seems to make sense and it sounds good.
Children obey your parents. The problem is that much of the rest of the book of Jeremiah says the opposite. Much of the rest of the book says, Don’t obey your parents.
In fact in the chapter right before this, Jeremiah 34, we find the opposite. Jeremiah notes that the people of Jerusalem started rejecting the works of their ancestors and God was pleased… but then they changed their mind and started doing again what their ancestors had been doing and God was angry. The thing was that in this case, the ancestors were doing wrong and guiding their children and children’s children to do wrong as well. In several places Jeremiah said, “Your ancestors rejected God’s commands. Don’t be like them. Do not follow their guidance. Follow God instead.”
The Bible does say that we are to honor and obey our parents but that can never be used as an excuse to do what is evil. God is our heavenly Father and therefore is always the higher authority.
Years ago, my family were members of a church. The church seemed to be good, but the pastor started picking up some bad teachings. One Sunday morning he stood before the members of the church and said, “Always obey your pastor. Also do what your pastor says. Even if your pastor tells you to do something that is wrong, obey him, and God will bless you because you were obedient.” That was the day we realized that we had to leave the church. God is not impressed when you obey a pastor or a boss, or a mayor or a president, or a mother or a father who tells you to do what God says is wrong.
In Jeremiah 35, God blessed the Rechabites because they were faithful to a man of Faith. A godly man.
And we happen to know that because Jonadab is mentioned earlier in the Bible— in II Kings chapter 10. Jonadab lived in the time of King Ahab, and his children. King Ahab was an evil ruler and was opposed by the Prophet Elijah. One day, Elijah became very depressed and told God that he wanted to end his life because he was such a failure. He told God that he had been faithfully serving God but no one else has listened and he is the only one left. God lets him know that this is not true. In fact, Elijah is not alone. There are 7000 men who have not bowed down their knee and worshipped false gods. Well, Jonadab was one of those 7000 men who were faithful to God. When the king said Worship Baal, Jonadab said I will worship the God of Israel.
What makes that even more amazing was that Jonadab was not even an Israelite. He was not from one of the tribes of Israel. He was a Gentile. Yet he committed to serve the God of Israel even when it was dangerous to do so.
Sometimes we read the New Testament and say, Ah… here is where God now opens up His message of hope to the Gentiles. We may read the Old Testament and say, Ah… here is where God only cares about Israel. But spread throughout the Old Testament are stories of godly Gentiles who served God. Often, they were raised up as pillars of faithfulness when compared to many of the Israelites at that time.
We have the Gentile Jethro giving wisdom to Moses. We have Ruth of the Moabites being an example of godly faith, becoming the ancestor of King David, and of Jesus. We have Naaman the Syrian who shows greater obedience to God than the Prophet Elisha’s own servant. We have Uriah the Hittite, who shows more godly character than his boss, King David. We have Phoenician sailors and the people of Ninevah who are more repentant of their actions and attitudes than the Prophet Jonah. And here was Jonadab, a Gentile who worshiped and obeyed God alone when most Israelites fell away.
That’s comforting to me. I am a Gentile, you are Gentiles. It is nice to know that God did not start being interested in Gentiles starting in the New Testament. He was concerned for Gentiles both in the Old Testament and New.
So I don’t think the message in Jeremiah 35 was that we should always obey our ancestors. Sometimes they are wrong. None of us are perfect. I fail at times. I think we all fail at times. I don’t want my children to do what is wrong because I did wrong, or said what is wrong.
Second Idea. So the second idea that I want to suggest is this:
There is great power in a godly father. Jonadab was a godly man and a godly father. His faithfulness to God, and faithful to his family, during a time of great sin and persecution, set an example that over 250 years later, his descendants were still following.
And we know that his example even continued on longer.
Read Jeremiah 35:18-19
God blesses the Rechabites for their faithfulness to a faithful and godly man, and God says that their family will endure forever, and there will always be at least one among them who will be a faithful servant of God among them. Jonadab’s example was still felt on his descendants 2 and a half centuries later and serves as an inspiration for us 2 and a half millennia later.
So those are the two messages.
For all of us. We are to be faithful to God… always. We are to obey God and God alone.
But to Fathers, I believe there is a second message… and a message that is appropriate for us today as well, on this Father’s Day. There is great power in being a faithful and godly man. We have great impact on our children… and even on our grandchildren and beyond.
Fathers do not fall into the traps of this world that lead us into what is wrong. Be like Jonadab who was faithful to God and a great example for his family even when temptations were great and there were great dangers. As fathers we all have great power to influence future generations… for good or for evil.