"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." ~ Deuteronomy14:2

Friday, May 1, 2009

Raising the Standard: Loyalty Is Being A Reliable Messenger To Those I Am Serving

How Does Scripture Illustrate Loyalty in Giving Reliable Messages?
The prophet was deeply grieved. On every side the nation had turned its back on God's way of life. Confusion, lawlessness and destruction from the Chaldean army were some of the immediate consequences. But the prophet knew that a far greater judgment was being prepared agains those who remained in the land. How could he warn the people and turn them back to the ways of God? One day God told the prophet to go to a certain family and invite them to one of the rooms in the Temple and offer them wine. When the family came into the room and sat down at the table, the prophet set out jugs full of wine and cups in front of each person. Then he said, "...drink the wine." Those at the table awkwardly glanced at one another. They were caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, God's own prophet was telling them to drink the wine. On the other hand, their ancestor had given his entire family strict instructions before he died that they nor their children should ever drink any wine.
They faced one of the most difficult decisions: to whom would they remain loyal - a deceased forefather whose enigmatic restrictions had been voiced two centuries earlier, or a godly prophet through whom God was speaking in their day? The choice for many might have been difficult, but these men discerned that Jeremiah's directive was not a command from God but rather an invitation from the prophet. So committed were they to obedience that an immediate, united response was voiced, "We will drink no wine; for Jonadab, the son of Rechab, our father commanded us saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons forever" (Jeremiah 35:6).
The ancestor had also given the family other instructions that were strange to the people around them. They were not to build houses, nor to own fields of crops or vineyards, but they were to live in tents throughout their lives. This was opposite to the way of life of all the people around them who were building beautiful houses and acquiring farms and vineyards. It was so different, in fact, that it welded this family together, and they became a single unit - following the instructions of their father. But now, they were being asked by a prophet to violate one of their father's instructions. What should they do?The tense silence was broken by a united response, "We will not drink this wine, for our father commanded us and our children not to drink wine, and we have all obeyed his voice in all that he has commanded us to do." At that moment the Word of the Lord came to the prophet. This invitation presented a conflicting directive from a man of God. Jeremiah was instructed to use this family's example of obedience in a special message to the rest of the nation.
By remaining loyal to their ancestor's command the Rechabites provided Jeremiah with the clear illustration that he needed to appeal to the conscience of the rebellious nation of Judah. This family had faithfully obeyed Jonadeb's three laws given only once centuries before. The nation of Judah had been given the very Law of God and were constantly reminded of it by the prophets, yet they refused to obey. A greater contrast could not have been found. If the Rechabites had failed to remain obedient, they would have destroyed a message which had taken over two hundred years to develop.
If the people would obey the commands of the Lord in the same way this family had obeyed their father's strict instructions, they would receive the same rewards. What were the rewards? Those in this family were friends of a former king and should have been killed or carried away captive by the Chaldeans. Had they owned houses and land, this would have happened. Not only were they allowed to live and stay in their own country, but they enjoyed the unusual harmony and love of a closely knit family. In addition to this, God added one more great reward. He promised that from this Rechabite family, there would always be godly descendants. (From Jeremiah 35)
Did God Prepare the Rechabites for the Message They Would Illustrate?
God is not a hard taskmaster nor is His will unreasonable (Matthew 11:28-30; Romans 12:2). Although Jonadab's three commands might have been difficult for most families to follow, such was not the case for the Rechabites. 1 Chronicles 2:55 states that the Rechabites were descendants of the Kenites through Moses' father-in-law (cf Judges 1:16) whom we know from Exodus 3:1 was a keeper of flocks, a dweller in the wilderness. We also know that the Kenites had no fixed residence, wandering from place to place (cf Judges 1:16; 4:11 and 1 Samuel 15:6). Jonadab was only strengthening a tradition which had held the family together for years.
Why Was Jonadab Concerned That His Family Maintain a Disciplined Life?
Jonadab was aware of the subtle attraction that Baal worship held on the people of Israel. The idolatrous feasts were often nothing more than an excuse for drunkenness and immorality. Having witnessed the destructive results of Baalism during the reign of Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel, Jonadab participated in King Jehu's zealous eradication of Baal from Israel (2 Kings 10). He witnessed Jehu's loss of zeal for the Lord once he exchanged the discipline of army life for the luxuries of the palace (cf 2 Kings 10:31). To protect his children from the temptations of idolatry, Jonadab kept them away from wine, out of the cities and free from this world's goods (cf Amos 6:4-7).
Was it Difficult for the Rechabites to Refuse Jeremiah's Request?
The Rechabites had been summoned to the temple by a great prophet. Seated before this noted religious leader, the men were instructed by him to violate their forefather's strict command (Jeremiah 35:5). Two hundred years had passed since the command had first been issued. One might think that their adherence to the tradition would have weakened and diminished over this long period of time. One might also think that the Rechabites, awed by the presence of this great man of God, would be swayed to violate or at least consider violating their convictions. At the very least they would be reluctant to offend Jeremiah or cause any embarrassment. But the Rechabites did not, even for a moment, consider the possibility of compromise. With boldness and spontaneity they unanimously proclaimed the message which years of obedience had instilled in their lives. In a non-apologetic manner, the men refused the invitation to drink. Because of their message of unwavering obedience, an even greater message was communicated to the nation through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 35:13-17).
Did God Reward the Rechabites for Their Obedience?
Because the Rechabites had no possessions and were free to move about, they were spared from both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Unless Jonadab had forbidden his children to build homes, it is likely that they would have settled in Israel rather than Judah because of Jonadab's friendship with King Jehu. Instead, their flexibility enabled them to move south into Judah before the collapse of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. Since they had no possessions, they were later spared from the Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 24:14). The Rechabites had honored their father's commands and while their fellow countrymen were living in slave camps in foreign countries, they lived in freedom and peace in the land of their birth.
Example in Nature: The Honey Bee Illustrates Loyalty In Being A Reliable Messenger
The beehive presents an amazing picture of efficiency. To ensure productivity among thousands of bees, a delicate chemical balance must be maintained. The worker bees must mature, passing in sequence through six distinct stages of development and responsibility. Each worker bee functions in the roles of cleaner, nurse, storer, repairer, guard and finally scout during its brief lifetime of cooperative effort. In a remarkable way, the body functions and abilities of the other bees change in order to assume new responsibilities in an emergency situation for the hive. How does each bee know what duties to assume? What keeps the hive from becoming totally chaotic and unable to function? The secret is contained in the message of the honey the bees pass among themselves. Each bee contributes a distinct glandular secretion to the honey according to the function it performs. When all secretions are present in sufficient supply, the hive is balanced. When one secretion is inadequate or missing, a moaning sound travels throughout the hive. All the bees throb as though they were afflicted with fever. This is their signal to quickly adapt themselves - even change roles - in an effort to make up the loss and re-establish the balance of the hive. Without precise communication, a crucial imbalance would go unnoticed and the hive would inevitably collapse. The bees demonstrate loyalty for their common goals and to each other through their amazingly accurate system of intercommunication.

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