08 October 2011

"I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently. ... The descendants of Jonadab son of Rechab have carried out the command that their ancestor gave them, but this people has not obeyed me." (vv. 15a, 16)


'Why can't you be like your brother/sister?' We can just hear the exasperation in a parent's voice as she tries yet again to reason with an obstinate child. If good parenting is the most important ingredient in raising a child of good character, how come so many families manage to raise one 'perfect' offspring and one 'black sheep'?

An explanation offered by contemporary psychology is the theory that each family is a system where individuals play particular roles. If the family system values rigid obedience and conformity, someone in the family will almost certainly have the role of the pressure release valve. This person - the designated black sheep - often never wins approval from the family; they will always remain captive to their role and past behaviour.

In this section of the book of Jeremiah, we learn that Judah is captive to its past behaviour. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God declares that Judah's immediate opportunity to repent and be saved has past its sell-by date. Judah will be taken captive by Babylon because of its unfaithfulness.

In today's passage, Jeremiah compares the unfaithful people of Judah to the faithful Rechabites. In contrast to the people of Judah, who have constantly been unfaithful to the God of all creation, the Rechabites have been faithful to the wishes of their human ancestor, Jonadab son of Rechab, by refusing to drink wine or build permanent homes.

The Rechabites are strangers in Judah and came to Jerusalem as refugees fleeing the Chaldeans and Arameans (mercenary soldiers sent by the king of Babylon to punish Judah). However, God holds up this foreign nation as an example of faithful behaviour for the unfaithful people of Judah.

We know the end of the story: Judah is eventually taken into captivity. After all of Judah's past unfaithfulness there can be no redemption in this generation. The book of Jeremiah is not without hope, but salvation will have to come later, via a different path and a different series of events. Judah has made too many bad choices in its immediate past and must bear the consequences.

To Ponder

What have you experienced (or witnessed) of someone having their present choices limited because of past behaviour? How do you see God's role in that?

What are your beliefs about how God treats us when we are unfaithful to God?

Bible notes author: The Revd Pam Garrud

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