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Chapter 5

SERMON VI.--FALSE CIVILIZATION

JEREMIAH xxxv. 19.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of
Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.



Let us think a while this morning what this text has to do with us;
and why this strange story of the Rechabites is written for our
instruction, in the pages of Holy Scripture.

Let us take the story as it stands, and search the Scriptures simply
for it. For the Bible will surely tell its own story best, and teach
its own lesson best.

These Rechabites, who were they? Or, indeed we may ask--Who are
they? For they are said to exist still.

They were not Israelites, but wild Arabs, a branch of the Kenite
tribe, which claimed--at least its chiefs--to be descended from
Abraham, by his wife Keturah. They joined the Israelites, and
wandered with them into the land of Canaan.

But they never settled down, as the Israelites did, into farmers and
townsfolk. They never became what we call civilized: though they
had a civilization of their own, which stood them in good stead, and
kept them--and keeps them, it would seem, to this day,--strong and
prosperous, while great cities and mighty nations have been destroyed
round about them. They kept their old simple Arab customs, living in
their great black camels' hair tents, feeding their flocks and herds,
as they wandered from forest to forest and lawn to lawn, living on
the milk of the flock, and it would seem, on locusts and wild honey,
as did John the Baptist after them. They had (as many Arab tribes
have still) neither corn, seed-field, nor vineyard. Wild men they
were in their ways, yet living a simple wholesome life; till in the
days of Ahab and Jehu there arose among them a chief called Jonadab
the son of Rechab, of the house of Hammath. Why he was called the
son of Rechab is not clearly known. 'The son of the rider,' or 'the
son of the chariot,' seems to be the most probable meaning of the
name. So that these Rechabites, at least, had horses--as many Arab
tribes have now--and whether they rode them, or used them to draw
their goods about in carts, like many other wild tribes, they seem to
have gained from Jonadab the name of Rechabim, the sons of Rechab,
the sons of the rider, or the sons of the chariot.

Of Jonadab the son of Rechab, you heard three Sundays since, in that
noble passage of 2 Kings x. where Jehu, returning from the slaughter
of the idolatrous kings, and going to slay the priests of Baal, meets
Jonadab and asks him, Is thy heart right--that is, sound in the
worship of God, and determined to put down idolatry--as my heart is
with thy heart? We hear of him and his tribe no more till the days
of Jeremiah, 250 years after, in the story from which my text is
taken. What Jonadab's reasons may have been for commanding his tribe
neither to settle in towns, nor till the ground, it is not difficult
to guess. He may have dreaded lest his people, by settling in the
towns, should learn the idolatry of the Israelites. He may have
dreaded, likewise, lest they should give way to that same luxury and
profligacy in which the Israelites indulged--and especially lest they
should be demoralized by that drunkenness of which the prophets
speak, as one of the crying sins of that age. He may have feared,
too, lest their settling down as landholders or townsmen would cause
them to be absorbed and lost among the nation of the Israelites, and
probably involved in their ruin. Be that as it may, he laid his
command upon his tribe, and his command was obeyed.

Of the after-history of these simple God-fearing folk we know very
little. But what we do know is well worth remembering. They were,
it seems, carried away captive to Babylon with the rest of the Jews;
and with them they came back to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, they had
intermarried with the priests of the tribe of Levi; and they assisted
at the worship and sacrifices,--'standing before the Lord' (as
Jeremiah had foretold) 'in the temple,' but living (as some say)
outside the walls in their tents. And it is worth remembering, that
we have one psalm in the Bible, which was probably written either by
one of these Rechabites, or by Jeremiah for them to sing, and that a
psalm which you all know well, the old man's psalm, as it has well
been called--the 71st Psalm, which is read in the visitation of the
sick; which says, 'O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and
hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old
and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy
strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to
come.'

It was, moreover, a Rechabite priest, we are told--'one of the sons
of the Rechabim spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet'--who when the Jews
were stoning St. James the Just, one of the twelve apostles, cried
out against their wickedness.

What befell the Rechabites when Jerusalem was destroyed, we know not:
but they seem to have returned to their old life, and wandered away
into the far east; for in the twelfth century, more than one thousand
years after, a Jewish traveller met with them 100,000 strong under a
Jewish prince of the house of David; still abstaining from wine and
flesh, and paying tithes to teachers who studied the law, and wept
for the fall of Jerusalem. And even yet they are said to endure and
prosper. For in our own time, a traveller met the Rechabites once
more in the heart of Arabia, still living in their tents, still
calling themselves the sons of Jonadab. With one of them, Mousa
(i.e. Moses) by name, he talked, and Mousa said to him, 'Come, and I
will show you who we are;' and from an Arabic bible he read the words
of my text, and said, 'You will find us 60,000 in number still. See,
the words of the prophet have been fulfilled--"Jonadab the son of
Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever."'

What lesson shall we learn from this story--so strange, and yet so
beautiful? What lesson need we learn, save that which the Holy
Scripture itself bids us learn? The blessing which comes upon
reverence for our forefathers, and above all for God, our Father in
Heaven.

Reverence for our forefathers. These are days in which we are too
apt to sneer at those who have gone before us; to look back on our
forefathers as very ignorant, prejudiced, old-fashioned people, whose
opinions have been all set aside by the progress of knowledge.

Be sure that in this temper of mind lies a sin and a snare. If we
wish to keep up true independence and true self-respect in ourselves
and our children, we should be careful to keep up respect for our
forefathers. A shallow, sneering generation, which laughs at those
who have gone before it, is ripe for disaster and slavery. We are
not bound, of course--as those old Rechabites considered themselves
bound--to do in everything exactly what our forefathers did. For we
are not under the law, but under grace; and where the Spirit of the
Lord is, there is liberty--liberty to change, improve, and develop as
the world grows older, and (we may hope) wiser. But we are bound to
do, not exactly what our forefathers did, but what we may reasonably
suppose that they would have done, had they lived now, and were they
in our places. We are to obey them, not in the letter, but in the
spirit.

And whenever, in the prayer for the Church militant, we commemorate
the faithful dead, and thank God for all his servants departed this
life in his faith and fear, we should remember with honest pride that
we are thanking God for our own mothers and fathers, and for those
that went before them; ay, for every honest God-fearing man and
woman, high or low, who ever did their duty by God and their
neighbours, and left, when they died, a spot of this land somewhat
better than they found it.

And for God; the Father of all fathers; our Father in heaven--Oh, my
friends, God grant that it may never be said to any of us, Behold the
words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his children,
are performed: but ye have not hearkened unto me. I have sent also
unto you, saith God, not merely my servants the prophets, but my
only-begotten, Jesus Christ your Lord, saying, 'Return you 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.'

God grant that that may never be said to any of us. And yet it is
impossible to deny--impossible to shut our eyes to the plain fact--
that Englishmen now-a-days are more and more forgetting that there
are any commandments of God whatsoever; any everlasting laws laid
down by their Heavenly Father, which, if they break, will avenge
themselves by our utter ruin. We do not go after other gods, it is
true, in the sense of worshipping idols. But there is another god,
which we go after more and more; and that is money; gain; our
interest (as we call it):- not knowing that the only true interest of
any man is to fear God and keep his commandments. We hold more and
more that a man can serve God and mammon; that a man must of course
be religious, and belong to some special sect, or party, or
denomination, and stand up for that fiercely enough: but we do not
hold that there are commandments of God which say for ever to the
sinner, 'Do this and thou shalt live;' 'Do this or thou shalt die.'

We hold that because we are not under the law, but under grace, there
is no condemnation for sin--at least for the special sort of sin
which happens to be in fashion, which is now-a-days the sin of making
money at all risks. We hold that there is one law of morality for
the kingdom of heaven, and another for the kingdom of mammon.
Therefore we hold, more and more, that when money is in question
anything and everything is fair. There are--we have reason to know
it just now but too well--thousands who will sell their honour, their
honesty, yea, their own souls, for a few paltry pounds, and think no
shame. And if any one says, with Jeremiah the prophet, 'These are
poor, they know not the way of the Lord, nor the judgment of their
God. I will get me to the great men, for they have known the way of
the Lord, and the judgment of their God:'--then will he find, as
Jeremiah did, that too many of these great and wealthy worshippers of
mammon have utterly broken the yoke, and burst the bonds, of all
moral law of right and wrong: heaping up vast fortunes amid the ruin
of those who have trusted them, and the tears of the widow and the
orphan, by means now glossed over by fine new words, but called in
plain honest old English by a very ugly name.

How many there are in England now, my friends, who would laugh in
their hearts at those worthy Rechabites, and hold them to be
ignorant, old-fashioned, bigoted people, for keeping up their poor,
simple, temperate life, wandering to and fro with their tents and
cattle, instead of dwelling in great cities, and making money, and
becoming what is now-a-days called civilized, in luxury and
covetousness. Surely according to the wisdom of this world, the
Rechabites were foolish enough. But it is the wisdom of this world
itself--not simplicity and loyalty like theirs--which is foolishness
with God.

My friends, let us all take warning, each man for himself. When a
nation corrupts itself--as we seem inclined to do now, by luxury and
covetousness, selfishness and self-will, forgetting more and more
loyalty and order, honesty and high principle--then some wholesome,
but severe judgment of God, is sure to come upon that nation: a day
in which all faces shall gather blackness: a day of gloominess and
thick darkness, like the morning spread upon the mountains.

For the eternal laws of God's providence are still at work, though we
choose to forget them; and the Judge who administers them is the same
yesterday, to-day, and for ever, even Jesus Christ the Lord, the
everlasting Rock, on which all morality and all society is founded.
Whosoever shall fall on that Rock in repentance and humility,
confessing, bewailing, and forsaking his worldliness and sinfulness,
he shall indeed be broken: but of him it is written, 'The sacrifices
of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God,
thou wilt not despise.' And he shall find that Rock, even Christ, a
safe standing-ground amid the slippery mire of this world's
temptations, and the storms and floods of trouble which are coming--
it may be in our children's days--it may be in our own.

But he who hardens his heart: he who says proudly, 'We are they that
ought to speak; who is Lord over us?'--he who says carelessly, 'Soul,
take thine ease; thou hast much goods laid up for many years'--he who
halts between two opinions, and believes to the last that he can
serve both God and mammon--he, especially, who fancies that
falsehood, injustice, covetousness, and neglect of his fellow-men,
can properly be his interest, or help his interest in any wise--of
all such it is written, 'On whomsoever that Rock'--even the eternal
laws of Christ the Judge--'On whomsoever that Rock shall fall, it
shall grind him to powder.'




Charles Kingsley

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