We can sense the LORD’s frustration. “I have spoken to you (Judah) over and over again, but you have not obeyed me. I sent all my servants the prophets to warn you over and over again. … But you did not pay any attention or listen to me” (Jeremiah 35:14,15).
These words grapple with a thorny and seemingly unchangeable problem. The lives of God’s people had not budged an inch in spite of God’s servants faithfully proclaiming God’s message. Godly transformation was nowhere in sight.
What can be done in such a situation? God resorted to a lesson from Jonadab’s house.
The Lord instructed Jeremiah to invite the Rechabite community to join him in one of the Temple’s side rooms. Jeremiah then set cups and jugs of wine before them. He invited them to drink some wine.
“But they answered, ‘We do not drink wine because our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab commanded us not to. He told us, ‘You and your children must never drink wine. Do not build houses. Do not plant crops. Do not plant a vineyard or own one. Live in tents all your lives.’ … We and our wives and our sons and daughters have obeyed everything our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab commanded us. We have never drunk wine. We have not built any houses to live in. We do not own any vineyards, fields, or crops.'” (Jeremiah 35:6-9).
When Judah refused to obey, God provided a living example of what was possible. He directed them to consider a small community who had rejected accommodating to the norms and social pressures of their greater society. God underscored that obedience was possible.
In the LORD’s words, “You must learn a lesson from this about obeying what I say” (Jeremiah 35:13). Yes, obedience is possible.
If Judah could not learn to follow God’s message through graceful, patient and repeated proclamation, God would teach the needed lesson though physical means. “So I, the LORD God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, say: ‘I will soon bring on Judah and all the citizens of Jerusalem all the disaster that I threatened to bring on them. I will do this because I spoke to them but they did not listen. I called out to them but they did not answer’”(Jeremiah 35:17).
To be sure, we too live within a chorus of competing voices pulling in many directions. We can learn from those who have gone before us. Yet, what attitude toward God’s word will we adopt? Scripture would point us toward a healthy obedience.