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Discerning Disobedience of the Rechabites:
A Lesson about Paul
God Can Send A Prophet Who Commands Disobedience To Test You
Let’s assume Paul was God’s prophet. Let’s assume God wants you to hear Paul’s messages. Let’s even assume that God sends Paul out on a mission by means of the Holy Spirit to even offer you that God’s Law is done away with. Or let’s assume God wants you to hear Paul saying disobedience to God’s law only costs you rewards, but has no impact on a believer’s salvation. Then let’s further assume that God knew and wanted Paul to actually censure you if you kept Sabbath or other commands. For Paul tells you this would “sever you from Christ” if you obeyed out of fear for your salvation to do otherwise. See Gal. 5:4.
Is there any example in Holy Scripture of God sending a prophet to do something exactly like this? And what was God’s point in doing so? Is it that you exercise a discerning disobedience? Or would God truly expect you to obey the words of a prophet whose words lead you away form God's prior prophetic word?
Yes, there is such an example of words from a true prophet to test your heart -- God expecting and wanting a discerning disobedience to a true prophet of God. God did this with the lesson about the Rechabites in the book of the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah chapter 35. God taught us to have discerning disobedience to even a true prophet of God — one of the greatest prophets— Jeremiah. This would be true even if the prophet takes us to the Temple and gives us a command but we should know that such a command is not to be obeyed. This example will also prove what is missing from such a test-command -- such a prophet does not say "Yahweh says." This is how you can know not to listen to even a true prophet of God who gives you a command that countermands prior prophetic words. This is how you know to exercise a discerning disobedience.
The Setting Prior to Chapter 35: Disobedience to the Law Given Moses
In the prior chapter to chapter 35, Jeremiah recounts the following. The King of Judah, Zedekiah, ordered all Jews released from slavery in conformance with God’s Law given Moses that no such debt-based enslavement should persist more than six years. However, after doing so, the individuals who owned these Jewish people as slaves took them back as slaves. The King did not stop them. Jeremiah then prophesies about God’s displeasure for the violation of His Law. God will subject Judah to punishment by exiling them to Babylon, and desolating the territory of Judah. We read in Jeremiah 34 the following:
11 But afterward they turned around and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them into subjection as slaves. 12 The word of the Lord [Yahweh] came to Jeremiah from the Lord [Yahweh]: 13 “Thus says the Lord [Yahweh], the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, saying, 14 ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service.’ But your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me. 15 You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, 16 but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves.
17 “Therefore, thus says the Lord [Yahweh]: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18 And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will...given them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. 21 And Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has withdrawn from you. 22 Behold, I will command, declares the Lord [Yahweh], and will bring them back to this city. And they will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire. I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.” (Jer. 34:11-22.)
The exile to Babylon was not God breaking the Mosaic Covenant. Rather, it was punishment for disobedience to it. For Yahweh previously told the people through Moses about God’s punishments may include exile in enemy lands if the people violate the Law. Then God says He will not destroy them completely:
Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking My covenant with them. I am the Lord their Yah. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their Yah. I am the Lord.’” (Leviticus 26:44–45)
Hence, God Yahweh will be faithful — obedient — to the promise He made to the earlier ancestors of these disobedient people. For a time, however, Yahweh will punish them with exile and destructions of cities for disobedience toward the Law.
The Obedient Rechabites
In Jeremiah, the prophet tells us of an instruction from God for a specific family group known as the Rechabites. Jeremiah does not reveal to us God’s intention. Perhaps Jeremiah did not even know. At the end, we realize God gave these instructions to Jeremiah to use the Rechabites to shame the citizens of Judah over their disobedience to the Law which God gave Moses. Specifically, the citizens of Judah, we saw in Jeremiah 34, sinned by not freeing the “sons of Israel” every 7th year from personal servitude.
Rechabites represent the heirs of Jonadab, the son of Rechab. Jonadab had died about two or three centuries earlier than Jeremiah's lifetime. (They are also known as Kenites. 1 Chron. 2:55.) Jonadab’s descendants continued to obey his command to his sons that they not drink wine and that they should all live in tents all their days.
Chapter 35 opens with God telling Jeremiah to meet with the Rechabites at the Temple in Jerusalem, and “offer them wine.” (Jeremiah 35:2.) There is no doubt that God commanded Jeremiah to make this offer to the Rechabites. We read:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord [Yahweh] in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: 2 “Go to the house of the Rechabites and speak with them and bring them to the house of the Lord [Yahweh], into one of the chambers; then offer them wine to drink.” (Jeremiah 35:1-2 ESV.)
Do you see it is Yahweh who tells Jeremiah to offer them wine to drink at God’s Temple? God of course knew that Jonadab, their ancestor, commanded them not to drink wine. So did God expect them to accept an “offer of wine” because God’s well-known prophet was making the offer? Or did God want to leave it up to the Rechabites to discern that Jeremiah’s command was not accompanied by Jeremiah adding that “God instructs you....” or words to that effect?
Next Jeremiah reports to us what he actually said to the Rechabites — never attributing to God Jeremiah’s precise command that they drink wine:
So I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, son of Habazziniah and his brothers and all his sons and the whole house of the Rechabites. 4 I brought them to the house of the Lord [Yahweh] into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, the man of God, which was near the chamber of the officials, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, keeper of the threshold. 5 Then I set before the Rechabites pitchers full of wine, and cups, and I said to them, “Drink wine.” (Jer. 35:3-5.)
What is Missing From Jeremiah’s Command
Please note that God-Yahweh said to the prophet Jeremiah “offer them wine.” However, the prophet of God commanded them “Drink wine.” In doing so, Jeremiah did not say Yahweh commands “drink wine,” but solely Jeremiah did so.
The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary (1882) highlights this distinction:
I said. Drink —Jeremiah does not say, ‘The Lord saith, Drink: for then they would have been bound to obey. Contrast the case in 1Ki. 13:7-26. (Accessed 8/21/2016, at http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/jfb/jer035.htm.)
The famous commentator, John Gill, makes a similar observation:
and I said unto them, drink ye wine;
he invited them to it, and bid them welcome; nay, more, he might not only encourage, but enjoin them to drink it; though, as Gataker observes, he does not say unto them, “thus saith the Lord, drink wine”; for then they must have done it, and doubtless would; since it is right to obey God rather than man, even parents. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/jeremiah-35-5.html, accessed 8/21/2016).
This is the distinction that is the most important lesson for us today from Jeremiah 35. The fact the prophet does not ascribe the command to “drink wine” to revelation from Yahweh is a distinction that importantly applies to Paul’s teachings. If a supposed prophet or apostle does not directly attribute their words as they speak them to a personal revelation from Yahweh or Jesus, then it is not a command from God.
What then is the importance that the command is made by a prophet or an apostle? We are to weigh it against what we know previously were the commands of God. Then the prophet who makes a command, but does not ascribe it to a revelation from God, may be presenting what is only a test by God. It may be in God’s plan a means to know whether we will disobey what we know we are bound to follow, or be persuaded merely by prophet-credentials.
We will next learn that the message from the prophet or apostle that is not quoting a revelation from God is not binding on us. For God will commend and approve the Rechabites for disobeying Jeremiah. Hence, even a true prophet like Jeremiah who commands us to do something violating a Law may be a test to see if we can be seduced by his merely being a prophet.
How God Desired A Discerning Disobedience To A True Prophet
What was God’s purpose in making this offer to the Rechabites? Why did God allow Jeremiah on his own to express it as a command? Was it a test to see if the Rechabites would dishonor their ancestral father’s Law out of obedience to God’s true prophet, Jeremiah? Or did God truly wish the Rechabites to drink wine?
First, let’s see what the Rechabites say in response to the command of Jeremiah, the prophet:
6 But they answered, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, ‘You shall not drink wine, neither you nor your sons forever. 7 You shall not build a house; you shall not sow seed; you shall not plant or have a vineyard; but you shall live in tents all your days, that you may live many days in the land where you sojourn.’ 8 We have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he commanded us, to drink no wine all our days, ourselves, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, 9 and not to build houses to dwell in. We have no vineyard or field or seed, 10 but we have lived in tents and have obeyed and done all that Jonadab our father commanded us. 11 But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against the land, we said, ‘Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and the army of the Syrians.’ So we are living in Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 35:6-11.)
Thus, the Rechabites refused Jeremiah’s instruction. As Elliot puts it, “no temptation could prevail with them to violate” their ancestor’s command. What was the temptation? The fact God’s own prophet — Jeremiah — was the one issuing the command.
Was God displeased at such obstinacy? Or was this all a test whether the Rechabites would exercise discerning disobedience? That the Rechabites would realize that they must disobey even a true “prophet” of God who speaks a command to violate a law of a patriarch but does not add “God told me” to support the command?
What does the reader think: were the Rechabites correct to disregard a prophet of Yahweh simply because the prophet does not articulate what God told the prophet to say?
Here’s the answer in the next passage of Jeremiah chapter 35:
12 Then the word of the Lord [Yahweh] came to Jeremiah: 13 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Go and say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will you not receive instruction and listen to my words? declares the Lord [Yahweh].
14 The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father's command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. 15 I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me. 16 The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me. 17 Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.”
18 But to the house of the Rechabites Jeremiah said, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because you have obeyed the command of Jonadab your father and kept all his precepts and done all that he commanded you, 19 therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall never lack a man to stand before me.” (Jeremiah 35:12-19 ESV.)1
God thus used this command through a prophet as a test of the Rechabites whether they would obey their ancestor’s Law on wine. God did not expect they would be impressed simply by Jeremiah’s status as a prophet of God. God wanted a discerning disobedience to his prophet Jeremiah. The Rechabites thus properly disobeyed the prophet Jeremiah who commanded them at the Temple to “Drink wine.” God had said to Jeremiah only to offer it to them. The prophet on his own spoke differently, not attributing the variance — a command — to God. Jeremiah said “drink wine” while God had said “offer wine.” The Rechabites are then confirmed for doing right. The Rechabites are promised a place always before God to stand “before me” due to their obedience to their forefather, and their disobedience to a command from a prophet of God.
Then God used this justified disobedience to Jeremiah’s command to prove the Rechabites were properly more concerned about the Law they knew was the will of their ancestor than the prophet’s word that did not attribute the command to Yahweh. This scene was played out at the Temple in God’s planning to shame the Jewish leaders and people who refused to follow God’s commands as scrupulously and conscientiously. As Calvin explains:
it is an argument from the less to the greater; for if the authority of a mortal man prevailed so much with his posterity as to cause them to abstain from wine, and not only to live frugally, but also to endure cold and want and other hard things, how much more it behooved the Jews to do what was right and easy, when God commanded them: (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/jeremiah/35.htm (accessed 8/21/2016).
The Lesson as to Paul
Paul says many things that sound like commands to disregard God’s Law, that it is dead, done away with, nailed to a tree, that deeds are irrelevant to God; you are promised heaven for faith alone, etc. But what if God only commanded Paul to offer such a plan of salvation? Paul never once ascribes what Paul is saying to an actual specific revelation from Jesus or Yahweh. Paul’s words can be construed to be no more than Jeremiah’s command to the Rechabites “Drink wine.”
God expects us to disregard even a true prophet of God if the prophet tries to seduce us from following God’s truth previously given through Moses, the prophets, or the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Difference Between the Plenary Authority of Jesus Versus Whatever Role Paul Supposedly Has
Notice the differences between Paul and Jesus.
1. Jesus is the Messiah — the Prince who would rule over all peoples according to the Prophecy of Daniel. (Daniel 7:9-28.) As King, every word of Jesus is a command that must be obeyed by his present subjects — Christians. Paul is not the Messiah and thus has no royal authority. Paul thus has no plenary authority over Christians in every word Paul speaks. Paul only has potential authority when Paul directly attributes his own words to a vision or revelation from Jesus.
2. Jesus is The Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15-19 with plenary authority where every word spoken is from God. Peter notes this status for Jesus in Peter’s first apostolic sermon that led 3000 to faith. See Acts 3:22. God explained in Deuteronomy that He will hold all men “accountable” to obey every word from The Prophet whose every word would be from God. Moses says you must “listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15.) Yahweh similarly instructs: “I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.” (Deut. 18:19.) Paul is not The Prophet of Deuteronomy, and thus does not have such plenary authority. Paul only has potential authority when Paul directly attributes his own words to a vision or revelation from Jesus.
3. Yahweh spoke over Jesus from the Heavens before witnesses about Jesus saying “listen to him” (Mark 9:7: Matt. 17:5). These words were lifted from the prophecy about The Prophet of Deuteronomy 18. This prophecy said that God will hold all men accountable to obey every word spoken by The Prophet, emphasizing that everyone must “listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15, 19.) Yahweh thus chose His words over Jesus from heaven selectively to invoke Deuteronomy 18 in the hearing of witnesses. By contrast, in the account Paul gives in Acts 22 about the words of “Jesus” at his appearance outside Damascus, nothing spoken by “Jesus” gives Paul even the authority of an apostle or witness:
Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 8..., I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest....Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. (Acts 22:7, 8, 10).
Paul Claims A Third-Person Prophetically Heard Jesus
What Paul then recounts in his testimony in Court of what happens next is that supposedly one Ananias has a vision at the same hour as when “Jesus” appeared to Paul. Paul’s account about Ananias is as follows:
12 and a certain one, Ananias, a pious man according to the law, being testified to by all the Jews dwelling [there],
13 having come unto me and stood by [me], said to me, Saul, brother, look up; and I the same hour did look up to him;
14 and he said, The God of our fathers did choose thee beforehand to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice out of his mouth,
15 because thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard;
16 and now, why tarriest thou? having risen, baptize thyself, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:12-16)
As Christians, we must scrupulously and conscientiously — just like the Rechabites — realize that Luke merely quotes Paul, quoting one Ananias, with no other witnesses present, about a vision of a supposed Jesus. We have no confirmation that Ananias is a true prophet. This requires true prophecy of an event that comes to pass; if it does not, then the person is not a prophet. Hence, Paul is asking us to believe something without the necessary proof that Ananias is a true prophet. A Rechabite would not be so easily seduced. Neither should we.
Even so, if Ananias was truly a prophet (Paul never says), Ananias still does not appear to verbatim quote "Jesus" speaking, because "Jesus" does not use Paul's name, but Ananias says "thee" and "you," as if Ananias is speaking, not "Jesus. It is obviously a loose paraphrase, not a quote. Moreover, if truly accurate, in the vision Paul at best was called to be a “witness” to what Paul had seen and heard. Paul was not being called to proclaim something Paul would see or hear in the future. According to Paul’s account, Ananias mentions Paul said God wanted Paul to “see” the Righteous One and “hear a voice” out of his mouth. Paul as a witness would speak as a witness of that event, but not as a messenger of Jesus Christ's future revelatory words or other future events. The word for witness in Greek is martus. This is the word Ananias used, according to Paul’s own account. The word for messenger is “apostle.” Ananias in Paul’s account did not use that language.
Hence, at best Ananias says Paul will be a witness of past events; not a prophet. Again, a Rechabite would not be seduced to think more is being said than what Paul himself contends was said.
What If Paul Were An Apostle?
Even if one thought Paul were an apostle of Jesus, our Lord is emphatic. Jesus says an “apostolos is not more important than the one who sent him.” (John 13:16.) A messenger’s only role is to repeat what he or she heard from the one sending them. Hence, Paul has no equal or higher authority than Jesus. Only Jesus speaks as The Prophet; Paul only could possibly be a messenger of words spoken by Jesus or Yahweh that Paul then relates. Yet, there are no such material quotes anywhere in Acts or the Epistles, as explained below. All Paul’s attributions of revelations from Jesus — two quotes in Acts and one in Paul’s epistles — are private messages with no content-message for Christians.
Was Paul a Messenger of Jesus Christ?
Paul was not called as a Messenger / Apostle of Jesus. This is reflected in Acts. The word Apostle never is uttered by Jesus or by Ananias. Nor does Paul quote Jesus in his epistles declaring Paul is an apostle. There is also clear proof in the epistles and Acts that Paul is not an apostle of Jesus. For Paul has only two other encounters after the Damascus-Jesus says “Saul, Saul” etc., with the one whom Paul believes is Jesus. Neither event involves any message for Christians at large. Here are those two subsequent statements which bring to three Paul's quotes of Jesus speaking to Paul:
Haste and go forth in haste out of Jerusalem, because they will not receive thy testimony concerning me;...go because to nations far off I will send thee. (Acts 22:17-18, 21, Paul’s “Jesus” telling Paul not to go see the 12 apostles / disciples at Jerusalem).
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9 ESV, “Jesus” explaining why he will not release Paul from a torment by an “Angel of Satan” who uses a “thorn in the flesh” to keep Paul humble).
These three solitary quotes above by Paul of the Jesus of Paul’s Damascus experience (including Acts 22, the road to Damascus account) are the only quotes Paul has from this Damascus Jesus. In them, we find no substantive faith principle, morals, or truth for Christians in any of these three quotes.
Thus, even if Paul was ever a messenger of Jesus’ truth revealed to Paul alone, Paul did not make any effort to relay Jesus’ words that Paul was relying upon for Paul’s teaching. This is also true about Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels. As to the latter, Paul does not clearly quote the Jesus from the Gospels other than the communion liturgy.
Hence, it stands incontestable that in fact Paul never served as a messenger of Jesus’ Christ’s messages. At least Paul never tried to substantiate his truths were based upon words that Paul heard in a vision or appearance from Jesus.
We learn from Jeremiah 35 that the Rechabites properly disregarded a command from the true prophet Jeremiah to drink wine. Jeremiah had not said that Yahweh commanded the Rechabites to drink wine. Jeremiah in fact was only commanded by God to “offer” the Rechabites to drink wine at the Temple. God was pleased the Rechabites refused to obey Jeremiah, the true prophet of God. The Rechabites’ refusal was because they would not disobey their ancestor who gave his children and their progeny a command to never drink wine. God used their obedience to shame the sons of Abraham in Judah who so easily disobeyed God’s commands — specifically the letter of the Mosaic Law to release sons of Israel every 7th year from debt-servitude.
That was the lesson in Jeremiah’s era. But there is another lesson for today. When someone who we assume is a prophet, which most assume is true for Paul, and this prophet tells us we are free to disobey God’s prior commands and principles, then should we? No, at least as long as this person is not quoting direct revelation from Yahweh or Jesus as support.
Or if the prophet (or one we treat as a prophet, like we do Paul) tells us all God’s principles are nailed to a tree, have faded away, and we need no longer be concerned about the letter of the Law, should we agree? No, at least as long as this person is not quoting direct revelation from Yahweh or Jesus as support.
It is clear that Paul never supports any of his doctrines on grace, abolition of the law, faith alone, original sin, etc., by claiming that “Jesus told me this in a vision,” etc., or words to that effect. God is thus testing us whether we will be seduced by the mere position asserted by Paul — the position of apostle that Paul claims to have received.
Will you succumb to disobeying what God Yahweh had previously commanded through Jesus and all the prophets prior to Paul? Obviously, God did not give any commands in any of Paul’s statements on doctrine. God is testing us. Have you succumbed to Paul’s anti-law statements? To his doctrines without God’s revelation even offered in support? If so, then you are unlike the Rechabites whom God blessed for their discerning disobedience to a true prophet of God.
1. Rechabites were found in the 1500s in China by a Jewish traveler. They had friendly association with Arab tribes. In 1828 approximately, the number of 60,000 Rechabites were found by a Christian missionary, Dr. Wolff, near Mecca in Arabia. “He credits them with the observance of the pure Mosaic law. They speak Arabic and a little Hebrew.” (“Rechabites,” The Jewish Encyclopedia (accessed 8/31/2016) at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12616-rechabites
Also, the Nabatheans of Arabia observed the same rules. (Diodorus Siculus at 19:94.) The Nabatheans were later converted to Christianity.