“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. 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. 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. The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me” (Jeremiah 35:13–16).
We live in an age where a child spouting a four-letter word is not so much regarded as disobedience as obedience is regarded as a four-letter word. When I say the “o” word, what sort of image pops into your noggin? Whatever the image, is it more along the lines of an ugly tyrant demanding obedience, or a beautiful child offering obedience? I’d venture that the collective moral imagination of society today leans heavily toward thinking of “obedience” as something the villain demands. The heroine of the story is the one who defies authority to live freely. Disney much?
True, there are tyrants to be defied; but how often is the authority an outright tyrant? How rarely is obedience to a good authority praised? Our age may believe it has progressed a great deal so that stories of “courageous disobedience” are delighted in, but the plot is an ancient one. It repeats the very lie told to our mother in the garden. We have been dying, literally dying to believe it ever since.
C.S. Lewis, in his preface for Milton’s Paradise Lost, wrote, “Everything except God has some natural superior; everything except unformed matter has some natural inferior. The goodness, happiness, and dignity of every being consists in obeying its natural superior and ruling its natural inferiors.” Our goodness, happiness, and dignity are to be found in obedience. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the duty which God requireth of man?” The answer, “The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.” That answer is not only true, it is good and beautiful.
When God says, “Places everyone!” we should not only know our place, we should know that our place is the best place for us to be. We believe it is a good thing that the sun keeps its course, but when it comes to our own course, we’d like to think we know better. We don’t want to know our place, we want to make it. We don’t want to be a stage hand, we want to own the stage. We don’t want to shine the spotlight, we want to be in it.
Of course a fish cannot be happy on land, but, surely man must be happier outside the ethical orbit he was made to live in. Man is evolving. This is why one man thinks he will be happier if he were a woman. With this, what man is saying is that he would be happier if he were God and God were man. He would rather make God in His image than be made in the image of God. The former seems so freeing; the latter constraining. When a child doesn’t obey their parents, they demonstrate that they’d really rather not have parents. They’d like big people who coddle them and commend them, but not command them. One reason children do this to their parents is that their parents model it before them—this is how mom and dad relate to God. The parent planets cannot get out of orbit without carrying their little moons into an irregular orbit with them. Yet, because the parents think they are god, they can’t imagine why little Timmy would behave as though he were. The only real solution is for everyone to assume their places as told and delight in them.
God planted man in a garden of delight, and if man would have obeyed, he would have stayed. As a result of disobedience, man was driven from the garden to live out his days on this cursed crust. It is this cosmic story that is played out in microcosm with Judah.
The story of the Rechabites recalibrates our consciences according to truth so that we see obedience for the virtue that it is. If the Rechabites obeyed a fallible earthly father, should we not listen to our infallible heavenly Lord? Jonadab spoke and died. Our Lord lives and speaks. Jonadab offered a probability of wisdom should they obey. The Lord speaks sure and certain promises should we obey.
But rather than obey God, whose law is true and whose promises are sure, we turn to do our shopping from shady pop-ups making lifetime guarantees but which only deliver fall-apart knockoffs made in China. We not only ignore God’s commands, we ignore His promises. Or, perhaps we think we can disregard his commands and still gain the promises. Worse yet, like Eve, we think we can get even more than God has promised by disobedience. How foolish of us to trust the hiss of the serpent and disbelieve the roar of the Lion. It is God we should fear and God we should trust.
Obedience is true, because He is true. Obedience is good, because He is good. Obedience is beautiful, because He is beautiful.
Meridian Church · Jeremiah 35:1–19 || Listen And Obey || Josh King