Jeremiah 35 – The Rechabites & The Lachish Ostraca

I still want to know about the Hittites, but first I want to know about…

Jeremiah 35
The Rechabites

1 The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,

Tell en-Nasbeh
This is a well-preserved four-room house at Tell en-Nasbeh. It has stone pillars separating the long rooms and a broadroom across the back.

35:1-19 – the family of the Rechabites who obeyed their forefather’s command are an example and rebuke to the people of Judah who have disobeyed the Lord.  The mention of “the army of the Chaldeans and…Syrians [Arameans]” dates the chapter to no earlier than the eighth year of King Jehoiakim, who began his reign in 609 B.C.

Their capital city of Jerusalem was besieged in 605 B.C. (see Dan 1:1) by Nebuchadnezzar, and who rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar three or four years later – an unwise act that led to raids on his territory by the Babylonians, Syrians and others.

2 Go unto the house of the Rechabites, and speak unto them, and bring them into the house of the LORD, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.

“Rechabites” – nomadic tribal group related to the Kenites, some of whom lived among or near the Israel’s and were on friendly terms with them.

Bethsaida
The ruins of the village are located on a hill, above the delta of the upper Jordan river, a fertile area with many ancient villages. It was a Biblical city in the land of Geshur, and a Roman city, the site of Jesus’ two miracles.

Mark 8:22: “And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him…”

3 Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habaziniah, and his brethren, and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites;

“Jaazaniah” – means “The LORD hears.”  It was a common name in Jeremiah’s time and appears on a stamp deal (discovered at Tell en-Nashbeh north of Jerusalem and dating c. 600 B.C.), as well as on one of the Lachish ostraca.

4 And I brought them into the house of the LORD, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan, the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, which was above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door:

5 And I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine, and cups, and I said unto them, Drink ye wine.

6 But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons forever:

7 Neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any: but all your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers.

8 Thus have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab our father in all that he hath charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, nor our daughters;

9 Nor to build houses for us to dwell in: neither have we vineyard, nor field, nor seed:

10 But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us.

11 But it came to pass, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans, and for fear of the army of the Syrians: so we dwell at Jerusalem.

12 Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying,

Palmyra in Syria – Roman ruins.
Palmyra is an ancient archaeological site located in modern-day Syria. … The Syrian government retook the area in March 2016, and the ancient site—which has survived multiple wars and strife—remains a key historical and cultural treasure.

13 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will ye not receive instruction to hearken to my words? saith the LORD.

14 The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father’s commandment: notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto me.

15 I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye 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.

16 Because the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them; but this people hath not hearkened unto me:

17 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have pronounced against them: because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have not answered.

Palmyra in Syria – Colonnade
The Great Colonnade at Palmyra was the main colonnaded avenue in the ancient city of Palmyra in the Syrian Desert. The colonnade was built in several stages during the second and third century CE and stretched for more than a kilometer.

18 And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you:

19 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me forever.

“Not want a man to stand before me” – various traditions in the Jewish Mishnah claim that the Rechabites were later given special duties to perform in connection with the Jerusalem temple built after the return from Babylonian exile.

The Lachish Ostraca

In 1935, eighteen ostraca (broken pieces of pottery used for writing) were discovered in a guard room below the gate tower inside the outer wall at Lachish, a fortified town protecting the southern Judean hill country and in 1938, three more were found.

In 701 BCE, the Assyrian king Sennacherib led his armies to Phoenicia (the coast of Lebanon) and the Land of Israel with the aim of crushing a rebellion against him that had erupted under the leadership of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and Zedaka, king of Ashkelon. (The story of this rebellion is alluded to in I Kings 18:13-14).

 While a few of the ostraca are unreadable and four are administrative lists, the remaining are letters dating to the period from 597 to 587 B.C. 

They are extremely important, not only for their value in studying the development of Hebrew grammar and syntax, but also for their illumination of the political situation and general turmoil as Judah prepared for the inevitable attack by Nebuchadnezzar.

The most significant of the letters are numbers 3, 4, and 6.  Number 3 is from Hoshaiah, a subordinate officer writing to Yaosh, probably the governor or military commander of Lachish.  He reported that Coniah, son of Elnathan, had traveled to Egypt to obtain military assistance.

OstraconisOstrakon of Megacles, son of Hippocrates 487 B.C.
Megacles or Megakles was the name of several notable men of ancient Athens, as well as an officer of Pyrrhus of EpirusThe first Megacles was possibly a legendary archon of Athens from 922 BC to 892 BC.

An ostraconis a piece of pottery, usually broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessel. In an archaeological or epigraphical context, ostraca refer to sherds or even small pieces of stone that have writing scratched into them.

Usually these are considered to have been broken off before the writing was added; ancient people used the cheap, plentiful and durable broken pieces of pottery around them as convenient places to place writing for a wide variety of purposes, mostly very short inscriptions, but in some cases surprisingly long.

Jeremiah 37:6-8 indicates that king Zedekiah had believed that Egyptian forces would come to his aid but that the Lord had declared otherwise.  The pharaoh’s army would not stave off the Babylonian onslaught. 

Some suggest that Elnathan might have been the official of Zedekiah mentioned in 26:22 and 36:12, 25.  The letter concludes with a warning message from an unnamed prophet.

In letter 4 the author appears to say that he was watching for the fire signals of Lachish; those of Azekah were not visible.  This may indicate that Azekah had already capitulated at the time the ostracon was inscribed.

Azekah was the only other fortified city besides Lachish still standing in Judah just prior to Jerusalem’s fall.

The New Kingdom pharaoh depicted on this limestone fragment bears the finesse of a master’s hand. The two arms, however, are rendered more crudely. It is likely that a master used this ostracon to teach his student, and the work of both individuals can be seen on the piece.

Letter 6 is concerned with the words of certain princes and officials of the sort intended to demoralize troops facing imminent war.  A prophet is mentioned, but the name is illegible except for the ending “-yah” (i.e., “Yah-weh”).

It may be that the prophet was either Uriah or Jeremiah (both their names end in “-yah” in Hebrew), although of course we cannot know.  Jeremiah had already prophesied that God would hand over Jerusalem to Babylon; many had thus regarded him as a traitor and a bad influence upon the people.

…Lachish.