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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33



Passing from the Brotherhood of Modern Rechabites, I point to an ancient and not yet extinct fraternity of whom they are the nominal descendants, though let me hope in some sort the 'spiritual'—for a nobler people, and more genuine example and inspiration, they could hardly select out of the compass of history. They were brave, faithful, persistent, self-denying, open-minded, tolerant, truth-seeking—whose very virtues cast reproach upon the cant, the compromise, the self-indulgence, and the corruption of modern society.

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They have a genealogy which casts ridicule upon the bastard aristocracy of William the Conqueror, and the titled descendants of Charles' Courtezans. Moses and David knew them as Kenites, and Diodorus Siculus describes them under the name of Nabathæans.

About 150 years ago, Mr. Lewes, in his Origines Hebræa, thus graphically paints the Order :—

"The Rechabites were a sort of votaries among the Hebrews, descended from Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, and his son Hobab, from whom came Rechab, who was called The Just. It is uncertain when they first formed themselves into a Society; but they always had orders and regulations peculiar to themselves. They were remarkable for their strict piety and integrity of life, and were originally called Kenites. They likewise had the name of Scribes, because they studied the law, and were very ready in the expounding of it. Jonadab seems to have refined their old discipline; and they always appealed to his injunctions as the founder of the fraternity. . . . They were bound to drink no wine, nor to build houses, but to dwell in tents [a sanitary and politic law, not at all unpleasant in the soft climate of Palestine]; nor to sow seed, nor to plant vineyards, nor to have any; but to give themselves up to a contemplative life, and avoid all occasions of luxury and avarice. This Religious Society was highly approved of by God."

With the history of the Rechabites in the Bible, and the extraordinary trial to which they were put by Jeremiah, as recorded in the 35th chapter of his Prophecy, I could never understand how people pretended that abstinence was discountenanced in Scripture. Old Chaucer, it is certain, read the story very differently, when he says :

"All the soveraine acts, dare I say,
Of Victories in the old Testament,
Thro veray God that is omnipotent.
Were done in abstinence and in prayere;
Look in the Bible, you may learn it there."

As we have seen, from the best average health results the longest life, and from this the permanency of families and nations. When titles or tribes become extinct, some organic law has certainly been broken. As Confucius has said, "Heaven shortens not the life of man; it is man himself who does it by his own vices." Ancient, as well as modern times, have presented ample proof of this,—proofs known to the Prophets as to the sons of Jonadab. The Bible, indeed, in this episode, contains one of the most noteworthy illustrations of the connection beween temperance and prolonged national existence, which is to be found in universal history. The Rechabites were an Arabian and nomadic tribe, earnest seekers after truth, proselytes to the Jewish religion, having renounced the stupid idolatry of their country for the worship of the invisible and true page 13 God. They were a peaceable and quiet people; not without bravery, as evinced in their expulsion of a degrading and cruel idolatry from the land; possessed of great firmness of purpose and moral persistency, as evidenced by their respectful but unhesitating refusal to drink wine even when offered by a prophet, in brief, they were a very favourable specimen of Arabian character, and, as distinguished horsemen, for Rechab signifies 'a Eider,' may be regarded as the Chivalry of the Wilderness. About three hundred years before the time of Jeremiah, Jonadab had renewed and amended the laws of the tribe. Anxious for the preservation of the people,—and knowing that they only remained in Canaan by permission, as friends and allies of Israel,—he adopted every precaution to keep them peaceful and obedient, and to exclude the growth of avarice and luxury. He commanded them to continue that nomadic and simple mode of life which they had practised for ages,—to dwell as heretofore in tents, lest the acquiring of fixed property should generate an attachment that might bring them into conflict with the permanent proprietors of the soil or excite cupidity in others,—to abstain from that drink which is 'raging,' lest it should breed quarrels, and from vintage fruit lest it should foster luxury, or, in some of its forms, through ignorance and mistake, lead to the use of the fermented kinds of wine. They did this, that they might "live long in the land,"—on which passage Professor Noyes comments as follows:—

"These words seem to indicate the main purpose of the regulations of Jonadab, the son [i.e. descendant] of Rechab. . . Their observance, would, he supposed, keep them on good terms with the Jews, as they would have fewer possessions to excite envy, . . . and would possess more self-command, and more caution in avoiding quarrels."

The interview between Jeremiah and the Rechabites temporarily dwelling at Jerusalem, is very instructive. He takes them into the house of Jehovah, and sets before them, to test their fidelity, pots full of wine. He does not tempt them. Neither the plea of argument, nor the pressure of Divine 'authority' is applied. He regards their refusal to drink as a virtue. Jeremiah, it appears, dare no more have given wine to them than to the Nazarites, on his own responsibility. The kind of wine we may assume to have been proper, such as was provided for the temple-service: a wine that might be innocently drank by men in general, though not by the Rechabites. The Prophet received an express command before venturing even to offer wine to these abstainers;—but he is not authorised to say anything in favour of the wine, or against the practice of the sons of Jethro. There is no lie uttered—no intimation that God desires them to drink. It is merely the man Jeremiah that speaks :—

"I said to them—Drink ye wine. But they said, We will not drink wine."

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The answer was deemed sufficient by the prophet, accompanied as it was by a reference to the noble purpose and venerable origin of their abstinence, the merits of which had then been tested by an experience of centuries. He does not urge them to violate or abandon their principles—which, if they were wrong, he might well have done—but clearly showed, in refraining from all solicitation, the deference which he felt to their conscientious scruples. Nay, it is no longer Jeremiah who speaks,—all that follows has a higher authority:—

"Then came the Word of Jehovah to Jeremiah, saying:—The words of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, in which he commanded his sons not to drink wine, have been performed; for they have drunk no wine to this day," etc.

To understand the 'blessing' pronounced on the Rechabites we must look at their own reasons for abstinence:—

"Jonadab, the son of Rechab, our Father, commanded us saying, Ye shall drink no wine,* ye nor your sons, for ever, . . . . .That Ye may Live Long in the Land Wherein Ye are Strangers."

They would dwell for ever, even as strangers, in the land, if they might but know God who revealed himself there. Hence, that they might be neither expelled nor destroyed as a people, through intemperance—that they might avoid the sin and pride of Ephraim,—that they might live long in the land where Israel dwelt,—they would drink no wine. They had a right to expect, both on grounds of reason and experience, the continued existence of their tribe. The word confirms this; it promises that the very object of their hopes shall be realised, in substance, if not in form. God himself is pledged to fulfil their expectations, enlarging indeed the very blessing which they sought.

"Thus Saith Jehovah of Hosts. . . . there shall not fail in the line of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, Men to Stand Before me for ever."

He who made the preserving law of temperance, and foresaw the consequences of its rigid observance to the end of time,—also fore-saw, what the sons of Rechab did not, that Israel should himself be expelled from the land of his fathers, which could then be no habitation for his allies. Hence, the promise is not limited, as were their expectations, to the land of Israel, but extended in its substance to The Entire Duration of Humanity. There, or elsewhere, if faithful to the preserving law, the posterity of the Rechabites should maintain their existence as a people.

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Now comes the question, Have these people been faithful to their pledge, and God to his promise? The answer must be in the affirmative. Rabbi Benjamin, of Tudela, in the twelfth century, mentions their existence; and Dr. Joseph Wolff, in his first Journal of Travel, records having met with some of them thirty-five years ago. He found them to resemble their ancestors; willing to receive truth, and though Jews, to read and circulate the New Testament; simple in their manners, kind, courteous, brave, intelligent, and as horsemen, the most accomplished cavaliers of the orient. One of them whom he saw, and who referred to Rechab as his ancestor, read fluently both in Arabic and Hebrew, and invited Dr. Wolff to visit his tribe in the vicinity of Mecca, calculating their number at about 60,000. The Missionary was struck with the fine appearance of the man, and notices that he had a loud voice, and was distinguished by "a more lively countenance than the Arabs." These tribes dwell in tents, which they have pitched in three oases of the desert, and they neither sow seed nor plant vineyards.

In the Ethnology Section of the British Association, at Cambridge, 1862, the proceedings commenced with the reading of a paper by Signor Pierotti, "On recent Notices of the Rechabites," the sum of which was, that towards the end of April, 1860, the Signor, travelling south of the Dead Sea, and in a valley about two miles therefrom, met a tribe of Rechabites, whose object it was to procure a supply of linen and salt. The next day another tribe arrived on a similar errand. They were exceedingly clean in their dresses and persons (cleaner than other Bedouins), hut the most singular point connected with them was, that they had a copy of the Scriptures in Hebrew. The chief location of the tribe is south-east of the Mountains of Moab. Their general sojourn is on the west shore of the Dead Sea, and some of their members had been heard to say prayers, at the tomb of a Jewish Rabbi, in the Hebrew language.

Thus amidst the clash of conquest and the crush of kingdoms,—while the mighty Empires of Persia and of Greece, of Rome and of Parthia, have risen in glory and declined in shame,—and while the desolating armies of the Saracen and the Crusader, of the Mongol and the Turk, have rolled over the battle field of the east,—amidst the long and sad eclipse of Israel, and the triumph of the Crescent over the banner of the Cross,—in short, amid the ruin and revolution of twenty-four centuries,—the noble and united Band of Rechabites have preserved their simplicity, their sobriety, and their freedom,—remaining amidst the wrecks of time, an impressive monument of Prophetic truth, and a living witness to the imperishable nature of the Divine laws.

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For the critical, moral, and theological relations of this subject of the Ancient Rechabites, the reader is referred to the following-named work:—

Third Edition, with Supplement, Price 6s.,

The Temperance Bible Commentary,

Giving at one view Version, Criticism, and Exposition in regard to 700 passages of Holy Writ bearing on "Wine" and "Strong Drink," or illustrating the principles of the Temperance Reformation. By Dr. F. R. Lees and Rev. Dawson Burns, A.M.

London: S. W. Partridge & Co., 9, Paternoster Row.

The Commentary can also be procured by post direct from Dr. Lees, Meanwood Lodge, Leeds.

"The more I look into this noble work, the more do I admire its breadth, depth, and exhaustiveness. It is a truly grand contribution."—Professor Guthrie, Glasgow.

Highly favourable reviews of the Temperance Bible Commentary have appeared in British and American publications, and several of the Scholars engaged in the Revision of the English Translation of the Bible have expressed themselves concerning it in language exceedingly eulogistic. Among the latest of the editorial notices are the following:—

The Coleraine Chronicle—"This is the third and improved edition of a work of great research, critical acumen, and general information, and which has elicited the eloquent commendation of bishops, professors, and doctors of divinity. There is no warping of Scripture, no exaggeration of statement; all is honest and indisputable. As an impartial, learned, and valuable work, we confidently predict for it a high place in the religious literature of the day."

The Christian Age—"This is a most interesting and valuable work. The light which it throws on many portions of the Sacred Word, and the help it renders in elucidating the original languages in disputed passages, will make it a welcome and much-valued addition to the library of the Bible teacher."

Head Offices of the G. O. of Rechabites: 98, Lancaster Avenue, Fennell-street, Manchester. Corresponding Secretary—R. Hunter.

* The tent-law they occasionally departed from, for they were then in Jerusalem; but the reason of this law was universal.