I bet you've never heard of the Rekabites. I've read through the Bible twice and apparently glazed over their tiny spotlight both times. But their story caught me by surprise and resonated with me this time when I chanced upon it in my random daily reading, which happened to be in Jeremiah 35 the other day.
What's noteworthy about them? Why did they get a spotlight in the first place?
They bring up at least two important ideas. One: they're not exactly Jewish, and yet God says "Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me." That sounds to me like another example of a non-chosen group of people being effectively recognized by God as "saved" if you will. This is a monstrous and what feels like a flagrantly heretical idea, but this is not the main idea I want to discuss. Someday I should write a post about this idea its connection with the book Eternity In Their Hearts by Don Richardson.
The other idea that I find fascinating about these people is that they are hardcore about holding back. Their ancestor apparently told them "Don't drink wine. Don't plant crops. Don't build houses." And so they didn't. Can you imagine the kind of culture that instills in a group of people, I mean besides the part where it means they are nomads.
First off, it reminds me of the kind of respect we Vermonters accord the Amish. Wow, what relics of culture! What self-reliance! What independence! The Rekabites were holding on to cultural ideals that were at the time going out of fashion. Cultures had only probably within the last 1000 years or so at the time become agrarian, moving "forward" from being hunter-gatherers.
They remind me of Romaine Tenney, the Ascutney farmer who used animal power instead of tractors through the 1950s, never got electricity hooked up to his house, and resisted the building of high way 91.
The Rekabites remind me of Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. Oh, you haven't read it!? Visit your local library and read it right now! In Ishmael, there's a re-interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel, which I appreciated since the sermons I had heard about that story since childhood were ummm... shall we say, unsatisfying at best. The moral of that story is usually, "give your best to God. If you don't he won't be satisfied." But how do we get that from the story? How are we, the readers, to know that Abel's gift of the fat from livestock would be more acceptable to God than "fruits of the soil"? Ishmael proposes that this story is actually a warning for the non-agrarian Jewish people against increasing cultural pressure (read raiding and pillaging cultures) that were agrarian. And that somehow God was more pleased with the sheep herder than the grain grower. Here again, we have the Rekabites probably tending herds, but not planting crops, and God is pleased with them.
This all funnels towards the idea of a year of Jubilee. I mean, come on. I'm not going to change my lifestyle back to one of hunting and gathering. Though I will confess the Roots School may empower me to do that. But there's this other idea in the Bible about a year of Jubilee as described in Leviticus 25, which feels slightly (though perhaps only slightly) more feasible. "The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields." Ok, I'll confess this seems contradictory to me. How do you eat what is taken directly from the fields without "harvesting untended vines". Perhaps the difference is in the word "harvest" there's an idea that you're not "storing up" anything. This is exactly the idea proposed in Ishmael, an idea lived out by indigenous cultures around the globe. Why should they plant crops when the forest is already full of food? What a lifestyle! Sit around creating art and music and when you're hungry, just go to the fields and pick something tasty. It's like the whole natural world is one large refrigerator. You probably don't believe me, but it's true, and you can learn about how to eat from the natural refrigerator from the Wisdom of the Herbs class on Wild Edibles.
The only difference is it's a refrigerator where we don't directly control what's in it.
People used to live this way. My ancestors, western caucasians as they were, used to live this way if you go far back enough, and it's almost as if God wants us to remember that way of life. It's a lifestyle that's deeply dependent on God's provision, but also synchronized with the local ecosystem.
There also seems to be a separate idea for every seventh year, like a mini-Jubilee. "You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years." It seems as those God also wants us to be skilled in the art of food preservation.
Wouldn't it be interesting to run an experiment, to try to do these things, to live for a year on preserved food, to live for a year on only that which comes directly from the fields. In all honesty, in Vermont, that seems like a skinny kind of idea - one full of deer, racoon, and squirrel for 6+ months of the year. But... I'm sure it could be done.
Zooming out from this topic slightly, I have to confess that I feel like these parts of the Bible (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) get overlooked mainly because they're hard to apply and also pretty boring to some degree. Some might even say, "well, that was a part of the old covenant. Jesus brought the new covenant, so we don't need to follow those old rules." This is why we eat pork after all! And fair enough, I get that, but these rules were made for a reason. Pork wasn't always as safe to eat as it is now. So I look at the rest of this part of the Bible with its large-scale economic and zoning outlines, and wonder why have I never had a conversation about that in a Christian Community?
What if our national debt policy was governed by Deuteronomy 15? Where eventually all debts are canceled. Woe. That would be revolutionary.