Rechab, Rechabites

RECHAB, RECHABITES re’ kăb, rĕk’ ə bīts (רֵכָ֗ב, רֵכָבִי, H8211; LXX ̔Ρηχάβ; meaning rider, charioteer, from root rkb to mount and ride.

1. A son of Rimmon, a Benjaminite from Beeroth. Together with his brother Baanah, the two guerilla captains treacherously murdered Ishbosheth, their king, and met with the due reward of their deed at David’s hands (2 Sam 4:2, 5, 6, 9).

2. The house of Rechab i.e. Rechabites, famous for their rules to abstain from wine, build no houses, sow no seed, plant no vineyard, but live in tents all their lives (Jer 35:6-8).

a. Relationship to the Kenites. According to 1 Chronicles 2:55 certain Kenites “came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab.” To interpret this text properly one should understand “Hammath” and “father.” First, Hammath may be a place name as well as a personal name because: (1) in this Judaite list (1 Chron 2-4) the names of clansmen are mentioned in such a way that they also become place names; but the wording of this text is strange; (2) the preposition “from” seems to imply that the Kenites in view came from a place Hammath (cf. LXX Alexandrinus ἐξ Αἱμὰ̀θ); (3) according to Judges 4:11, 17 the group of Heber the Kenite separated from the Kenites who descended from Hobab and pitched tent in Kedesh of Naphtali in the same general region as Hammath (cf. Josh 19:35-37). Second, the term “father” may imply either that the Rechabites had a blood relationship with the Kenites or that Hammath was the founder of the Rechabites as a professional guild (cf. BDB, 3). In either case the text is of interest because some of the Kenites gained their livelihood in metallurgy (R. J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, VIII [1964], 91f.), possibly the trade of the Rechabites. See Kenites.

Regarding his religious position there is no ambiguity. Like Elijah and Elisha he was a radical supporter of Yahwism in the face of the increasing threat of Baalism under the Omrides. The statement that Jehonadab was “coming to meet him (Jehu)” (2 Kings 10:15) shows that Jehonadab took the initiative.

c. Object of Jehonadab’s rules. Scholars have differed also in their understanding of the object of the rules formulated by Jehonadab for his descendants. K. Budde, followed by most moderns, held that the object of the regulations was the preservation of primitive simplicity; i.e., the maintenance of nomadism because civilization and settled life inevitably leads to apostasy from Yahweh. Pope said: “The Rechabites struck at the root of the evil, the tendency to assimilate, by making the nomad mode of life a religious obligation and by rejecting virtually everything Canaanite except the language” (IDB, IV, 15). This understanding rests on three assumptions: (1) that abstention from intoxicants is a distinctive trait of nomadic society; (2) that tent-dwelling necessarily indicates nomadism; and (3) that the disdaining of agriculture is a sure sign of nomadism. This understanding is further supported by a parallel group among the Nabateans, mentioned by Diodorus of Sicily (cf. S. Cohen, IDB, III, 491).

Frick, on the other hand, contended that this group of Nabateans is not a valid parallel group because it ignores the significant difference in time, the disparate purpose of the discipline in Nabatean society (to avoid conquest), and the caution urged by Cohen in the use of classical sources vis-a-vis the Nabateans (Frick, 281). Moreover, he cited Albright to question whether teetotalism is a trait of nomadism at all (Frick, 285). Finally, he suggested that the Rechabites’ rules can be interpreted as belonging to a guild of metal-workers involved in the making of chariots and other weaponry because: (1) metallurgists in antiquity formed proud endogamous lines of families which could account for the staying power of the Rechabites. (2) In a pre-industrial society, the smith had to dispose of the formidable body of technical lore which was handed down and guarded jealously from generation to generation. He noted: “like other measures designed to guard the secrets of the trade, so too might the abstention from intoxicants be another attempt to prevent ‘loose lips’ from ‘sinking ships.’” (3) The smith’s social status among agriculturalists was an honored one. (4) Because a smith remained in one locality until the supply of ore and/or fuel was exhausted, he was prevented from establishing a permanent domicile or engaging in agriculture. (5) Whereas other craftsmen were not hindered from engaging in part-time agricultural work, the smith’s work required such skill that agriculture was excluded (Frick, 285).

d. Yahweh’s use of Rechabites. This much is sure: the Rechabites are not commended by Yahweh for their rules but rather for their obedience to the rules. K. Budde acknowledged: “An independent value in the precepts of Jonadab is not asserted” (“The Nomadic Ideal in the Old Testament,” The New World, IV [1895], 727), and S. Talmon wrote: “By way of a simile the prophet had set the Rechabites before the nation as an example of steadfastness. But the tertium comparatonis lies in their relation to a command not in the contents of the command” (“The ‘Desert Motif’ in the Bible and the Qumran Literature,” Biblical Motifs; Origins and Transformations [1966], 37).

e. Survival of the Rechabites. For their steadfastness these few Rechabites able to fit into one chamber of the Temple and all of whose names mentioned in the text contain Yahweh as a theophoric element (Jer 35:3) are promised that they should never want a man to represent them in all succeeding time (Jer 35:19). The fulfillment of this promise is found in these ways: (1) the title of Psalm 71 in the LXX: “...of the sons of Jehonadab and of the earliest captives,” (2) a reference to Malchijah who repaired the Dung Gate in Nehemiah’s restoration of Jerusalem (Neh 3:14), (3) the Jewish tradition that the Rechabites enter the Temple service by the marriage of their daughters to priests, (4) a dubious assertion by Hegesippus that a Rechabite priest protested the martyrdom of James (Eusebius, Hist. II, 23), (5) a statement in the Talmud that the Rechabites had a special day, the seventh of Ab, for participation in the wood festival of priests and people (Ta’an., 26A), and (6) professed descendants of the sect still existing in Iraq and Yemen.

Bibliography K. Budde, “The Nomadic Ideal in the Old Testament,” The New World, IV (1895), 726-746; L. Gautier, A propos des Récabites: un chapitre de l’histoire religieuse d’Israel avant l’exil (Lausanne, 1927); S. Talmon, “I Chronicles 2:55,” Eretz-Israel, 5 (1958), 111-113 (in Heb. with an Eng. summary, 90. Another VS of this article appears in Eng. in IEJ, 10 [1960], 174-180); P. Seidensticker, “Prophetensöhne-Rechabiter-Nasiräer, Studii biblici franciscani liber annus, 10 (1959), 65-119; M. Y. Ben-Gavriel, “Das nomadische Ideal in der Bibel,” Stimmen der Zeit, CLXXI (1962-1963), 253-263; S. Abramsky, “The House of Rechab-Genealogy and Military League,” Eretz-Israel, 8 (1967), 255-264 (Heb. with an Eng. summary, 76*); F. S. Frick, “The Rechabites Reconsidered,” JBL, XC (1971), 279-287.