Moses’ father-in-law was Jethro, a member of a nomadic tribe of people who lived in the land of Midian. When Moses brought the children of Israel near, some of Jethro’s descendants went with Israel in their journey to Canaan. They lived in the southern part of the land with the people of Judah and Benjamin and were devoted to the Lord. Later, one of their descendants, Recab, was a leader in Saul’s army, then in David’s army. (So devoted were they that when the kingship passed from Saul to David, they switched sides. When Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth claimed the throne, Recab was a part of an assassination plot against him – a fact which cost Recab his life.) Later, Jonadab, a descendant of Recab, was part of Jehu’s efforts to stamp out Baal worship in Israel. Though the Recabites were a nomadic people, by the days of Jeremiah they had taken up the occupation of scribes.
What makes all of this relevant in chapter 35 is that the Recabites are not really Israelites. They have maintained their family and ethnic distinction, even though they have been absorbed into Israel – and that makes them even more important in this story.
Here are a group of people, known for their devotion to the Lord, who know how to be obedient. Their ancestor, Jonadab, gave a command to his family not to drink wine – and the family followed it! To the days of Jeremiah they followed it; nearly four hundred years. These people knew how to be obedient to their “father,” but Israel didn’t know how to be obedient to their’s (God). It is one of those times when God uses the faithfulness of non-Israelites to shame His own people.