RECHABITES, rec'a-baits: A clan of the Kenites, noted for adherence to the commands of one of their early elders. The fundamental passage for knowledge of the Rechabites is Jer. xxxv. 1 sqq. According to this, during the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar, Jeremiah invited into the Temple the Rechabites who had fled to Jerusalem before the Babylonian armies, and set wine before them. They refused to drink it in spite of his urging, giving as their reason the prohibition against wine by Jonadab, son of Rechab, their ancestor. The fidelity with which the Rechabites observed these commands, served Jeremiah as a text for a denunciation of faithless Judah, which did not keep the commands of its God with equal fidelity. Besides this passage, the ancestor, if not the clan, is described in II Kings x. 15-16 as being in earnest accord with the reforming purposes of Jehu. Finally the Rechabites are noted in I Chron. ii. 55 among the "families of the scribes who dwelt at Jabez" as "the Kenites that came of Hamath the father of the house of Rechab." This is after the return from the Babylonian captivity.
There is little doubt that the Rechabites were nomads who clung to their primitive habits when Israel had advanced to the agricultural stage. They worshiped Yahweh, but it was the Yahweh whom Israel had worshiped in the desert. It is, therefore, intelligible that, in the days of Elisha and Elijah, when the worship of Baal threatened to drive out that of Yahweh, a religious community could be formed under the leadership of a Jonadab ben Rechab, which rejected everything savoring of Canaanite civilization. The name Rechab was, naturally, only a tribal appellation. The esteem enjoyed by the community is proved by the fact that Jehu believed he could conciliate the people after his bloody deeds by having Jonadab with him on his chariot. The Rechabites who sought refuge in Jerusalem, in Jeremiah's time, seem to have had a semi-spiritual position, and, in consequence of the events of the time, were forced to give up their nomadic life. They probably shared the captivity of the inhabitants, and after their return seem to have abandoned their exceptional position and possibly became a race of scribes.