What I Like About The Amish
On a Cold December Morning Over Coffee . . .
My wife and I were talking recently about a book she was reading. It's by Beverly Lewis and is a story about the Amish. You may know that Amish fiction has become a major category in the Christian publishing world.
As she told me the story's plot, which is pretty compelling (we've watched an excellent movie based on one of Lewis's books called Saving Sarah Cain, so I was already pretty sold on this author) I was reminded of an incident recorded by the prophet Jeremiah in the Bible.
Reading Through the Bible
I'm pretty much always reading through the Bible. I read something from the books of the law, the books of history, the books of poetry, the prophets, the gospels and the epistles every morning and have been doing so for a long time. I do it more for enjoyment than out of any sense of obligation, so if it sounds like more than you'd ever want to do, no worries.
Anyway, I just finished reading the book of Jeremiah. As I was talking to my wife, one passage stood out in particular. It's chapter 35, and deals with a group of people called the Rechabites.
I'm not the first person to notice a similarity between the Amish and the Rechabites. You'll get plenty of hits if you look up "Amish" and "Rechabites" on the internet. But the similarity I'm focusing on here is, I believe, somewhat unique.
What's So Interesting About the Rechabites?
God has Jeremiah single these people out. Actually, He has the prophet play a trick on them. God tells him to set wine before the Rechabites to drink.
The Rechabites' reaction is marvelous. They refuse the wine, saying that their ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab commanded them a long time ago to do two things: 1) Live in tents as nomads instead of living in regular houses, and 2) Abstain from drinking wine.
Why These Two Commandments?
I don't know about you, but I don't see anything in the Bible commanding people to live in tents and abstain from wine. Then again, the Rechabites aren't technically part of Israel (more on that below) so the Bible isn't really their roadmap.
Nevertheless, Jeremiah makes an example of the Rechabites as reflecting the kind of obedience that God requires of Israel.
Another Passage in Jeremiah
After my conversation with my wife I realized there's another passage in Jeremiah that relates to this theme. It's the famous ancient paths passage in Jeremiah 6:16a: "Thus says the Lord: 'Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is: and walk in it, and find rest for your souls . . .'"
Think about this concept of an ancient path. It's the one that people have been using for a long time, with the implication that there's wisdom in taking that particular path that may have been lost in the meantime. That kind of reasoning doesn't sound very compelling in this day and age.
There's one particular bit of wisdom that I think really has been lost for a lot of people, and it's the fifth of the Ten Commandments: "Honor your father and mother".
Interestingly, the Rechabites were descendants of Jethro, Moses' father in law so, as I noted above, they were not Jews. Nevertheless, Jeremiah accords Jonadab, the ancestor of the Rechabites, a similar honor to the one he accords King David in Jeremiah 33:17, which is that he "shall never lack a man to stand before me."
This is not the same as saying that the Rechabites are saved, but it is typical of the honor Jeremiah ascribes to the righteous. For another example of Jeremiah doing this, see how Jeremiah honors his secretary Baruch in chapter 45.
Compare the way Jeremiah ascribes honor to the Rechabites with Deuteronomy 5:14, which says, "Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."
Focus on this aspect of long life, and compare it to the phrase in Jeremiah 35: "shall never lack a man to stand before me." Long life isn't the same as eternal life but it is better than a short life.
What I'm getting at is that it seems likely that many of the traditions of the Amish are expressions of obedience by children to their parents, similar to what you see in Jeremiah 35 with the Rechabites.
Being a Rechabite wasn't the same as being an Israelite. By the same token, being Amish doesn't make you a Christian. But honoring your father and mother brings the reward of long life, which is a good in and of itself.
So if you find yourself looking down at the Amish (or Hutterites or some other group with similar traditions) reflect for a moment. They're probably just trying to follow the fifth commandment to honor their fathers and mothers. If so, God is honoring them for it.
(c) Copyright B. L. Jenkins