🔼The name Rechabites: Summary
- They Of The Driver
- From the verb רכב (rakab), to utterly control.
🔼The name Rechabites in the Bible
The Rechabites are a Judaic sect, not of Israelite but Kenite origin, descending from an otherwise unmentioned Rechab and his son Jehonadab. The latter entered the Biblical stage by helping general-king Jehu murder all descendants of former king Ahab in Samaria (2 Kings 10:15) and all Baal priests in Israel (10:23), which demonstrates besides his obvious political and religious enthusiasm also a status and skill-set that appealed to Jehu.
What that status and skill-set were isn't wholly clear, but his cousins, the Tirathites, the Shimeathites and the Sucathites, who also descended from Hammath, the "father" of the House of Rehab, were families of scribes living in Jabez of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:55). For some reason, Jehonadab became disgruntled with urban living and ordered his descendants to refrain from building houses and engaging in agriculture but live in tents and move around (Jeremiah 35:7). He also forbade them to drink wine (Jeremiah 35:6), which probably stemmed from him witnessing alcohol abuse and not so much from an appreciation of the Nazirite vow, as some have suggested (the Nazirite vow entailed much more than abstinence from wine; Numbers 6).
Ever since their commission, the Rechabites had proudly adhered to their father's rules but when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah three centuries later, they felt that a move to Jerusalem was warranted (Jeremiah 35:11). Their feeling proved to be correct, because via Jeremiah, YHWH praised the obedience of the sons of the Rechabites in regard to the wine drinking, and stated that Jonadab, the son of Rechab, would not lack a man to stand before him always (Jeremiah 35:19).
The Talmud makes much mention of the Rechabites, and usually explains God's promise to mean that the Rechabites would be celebrated scribes and Sanhedrin members. Whether that happened isn't clear (some rabbis explain the scribal families of Jabez to be post-Jeremiah Rechabites) but Yose ben Halafta, the traditional 2nd century author of the Seder Olam Rabbah and fifth most mentioned rabbi in the Mishnah, was claimed to be a Rechabite (Genesis Rabba xcviii.13). A 12th century traveler named Benjamin of Tudela claimed to have met marauding bands of Jewish Rechabites in Arabia, and in the 19th century, a stocky Jewish Christian missionary named Joseph Wolff found 60,000 of them in fervent expectation of the Messiah's arrival to occur around the year 1840. What happened to the Rechabites of Arabia after 1840 isn't clear but the Easton's Bible Dictionary of 1897 reports that "recently" near the Dead Sea a tribe was discovered which also claimed ancestry from Rechab.
In 1835 and riding the waves of the world-wide temperance movement, a club was created in Salford, England, which demanded abstinence from alcohol from its members, and which called itself the Independent Order of Rechabites. It swept across the Atlantic, and spawned the Independent Order of Rechabites of North America and the Encamped Knights of Rechab of North America. Local groups convened in "tents" and to become a member, one had to "believe in a Supreme Being" (and not drink or be black). Members could attain formal levels of commitment called degrees: Knight of Temperance, Knight of Fortitude and Covenanted Knight of Justice. Besides being an obvious Freemason rip-off, the "High Tent" of Rechabitism was headquartered in Washington D.C. and was instrumental in bringing about the eighteenth amendment to the United States' constitution, which in turn effected the Prohibition of 1920-1933.
🔼Etymology of the name Rechabites
The ethnonym Rechabite obviously comes from the name Rechab, which in turn comes from the verb רכב (rakab), meaning to ride or drive:
The verb רכב (rakab) essentially means to utterly control or take utter control over, and is used to describe the riding of animals such as horses and camels, but mostly riding and controlling chariots. The derived noun רכב (rekeb) literally denotes something driven or controlled, such as the heavy millstone of an industrial grinder, but is mostly used to describe chariots.
Other derivations are: the noun רבכה (rikba), a driving; the noun רכב (rakkab), driver; the noun רכוב (rekub), (God's) chariot; the noun מרכב (merkab), literally "place/agent of driving". This word is used to describe anything from a seat or saddle to the whole of an army's chariotry. The noun מרכבה (markaba) denotes a single chariot.
None of the sources we commonly consult translates Rechabites separately, but for Rechab NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Rider, BDB Theological Dictionary has Band Of Riders and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names proposes Horseman.