In Jeremiah chapter 35, Jeremiah invites the Rechabites into the temple and invites them to drink wine. It was probably a fair amount of social pressure, being in the temple and being invited to drink wine by the prophet, but they turned him down, citing a duty placed upon them by their ancestor.
It is pretty clear that God had no problem with people drinking wine in general. Drunkenness was always condemned and there were specific circumstances under which wine was prohibited, but a general precept against drinking wine was not given to all of Israel the way prohibitions against idolatry and sexual immorality were. In terms of the Law of Moses this rule against wine was unnecessary.
Nevertheless God was pleased to use their faithfulness to this arbitrary ancestral law as an example of faithfulness to covenant promises, to shame and rebuke Israel. The law itself was not the point; the faithfulness was what God wanted Jeremiah to call out.
Today there is a bewildering number of marriageable Christians who are not married, both in my own personal sphere and in the wider culture around me. I’ve seen a number of essays on this topic, usually chiding all the singles for their wrong notions of marriage and too often wishing for a simpler time when people just got married and didn’t make such a big deal out of it.
I have not seen anyone looking at this as a work of God, taking the view that his Spirit is active in his people (yes, even young people; yes, even single people). Everyone assumes that the young people are just doing something wrong, and are somehow incapable of figuring out the most elementary things of the flesh–and somebody has to sit them down and teach them about reproduction, for crying out loud.
Off and on I’ve entertained the idea that maybe this country is headed for such a terrible calamity that God in his mercy is restraining marriage so that there will be fewer families to suffer in the disaster to come. This plays to a certain morose theme in my thinking but doesn’t really hold much water. There are still Christians getting married and raising children; either they’ve been earmarked for extra grief in this supposed calamity or else they’ve been given a complete pass while the rest of us get to bear all the grief. Such “unfair” divisions happen all the time; Christians in Syria and much of the rest of the world would wonder what I mean about this “future” calamity. But that whole line of thinking has more to do with trying to scheme a way to come out on top of world events. It has nothing to do with glorifying God and everything to do with glorifying my own imagined martyrdom.
In the context of the Rechabites, though, there is nothing so special about the abstinence from wine per se; it is the faithfulness, of itself, that God wanted to show as a rebuke. And if God wanted to rebuke a people for a culture of gratification and self-absorption, keeping a lot of people out there who are abstaining from the common pleasures of the day is a fairly obvious way to do that.
I’m not prepared to be dogmatic on this; I’m not claiming it as a revelation. But it seems at least a worthwhile reminder that God can use an entire lifestyle as a bit of emphasis on a short memo to his people. Circumstances that affect your entire life might not be all about you; it might be to serve up a lesson to someone else who is not directly involved in your life at all.
It still doesn’t seem fair, exactly, but it gives me a view on how God might glorify himself that is a little bigger than myself.