35:1 Jehoiakim — This prophecy is a break in the series concerning Zedekiah in the previous chapters. Jehoiakim was Zedekiah’s brother and ruled earlier than him. He was the second of Josiah’s sons to be king over Judah. Jehoiakim was appointed by Pharaoh Neco II after Joiakim’s brother, Yehoaḥaz. Yehoahaz was deposed by the Pharaoh after Yehoaḥaz had reigned for only a few months and was subsequently taken into exile to Egypt. Afterwards, Jehoiakim reigned from 608/07 to 598/97 BCE and was then followed by his son Jehoiachin. After the Babylonian defeat of the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BCE, Jehoiakim committed his loyalty to Babylon. This is recorded in 2 Kings 24:1:
In his days King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up; Jehoiakim became his servant for three years; then he turned and rebelled against him. (2Kings 24:1 NRSV)
The three years were likely 603-601 BCE. Babylon was weakened by conflict with Egypt in 601-600 BCE, and Jehoaikim may have taken this as an opportunity to cease paying tribute to Babylon. This, however, ultimately resulted in military conflict with Judah’s neighbors who were still ruled by vassal kings to Babylon and then Babylonian forces themselves, under Nebuchadrezzar. By this time Jehoiakim had died and his son, Jehoiacin/Jeconiah, was ruling. In 597 BCE Jehoiachin was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar, who replaced with his uncle, Zedekiah.
35:2 the house of the Rechabites…offer them wine to drink — This is the only passage in scripture that describes the Rechabites. They are described as being the offspring of Jonadab/Jehonadab son of Recab. This person is mentioned in 2 Kings 10:15-27 as a person who helped Jehu violently destroy the House of Ahab and remove Baal worship from Israel. If the following passage from 1 Chronicles 2:55 refers to them, the Recabites may have been associated with a scribal culture:
The families also of the scribes that lived at Jabez: the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites. These are the Kenites who came from Hammath, father of the house of Rechab. (1Chronicles 2:55 NRSV)
According to the information here, the Rechabites were a nomadic tribe that refrained from drinking alcohol due to an oath made by their forefather Jonadab. They have taken refuge in Jerusalem due to the invasion by Babylon. In Jeremiah 35, Jeremiah tests them by inviting them to drink alcohol, but they remain true to their family oath. Jeremiah then uses this example of faithfulness to compare with Judah and Israel’s unfaithfulness. Becuase of the Rechabites faithfulness to the family-oath, Jeremiah declares this about them:
But to the house of the Rechabites Jeremiah said, “Thus says the YHWH of armies, the God of Israel: Because you have obeyed the command of Jonadab your father and kept all his precepts and done all that he commanded you, therefore thus says YHWH of A, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall never lack a man to stand before me.” (Jeremiah 35:18–19 ESV)
In post-biblical literature this mysterious clan took on a legendary nature. There is at least one extra-biblical text dedicated to them, The History of the Rechabites, which can be found in Ethiopic, Syriac, and Greek. This text is probably a 6th century CE Christian work that incorporated earlier Jewish material.
35:11 Syrians — In the Hebrew text this is Aram (אֲרָ֑ם). Translators have updated the term to “Syrians” so that modern readers will know the modern region (Syria) where Aram was located in the Ancient Near East. In terms of historical context and language, however, the term Syrian is never used in the Hebrew scriptures. In addition, Syria/Aram should not be confused with Assyria. These kingdoms/empires were, at times, in control of the same region, but they were not the same.