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.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
I set watchmen over you, saying,
‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’
But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’
Therefore hear, O nations,
and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people,
the fruit of their devices,
because they have not paid attention to my words;
and as for my law, they have rejected it.
What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba,
or sweet cane from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable,
nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.
Therefore thus says the Lord:
‘Behold, I will lay before this people
stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble;
fathers and sons together,
neighbor and friend shall perish.’” – Jeremiah 6:16-21 ESV
Life is full of difficult decisions. Every single day, choices must be made. Like a traveler on a journey to a distant hand but who lacks a map, we humans find ourselves facing the challenge of navigating life with a myriad of options in front of us. There are so many choices we could make and paths we might take. But because we lack the ability to see into the future, we are incapable of determining the outcome of our choices ahead of time. And we have all learned over time, that not all of our choices have been good ones. Not all the paths we have taken have gotten us where we had hoped to go. The book of Proverbs provides us some insight into this dilemma.
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. – Proverbs 14:12 NLT
The world appears to be all about options. We have so many opportunities in front of us. As free men, we have the ability to choose our lot in life. Sure, there are limits. Lack of available resources, country of origin, ethnic background, gender – all of these things can and often do play a limiting role in our ability to choose our own destiny. But the one thing that holds every human being back and ends up determining their destiny is sin.
As God continues to deliver His message of judgment against the people of Judah, He accuses them of something that should jump out at us. He says that they have determined to take another path than the one He has chosen for them. He refers to it as the “ancient path” or the “good way”. He reminds them that this path will provide them with rest for their souls. It is the right path, the godly path. There is no doubt concerning the final destiny at the end of this path. It is well-worn and has a proven track record of getting people where they need to go. But the people of Judah had decided that God’s way was not for them. They said, “We will not walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16 ESV). This was not a case of ignorance regarding the path’s existence. They knew it was there. It had always been there. And they had heard the stories of former travelers who had taken that path – like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David. They had even been given detailed road maps for this path by God Himself. He had clearly communicated to them how to live according to His will. He had given them His law. He had told them exactly how to walk in His ways. But they had chosen to walk a different path. And this message regarding their stubborn refusal to take the ancient path, the good way, will come up repeatedly in the book of Jeremiah.
“Yet my people have forgotten me
and offered sacrifices to worthless idols!
This makes them stumble along in the way they live
and leave the old reliable path of their fathers.
They have left them to walk in bypaths,
in roads that are not smooth and level.” – Jeremiah 18:15 NLT
Near the end of the book, long after God’s judgment has come and the people have been taken captive to Babylon, the small remnant who remained in Judah would finally see the error of their ways and call out to Jeremiah for help:
“Please grant our request and pray to the Lord your God for all those of us who are still left alive here. For, as you yourself can see, there are only a few of us left out of the many there were before. Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” – Jeremiah 42:2-3 NLT
Now they want directions. They want to know where to go and what to do. And isn’t that exactly how we respond when we find our choices have ended up as dead ends? When the paths we choose to take leave us lost or living in a state of discontentment and confusion, we usually turn to God. We ask Him what to do and where to go. And all along we have have had His road map for life right in front of us. God had clearly told the people of Judah His path for abundant life.
“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.” – Leviticus 26:3-5 ESV
The words of the psalmist were well known to them.
Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways! – Psalm 119:1-3 ESV
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart! – Psalm 119:30-32 ESV
They knew the right way, but they had chosen to walk their own path. Rather than the way of faithfulness, they had chosen unfaithfulness. Instead of walking in the law of the Lord, they chose to walk in the ways of the world. And as a result, God was going to punish them.
“I will bring disaster on my people.
It is the fruit of their own schemes,
because they refuse to listen to me.
They have rejected my word.” – Jeremiah 6:18 NLT
Their sacrifices and offerings would do them no good. Their religious rituals and observances would not provide course correction. It was their hearts that were off track. They loved their way more than God’s. They preferred their own path over the one God had prepared for them. They thought they were wiser than God. They thought they knew better than God. And so, they were going to learn the timeless lesson that there is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.
Therefore, this is what the Lord says:
“I will put obstacles in my people’s path.
Fathers and sons will both fall over them.
Neighbors and friends will die together.” – Jeremiah 6:21 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.