“This is what the Lord says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16
Out West, where I grew up in Colorado, the country is not overrun with population. As you hike in the primitive beauty of the wilderness in the spectacular Rocky Mountains you still come across ancient paths created by wild game as well as by ancient inhabitants, Native Americans. Even on the plains there remain in some places the visible ruts of wagon wheels from the numerous covered wagon trains once heading west across the frontier. These are ancient paths in the landscape of the earth like the more substantial paving rocks of the ancient Roman way; they could really tell a story if the rocks could speak. Jeremiah, however, is speaking of ancient paths of the soul in the labyrinth of the culture. The ancient land paths were ways to water, safety, home, provision. The paths of the soul are the spiritual routes of men traversing a life’s journey while breathing, thinking, choosing, acting, and responding to, ignoring, or hating their Creator. Asking for the ancient paths for the believer is remembering this, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
In a very real sense you and I stand at one crossroads or another most every day; we are faced with choices. Some days there are more important crossroads than others, and the choices are more dramatic and consequential than other days, but then you never really know in advance what even “simple choices in this day will bring forth. Asking for “ancient paths doesn’t always sound very exciting or adventuresome; innovation or something “new seems more enticing to the appetite. After all, being bored is the worst sin, your nature whispers to your soul. Ancient paths are allegedly those dusty diatribes of patriarchs and prophets long “dead; young people disparage and ignore history as the buried relic of a past irrelevant to their lives today; even in the church many Christians ask openly or in their private thoughts how “dead white men of the Reformation have anything significant to say to the church in the modern age.
Attention today is captured by the spectacular, the creative, the imaginative, the NEW; though, Solomon said in the distant past there is nothing new under the sun; and, you know, Solomon hasn’t been proved wrong yet. Jesus addressed the myth of the innovative and new over against the everlasting good of the ancient paths: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced [of the eternal value of the ancient paths] even if someone rises from the dead. (Luke 16:31) Ancient in this text also means everlasting. God is from everlasting and He does not change. What He revealed in the distant past remains true today. The ancient paths are the spiritual truths, the first principles, found in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and on to Peter, John and Paul.
The ancient paths of the Old Testament are one with the ancient paths of the New. Jesus did not say for nothing to the two disciples walking to Emmaus on that first resurrection day that they can find him in the pages of Moses, the Prophets, and throughout the Scriptures. The ancient paths are, “What does the Lord require of you, O man, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8), together with “I (Jesus) am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me (John 14:5). The only way you are going to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God today, is to know with certainty Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and abiding in him is asking for and walking in the ancient paths.
I played football from 3rd grade through college. After a bad game, you could count on the coaches in the next week of practice taking you back with vigor to the fundamentals: blocking, tackling, catching, and running. Yes, even in college football, after years and years of playing the game, you were still susceptible to forget the basics; they needed to be imbedded in your head and body once again. Israel had to learn this lesson in their head and hearts over and over. So do we! Jeremiah told the people of God they were at a crossroads and they really were; ask for the ancient paths, he said by God’s Spirit, and walk in them, and find rest for your souls. In this instance they would not. Crossroads are inevitable in all our lives. The Bible promises, “Ask and you will receive. You will, if you ask for the ancient paths. That is where the rest for which you crave will always be found.
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