As the sun set on this past year I engaged in a tradition I started a number of years ago. I am not sure where it first began (possibly my mother’s influence); I diligently look for a verse of scripture or a passage which I use as a foundational point for the year. This year I encouraged my children to do the same thing. I gave them one week, it only took them three days! The rules are simple and as follows. It has to be a verse or passage that applies to you and something that you fully understand and can explain.

As I write I found one verse that has stood out for me in the Old Testament found in Jeremiah 6:16. It says; “ 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.” The first part of the verse is what I will mostly concentrate on, while the final phrase we will look at towards the end of this article.

To understand any verse in the bible we need to understand the context of the times in which it was written. Jeremiah brings this prophecy to Judah soon before their captivity in Babylon (about 3 or 4 years). Spiritually, things were a disaster in Judah which are noted in the last two verses of chapter 5. This was God’s assessment of spiritual things: “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” Jeremiahs’ message in this verse must have sounded to Judah like an out of tune instrument in an orchestra. The people were close to celebrating 1000 years of existence as a nation. One thousand years of great progress. They had been set free from the slavery of Egypt and they had risen above many of the nations around them. They had made contact with these neighboring nations and by this, enriched their cultural life and their economy. They were advanced in the world of religion; having shaken off some of the primitive beliefs to which their fathers held so staunchly.  And now over all this advancement, like the shrill sound of a bugle blast, the prophet says “stand at the crossroads and look”.

Sometimes in life we find ourselves making choices. At times we are acutely aware of them and other times we are not. The nation of Israel certainly thought they were doing just fine but Jeremiah was saying “we are at a fork in the road”. He offers a suggestion at this point in the verse and encourages the people to ask for two things. Firstly, “ask for the ancient paths” -this is not lazily defaulting to traditional ways but rather looking to the pathways that were taken by our forefathers who followed God. The people of Judah could reference many of their patriarchs; but not all had made good decisions consistently. Abraham, Moses, David to name a few within their lifetimes had seen God’s promises come true even when they did not fully obey Him in certain circumstances. Regardless, they had laid a foundation of faith and devotion that forged the Hebrew people into a place where the favor of God upon them was obvious. Those ancient paths were laced with experiences where when mistakes were made there was a humility and recognition of their failure that restored them to relationship with God. At times the consequences were irreversible but their love and attitude towards God never waned.
The second question they were to pose was “ask where the good way is”. My suggestion on this is that possibly we may not have ancient paths to follow. A brand new Christian does not always have spiritual reference points, or that someone may have ancient paths that are not the best to follow; an ancestral legacy that is less than stellar. A humble heart should stop and ask, “Which is the best route to take?” So often when we are not sure of our next step we gravitate to our own comfort zones. Sometimes that is a sinful pattern or an impassive attitude which accomplishes nothing. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Sometimes we feel disappointed with life or even with God, this verse encourages submission to God and sometimes that requires us to stop and ask for directions. That asking could involve someone we would view as a mentor; someone with the worn path of experience in their own life. When we submit to God and listen to Godly advice, our own pathway can become less difficult.
Finally, the verse then says “walk in it and you will find rest for your souls”. That takes not only a theoretical choice, but it requires action on our part. Matthew 11:29 also uses the metaphor of rest for a weary soul. So, as we encounter those crossroad situations in our lives, will we look at the past and learn from it and return to the fundamentals of initial joy in our faith? Or, will we be like the last phrase of verse 16 that Jeremiah spoke to his fellow countrymen in which he stated; “but you said, we will not walk in it.” That was a tragic statement, within four years the Hebrew nation was overtaken and 70 years of exile began.
A good friend said to me, as we discussed this verse, that maybe we can gain wisdom from the Maori people of New Zealand who say “we should walk facing backwards into the future”.


By: Pastor David Jones