“…He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Psalms 23:3
In the western United States, especially in the dry areas like New Mexico, there are some places where one can still see ruts of old wagon trails left by pioneers from the 1800s. Many brave men scouted out these trails. Some paid with their lives in order to find the best way of crossing the great American desert and the treacherous Rocky Mountain passes. Although these old ruts were mere tracks in the sand, they were tracks of safety, leading to the final and desired destination.
How foolish one would have been in those days to have disregarded these old ruts. They ran along the water holes and made use of the forts where pioneer families could find protection from attack and from the weather. They led pilgrims safely to their destination, delivering them from many dangers, troubles and frustrations.
How much like those old trails are the pathways of righteousness given to us in God’s holy Word. Great men and women who were led by God, often paid with their lives as they searched out these trails of God. In these old paths we find security and protection. In them we also find provision. They lead us unerringly to our desired haven, and give us great peace and rest along the way. Our daily prayer might well be that great prayer of David, who cried out in Psalm 25:4-5, “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me…”
PATH OR PATHS?
The puzzling thing about God’s paths is that there seems to be more than one of them. This concept initially sounds a little strange and worldly. The worldly wise men usually tell us that there are many paths leading to God. They say it doesn’t matter what your religion is, since all paths wind to the top of the mountain and end up at the same place. This religious viewpoint is unbiblical and absurd, and has absolutely nothing to do with the “paths of righteousness.”
We might liken the paths of righteousness to the tracks of many sheep following after one shepherd. While individual tracks may be seen, they are all a part of the same trail. They all lead in a common direction and toward the common goal. For instance, we know from scripture that God’s paths not only consist of righteousness, but they consist of love and faithfulness (Psa. 25:10), justice and goodness (Prov. 2:9), firmness (Prov. 4:26), straightness (Prov. 3:6), understanding (Isa. 40:14), holiness (Psa. 77:13), and truth (Psa. 119:30). Although these ways seem diversified, there is
a great unity in them.
PATHS OF EVIL
The Bible warns us on two occasions with the very same words: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12 & 16:25). The paths of evil look very good and noble. They are philosophically appealing, but they all end up at the same place; at death’s door.
For a quick study on the subject of paths of evil and paths of righteousness we need to consult the Book of Proverbs. Even if we are familiar with it, we would profit by reading it once more. This old book has many admonitions concerning evil pathways. The early chapters deal with the evil path of the adulterous woman. There are many warnings concerning her deceitful ways. In Proverbs 7:25-27 we are told, “Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.”
Not only are the paths of the wayward woman crooked and devious, but in Proverbs 5:6, we are told that she gives no thought to the “way of life” (orach hayiim in Hebrew). The paths of life would generally lead a woman to marry and to have children. These paths would lead her to love her husband only, to keep the home, and to nurture her children. The paths of adultery and fornication lead down to death and to the spirits of the dead (Prov. 2:18). She destroys herself, her husband, her children and all those who turn in to her. Those who continue in her ways will not return to the paths of life and righteousness (Prov. 2:19-20).
Fornication and adultery are certainly not the only paths of evil mentioned in scripture. In the Book of Proverbs we also learn that evil paths include slothfulness, greed, anger, deceit, dishonesty, pride, violence and murder. The author warns us, “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men” (Prov. 4:14). In the book of Isaiah, the prophet further elaborates on evil men. We are told that “Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways” (Isa. 59:7).
Let us stop to emphasize that few people desire to be evil or to choose an evil way. Even the vilest of criminals will hide their faces from the camera when exposed. Most evil people are deceived and think that they are walking on a good way. Many evil men spend much time justifying their evil acts. After all, it “seems” right. The Bible says, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart” (Prov. 21:2).
The Bible speaks much about the wicked who shed innocent blood and who lie in wait for blood. While it is true that some people are outright murderers, there are many ways in which we can shed blood. Injustice is one of those ways. People who are victims of injustice often suffer physically for it and may even die because of it. Then, there is the present social sin of abortion. Certainly it is a form of bloodshed. Obviously adulterous acts may result in bloodshed. David was rightly concerned that his adulterous act would result in blood-guiltiness (Psa. 51:14).
Many other sins which we often commit without much concern may eventually cause the shedding of blood. I am thinking back over the years of a classmate whom all us boys used to ridicule mercilessly. Years later I heard that he had committed suicide. I have often wondered if we were guilty of shedding blood through our unkindness? Then, in Ezekiel 3:18-19, the Prophet tells us that we can even become guilty of bloodshed by failing to warn the wicked of their evil ways.
Well, for those who choose to walk in evil, we know the result. The Bible says that “ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know” (Rom. 3:16-17). The Lord himself frustrates their way (Psa. 146:9), and it will be full of thorns and snares (Prov. 22:5). They will not even know what makes them stumble for they walk in deep darkness (Prov. 4:19). Their way will be hard (Prov. 13:15), and they must eat the fruit of their walk (Prov. 1:31). Ultimately their waywardness and complacency will be their end. Jesus assures in Matthew 7:13-14, that the broad and seemingly easy road upon which they travel will lead to destruction.
RETURNING TO THE PATHS OF LIFE
We can already see from scripture that the subject of paths and ways is a very big one indeed. The whole Tanakh (Old Testament) has much to say about it. The prophet Jeremiah once challenged Israel with these words, “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'” (Jer. 6:16). Jeremiah’s advice is still good for us today.
Many Christians believe that the whole essence of the “paths of life” as taught in scripture is summarized in Jesus (Matt. 5:17). Two thousand years ago the Christian faith was introduced with a call from John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord (Matt. 3:3). When Jesus appeared he boldly announced, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). During the early period of the Book of Acts, the new Christian faith seems to have been referred to simply as “The Way” (Acts 19:9 & 23). We believe that to follow the way is to follow Jesus and to walk carefully in his steps. We believe that Jesus himself walked in the ways of God revealed in the Tanakh (Old Testament), and that he will lead us to do the same.
What are the paths of God? We have already touched on many of them, but there are many more. The Bible says that they are paths of light: “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Prov. 4:18). They are paths of joy as we see in Psalm 16:11, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” God’s paths are also paths of pleasantness and peace (Prov. 3:17). They are paths that provide security (Prov. 10:9). Most of all, they are paths of life and immortality (Prov. 12:28). In short, all the good things that our hearts desire are provided for us as we walk the paths of God.
God is looking for a people today who will search out his paths once more; people who will ask about his way, and about the way to Zion. They will set their faces toward these ways and bind themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant (Jer. 50:5). These people will restore the paths in which to dwell (Isa. 58:12). Then the nations of the earth will also be able to seek out the paths of God. We are told in Isaiah 2:3, that the nations will someday go up to the mountain of the Lord’s house (Jerusalem), and will desire to walk in his paths (see also Zech. 14:9).
Today we need to check our road maps and make sure we are traveling on the right highway. If we are not, we need to quickly backtrack and find out where we missed the turn. In Isaiah 55:7, the prophet instructs us: “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Many in our time have missed the turn by heeding the philosophers of this era. Many have missed it by heeding the thoughts of their own evil minds, and by being lured through the spirit of this age. We need now to quickly backtrack and return to the simple Word of God. That simple and sweet Word will bring peace to our troubled hearts. This process is known as repentance.
Once we get that old book opened again upon our knee, we need to begin believing and following its precepts. We need to open our hearts up to Jesus and ask for his help. The Holy Scripture assures us that the Lord will help us stay on the road. The Bible says, “in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:6). The Bible says that the Lord himself will guard us and protect us in the way (Prov. 2:8). It even assures us that our ears will hear a voice behind us saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isa. 30:21).
The Lord gives us a beautiful prayer in Psalm 139:23-24. We may also wish to make it our very own: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem, 1994.