The Paths Of God

            

“…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.