Looking for the Ancient Paths

In the 1950s, the Appalachian Trail twisted through my father's apple orchard on the Tennessee / North Carolina border, and I grew up meeting hikers who paused at our packinghouse for a swig of water or apple cider. They never stayed long; they were following white blazes painted on trees, rocks and fence posts from one end of the orchard to the other. Today, approximately 80,000 blazes mark the trail from Georgia to Maine, guiding thru-hikers all the way to Mount Katahdin. Missing the blazes is time consuming, even deadly, for some areas of the Appalachians can swallow up hikers like a haunted forest.

The blazes on the A.T. come to mind whenever I read Jeremiah 6:16: "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.'"

Jeremiah was a young man excoriating his nation, calling them to repentance, and warning them of destruction if they didn't heed his words and find the trail. In American society today, the church should confront our culture, denounce its evils, and offer a better way. In Jeremiah's day, the religious leaders minimized the societal trends that represented true sin in the sight of God. As Jeremiah said earlier in the chapter: "Prophets and priests alike... dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious."

To Jeremiah, it was serious. He implored his nation to stand at the crossroads and ask for the ancient paths and walk therein. As a Christian pastor, I feel kinship with his words.

That verse begins with: "This is what the Lord says..." While studying Jeremiah, I've been struck with how frequently Jeremiah used this and similar phrases. If you read through his book underlining such phrases with a red pen, you'll run out of ink. There's a lesson in that. People don't care much about my opinions or yours. We may be wrong. We aren't infallible. But what does the Bible say? What does God say? I'm convinced that's what people need, and that's what they want to hear.

One of the reasons I'm adamantly a Christ-follower is because Christianity follows the strongest chain of logic I know. It is supremely intellectual. It is intellectually reasonable. There is a Creator-God, and He is intelligent. He can communicate, and His communication is accurate and authoritative. Our lives work better when we follow His instructions to the jot and tittle.

The next phrase says: "Stand at the crossroads and look." The people of ancient Judah they were at a crossroad. They could turn toward God or they could continue down a broad path of self-destruction. Perhaps you're at a crossroad in your marriage, in your moral convictions, in your vocational decisions, about your goals for the future. Our nation is at a crossroads, and our decisions have consequences. As actress Helen Mirren said, "You write your life story by the choices you make."

When you're at a crossroad, what do you do? You get your bearings and look around to find blazes marking the trail. As Jeremiah put it, you ask for the ancient paths where the good way is.

What are our ancient paths? It's not the 1950s, when I grew up, or 1776, when the Founding Fathers established our nation on Judeo-Christian principles. Jeremiah wasn't talking about any so-called good old days. He wasn't nostalgic. When the Bible uses the word "ancient," it refers to things that are truly old, things that go back to creation times and further. Sometimes it refers to things eternal.

According to Psalm 119:52, the Bible contains God's "ancient laws." God Himself is described as ancient, a word indicating eternality. Before the mountains were born or the world was made, from everlasting to everlasting, He is God. In Isaiah, He said, "From ancient days I am He." In Daniel, He is the "Ancient of Days."

Our postmodern world offers lots of new paths, but the Bible tells us to stick to the old ones -- to the paths and choices outlined by our Creator-God and in His Word. Jeremiah told the people of his day to ask for those ancient paths, to seek them out and to walk in them. He urged his nation to return to the pathways of faith exemplified by Abel, by Enoch, by Abraham, by Moses.

The ancient path refers to the good way. It's morally good. It's beneficial. It's biblical. It's the path that leads to the correct destination. It's the pathway that causes things to work together for good in our lives.

That's not a popular message -- never has been. It isn't politically correct, but it is morally sound. The "Ancient Paths" message should be ringing from every pulpit and from the lips of every Christ-follower. We can't force our views on society, nor should we; but we can offer a better way.

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.

It's a wonderful thing to have rest in your soul -- to have inner peace, to have a sense that God is in control, to know that you are in His hands. It's wonderful to be part of a society that maintains a biblical basis to its morality. To have a life that is anchored to a rock.

Yet there's a tragic addendum to Jeremiah 6:16. The verse ends with: "But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'" The people of Jeremiah's day rejected the ancient values represented by Scripture and forged down their own broad way that led to judgment.

Our new age requires an ancient pathway. Let's take the road less traveled. Let's follow the white, cross-shaped blazes and to keep the trail till the end. It's what the times require.