“Thus says the Lord:
Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where
The good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
— JEREMIAH 6:16
If you have traveled “on land” for any distance, you may have had this experience. You are traveling and you think you are going in the right direction. But, you find out at some point that actually you are not on the right road or path at all. The question is, will you seek direction? Will you ask someone who knows the right way to go, listen to what they say, and then follow their directions?
How long will it take before you admit that you are actually lost and need help?
The imagery in our text is familiar. It is as if God’s people are traveling on a journey. They are instructed to stop at the crossroads and to ask for the right way to go. Indeed, God Himself is giving his own people traveling instructions because they are not heading in the right direction. They have lost their way.
This text is part of a larger context in which God’s future discipline and judgement of his people are being revealed and predicted. And yet, Jeremiah is revealing likewise the unwillingness of God’s people to hear God’s Word and to return to God and His way.
In order for us to experience the life that God wants us to experience, we must follow God’s directions.
God has a way for us that leads to life, rest, and peace. But, we must follow His way, His directions, His leading.
Now, we must remember that those addressed in this text are God’s people. These are His ancient people who were delivered out of bondage in Egypt. They were saved by the mighty hand of God. God led them, instructed them, and fed them in the wilderness. God brought them into the promised land of blessing. So, as a nation, these people had experienced the saving power of God and His blessing. But, now, many years later, God’s people were in need of returning to their God. It is only in returning to their God and His way, they would also experience the “rest” that God wanted His people to experience. Otherwise, they were to experience the devastating invasion of the Babylonians, destruction, and exile.
One of the lessons we learn from the Old Testament is that it doesn’t take long for individuals or for many of God’s people to disobey God, to move away from God, and to be in need of divine direction and correction. This is still true for us today. We must stay close to the Lord, and continue to trust and obey Him. You would think that with all the means of grace available to us that we would never drift away or turn away from the Lord’s directions for our lives. But, experience tells us otherwise, and more importantly, the Scriptures are filled with examples and warnings to guard against that very thing. This text is a vivid succinct example of the potential waywardness of God’s people and yet God’s invitation to a better life in Him.
I want us to move through this short text of Scripture and I pray that God will use this text to challenge and direct our lives in the direction of obedience and the blessings that are the result of the “Good Way” that God offers.
I. THE DESPERATE NEED FOR DIVINE DIRECTION --- Jer. 6:16
“Thus says the Lord;…….”
You will notice that God is speaking in our text. And God is speaking because His people were in desperate need of a change of direction. In short, God’s people were going the wrong way – a way that was going to result in disciplinary judgment. They were heading towards destruction and exile from the land they loved. You see, all of the blessings that had enjoyed in the land were in the light of God’s love, mercy, grace, and provision. But, God had told His ancient people that they were to walk with Him to continue to experience these blessings in the land. BUT,……
1) God’s People were Forsaking the Lord (ex. Jer. 2:11-13)
Much of the prophecy of Jeremiah addresses the sinful departure of God’s people from their God. They were not walking with God. In the early chapters of Jeremiah, God presents His case against His people and He called them to repent.
They were forsaking the Lord, who was their source of life (Jer. 2:11-13) God’s people had changed “gods.” They were not single-heartedly loyal to the God who had saved them and sustained them. He was their “fountain of living waters.” What a beautiful expression of the way God was the unending source and resource of life for His people. And yet they had turned away. In short, they had not been faithful to the covenant that God had made with His people.
Sadly, God’s people has sought life and help in other places and in other ways. They had hewn themselves cisterns. They had made their own attempts to catch living water, so to speak. But as God declares, these were broken cisterns that could not hold water. How sad it is when God’s people think they can have “life” on their own terms, only to find out that satisfaction is not achieved. This points us to our next consideration.
2) God’s People were Following After Other Gods
These other gods were really like broken cisterns. They could not “deliver.” God states later His people were “backsliding,” and they were being unfaithful by pursuing other gods. (3:6-7) God is calling them now to return to Himself. Their sin and idolatry were evidences that God’s people were walking, if not running, away from Him. And in the light of this, notice thirdly, that
3) God’s People were Facing Divine Judgement (ex. Jer. 1:14-16)
Calamity and disaster were just around the corner. An invasion was to take place, and God was going to use the Babylonians to discipline His people and to take them into exile.
What a sad condition! What a terrible expectation! But, what stands out in our text and in the surrounding texts is that God’s people were not listening. God’s Words and the words of His prophet were falling on closed ears. (Read 6:10)
The people were not only rejecting the Word of God, they were listening to the words of false prophets (6:13-14). They were receiving false comfort from some who didn’t agree with Jeremiah’s hard message. They were saying “peace” when there was no peace.
It is sad and indeed dangerous when God’s people listen to false teaching, even if it sounds good and comforting. This “positive” message was not calling the people to get right with the Lord, nor to heed “His prophetic word,” and to return to the Lord.
Years ago I had “light” surgery on my knee due to wear and tear in the cartilage. Now, I could have put a “bandage” on the outside on my knee. But, that bandage would only have protected the surface. It would not have dealt at all with the problem deeper in. Spiritual issues need to be dealt at the level of the heart and our walk with God. It won’t do any good to just say, “things are not really serious.” Things are not really all that bad. Well, in God’s opinion, His ancient people had lost their way, and they were in need of Divine Direction. There was a desperate need for a divine diagnosis and for God’s prescription.
As you may know, we are in the hurricane season in the USA. Hurricane Katrina many years ago devastated the city of New Orleans. One of the big issues in relation to the crisis of flooding in New Orleans (during and after Hurricane Katrina) was the height and strength of the walls/levees. The impact of a category 5 hurricane was just too must for levees that were not build to withstand that amount of water and force. God’s people in our text were about to experience a different type of hurricane as God was going to allow the Babylonians to invade. Little messages of comfort were not enough to deal with the fundamental problem – God’s people needed to return to God and seek Him. Chapter 6 Verse 20 reveals that God was not pleased with His people. He was not accepting their worship no matter how beautiful, or costly. Outer worship was not the answer. They needed a change of heart and direction.
Incredibly, God in His patience in our text is offering direction to His people. “Thus says the Lord” is the hope of God’s people. It is a fearful thing when God is silent!
But, when the voice of God is heard, and God provides instruction and a way to blessing, God’s people can still respond.
I do not use this text to scare you, or to suggest that sudden tragedy is around the corner for your life. But, there is always the potential for us to stray away from the Lord. There is always the possibility of developing sinful ways, practices, and attitudes. There is always the possibility of our hearts wandering from God, and we find that we have put other things and other priorities before God. When this is the case, and we do not seek the Lord for forgiveness and for renewed commitment, there is always the potential for losing out on the daily blessings that God has for us, and having to face His disciplinary hand in order to draw us back to Himself.
Where are you in your spiritual journey? Are you walking with the Lord “in the light of His Word,” or are you moving in the wrong direction? Oh, we may still be involved in religious things, but our hearts are far from the Lord. If that is the case, we need to heed God’s directions to walk the Good Way, His way, which will lead to rest.
But, having seen the desperate need for divine direction, now let us consider,
II. THE MERCIFUL OFFER OF DIVINE DIRECTION --- Jer. 6:16
God clearly speaks to His people and mercifully gives His directions to them. They are a lost and wayward people, but God tells them how to find rest for their souls – and they can find rest for their souls by walking the Good Way.
God tells his people that they must actively respond. He instructs them to “stand,” to “see,” to “ask,” and then to “walk,” and in so doing they will find “rest” for their souls.
God is telling His people, in short, to Seek the Good Way, and then to Walk the Good Way. Let’s look at this together, and see how God’s words relate to our lives today.
1) Seek the Good Way – Jer. 6:16 - “Stand,” “See,” and “Ask”
The picture here, as far as I can tell, is of a traveler who is told to stand at the crossroads, to look around, and to ask for the right directions
In places where I have lived, people will often not seek help when they need to – to make sure they are on the right road. They will continue to try to work it out on their own. They won’t stop, look, or ask. They will just keep trying to figure it out themselves. They won’t admit that they need help. They are too proud to say, “I need help, I think I am lost.”
But, the first thing to do when you are not sure of the right way, is to “stand” or “stop.” Then you will see the situation, and be able to ask for the right road, the old paths, the good way, that leads to where you should go.
Maybe you need to stand still, you need to stop going in the direction you’ve been going, and you need to take a look at your life and where it is heading. You need to ask for God’s way.
Asking indicates that we need an answer from someone else. We don’t have the answer. And that is in fact the situation, God has the answer and the right directions. Asking indicates a humility and a willingness to listen to instructions. Asking indicates a readiness to change directions and to go in the direction you are instructed. Asking of God for His way indicates that we have a heart’s desire for God’s leading and our following.
For God’s people in our text, these “old paths” speaks of the way of God’s ancient people. It speaks of the way of the covenant and obedience to the commands of God. It speaks of the paths of righteousness, life lived in the light of God’s covenantal love and in the light of His Law. It speaks of the walk of faith, the walk of obedience, the walk in accord with God’s will for His people. This was the way that they had left. They had not been following the “ancient paths”, the good way, they had abandoned faithfulness and obedience to the Lord. As we will see, this path, this good way, has now been fulfilled for us in Christ and His way. In other words, as New Testament believers, we still need to choose to “walk in Christ” and to move forward in faith and obedience to Him, and to grow in that “walk.” We’ll say more about this in a few minutes.
But, are you seeking that way right now? Remember this is the way that truly leads to rest and the blessings that God wants for our lives. Do we want this path? Are we on that path?
If not, we need to admit that we are spiritually heading in the wrong direction. We need to stop. We need to take stock of the situation and ask for the right way, God’s faithful way, the good way. In short, we need to hear and heed the Word of God to our hearts today. Is God speaking to you through His Word? What has He been saying to you? Our need is to hear and then walk in obedience to what the Lord is instructing us to do? God’s people had left obedience behind. They needed to take the Word of God seriously, and choose to obey. They needed to stop following after other gods and choose to trust in God and follow Him in obedience. Is this our need today?
So, we need to seek and choose the good way, God’s Good Way. But, it is not enough to choose the Good Way, we need to
2) Walk the Good Way – Jer. 6:16
(1) The Responsibility
The real call here is to walk God’s path, which is the path of obedience. These people of God and we today are to be doers of the Word of God and not just hearers only (James 1:22). We are called to a life of continuous obedience. “Walking” indicates much more than an initial change of direction. It indicates a pursuit, a pattern of living that one continues to follow. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:16 encourages the believers to “walk by the same rule” to live a life guided by a mature Christian mind. He goes on to tell these believers to “follow [his] example, “and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” God’s people, in other words, are to walk a particular way, to follow the example of the Apostle and other mature believers (Phil. 3:17). As he says in another place, they were to follow Paul as he followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). And this pattern of life was to be chosen as opposed to another pattern, which is that of the world (Phil. 3:18-19). We need to “walk in Christ” (Col. 2:6-7), and not follow the pattern of the world around us.
(2) The Result
God directs His people to walk the Good Way in order that they might find “rest for [their] souls.” The result, therefore, of walking the Good Way is “rest.” One source, “Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains,” defines this word “rest’ as “a state of relief from trouble and anxiety, as a figurative extension of a resting place in a spatial area.” When you go on a journey you like to arrive at a place that will provide rest and relaxation. Certainly this “rest” would mean salvation from the calamity and judgment due to God’s people in the light of their going the wrong direction. It is a word that speaks to us of salvation, relief, God’s peace, favor, and blessing. It speaks of what the soul, the inner person, the real you is really longing for, and desperately needs.
What an offer from the Lord! What a divine directive and invitation!
How many people around us would love to have true “rest” for their souls? How many would want to know true peace, relief, and well-being? This is what God is offering to His wayward people if they would but turn to Him, and live lives of obedience to the will of the heavenly father.
But, this divine invitation reminds me of an invitation to weary and burdened people hundreds of years later from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Himself,
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-30).
We do not have the time to “unpack” this beautiful invitation from our Lord in detail. There are differences between these two divine invitations, but what is the same is that our Lord is directing us to the Good Way – to take His yoke, the way of discipleship, and in this path with the Lord, rest will be found. Here our Lord Jesus is speaking of true spiritual rest, refreshment, and peace. So, even as God’s ancient people were to take on the yoke of the Covenant, Jesus calls us to take His yoke of walking with Him as His disciple. Ultimately this would be the yoke of the New Covenant, the eternal covenant of peace established through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. True rest is given and found in Jesus, who actually fulfilled the Law, and paid the price for our sins Himself. Such rest and peace are given and found in one’s relationship to Jesus Christ. As one trusts and follows the Master in the way of discipleship, true rest is found.
Have you responded to this offer? We must choose to respond and then to walk in the path our Lord has for us. God’s ancient people needed to heed the words of the Lord and respond. They had wandered and needed a total change of direction. It may be that people who have trusted Christ can wander as well. Having begun with the Lord, some may now try to live the Christian life on their own in their own way. Others may have never really repented of sin and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. They have never really responded to the invitation of Jesus. They still are carrying the weight of life outside of Christ. What a glorious invitation to respond to sincerely and fully!
You would think that people would automatically want to respond positively to such a divine invitation and instruction! But, sadly, this is not always the case, in fact, it is often the case that people reject the way of the Lord because they want to go their own way. So, we need to learn from the end of our text in Jer. 6:16 as we see
III. THE STUBBORN REJECTION OF DIVINE DIRECTION
“But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’.” Like stubborn travelers who will not admit that they are lost, and are not heading in the right direction, they would not respond to God’s words. This is reinforced by the wording in Jer. 6:17,
“Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen’.”
The warning had been given, but the people would not listen. Sadly, the people of God were to experience disaster and exile. This is, of course, what Jeremiah was called to prophesy and predict. But, there was not a turning back to God. The people didn’t seek nor did they walk in the Good Way of God. God’s love and purpose for them continued, but they spent years outside of the “promised land” and its blessings.
After Jesus invited people to Himself in John 7:37-44, the text reads, “Thus the people were divided….” This was not a unique response. Not all would respond to His invitation in Matthew 11:28-30, when He promised peace and rest.
We have to admit that people today still reject the invitations and the warnings of the Lord. They don’t believe the Word of the Lord. They don’t respond to God’s invitation, instruction, and direction. What about you today? Are you truly hearing and heeding His voice and walking in the way of the Lord? Can you hear the Lord Jesus crying out to you graciously and mercifully?? It is God’s desire – that you and I would hear His voice, walk in His ways, and experience His power and blessing in our lives.
Hear the words of the Lord in Psalm 81:3-4
“Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways!
I would soon subdue their enemies,
And turn My hand against their adversaries.”
Remember, taking the “yoke” of discipleship will truly lead to rest and peace in our relationship with God.
May we truly listen to the Lord, to obey Him, and experience the “rest” and blessing in our lives that He has for us.
You may be at a very important point in your life’s journey today. You are having to decide whether or not you are going to walk the path of discipleship and obedience to the Lord Jesus, or if you are really going to go your own way. You need to stand still, to stop. You then can seek to “come to Jesus” and find the Good Way, the way of the Lord. To seek the Good Way, you need to start by coming to Jesus Christ or “rediscovering Him” as your source of life and guidance. You need to commit yourself to walk according to God’s Word. In New Testament language, you need to choose to follow Christ, to accept His saviorhood and Lordship, to take His yoke, to learn from Him, to obey Him.
Are you weary today? Are you thirsty today? Have you lost your way? Today is a day of decision for you.
The spiritual blessings of being in Christ have been granted to those who have “come to Him” in repentance and faith. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation in Christ. Then, because we have been made new, the Lord gives us a “walk” to undertake. It may be for some of us that we need to come to Christ initially. You are not saved. You need a relationship with Him that starts as you stop, recognize your need of Christ, change directions (which is repentance), and trust Him for salvation and His leadership of your life.
For some of us who are Christians and maybe we have been Christians for a long time, we may need to admit our sin and our unresponsiveness to God’s Word. It may be in one area of our lives, or it may be the whole direction of our lives. Let’s be honest with God. God is forgiving, and He will forgive, but we need to be honest, to confess our sins, and be willing to change directions.
Let’s ask the Lord to give us responsive hearts, the opposite of God’s ancient people in our text. Let’s be willing to hear the Lord, and then to obey Him, walking God’s way. This is the way that leads to life, and rest, indeed rest for your soul.