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.”
— Jeremiah 6: 16 —
Many of us take some time toward the end of the year to look forward a bit toward the coming year. Some of us will resort to the tradition of New Year’s resolutions in an attempt to recognize the flaws in our behavior and express a desire to change for the better in the days to come. That has some value, of course, but it may be worth noting that the Bible tries to get us to look toward the past—toward the “old paths” that focused on a more personal relationship with our righteous Lord.
Jeremiah warned Judah of the imminent captivity of their nation as Nebuchadnezzar readied his armies to sack both Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord. God sent kings and prophets to lead and preach over the previous centuries—all to no avail. The northern 10 tribes were already enslaved by Assyria, and despite repeated warnings and the 10 tribes’ example, Judah would not listen. In fact, the precise passage that is quoted in the text above ends with: “But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
The people of Judah, like Israel before them, were initially willing to embrace their identity as God’s people but ended up living and worshiping however they pleased. Their lives became so intertwined with the rest of the nations around them that the difference between the godly and the pagan was scarcely discernable. The seeds of compromise and indifference toward godliness remained firmly embedded in the nation, and the few revivals the Lord sent did not last very long.
The Basic Requirements
After the young nation of Israel was supernaturally released from slavery in Egypt and the older generation was purged for their unbelief during the 40-year wandering in the Sinai, Moses reiterated the Lord’s simple expectations for those who were privileged to be called His children.
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
One could quickly argue that no human being is capable of keeping these requirements under their own power. But that is precisely the point. Once God has “created [us]…in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24), “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3) so that the “exceeding greatness of His power” (Ephesians 1:19) enables Him to work in us and “do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
The Basic Problem
I know that the natural mind does not and cannot respond to the supernaturally revealed Word of God (1 Corinthians 2:14), but once the Holy Spirit has brought about conviction and repentance in our hearts and the gift of faith in the work of the Lord Jesus has been granted, we are truly “born from above.” That second birth makes all the difference! Prior to being twice-born, we cannot fear the Lord, or walk in His ways, or love Him, or serve Him. Our heart and soul are “dead” and totally unresponsive to godly things.
And even though we have been saved from the just punishment of our sins and God has given us “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31), the old man still “grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22). If we do not consciously yield ourselves to godly behavior, the old man tends to assert his impact in our lives rather than the Lord being allowed to reign in us as He intended.
The Basic Results
Moses laid down the basic requirements. Israel failed to follow those standards and suffered constant on-again, off-again relationships with their Lord. By the time Jeremiah was preaching to Judah centuries after Moses, the overwhelming majority of the citizenry had capitulated to a compromise lifestyle with the surrounding nations and became hardened and indifferent to the impending judgment. They still had the name Israel and still insisted that they were Abraham’s children, but their lives and hearts had long since left. They were ripe for a terrible calamity.
Nebuchadnezzar attacked with his armies and took God’s people away into a foreign land as captives and servants. He plundered the nation and sacked and spoiled its capital city. The best and brightest of Judah were taken into the service of a pagan nation whose culture they embraced while they were in Jerusalem. As captives they were now immersed in the full immorality and godless mores that they had merely worn earlier as cultural trappings. Instead of enjoying the “pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25, KJV), they were now forced to live with and clean up the dregs of Babylon for two generations—70 years.
It’s worth noting: Our nation is not far from receiving the same fate as Israel.
The Basic Solution
It would be centuries before the Messiah came, but God began to assemble some of His faithful in Babylon. With the permission of a foreign king, Zerubbabel and Ezra brought back some 50,000 to Jerusalem to rebuild the worship of the Lord. They started out well. They restored the altar of burnt offerings and began to lay the foundations of the temple. But the Samaritans—Israelites who were left behind and had assimilated with the Assyrians—began to interfere, to subtly persuade and draw the people of God away from the basic requirements He clearly gave them.
Haggai had probably returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and began to sense God’s urgent calling to challenge the people who had become more interested in building their own houses than the house of God. This dear old prophet spoke to the city boldly.
“You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” (Haggai 1:6)
Translation: Stop serving yourselves and get busy doing what God has called you to do. Haggai’s short series of warnings and promises encouraged Zerubbabel to take his leadership role more seriously. The new impetus to finish the work brought so much zeal to all of the people that Haggai was told to promise the leaders:
“Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid—consider it: Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you.” (Haggai 2:18-19)
Not only that, God instructed Haggai to tell Zerubbabel specifically that “I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms” (Haggai 2:22). That encouragement looked far beyond their time to a day when God would bring about an entirely new world.
Zechariah was there. God chose him to receive several key visions of the future that He would begin to implement now that the heart of the people had changed—now that God’s people had begun to do what God had always wanted and expected them to do.
Thus says the LORD of hosts: “If you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house, and likewise have charge of My courts; I will give you places to walk among these who stand here.” (Zechariah 3:7)
Zechariah’s words were very nearly a repeat of Jeremiah’s message prior to the Babylonian captivity. The two prophets said almost the same thing that Moses said nearly a millennium before. Now that those who were known as the people of God were back in the place where they were supposed to be—and now that their belief and their actions were synced—God reiterated His promise to use them as He intended.
There is nothing special about the times of God’s work. He delights in working through His people. Now that the Last Days are upon us, there is no new requirement. The same requests with the same potential and the same outcomes are still in place. God’s blessing comes with obedience. God’s judgment comes when His ways are ignored and flaunted.
This new year, instead of planning ahead and making resolutions that you will probably break before the new year even starts—why don’t you “ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.