Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. — Jeremiah 6:16
Where I grew up in rural Minnesota, the schools were far apart, and each usually served eight grades. When I began first grade, the three-mile walk to the school was a bit intimidating.
My father tried several routes from home to the schoolhouse to find the safest and shortest path, and then blazed a trail for my brother and me by marking the trees along that way. The trail went through a grove of white-barked birch trees (where the ax mark was easy to spot) through a swampy area, over a few hills, and past groves of oak and cottonwood growing alongside a small creek.
On the first day of school, my father took us along the path and instructed us carefully on how to follow the blazed trail. He knew that as long as we stayed on the path he had marked for us, we would be safe and would find our way to our destination. Within just a week or so, that path was very familiar. We knew each bend, each landmark, and just how long it would take us to get to the schoolhouse — as long as we didn’t play too much while we walked! It was a good way.
In our focus verse, Jeremiah once again implored the people of Judah to turn from their rebellion against God and choose the “good way” that God had provided for them. The “old paths” had been forsaken — the people wanted no part of God’s commandments, and had repeatedly rejected the warnings from God’s watchmen as they foretold the terrible dangers of proceeding on the path they were on. Jeremiah knew that if they persisted in that way, their destruction was inevitable. In spite of the people’s rejection, the prophet continued to condemn their sin and point them back to God.
Today, too, many people reject God’s good way and persist in following their own paths. They seemingly do not realize — or care — that the only way to make it to the right destination is to follow the path God has marked out in His Word. As heartbreaking as their response may be, we must, like Jeremiah, continue to share God’s Word. Our responsibility is to present the “old paths” and to pray that God will help people to long for the peace and security that comes only from walking in the way that He has designed.
This chapter concludes Jeremiah’s second sermon with an explicit description of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and a reminder that true repentance was Judah’s only hope of preventing this dreadful calamity. Although Benjamin was incorporated with Judah, the location of Jeremiah’s hometown — Anathoth of Benjamin — may have been his reason for this specific appeal for his fellow countrymen to flee Jerusalem before it was besieged by the enemy. During this time, there were three types of warning systems to alert the people of approaching danger: the blowing of a trumpet, signal fires, and watchmen on the wall. Jeremiah instructed the Benjamites to blow the trumpet in Tekoa (located twelve miles south of Jerusalem), and set up signal fires in Beth-haccerem (literally meaning “house of the vineyard,” possibly a high watchtower in the midst of a vineyard outside Jerusalem).
Jeremiah’s reference to Jerusalem as a “delicate woman” may have been an implication of Jerusalem’s unfamiliarity with privation or adversity. The “shepherds with their flocks” referred to the Chaldean generals and their armies, and God stated that He would direct them to prepare for war against Judah. Their first plan would be a noon attack (a common time for an enemy to strike since it was the hottest part of the day), but the time would pass too quickly, and the enemy would instead attack at night. They would cut trees to create a mound around Jerusalem, which was typical of Chaldean sieges during that time.
In verse 9, the remnant alluded to those who would remain in Jerusalem after the first attack, and indicated the enemy would return to glean the remaining habitants until there were none left. Jeremiah told Judah that all ages and genders would be affected by this coming judgment, and the false prophets and priests who had deceived the people would also suffer the same fate as the common people.
God counseled Judah to walk in the “old paths,” a reference to the covenantal Law taught by Moses, but the people rejected God’s counsel. God had faithfully sent watchmen (prophets) to warn the people of impending danger, but they refused to listen. Judah’s religious ceremonies and burnt sacrifices would not atone for their sins because the people did not come with honest hearts, and God would lay stumbling blocks in their way that would cause them to fall and perish as a result of their spiritual rebellion.
Jeremiah impressed on Judah that the forthcoming enemy was cruel and merciless, and their military expertise was rivaled by none. He pleaded with the people to humble themselves with the traditional sign of mourning: the putting on of sackcloth (a rough cloth such as goat or camel hair) and covering themselves with ashes. However, because of their refusal to repent, Jeremiah prophesied that Judah would be rejected by God just as contaminated silver was discarded after failing the refining process.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The pronouncement of judgment against Judah
A. The condemnation of the prophet
2. The second sermon: Repentance or retribution
e. The call to flee Jerusalem (6:1-8)
f. The continued sinfulness of the people (6:9-15)
g. The continued rejection of the people (6:16-21)
h. The cruelty of the invaders (6:22-26)
i. The callousness of the people (6:27-30)
We can be confident that there is no better way to live than the path God has planned for us. Let us thank Him for His clear direction, and do our best to point others to the “good way” where they, too, will find rest for their souls.