Jeremiah 6:16 Ask for the ancient paths

Many people in our society are convinced that what is new and what is modern must be better than what is old.  Such an outlook is not itself new – note the Athenians who spent their time ‘talking about and listening to the latest ideas’ (Acts 17:21).  Of course, the solution is not to be ‘antiquarian’, asserting that the old is automatically better, but we must remember that our Christian faith is millennia old.  We consider Jeremiah 6:16 Ask for the ancient paths.

1. The coming judgment

The spiritual situation of Judah in the time of Jeremiah’s ministry was bad and rapidly deteriorating.  There was no shortage of religious practice and Josiah had instituted significant reforms, but the effects seemed very superficial.  Thus, for example, ‘all are greedy for gain’ (v13) and the people are hardened in sin, with no shame (v15).  The priests and prophets are dishonest and suggest all is well ‘Peace, peace’ (v14).  We see the same things in our own society and the consequences are clear – ‘the wrath of the Lord’ (v11).  Even the closing of the ears becomes an element in judgment – see Isaiah 6:9-10, cited by Jesus in regard to his parables (Matthew 13:15).  Refusing God’s Word leads to greater spiritual hardness – a grave warning.

2. The earnest seeking

Despite the sins of Judah, the Lord is remarkably patient.  Through Jeremiah he calls them back yet again.  He is ‘compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love’ (Psalm 103:8).  Through the prophet he issues a call to any who will listen:

  • Ask:  This is a time for taking stock – ‘Stand at the crossroads’.  What are our priorities and values, what gives life meaning?  Effort and thought are required – ‘ask’.  The ‘ancient paths’ are those revealed by the Lord and which lead to salvation, the paths that honour him.  It is not the age of the paths that matter, but their character.  This is ‘the good way’ for us, opened up by the dying and rising Messiah, who is ‘the way’ (John 14:6).
  • Walk:  When we know the way, action is required.  The paths must be followed.  This is grace-enabled obedience, flowing from love for the Lord (John 14:15).  If we ‘walk by the Spirit’, then we ‘will not gratify the desires of the flesh’ (Galatians 5:16).
  • Rest:  The blessed result of such a walk – ‘you will find rest for your souls’.  ‘Rest’ is a gift of God to his covenant people (Isaiah 28:12).  All burdens are lifted and we are able to live as the Lord wills.  Note the call of Jesus – ‘Come to me…I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).  This is true liberation, with the best still to come – the dead in Christ ‘will rest from their labour’ (Revelation 14:13).

3. The stubborn refusal

Despite the call and the wonderful promise, the response of the majority is, ‘We will not walk in it’.  They prefer life according to their own wisdom.  Since they are ‘dead in…transgressions and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1), a response is impossible apart from grace, yet the sinner is responsible for refusal.  The patient God is giving a further opportunity for repentance.