Vol. 8, No. 8
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God has always desired to save mankind from his sins, but impenitent mankind has always resisted God's grace and mercy. Since God continues to offer salvation to humanity, the only reason that souls remain lost is because of human refusal to accept salvation on God's terms.
Jeremiah 6:16 is one of those standout verses of Scripture, and especially worthy of our exposition and special attention. "Saith" can be variously translated, including with the words "charge," "command," "demand" and "require." God through the prophet Jeremiah charged, commanded, demanded and required the nation of Judah to abide in his divine instructions. The phrase "thus saith the Lord" appears 414 times in the Old Testament, and numerous other times among the 1262 times "saith" appears in both testaments of the Bible it refers to communication from God to man. In addition, God obviously addressed mankind with his divine instruction with the use of other words and phrases (e.g., "the word of the LORD came," Genesis 15:1; 2 Samuel 7:4 [phrase appears 92 times in the Old Testament]). The apostle Peter summarized how mankind became aware of God's divine instructions (2 Peter 1:20-21).
"The LORD" comes from the Hebrew word "Yehovah (yeh-ho-vaw')," which means "(the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jehovah, Jewish national name of God" (Biblesoft's). There are 5,000 instances in the Old Testament of the King James Version where the capitalized "LORD" appears indicating it means "Jehovah." "The divine name YHWH appears only in the Bible. …God chose it as His personal name by which He related specifically to His chosen or covenant people" (Vine).
"Stand ye" is sometimes translated also as "remain" and "continue." God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to "stand," "remain" and "continue" "in the ways." Today, mankind must "stand" in the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1; Ephesians 6:14).
"The ways" means "a road (as trodden); figuratively, a course of life or mode of action" (Biblesoft's). God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to maintain a specified "course of life or mode of action." Isaiah called upon the people of God to opt for the highway of holiness (Isaiah 35:8). Likewise, Jesus Christ called upon humanity to be selective regarding the course chosen, which leads to eternity (Matthew 7:13-14).
"And see" is sometimes translated as "approve," "experience," "heed," "regard" and "respect." God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to approve, experience, heed, regard and respect "the ways." Men today must also heed the doctrine of Christ (1 Timothy 4:16; Hebrews 2:1; 2 Peter 1:19).
"And ask" is sometimes translated as "demand," "desire" and "request." God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to demand, desire and request "the old paths." People today need to "ask" God (through his Word, the Bible) for instruction, rather than appealing to the ideas and whims of men in religion (James 1:5).
The word "old" is sometimes translated "eternal," "everlasting" and "perpetual." God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to abide in the eternal, everlasting and perpetual "paths" (i.e., that God had directed them through divine instruction). "Ask for the old paths, the paths prescribed by the law of God, the written word, that true standard of antiquity. Ask for the paths that the patriarchs travelled in before you, Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; and, as you hope to inherit the promises made to them, tread in their steps" (Henry).
"Paths" means "to tramp; a (beaten) track" (Biblesoft's). God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to abide in the spiritual trail blazed by God himself through his servants the prophets. This direction in Jeremiah 6:16 to look to the past is not singular to this prophetic book (Deuteronomy 32:7; Job 8:8).
The word "good" is sometimes translated as "best," "pleasant" and "welfare." God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to conduct themselves in the best way, which is really a pleasant way and which contributes to their physical and spiritual welfare. Vine says of the Hebrew word for "good" here that it "often qualifies a common object or activity" and when "contrasted with evil has moral overtones."
"And walk" means "to carry (in various senses)" and is sometimes translated as "go" (Biblesoft's). God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to go only in the spiritual path that he specified through divine instruction (cf. Jer. 7:23). Likewise, Isaiah called upon the people of God to "walk" in God's specified "way" (Isaiah 30:21).
"Therein" is sometimes translated as "within." God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to conduct itself solely within the boundaries of divine instruction. Using the illustration of a road, we might say to "keep it between the ditches."
The words "ye shall find" mean "to attain…or acquire" and can be translated "get" (Biblesoft's). God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to attain, acquire or get "rest for your souls," only attainable through the path God designated. The Hebrew word for "find" here "refers to 'finding' someone or something that is lost or misplaced, or 'finding' where it is" (Vine). Judah of Jeremiah's day had misplaced the Word of God from their hearts and lives.
The word "rest" means "a resting place" (Biblesoft's). God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to make acquisition of "a resting place" for their souls their primary, all-important pursuit in life (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13). Jesus Christ, likewise, offers rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-29). There remains a primary resting place toward all faithful children of God of all ages march (Hebrews 4:9-11).
The words "for your souls" in this context refers to the spirit side of humanity. God through the prophet Jeremiah called upon the nation of Judah to think about the spiritual welfare of their souls before indulging in either the permissible but secondary matters of life or perhaps devoting themselves to sinful pleasures (cf. Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 11:25). One's soul is his prized possession in this life and for eternity (Matthew 16:26).
The words "but they said" come from the same Hebrew word earlier used respecting God, "saith." The people of Jeremiah's day countered what God had said, charged, commanded, demanded and required. The people of Jeremiah's day articulated with the same force as God's divine instructions what they perceived to be a better idea (cf. Jeremiah 18:12).
The nation of Judah in Jeremiah's day mimicked God in their refusal to obey him. The phrase "we will not walk therein" resorts to the same words Jehovah used in his divine instruction, only Jeremiah's generation employed those words back at God in obstinate refusal to obey God. "Thus multitudes are ruined for ever by downright willfulness" (Henry). Judah was persistent in its willful and sinful rejection of God (Jeremiah 44:16).
Summarized, what were the original recipients of Jeremiah 6:16 expected to understand. First, God had not left mankind and especially in the time of Jeremiah, the nation of Judah, without divine instruction. "The Lord has not left any lack of instruction and warning. He has marked out for them the way of salvation in the history of the ancient times" (Keil & Delitzsch). Even a casual reading of the Bible evidences communication from God from the Garden of Eden with which the Bible commences to the final visions of the apostle John recorded in the last book of the Bible.
Generally, God's dealings with humanity from Creation onward evidence ample instruction from God so as to know assuredly how to please or displease God. "Thus the paths of the old time are here the ways in which Israel's godly ancestors have trod; meaning substantially, the patriarchs' manner of thinking and acting" (Keil & Delitzsch). The "old paths" were "[t]he ways of the patriarchs and of the fathers who experienced redemption from Egypt" (Wycliffe). "Look inquiringly backwards to ancient history (Deut 32:7), and see how success and enduring prosperity forsook your fathers when they left the way prescribed to them by God, to walk in the ways of the heathen (18:15); learn that there is but one way, the way of the fear of Jahveh, on which blessing and salvation are to be found (32:39-40)" (Graf qtd. in Keil & Delitzsch).
Every soul who has reached an age of accountability for his actions must personally choose a path in life, either one designated by God or one of his own lustful choice (1 John 2:15-17). "Let us observe the metaphor. A traveler is going to a particular city; he comes to a place where the road divides into several paths, he is afraid of going astray; he stops short,-endeavours to find out the right path: he cannot fix his choice. At last he sees another traveler; he inquires of him, gets proper directions-proceeds on his journey-arrives at the desired place-and reposes after his fatigue" (Clarke). "Image from travelers who have lost their road, stopping and inquiring which is the right way on which they once had been, but from which they have wandered" (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown). Again, Jesus portrayed life's choices as the selection either of the pathway of destruction or the pathway to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14).
Personal sin multiplied together with the sins of many constitute national sin. Barnes pictured Judah facing "a great national calamity," physical owing to the widespread spiritual calamity of sin. "Idolatry and apostasy are the modern way; the worship of God the old way" (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown).
What can we glean from Jeremiah 6:16 for application to our generation and to ourselves personally? The "old paths" to which mankind today must direct his attention must be distinguished simply from human ways of doing things, even if they are old also. God's "old paths" are older than any of man's "paths" and divine in origin rather than of human origin. The "old paths" of sin must be noted and avoided (Job 22:15). "Old paths" are not suitable if they do not originate with God (i.e., hand-me-down religion from one's forefathers is not to be preferred over God-authored religion).
The precept of walking in the pathway of God is prominent also in the New Testament. We must "walk in the newness of life" (Romans 6:4). We must "walk honestly" (Romans 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:12). We must "walk by faith" (2 Corinthians 5:7). We must "walk worthy of the [Christian] vocation ["calling"]" (Ephesians 4:1). We must "walk in love" (Ephesians 5:2). We must "walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8). We must "walk worthy of the Lord" (Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12). We must walk in Christ (Colossians 2:6). We must walk in wisdom" (Colossians 4:5). We must walk after the commandments of Jesus (2 John 6). We must walk in truth (3 John 4).
God through the prophet Jeremiah lamented that his people, Judah, had turned from him to walk in other paths (Jeremiah 18:15). Rather, God's people in every age ought to follow the praiseworthy examples of those who walk in God's paths (Hebrews 6:12; 1 Corinthians 11:1). Especially in the church of our Lord, we are to "walk in the light of the LORD" (Isaiah 2:5; 1 John 1:7).
The Christian walk begins with conversion (Romans 6:3-4). The Christian walk continues as a walk of faith (2 Corinthians 5:7; Romans 10:17; 1 John 1:9).
Barnes, Albert. Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.
Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke's Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. New Modern Edition. CD-ROM. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. New Updated Edition. CD-ROM. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996.
Vine, W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1985.
Wycliffe Bible Commentary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody P., 1962.