King Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25, ESV). There is so much to say about this particular verse; however, I will keep things simple. When I apply the above quoted text to my own life, it causes me to consider the direction of it. Another way to say this is that Prov. 14:12 magnifies the condition of my heart and my mind. Passion comes from the heart and informs the mind. Passion is the engine that sustains any action, word, or thought. A problem arises if the passion is a misguided one; consequently, the above text seems to teach that I may not be aware of the danger connected to following my passion. I may have good intentions about pursuing something or someone. In fact, it might even feel as if everything inside of me says yes to this endeavor. This results in believing and acting as if this passion is life-giving, but Prov. 14:12 says that it is a road toward death.
How do I avoid these roads that end in death, which look and feel life-giving? I will answer that question a little later in the post. King Solomon’s Proverbs is not the only book in the Old Testament to address this subject. The book of Jeremiah contains the following passage:
“23 I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. 24 Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24, ESV).
At first glance, Jeremiah’s words and King Solomon’s seem to deal with different issues and contexts. Upon closer examination, both passages shine a light onto the governing principle of life for mankind or humanity. I will phrase it as a question. Are human beings the final arbiter for life and living? Is a person able to self-govern himself or herself to such an extent that it leads to life? According to Prov. 14:12, human beings lack the ability to self-govern themselves on roads or paths that lead to life. It seems to me that Jeremiah 10:23 teaches the same thing by the clause, “the way of man is not in himself.” Let me state this in plainer words. Human beings lack something intrinsic to their nature in order to govern themselves in life, so that it leads to life. If the ability to live life in a way that leads to life is foreign to human beings, then they must rely on this knowledge or guidance coming from outside of them.
Earlier I posed the question, how do I avoid taking false roads? The larger context of Jeremiah’s tenth chapter is rather enlightening in this regard. According to Jeremiah the prophet, God pronounced judgment upon the city and people of Jerusalem due to following the false gods of the surrounding nations. Instead of seeking the one, true God for his life-giving, counsel, the people, the prophets, and the leaders of Jerusalem seek it from false gods made of wood, stone, and precious metals; consequently, they become stupid, foolish, vain, and subject to God’s wrath (Jeremiah 10:2-3, 8, 14-15, 21, 25, ESV). If the people of Jerusalem had turned from their idolatry in order to seek after God, their lives and the city would have continued rather than come to an end in 586 B.C. by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 39:1-10, ESV). The point behind all of this is that in Jeremiah chapter ten, the false road is idolatry whereas the true road requires one to worship God.
There is something else to mention here, too. It requires that I widen out the lesson of the false road being idolatry. Some who travel down the false road of life toward death are not worshiping idols in the strictest sense of the word. Their form of idolatry comes in the guise of leaning on their own understanding rather than God’s (Prov. 3:5-6, ESV). Basically, this means that mankind is the one who determines the course of his life, or “that the way of man [is in himself]…to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23, ESV). This view runs contrary to the plain teaching of scripture. The people of Jerusalem experienced judgment and exile precisely because they saw themselves as the determiners of their fate. In Jeremiah 10:24, the prophet conveys a much different attitude by humbly offering up a prayer to God for his correction and guidance. He sees his need, and knows that God is the one to provide for it. Jeremiah’s words and actions bring to mind those of Moses who wrote that “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3, ESV).
We know that these words of Moses convey a principle of living for God’s people that transcends all ages. Jesus uses them to rebuke the enemy in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4, ESV). The Son of Man relies on God and his word to sustain him during this time of testing in the wilderness. Jesus models for his people trust and dependency upon the Father for provision and protection in the harshest of circumstances. The Father’s provision for his own is limitless. This was not the case with the people in Jeremiah’s day. They believed that they were walking along a road toward life by forsaking God for the false gods of the surrounding nations. Instead, the people of Jerusalem met death at the end of the road. Nebuchadnezzar’s armies decimated the city and the temple while taking those who remained alive into exile for the next seventy years (Jeremiah 52:4-30, ESV). It was a devastating reality and lesson for the ancient Israelites, but it pertains to us, too.
What this means is that what took place thousands of years ago in Jerusalem can happen today. God’s people must order their lives by his word, or something or someone else will take that place. All of creation came into being by God’s spoken word, and all of creation remains in existence by his spoken word (Genesis 1:1-31; 8:21-22; 9:9-17, ESV). Given the power of his word displayed through creation, it should not surprise us when Moses writes in Deuteronomy that “…man lives by very word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3, ESV). In many ways, the apostle Peter echoes Moses’ words when he tells Jesus that “…you have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68, ESV). Both testaments, Old and New, convey the life-sustaining power of God’s word. We must read it, memorize it, study it, and live it in order to avoid the false road called the way of man.