by Flor M. Diaz
In Jeremiah 6:16 we read, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it. Then you will find a resting place for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (NASB)
“Ancient paths,” these words have an epic ring about them. “Ancient” is a word that certainly evoques things past, something old to be reminisced and pondered. The Hebrew for “ancient paths” in Jeremiah’s prophecy is נְתִבֹות עֹולָם (netivot olam). These words are most relevant to the prophet’s message and bring about a truth to be taken to heart.
The term “paths” (netivot,) is the plural of נָתִיב (nativ), which means a path traced. It is a way made (by the feet); a path created by people’s steps. The inference by the prophet is to follow a path that has already been made and is well prepared by the feet of the righteous. A path indeed created as they “walked the walk” required by a Righteous King.
Interestingly, however, in another text (18:15) Jeremiah again speaks of “ancient paths,” at times translated as “ancient roads.” The prophet says: “Yet my people have forgotten me; they have offered sacrifices to a lie. And so they have stumbled along the way, even along the ancient paths. They have taken side roads, not the main roads” (ESV). These “ancient paths” shed a totally different light because the Hebrew here is שְׁבִילֵי עֹולָם (sh’vilei olam).
Sh’vil means a way; a road; a path. Yet its root שֹׁבֶל (shovel), means a flowing skirt, a train; a lady’s train (as trailing after her). The application here for “ancient paths” (sh’vilei olam) is the way that everyone follows. It is the way that most “flow” into as they follow the crowd. This is a busy path. It is a wide road, like a highway (סְלוּלָֽה seluláh). Many refuse to walk in the right path, (נְתִיבֹות דֶּרֶך netivot derech), preferring the wide and easy road. This prophetic admonition is directly related to the “wide way” as opposed to the “narrow way” mentioned by Messiah Yeshua.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 1For the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and there are few who find it…” Matthew 7:13
13הלכו דרך הפתח הצר, כי השביל המוביל לאבדון הוא רחב, ושער הכניסה רחב גם הוא.
(Ha’Brit Chadashah Ha’Derech – Israel Biblical Society)
The way to the wide gate is broad and leads to destruction. The term here is שביל (sh’vil) as can be seen in the Hebrew text above, echoing the words of the prophet Jeremiah. The wide way is the sh’vilei olam; the easy one to find and follow because of the many that walk it. Yet the narrow way, הלכ דרך (halach derech), literally, a way walked through, refers to the nativ olam, the way of righteousness.
Messiah’s words however, point to a greater challenge. The “ancient paths” of the righteous men of old, the way paved by their very own feet (their very lives); those netivot olam, were found by others who could then follow the way already prepared by their testimony and example. What a challenge is laid before us! Will our own feet (lives) trace, pave and prepare a good path that others can find, step into, and follow?
Something old to be reminisced, pondered, and evaluated as we step into the Fall Feasts. Something to be stepped into and followed beyond!
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