2.8 The Logic Of Devotion
2-8-1 The Two Roads In Proverbs
A read through Proverbs in one or two sittings reveals a repeated emphasis
on the idea of paths, roads, ways etc. Because we have become so familiar
with the metaphorical use of 'way' or 'path', this tends to blind us to
the more literal sense these words have. These two roads are the basis
of a very simple yet powerful exhortation, concerning the logic of total
dedication to God's way. There are only two roads outlined in Proverbs,
along which a man moves. We are either on one, or the other.
" The way" in Proverbs means our general way of life (Proverbs
1:19); our " own devices" (Proverbs 1:31); our heart (Proverbs
7:25; 14:14; 19:3; 21:2; 23:26); our way of understanding life (Proverbs
2:9; 9:6; 21:16); our house, the life that we build (Proverbs 2:18; 7:27);
the work we do in life (Proverbs 21:8); what we think in our soul as we
sleep (Proverbs 3:22-24); the words of our mouth and work of our hands
(Proverbs 12:14,15). Our path, our road, our way in life, is therefore
what we do, what we think deep inside us, the way we view life, our world
view, what is at the very depth of our thinking as we sleep, our home
life. There is a way of life, a road, which leads to the Kingdom: "
Reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (Proverbs 6:23). "
He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction" (Proverbs 10:17).
And there is a road which leads to death: " For her house inclineth
unto death, and her paths unto the dead" (Proverbs 2:18); "
Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths...her
house is the way to hell" (Proverbs 7:25,27); " Her feet go
down to death; her steps take hold on hell" (Proverbs 5:5,6). There
is no third road. In drawing nigh to God we draw away from the flesh (James
4:7,8). And God recognizes this in how He looks at us. He sees us as either
believers or unbelievers, as saved or damned (Jn. 3:18); and He thereby
overlooks our temporary flashes of disbelief, and doesn't consider the
occasional spirituality of those in the 'unbeliever' category.
The two roads in Proverbs cannot be travelled at the same time. We either
love the road of wisdom, or that which leads to death (Prov. 8:36). They
lead to totally opposite destinations: death, and life. The need to realize
the width of separation between these two roads is stressed in Proverbs,
as is the need to realize that those on the road to death will try to
encourage us to join their road: " Who leave the paths of righteousness,
to walk in the ways of darkness" (Proverbs 2:13); " None that
go unto her...take hold of the paths of life" (2:19); " Her
ways are moveable...remove thy way far from her” (Proverbs 5:6,8).
The wicked encourage the righteous to join their road: " To call
passengers who go right on their ways...a violent man enticeth his neighbour,
and leadeth him into the way that is not good...whoso causeth the righteous
to go astray in an evil way" (Proverbs 9:15; 16:29; 28:10). Those
who travel the two roads in Proverbs are therefore in opposition to each
other; those not on the road to life are the wicked, on the road to death.
There is an evident reason here for our separation from the things and
people of this world: " Make no friendship with an angry man...lest
thou learn his ways" (Proverbs 22:24). " Choose none of his
ways" (Proverbs 3:31). " Enter not into the path of the wicked,
and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from
it" (Proverbs 4:14,15).
The mutual antagonism between these two groups of travellers is rooted
in the opposition between snake and woman in Gen. 3:15: " He that
is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked" (Proverbs 29:27).
Time and again in Proverbs the contrast is pointed between the righteous
who are in the way of life, and " the wicked" -i.e. everyone
else. Again, within our nature, we would prefer not to classify all non-believers
as " wicked" ; we'd rather there were three categories: the
righteous, the wicked, and the in-betweens. But there aren't, in the same
way as there are only two masters who we completely serve; we hold to
either mammon, or God (Mt. 6:24). The idea of “holding to” in Greek
implies holding against something else; the result of holding
to God is that we are against everything else. " He that is not with
me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad"
(Mt. 12:30)- rather than being passively indifferent. Men reacted to the
Lord in ultimately one of two ways- they either truly believed on Him,
or supported the Jews in murdering Him (Jn. 11:45,46). Those who apparently
believed on Him but kept it quiet were forced by the cross and resurrection
to make their commitment one way or the other [and serious reflection
on the memorials of these things in bread and wine leads us to the same
decision]. So much for the philosophy of balance! The Hebrew word for
vacillate (translated " dissemble" in AV) also means to go astray;
indecision and indifference are effectively decisions against God's way.
The Hebrew language often reflects God's characteristics and attitudes.
And in Proverbs, there are only two roads, and human beings are on either
one or the other. The two roads are leading in totally opposite directions;
this is why they can't be travelled at the same time. The highway of the
upright means in itself a departing away from the way of evil (Proverbs
16:17). Thus we are either growing further and further away from this
world, or heading towards it. We mustn't just like the idea of
being in the Kingdom. We must seek it above all. The Lord told a parable
about people invited to the Kingdom who all came up with different excuses
as to why they couldn't come. This was in response to somebody remarking:
" Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!"
- 'how great it would be to be in the Kingdom!' (Lk. 14:15). And the Lord
is replying 'Many of those given the real opportunity to be there actually
don't want it that much at all. Don't just like the idea of being in my
Kingdom, but make it the driving passion in your daily life, for which
you'll sacrifice all'. We either violently snatch / take the Kingdom by
force (Mt. 11:12), or the devil of our own nature will snatch us away
(s.w. Mt. 13:19; Jn. 10:12). The choice before us is that pointed: fight
The huge conflict between those in the way of life and those on the way
to death is not only articulated in a negative sense, of separation from
those not in " the way" . The importance of these things means
that we will feel a strong bond with all others who are in " the
way" , seeing that the other category of people in this world is
so so different from us: " Walk in the way of good men, and keep
the paths of the righteous" (Proverbs 2:20); " He that walketh
with wise men shall be wise" (Proverbs 13:20). the two roads in Proverbs
are mutually exclusive. Those who realize the depth of our separation
from the world will by the same token realize the urgent attraction which
we feel with others who are in the way with us. It has been my observation
that many of those who, for whatever reason, hold back in their fellowshipping
of other believers, are often not separate from the spirit of this world.
Viewed from this perspective, attendance at ecclesial meetings is poor
indeed; if we are truly in the way, and we know that all others not "
in the way" are going fast in the opposite direction, we will surely
want to be with those who are with us on the Kingdom road, regardless
of whether we 'click' with them on a personal level. Likewise, the fact
there are so many isolated brethren and sisters throughout this world,
walking the Kingdom road alone, humanly speaking, ought to create a sense
of responsibility within us that will well up and express itself in action,
as far as we are able.
The teaching about the two roads in Proverbs often stresses that the
way of the flesh is leading to death, whilst the way of life leads to
the Kingdom (cp. Mt. 5:3,14). " The way of life leads upwards for
the wise, to keep him from going down to the grave" (Proverbs 15:24
NIV); the further along the road to the Kingdom we go, the further away
we go from the road to death. And as we grow spiritually, the clearer
our way becomes; whilst those who go the way of the flesh find their future
uncertain, they lack that sense of direction which we have: " The
way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns; but the path of the upright
is a highway" (Proverbs 15:19 NIV). The road of the wise is described
as a highway in Proverbs 16:17 too; and the way of the wicked is also
strewn with difficult obstacles in Proverbs 22:5; " Whose ways are
crooked, and they froward in their paths" (2:15). There is probably
a designed contrast between this and the way the Lord described the road
to the Kingdom as made narrow, and the way to death as a wide, broad highway
(Mt. 7:13,14); the Proverbs seem to say the opposite. The answer may be
that Proverbs is presenting God's viewpoint; in ultimate reality, the
way to the Kingdom is wide and clear and easier, better marked, than the
road to death. But the Lord turned all this round, because He appreciated
that from our perspective, this wouldn't be the case. We will
think that the way to the Kingdom is made narrow (Gk.) and hard, restricted;
whilst the road to death seems so wide and obviously right.
We are almost pushed by God along the path which we decide, in our deepest
heart, to follow: " A man's heart deviseth his way; but the Lord
directeth his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). And yet " the upright
directeth his (own) way" (Proverbs 21:29); as if our self-direction
on the road is confirmed by God. " Man's steps are directed by the
Lord; how then can anyone understand his own way?" (Proverbs 20:24
NIV). This cannot mean that self-examination is impossible; rather, it
must mean that we do not have 100% our " own way" because the
steps we chose to take are confirmed and therefore directed by God's hand
in our lives. " He is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth
the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of His saints" (Proverbs
2:7,8) says it all; God keeps the righteous man in the way to
life, if that is his will. As we go further along the road, we realize
this: " In all thy ways acknowledge him, and He shall direct thy
paths" (Proverbs 3:6) because part of our daily prayer and experience.
Through daily reading of the word, we are led in this way:
" I (wisdom) lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the
paths of judgment" (8:20,22); " I have led thee in the way of
wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall
not be straitened, and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble"
(Proverbs 4:11,12). The two roads in Proverbs propel the traveller along
The longer we live in Christ, the further we travel down the road,
the closer we get to the Kingdom, and the more confirmed we are
in the way of total dedication, knowing that we are moving surely
towards the glory of the Kingdom: "The path of the just is
as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect
day" (Proverbs 4:18). The momentum of our own ever developing
spirituality will carry us along this road: " He that walketh
uprightly walketh surely; but he that perverteth his ways shall
be known " (Proverbs 10:9). " The way of the Lord is strength
to the upright" (Proverbs 10:29). "Righteousness keepeth
him that is upright in the way" (Proverbs 13:6); " he
that walketh in his uprightness" (Proverbs 14:2); and there
are several other references to the fact that the righteous walk
the Kingdom road in their own " uprightness" or "
righteousness" . This obviously doesn't imply self-righteousness,
but rather means that the life of serious obedience will lead to
more obedience. Likewise the man who is obedient to God's commands
will live in them, i.e. they will become an integral part of his
way of life (Lev. 18:5; Neh. 9:29; Ez. 20:13,21 etc.). The further
we go in God’s way, the clearer and more obvious it all becomes,
and the fewer agonies we face over decisions, as perhaps we did
in our early days of believing. The way of wisdom is “plain
to him that understands” (Prov. 8:9). Some seek for wisdom
but can never find it; for others, “knowledge is easy unto
him that understands” (Prov. 14:6).
Because we are walking the Kingdom road, and the end direction
is certain, the very fact we are walking that road means that while
we are walking it, our salvation is assured; so clear is the road
to the Kingdom, so certain the final destination, that whoever is
on the road is effectively in the Kingdom: " In the way of
righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death"
(10:28). And we come to realize this; the logic of total dedication
to the one way is increasingly evident. And the experience of love,
peace and joy which we have on the road confirms us in this: "
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace"
(Proverbs 3:17). The Lord is the supreme example. He set His face
to go to Jerusalem, and the final sacrifice which would be there
(Lk. 9:51). He hardened His face like a rock (Is. 50:7); and yet
the wicked similarly harden their faces like a rock to go in the
way of the flesh (Jer. 5:3). We are hardened in our path, one way
or the other. Jeremiah had his face hardened in response to his
own hardening of face (Jer. 1:17; 5:3), and the wicked in Israel
likewise were hardened (Jer. 3:3; 4:30)
The Strongest Imperative
The two roads in Proverbs have different aspects. It will be noticed
that sometimes the Proverbs speak of roads / paths / ways in the plural,
other times in the singular. This indicates not only that our overall
way in life is comprised of many separate routes, which all come together
under one general classification (thus our 'way' at work, our 'way' in
the ecclesia, our 'way' at home, are all basically the same way, although
outwardly some may seem more 'spiritual' than others). It also indicates
that " paths" is being used as an intensive plural, to outline
the two great ways which there are in life. The Lord Jesus based many
of His parables on the Proverbs, and His words concerning the wide road
to destruction and the narrow road to the Kingdom (Mt. 7:13,14) are surely
based on the frequent descriptions of the ways / great way to life, and
that to death, which Proverbs so often mentions. The road / way of life
which we are on is really leading somewhere. " The way of the wicked"
is opposed to the way of him " that followeth after righteousness"
(Proverbs 15:9 cp. seeking the Kingdom and God's righteousness, Mt. 5:47).
Yet life has a manner of feeling so monotonous, whether we are
spiritually strong or weak. Bible readings are read, bread broken,
meetings attended, children fed, holidays had... all in the same
basic pattern. And yet this is all leading us somewhere; we are
heading somewhere fast, screaming along the highway of life, either
to eternal death or the eternal Kingdom. It's rather like the fact
that our planet is hurtling through space at a huge speed, with
us pinned to the surface of earth by some form of centrifugal force.
Yet as we watch fluffy clouds wander lazily across the sky, as we
watch the world go by, this really doesn't seem the case. And even
more so spiritually. And yet we are here for these few brief years
to be developed, to be conformed to the image of the Son of God,
to be prepared for the eternity and spiritual glory of the Kingdom
of God. It is a wonder that our time here is so short, that the
average time a believer spends in Christ is probably only around
35 years. God wishes to pack so much, so intensely, into our everyday
experience. And yet for the most part, tragically, we are blind
to this. We don't feel it. We don't sense the urgency for spiritual
growth. We don't perceive God urgently, vitally at work on our characters
in everyday incidents.