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 Path

" 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.

Fellow Travellers

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 or fall.

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.

Confirmation

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 them.

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.