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The DEEP

The Paths of Righteousness

Mapping the gray areas of life

Proverbs 2:20-22

 

20 So you may walk in the way of goodness,
And keep to the paths of righteousness.

21 For the upright will dwell in the land,
And the blameless will remain in it;

22 But the wicked will be cut off from the earth,
And the unfaithful will be uprooted from it.

 

My family and I recently had an opportunity to go hiking together in the South Carolina Upstate. This activity is one of our favorite things to do together and we have planned whole vacations around hiking trips and time in the outdoors. Here, near our home in the flat coastal plain of the Lowcountry, we rarely get a chance to hike in places that have elevation. 

A destination on the fall line in the Piedmont region allowed us a good stretch of the legs walking up and down hills for a change and we were glad for it. The path was located in the Sumter National Forest and it wound above the steep gorge of Turkey Creek, part of the watershed of the Savannah River. The winter forest was awash in sunlight beneath bare-limbed red oak, maple, and beech trees. 

Rare things abide here, including plants like trilliums and an elusive species of salamander. On a mild Carolina winter morning the green buds of spring are already peeping through the carpet of fallen leaves and migrating songbirds fill the trees with their songs. It is a thrilling place. 

We follow a path that is well-trodden by other hikers. The tracks of humans mix with that of deer and other creatures and another brand of long, patterned track that–

“ON YOUR LEFT!”

–is a sign of that mountain bikers frequent this trail also. We scatter like rabbits as they swish past, all spandex and physical fitness. But they are actually polite and we do not blame them for seeking to also enjoy a fine day such as this.

This path along the bluffs above a rocky and picturesque waterway travels up and down over hardwood ridges and down again to cross narrow footbridges over streams that glisten with cold water and white quartz stones. The path is difficult but it is well-marked if you pay attention and do not stray too far into the smilax and grapevine brambles where confusion reigns.

Proverbs chapter 2 describes the path of the righteous–the path of wisdom. Like the trail described, it too can be challenging–maybe even dangerous–but given the right direction, it can lead you home.

As chapter 1 of proverbs set about describing the nature of wisdom and and warning against folly, Chapter 2 lays out the foundations of the book–and in how to know God. Today we have skipped from the beginning to the end of the chapter to look at this ultimate aim:

20 So you may walk in the way of goodness,
And keep to the paths of righteousness.–Proverbs 2:20

What is this way of goodness? How do you keep to the path of righteousness? Notice first how these two parallel images of “way” and “path” reinforce the image. Proverbs is a book of wonderful, easy-to-picture descriptions that allow your mind to easily grasp what Solomon is trying to teach. 

This path of righteousness is covenant living–of walking before God all of your days and following Him. To do this, He has given you His holy Word, His commandments, His promises–and His Son. This path leads to eternal life, while all others lead to death. 

“Righteousness” here has a lot of depth to it, more than simply “being good” or acting correctly. A parallel to this goodness is “justice.” Tim Keller points out that the Hebrew words used here have a social aspect that makes being righteous much more than simply being about you, or your personal walk with God. Modern, western, “self-help” Christianity often tends to make righteousness an expression of individuality.

This is not what Solomon is seeking to teach his son, or the sons and daughters of Israel. He is showing them that the path righteousness is a path that is trod amidst a sea of surrounding souls, of living before God and men. Bruce Waltke explains in his commentary on Proverbs:   

Those who keep covenant act in the best interest of God and man, not of themselves… bring the beneficent rule of God to earth.–Waltke

To be righteous is to live in such a manner and to have character as such that you are doing what is right to others because you are in a covenant relationship with God. The social aspect of this is seen in how the humility of Christ is reflected in you in dealing with others:

The righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.–Waltke

What does this mean? It means doing the right thing, even when you may lose your own advantage in the eyes of others–or to yourself.  In this life, you are pressed on all sides by expectations and the last thing you want to do is anything in which will cause disadvantage to yourself. In business you strive to be a success and in your personal relationships you want to make your needs and positions known.

It is a call to selfless living, to help one another in a time of need. One of the 6th century rules of St. Columba expresses this well:

17. Your manual labor should have a three-fold division. First, fill your own needs and those of the place where you live. Secondly, do your share of your brothers work (or the work of the community). Thirdly, help your neighbors by instruction, by writing, by making garments, or by providing for any other need of theirs that may arise.  As the Lord says, "No one should come before me empty-handed.”–Rule of St. Columba, 6th cent.

This is a beautiful picture of a Christian community that sets the entire body of believers to work to help one another in meeting physical as well as spiritual needs. How wonderful would it be for every modern church or congregation to live in such a selfless, giving manner! 

This is the example of our own Lord and Savior in His coming to dwell among us as a man:

who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.–Philippians 2:6-8

Walking the path of righteousness also means learning to function in the “gray areas” of life. Often the difference between right and wrong may see ambiguous–or you may find an advantage for you that, though not technically wrong, can result in someone else’s suffering. 

Dr. Ian Malcom, a character in Michael Crichton’s blockbuster novel “Jurassic Park” is a skeptic who questions the reckless practice of cloning prehistoric dinosaurs. He fears the scientists had little regard for the danger of introducing such deadly creatures on the modern world:

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.–Michael Crichton, “Jurassic Park”

Just because you can do something, does not necessarily mean that you should.

Jesus’s enemies were masters at operating in the gray areas of life. The Jewish leaders, knowing that they could not legally execute Jesus for His “blasphemous” teachings, nevertheless found a way. By using the legitimate Roman authority the priests and rulers persuaded Pontius Pilate to use his power to crucify the One they hated. They played on Pilate’s fears of unrest and insurrection to find their advantage–and murder the Lamb of God.

Things are not often clear in life when choices are to be made–and plenty of ways are open to provide benefit to yourself with no real thought to how it impacts others. The wisdom that is earned when you walk the path of the righteous will bring you closer to God. Solomon tells his son: 

21 For the upright will dwell in the land,
And the blameless will remain in it;–Proverbs 2:21

God’s covenant with His people included the land that would become their earthly home. The inheritance of Israel was the hope of His people even in captivity, and Solomon is connecting this with God’s eternal protection. When you walk the path of righteousness, you are walking the path to salvation. For those who do not:

22 But the wicked will be cut off from the earth,
And the unfaithful will be uprooted from it.–Proverbs 2:22

Think about your daily life and all of the choices you must make. Many of them can seem easy–being kind to others, maintaining good relationships with coworkers, family and friends. But how do you handle the “gray areas” of life? This becomes a test of who you are–and in how closely you strive to follow Christ. 

In this life you will not always find easy answers. You will not always have easy times in which to make the difficult decisions you will face. This is where the pursuit of wisdom counts. In seeking to walk in the path of righteousness in prayer, in reading God’s Word, and in the fellowship of like-minded believers you will become more and more equipped to face what the world, the flesh and the devil may bring.

Like the character of Frodo wonders aloud to Gandalf in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” when he is faced with the terrible task of bearing and destroying the ring of power:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”–J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

As you explore Proverbs chapter 2 you will come to understand that even though you live in trying times, you are not alone–and the more you walk with your heavenly Father, the more clearly the pathway ahead appears.

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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