This is what Yahweh says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths: Which is the way to what is good? Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protested, “We won’t!” (Jer. 6:16)
Yet My people have forgotten Me. They burn incense to false idols that make them stumble in their ways on the ancient roads and walk on new paths, not the highway. (Jer. 18:15)
Jeremiah is a fabulous book because we get to hear Yahweh sharing so much about His own perspectives. Because Yahweh is so fabulous, He speaks to people using words and metaphors that make sense to them within their cultural context. Since we’re not ancient Jews living in Jeremiah’s time, it’s easy for us to feel confused by some of the language and metaphors Yahweh uses when He’s talking to people in the Old Testament. Take these two passages from Jeremiah in which Yahweh is telling people to stick to ancient paths and old highways instead of traveling on new roads. What’s this about? Why is Yahweh down on new roads?
Well, when we look at the context of these two verses, it becomes clear that ancient paths are being used as a metaphor for the right way to live–and in Jeremiah’s day, the right way to live was to honor Yahweh by adhering to His Old Covenant. It’s important to realize that Yahweh is talking to Old Covenant Jews here–folks who know all about the Covenant He made with Israel yet they are intentionally breaking that Covenant because they hate Yahweh. The Old Covenant was introduced through Moses way back around 1450 BC (bear in mind that the farther back in history we go, the more difficult it becomes to date things with total accuracy, so this date is an estimation). By the time we reach Jeremiah’s lifetime, we’re very close to the fall of Jerusalem, which will happen in 586 BC. The point is this: the Old Covenant has been around for centuries. So to the folks Yahweh is addressing in these passages, His Covenant with Israel isn’t a new idea–it’s the “ancient way”–passed down from generation to generation. But instead of doing what Yahweh has been commanding His people to do since the ancient days, these Jews who living in Jeremiah’s day have turned away to “new paths” of idolatry.
At this point in Israel’s history, Yahweh’s chosen people are worshiping a whole pantheon (collection) of false gods. Our Gods often get graphic and crude with Their language when They are angry, and in the Old Testament prophetic books, Yahweh often refers to the worship of idol as a form of disgusting prostitution. As the Israelites fall down and worship any new god they come across, Yahweh describes His chosen nation as a hormone crazed prostitute who is so addicted to sex that she can’t wait for clients to come to her so she goes chasing after them. In these times, gods were often worshiped in “sacred” places which were usually elevated patches of ground. In Ezekiel 16, Yahweh is addressing the same crop of Jews who He’s chewing out in Jeremiah and He describes their idolatry like this:
“You built your elevated place at the head of every street and turned your beauty into a detestable thing. You spread your legs to everyone who passed by and increased your prostitution.” (Eze. 16:25)
This language helps us understand why Yahweh refers to idol worship as “new paths”–because Israel was constantly chasing after new gods while she turned her back on the “ancient” God who she’d always known. It was because of Israel’s unceasing rebellion that Yahweh finally destroyed her country, massacred her people, and drove thousands of Jews into exile. Even Yahweh’s patience has limits.
Jeremiah 2-3: Yahweh Justifies His Wrath
Metaphors from Yahweh: Rebellious Underwear (Jeremiah 13)
Learning from Yahweh: What It Means To Be Holy