“There is a path called righteousness – a way that leads to life; A pathway where there is no death – no finitude or strife.” (Proverbs 12:28)
This is the twelfth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter. The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 12, preceded by a brief reflection.
Psalm 23 is the most beloved Psalm in the Psalter, and one of the most read passages in the Bible. The King James version captures well its unfailing comfort and consolation. Consider the first three verses: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3) Is there any one of us who has not yearned to know the Lord as their Shepherd? Is there anyone not desperate for rest from the bumps and bruises of life; to be refreshed as it were by living water; to have their soul restored? Yet, at times this can seem like a far land – remote and seemingly beyond our reach. Even for those who call on the Lord as Shepherd, there is often a gap between the world of Psalm 23 and the reality. I believe that the way of restoration – where we can enter into and experience the comfort of Psalm 23 more fully – is by following the Shepherd on the path of righteousness of verse 3.
This is not a matter of earning the rest and renewal offered by our Shepherd, but of receiving these as blessings by following the One who offers them. The blessings and the path are inseparable. The Lord leads us to the waters and he leads us to the path – we often can’t see where he is leading, but we know that we can trust Him to keep us safe. Still, following a path, particularly the path of righteousness, requires effort on our part. The Lord is there to lead and guide us, but it is up to us to follow the path. The nature of the path of righteousness is not described in Psalm 23. To flesh this out, we must look elsewhere in Scripture – for example, the words of Jesus, and the teachings of Paul and other writers of the New Testament. But for a concentrated tutorial on the path of righteousness, it is hard to beat Proverbs.
Proverbs 12 has a wonderful verse with echoes of Psalm 23.
“There is a path called righteousness – a way that leads to life;
A pathway where there is no death – no finitude or strife.” (Proverbs 12:28)
This path of righteousness leads to life, a way where there is no death. We are not told what sort of life this is, but the Hebrew word for life in this verse is “chay,” which is used both literally and figuratively. Literally it can mean green (likevegetation) and fresh (like water); figuratively it can mean revival and renewal. All of which sound very similar to the rest and restoration of Psalm 23.
But this still begs the question as to what exactly the ways or paths of righteousness look like? And here Proverbs is a treasure-trove of descriptions of the paths of righteousness. Embedded in many of the Proverbs are the blessings that follow from the path. For example, here are some from Proverbs 12:
– Goodness leads to favor from the Lord (verse 2);
– Diligence leads to plenty (verse 11);
– Honesty leads to endurance forever (verse 19);
– Peacemaking leads to joy (verse 20); and
– Faithfulness leads to delight from the Lord (verse 22).
There are many more verses that describe the way of righteousness that do not explicitly include the blessing. Again, here are some from Proverbs 12:
– Justice (verse 5);
– Humility (verse 9);
– Teachability (verse 15);
– Truthfulness (verse 17);
– Prudence (verse 23); and
– Encouragement (verse 25).
These are precisely the “paths of righteousness” where the good Shepherd of Psalm 23 would lead us. It is perforce a sampling given that this is but one chapter in Proverbs. But there are many others described throughout Proverbs and the rest of Scripture. The point is that Proverbs is much more that a bunch of platitudes about wisdom, although there is some of that. Rather, we find in Proverbs a collective description of the rules that govern a life of faith. They are not laws in the sense that following them guarantees an outcome. But they are highly predictive so that if we follow them with the help of our Shepherd we will find the rest that he promises.
When I first started running, I could barely make it around the block. But with daily practice and discipline, my stamina increased and within a year I was running competitive marathons. There is no way I could have achieved this without training. Still, I had no direct ability to increase my lung capacity or strengthen my legs. All of this happened as a result of the way God designed my body. In the same way, spiritual maturity happens when we follow the path of righteousness – not because we can directly control the outcome, we can’t. But because God has designed the spiritual world with rules that are as predictive as those in the natural world. One of these “rules” is that when we act with goodness towards others, we experience the Lord’s favor. (Proverbs 12:2)
Ronald Rolheiser describes it this way. “When we act like God, we get to feel like God. Conversely, when we are petty, we get to feel petty. There is a clear cause and effect here: when we do bighearted things, we get to feel bighearted, and when we do small-hearted things, we get to feel small.” (Sacred Fire 234-235) And this I think is one of the principal takeaways from Proverbs – that when we follow the paths of righteousness, we get to experience the feelings of righteousness – abundance, joy, peace, etc. In other words, when I show goodness and mercy towards others, then, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6a)
1 The person loving discipline,
loves knowledge as the same;
But one who hates to be reproved,
has stupid for a name.
2 A person who is good and true
finds favor from the Lord;
But one devising wicked schemes,
feels God’s condemning sword.
3 The wicked will not find their wrongs
The righteous though are resolute,
deep rooted as a tree.
4 A wife of noble character
will crown her husband’s way;
But she with shame is like the rot
that make his bones decay.
5 The righteous think and make their plans,
with judgments that are just;
The wicked though give skewed advice,
that’s dubious to trust.
6 The wicked speak with words of death,
that lie in wait for blood;
The righteous speak with words of life,
that rescue from a flood.
7 The wicked will be overthrown,
so they will be no more;
The righteous have a standing house,
that’s solid to the core.
8 A person will receive the praise,
that matches their good sense;
But one who has a perverse mind
is loathed for their offense.
9 Far better to be commonplace,
and working for one’s meat;
Than acting like someone who’s great,
and have no food to eat.
10 The righteous love their animals,
providing what they need;
The wicked even at their best
are cruel to them indeed.
11 Those working hard upon their land
will never want for bread;
But those pursing fantasies,
lack any sense instead.
12 The wicked covet all the things
that evildoers steal;
The righteous treasure only fruit
that their own roots reveal.
13 The wicked find their evil words,
entrap them like a snare;
The righteous by their innocence,
escape from every scare.
14 Good people will be satisfied
by fruitful words they say;
And they will be rewarded by
the work they do each day.
15 The foolish walk along a way
that’s right in their own eyes;
But those who listen to advice
are singularly wise.
16 The foolish don’t withhold their wrath,
or let their anger keep;
The prudent though will overlook
an insult cutting deep.
17 The honest witness gives the facts
on which the truth relies;
The crafty witness falsely speaks
by only telling lies.
18 The reckless speak with words that cut,
like swords with blades of steel;
The wise are soothing with their tongues,
that reassure and heal.
19 The one whose lips convey the truth,
But one whose tongue dispenses lies,
will fade like days of yore.
20 Those plotting evil have deceit
implanted in their hearts;
But those promoting plans for peace,
know joy that it imparts.
21 The righteous will not suffer harm –
no evil will befall;
The wicked though will have their fill
of troubles great and small.
22 The Lord finds those with lying lips,
abhorrent in his sight;
But those behaving faithfully
are always his delight.
23 The prudent hold their knowledge close –
concealed where none can see;
The foolish in their ignorance,
24 The diligent with thrifty hands,
will rule by holding sway;
The lazy though will be compelled,
to labor night and day.
25 Anxiety and heaviness
weighs heavy on a soul;
But kindly words will cheer it up,
and gladly make it whole.
26 The righteous guide their neighbors well,
to help them like a friend;
The wicked lead them down a path,
to perish in the end.
27 The lazy do not roast their game,
so have no food to eat;
The diligent protect their wealth,
like something that is sweet.
28 There is a path called righteousness –
a way that leads to life;
A pathway where there is no death –
no finitude or strife.