“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I’m a quote guy. You can’t be a quote guy without having one from Robert Frost. This is the ending to Frost’s famous poem, “The Road not Taken.” I have chosen this as the beginning of my blog series which will explore 5 of the most famous quotes from different areas of society. This quote today, I take as being often misrepresented, as if Frost was celebrating an individualistic path he took in life which he cherished in hindsight. I take it that this is a reflection on a mistake he made in choosing a certain path, which has led him to regret. If this is so, then his words mirror those of other artists, actors, singers, etc. who live a life of intriguing notoriety, yet come to a time in their lives when they are unable to avoid the emptiness inside of them. My favorite example of this is Johnny Cash. Cash’s video for his 2003 Nine Inch Nails cover “Hurt.” As Cash was a dying man he reflected on his life, and perhaps the final words he sung were “If I could start again a million miles away, I would keep myself; I would find a way.” Today, I want you readers to realize that you do not have to share the same regret as Johnny Cash or Robert Frost. Despite the surrounding voices which tell you there are many different paths you can travel by, I want you to know that there are in actuality only two. There is a very welcoming, and attractively wide path, which will invite you to walk down its yellow brick road before it turns into faded bricks cracked so bad you trip and fall on your face every five feet. If this is the path you take, your end is an inevitable destruction. You don’t have to take another step down this path though. For, I tell you there is a separate road to travel on. This road is difficult, and it involves denying yourself, picking up your cross, and sometimes painfully following Jesus (Luke 9:23).
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The author of this poem stands having to face two different paths. Whether he actually made a decision of which to follow is unclear, but the fact is they “had been worn about the same.” The author either imagines the future when he will be attempting to convince in his speech that he took the “one less traveled by.” Or he is actually telling in reflection that the road he took, he had lied to himself, and claimed it was the “one less traveled by.” When in reality, each of the roads were equally traveled, and thus it implies there is another path. One which few go down.
I am 22 years old. I am an American college graduate. I’m decent looking, and I have a past which lied to me and told me I wouldn’t be able to break out of what I was bound for. I was bound for a mediocre life, where I find joy in physical pleasure, and where I move one step above my mother who was never able to buy my sister and I the name-brand shoes we wanted, and who struggled financially as she raised the two of us in a working class neighborhood. If we listen to the lies of our society, we will believe what it tells us. If you and I believe there are many paths, each of which are equally worn, and it doesn’t matter so much as which one we take, then we will inevitably be like Robert Frost and spend our old age with an emptiness as we tell our grandchildren how we were renegades who took a seldom traveled path through life, when in reality we just followed everybody else to the Skrillex concert. If you are reading this I want to tell you that the many paths which have all been worn equally are actually just one path. This one path is the path of the worldly. This path is in contrast with the path of righteousness which leads to true life.
In the BIble, there is a collection of sayings which are generally true in a book called “Proverbs.” In this book, which is truly written for young people attempting to make a decision of how to live their lives, the author (usually thought to be Solomon- the wisest man to ever live) urges the readers to avoid the path of evil and to instead travel the path of wisdom. For today I will begin with the thesis statement of the book, which is found in 1:7 and go until 1:23. For this presents the two different paths, and hopefully it will encourage you to read on about the two paths which are contrasted throughout the entire book.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us,” let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.
For in vain is a net spread
in the sight of any bird,
but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
they set an ambush for their own lives.
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
it takes away the life of its possessors.
Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks;
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.”
I. Fear of the Lord 1:7-9
If you don’t read anything else, you should read what I’m about to type in the next sentence. If you do not first fear God, then you are a person who does not possess any wisdom. If you have 3 philosophy degrees, the best job, you are a Fox News analyst, but you do not fear the God of the Bible, then all of your wisdom is useless. What does it mean to fear God? The fear of the Lord is a reverence for his Holiness. A fear of the Lord means you have the ability to realize you are not God, but rather a tiny little speck in the grand universe began by the Creator. It also means you attribute that the one who created the universe, and allowed you to be a speck in it, is the One who is unlike anything He created. To be Holy means to be separate. Therefore, to fear God is to do as the book of Ecclesiastes tells us to look above earth (to heaven) and after death (to God) in order to find value, rather than to find it in earthly things. It is the fear of God which is the beginning place for an individual to be able to follow down the path of righteousness. In other words, if you do not begin with the correct mindset towards God, then you have no chance of properly following the along the path towards Him- you are inevitably going to travel down the path of evil, whether you realize it consciously or not.
II. The Evil Path (1:10-19)
Before you read what I’m about to write there is something you must know. I have found myself walking down this path before. I have walked down extremely dark roads with no street lights above me as I bask in my sin. When we avoid the guilt we feel in our lives, and ignore the warnings against danger, we find ourselves walking down the path described in these verses. This is the default path for humanity. You don’t have to teach humans to be:
1. Both persuaded and pursuers by and of evil. The warning is clear to not be persuaded to join those who lure us into “ambushing the innocent without reason.” I doubt that those who do the tempting make it so obvious that they are tempting you towards evil. It’s probably a much more subtle, “Hey man, wanna try this? It’s good for you.” You have to be wise enough to know that what they are calling you to do isn’t actually good for you. The point is clear here that without warning from the “words of the wise,” man doesn’t know any better. Man can’t help but to fall into temptation, if man doesn’t first have the fear of the Lord, because that is man’s natural tendency-towards evil that is.
Notice in verse 12, the temptation leads down to the pit of Sheol. Sheol refers to “the grave or ‘death’ (the state of being dead (Grudem, 588).” There are some who knowingly enter this path which leads to destruction, but most do not. Most people enter a path which leads to death, by thinking it will lead to life. We enter with the pursuit of money, popularity, or power, and we end with utter darkness and emptiness, and ultimately death.
Verses 13 and 14 show the power and attraction to material gain. The path which is evil and leads to death is one which in the beginning looks so beautiful. “We shall find all precious goods.” “Throw in your lot among us; we will have one purse.” Sounds nice doesn’t it? The writer of this proverb warns against these ways, because it sees the true motives of those offering these things. It reminds me of the New Testament when Satan tempts Jesus in Matthew 4:8-10, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, And he said to him, All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve.'” For you see that temptation from the wicked is not ugly; it is beautiful. It appears before us with the appearance of goodness, but leads us into a path of pure vanity. The warning is that if you fall for the temptations of those who are evil, this will lead to your ultimate demise-death. You need the fear of the Lord in order to recognize the trap you are in, and in order to turn away from it. This is what the author of this proverb means in verses 18 and 19 that these men, “they set an ambush for their own lives.” They pursue evil continuously and they walk deeper and deeper on a path which will turn into a dead end with an ambush from savages at the end. At that point, men are so far along the road of evil that it’s very rare for one of them to turn back and run to another path.
This is the way of anybody who is greedy for gain they do not deserve or come across properly, it takes their life away. If we pursue evil in this life, we will possess many things. We may possess a good job where we wear a suit and have our own secretary. We may own many fancy cars. We may have vacation spots in the Caribbean, but if this is true of us and we don’t fear the Lord and follow the path which leads to Him, then these very things which we own will take away our life. That is because we will try and find life in these things, but these things are inanimate objects- there is no life in them. There is one life giver, and that is God. The only way we will find life is if we find our value in the One who gives life.
The Call of Wisdom (1:20-22)
In these verses, the voice of “Lady Wisdom” calls out desperately for us not to follow the path of evil and instead find her and follow her. It is this voice of Lady Wisdom which the author uses as a literary technique to represent the voice of the one who built the road which leads to righteousness- that is God. Notice that Wisdom cries in the street, the marketplace, in the midst of a lot of noise, and at the entrance of the city gates. This is because it is God’s desire for you and for I, and everyone for that matter, to follow Him in the path which leads to Him. This is a truth which is consistent throughout Scripture, that God’s desire is to redeem all people from their fallen and sinful state, to being in relationship with Him, and to spend eternity with Him. This knowing God refers back again to 1:7, God’s desire for us to know Him. But, after we know God, his desire is that we follow the path which leads to Him. This can be referred to as God’s Will of desire. As Kevin Deyoung puts it in his book Just Do Something, This will “refers to what God has commanded- What He desires from His creatures (21).” This assumes another truth, that God holds us responsible for our actions- He is not responsible for sin. Therefore, He desires for us to not take a path which leads to death, but one which leads to life with Him. This is why He calls out for us in all aspects of life. No matter where you are in life, God calls for you to follow Him.
The Promise of Wisdom (1:23)
The final thing I want to point out is that if you turn away from the path of evil, and instead follow Wisdom down the path of Righteousness, then the promise for you is that God will pour out His spirit on you, and He will teach you His word and how to live it out. Often times, we think of Christianity as a set of rules. We think we have to live a life filled with do’s and dont’s and please God. Here, we see that isn’t true. Instead, God tells us to recognize our sin, turn from the path of evil, fear God and that will begin our knowledge. Our knowledge then grows over time as God, who has not left us to a list of do’s and dont’s, leads us by His Spirit. We are not alone in walking down the path of righteousness, God leads us. This is why we do not have to worry and be anxious as Mt. 6 says; because God works out the path for those who know and fear Him.
In conclusion, I want you to realize that Robert Frost’s poem is actually blurring the fact that there are only two paths presented in Scripture. The path of evil is very broad, and ultimately leads to death. The path of Righteousness is very narrow, and leads to life. God invites us to trust Him, and follow Him down the path of Righteousness. Explore the proverbs for yourself, and I invite you to choose a path.
Next week I invite you to come back and read as I explore a quote by Mark Twain, “The Two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”