WHAT IS A FORK IN THE ROAD?
A fork in the road is literally a junction in which one road becomes two divergent roads. But a fork in the road also serves as a metaphor for a choice of options at a critical moment in life.
Yogi Berra, a baseball player whose fame transcended the ballpark, became well known for his “Yogi-isms.” For instance, he once advised, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Behind the humor of this Yogi-ism hides a bit of practical wisdom. A fork in the road always presents a third option: indecision, or simply “not taking it,” as Yogi would say. Some excuse themselves from making critical decisions by claiming to “leave their options open.” But in so doing, they make a choice.
CHOOSING NOT TO CHOOSE IS A CHOICE
And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
The gathered crowd chose not to choose. However, not choosing became a choice. A choice that put the assembly squarely on the side of the Baalites.
During the last days of Judah, the people of Edom, who were descendants of Esau, watched as Babylon razed the nation with whom they shared a common ancestor. In doing so, they bought for themselves a divine reprimand that stands as a principle to this day (Obadiah 1:10-11).
For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever. In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them.
When Edom chose not to enter the battle, to remain neutral, the people chose the side of the enemy.
Christ’s words stand against Edom’s attempt at neutrality when he said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). Choosing to ignore the options puts one in direct opposition to Christ.
LIFE AND DEATH AT THE FORK IN THE ROAD
After the fall of Judah, Jeremiah faced a personal fork in the road. One signpost read “Life” and the other, “Death.”
Nebuzaradan, a Babylonian captain of the guard, released Jeremiah from the chains with which he’d been bound as a prisoner. The high officer reminded Jeremiah of his own prophesy: “The Lord your God pronounced this disaster against this place” (Jeremiah 40:1-3). Then he gave Jeremiah a choice between going to Babylon or remaining in the ravaged land upon which the judgment of God had fallen.
Now, behold, I release you today from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go (Jeremiah 40:4).
The two options were even weightier when viewed against the backdrop of an ultimatum from God that Jeremiah had previously put before the people (Jeremiah 21:8-9).
And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death. He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth out, and falleth to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey.
The decision to stay or leave crystalizes into an unequivocal matter of life or death: I set before you the way of life, and the way of death. But here’s an example of the easy way (life in Babylon) and the hard way (probable death in Jerusalem). For the Prophet, choosing life meant death to his calling and purpose in life. Choosing death by remaining in Judah meant keeping alive the work to which he was called.
This sheds light on Jesus’ teaching about deceptiveness at the fork in the road.
BROAD WAY AND NARROW WAY
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
These words of Jesus, found in Matthew 16:24-26, tell us the cross is an instrument of death. Bearing a cross and following Jesus means dying, just as staying with the oppressed Judahites represented a manner of dying for Jeremiah. “I am crucified with Christ,” Paul wrote, “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”.
When Jesus says, “Follow me,” He brings us to the eternal fork in the road. The grace of God, through the influence of the implanted Holy Spirit, leads one to choose the road marked life that yields death to the old man. According to Matthew 7:13, 14, following what appears to the natural eyes as the safest option leads one down the path of death. No neutrality.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Choosing neither means choosing the broad way taken by all who, in their natural state, are led by sin to destruction.
Back to Jeremiah. Following Nebuzaradan to Babylon with the promise of a better life was, on the surface, the prudent choice for Jeremiah. But taking the easy road to improve one’s situation doesn’t always end well. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35). One might gain the world, but at the cost of everything.
Jeremiah offered no immediate response to the choices presented to him. Nebuzaradan, sensing the difficulty but also the direction the prophet was leaning, prompted him by rephrasing the options and placing him again at a figurative fork in the road. Go wherever you think it right to go (Jeremiah 40:5). The captain then gave him provisions for the journey and let him go.
Jeremiah then set out for Mizpah to dwell among the people that were left in the land (Jeremiah 40:6). He chose what would mean physical death but life as a prophet to a desolate people.
Following Nebuzaradan to Babylon with the promise of a better life was, on the surface, the prudent choice for Jeremiah. But taking the easy road to improve one’s situation doesn’t always end well. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35). One might gain the world, but at the cost of everything.
A CHOICE ALL MUST MAKE
If you came to a fork in the road like the one Jeremiah stood before, what choice would you make? The fact is, we all stand there, from the greatest to the least of us. The same challenge Jeremiah delivered to the people of Judah comes down through the ages to you and me.
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken. (Jeremiah 6:16, 17)
When the people stood in the ways (the fork in the road) and declared, We will not walk in it and We will not hearken, they rejected what appeared to be the difficult, life-altering road of obedience to God, and chose what appeared to be safest and easiest way. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it Jeremiah 6:18-19.
When you come to the fork in the road, take it. You have no third option. It’s the way of life or the way of death. The Gospel leaves no room for neutrality. It’s yes to the one or yes to the other.