The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,
before the Lord, the God of Israel.
In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
travelers took to winding paths.
These words were written in the Song of Deborah and Barak successive to Israel’s defeat of Canaan. Israel had been vacillating between periods of extended peace and then oppressive subservience to their powerful neighbors. Of course, their days of oppression were not a result of random chance. The Book of Judges is constantly reminding us that God gave his people over to suffering as a result of their willful sin.
In the midst of these times, there were still those who obeyed, who walked in the ways of God. Jael, a lowly Kenite woman, through a crafty slaying of the enemy Sisera, sided with Israel even as her husband went to fight with the Canaanites; and Shamgar, noted for living in righteousness and saving Israel.
In many ways, God was invisible to his people during those days and they felt vulnerable despite knowing the stories of what he had done in the past. The continual instability of the region and presence of enemy marauders on the main roads often forced travelers to the side paths that were winding and difficult to navigate. The crooked path took much longer and sometimes led people off course.
The choice of roads that lie before us are similar to those of the ancient Israelites. We can navigate the straight highways, balancing the risk of encountering the enemy with faith in our God to protect us in our battles. Or we can choose the crooked way by traveling the back roads and winding pathways, not relying on God at all.
The choice is clear both back then and now: we must travel the straight ways before God, walking and waiting in faithfulness.