“Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” (Psalm 84:5)ASV
Zion represents (spiritually) the place where truth dwells, where people get real help from God and really please Him. What does it mean to have “highways to Zion” in our heart?
A highway in a literal sense is a main road, usually connecting cities or towns, and often raised above the surrounding terrain to form a dry path in wet weather. To understand the spiritual sense, we must first recall that the natural state of a man who hasn’t had their heart changed by God is described thus: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Perhaps we could say that such a heart is much more like a wilderness or maze than a highway to Zion. The message of the forerunner of Jesus was characterized in this way: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3) When people asked John the Baptist what they should do to prepare themselves for the kingdom of God, we could say that all his counsel (to publicans, soldiers, etc.) was instruction on making a highway in the wilderness or “desert” of their heart for God. Again, we read: “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul.” (Proverbs 16:17) Young’s Literal Translation renders it: “A highway of the upright [is], ‘Turn from evil,’ Whoso is preserving his soul is watching his way.” Whether you are seeking salvation or walking with God, a setting of the will to “turn from evil” is an important part of making or maintaining a “highway to Zion.”
During the time the judges ruled Israel, there was a time when the ark of God was captured by the Philistines. But God wouldn’t suffer the symbol of His presence to be treated lightly, and inflicted the Philistines with mice and tumors (“emerods”) wherever the ark of God was housed. Finally, in desperation, the Philistines returned the ark of God in a curious way: “And they laid the ark of the Lord upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods. And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Bethshemesh.” (1 Samuel 6:11-12) The “kine” were two milk cows that were separated from their calves, and then yoked to the cart and allowed to go where they would. In this way the Philistines were testing to confirm that it was really God that had afflicted them instead of some series of “coincidences.” In describing the actions of the cows, I appreciate the way Young’s Literal Translation renders it: “And the kine go straight in the way… in one highway they have gone, going and lowing, and have not turned aside right or left.” Animals don’t have souls, and although they have individual personalities, a considerable amount of their actions are by instinct. Milk cows just separated from their young will start lowing and seek to be reunited with them. These cows had their instincts overridden by God to “go straight in the way” to the border of Israel, without turning aside, and yet they still were left with their natural instincts enough to be lowing for their calves. “Going and lowing.” Jesus, our example of someone maintaining a “highway to Zion” while down here, showed us this pattern of “going and lowing,” when He prayed “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14:36) We remain human, with our natural desires, hopes, and preferences, but our will must be set for going God’s way and not our own.
I quote now from another incident about a highway: “And Amasa wallowed in blood in the midst of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa out of the highway into the field, and cast a cloth upon him, when he saw that every one that came by him stood still. When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.” (2 Samuel 20:12-13) This is a gruesome story involving jealousies, murder, and working to put down a rebellion against King David, but I am noting here a lesson about highways. How many times have you found yourself in stop-and-go traffic, backed up for a long way, because of an accident on the other side of the highway? Until the evidences of the accident are removed, people just naturally slow down to look, and the effect on the free flow of traffic on the highway is tremendous. This is true on the spiritual highway also. I enjoy number puzzles, and recently was working on a book of a certain type of these puzzles that I found fascinating. I came to a point where I realized that when I went to spend time with the Lord, the thoughts of doing these puzzles appealed to me more. My spiritual “traffic” was grinding to a stop. I threw the book of puzzles in the garbage, and within a short time, the Heavenly traffic was in much better shape, thank the Lord. We must be ruthless about getting distractions off the highway to Zion!
In another place we read, “Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people.” (Isaiah 62:10) We live at the end of a gravel driveway up a short, steep hill. The hill section had old, broken-up paving on it, and it was getting so bad that some cars would “bottom out” in one of the potholes. We finally had the hill section graded and paved last fall, and now it is much like a little stretch of highway. During the winter, however, we had snow fall on it several times, and it became very slick. We took pains to shovel off the snow when friends were expected, but even so, one slid off near the bottom, and we had to use chains and a come-along to get them back on the road. Then this spring we noticed gravel accumulating on it (this is a shared driveway with our neighbor, and gravel from their parking area was being carried onto the paved part by the traffic). Just a few days ago I took pains to sweep the gravel off, and noticed several places where a stone would be partially imbedded in the road bed, beginning to break it up. A highway requires constant maintenance, and may the Lord help us to cooperate with Him in maintaining the highway to Zion in our hearts, particularly in removing those little “stones”—whether they be little places where we cling to our own ways, or little prejudices of our own that we want the truth to agree with, or anything else that can began to seem to us as part of the “road,” but are really wearing it out.
God’s highways are different than ours: “Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.” (Isaiah 49:8-11) God sets Himself to help people with these highways, and then provides the life-giving traffic. He has release from bondage to sin, He calls us to honesty with Him and ourselves (“shew yourselves”). The picture is encouraging and beautiful, but there is something alien to our nature in His ways: “I will make all my mountains a way.” Men avoid mountains, tunnel or blast through them, seek the lowest passes over them, but God makes His mountains themselves into highways.
I have been assigned the responsibility of being “Disaster Recovery coordinator” at my work. This responsibility has been a big trial to me. The task involves responsibility without authority, so I’m forever needing to get managers to help and commit to the work. The task involves working with several different government agencies (besides the one I work in) and trying to get busy people with many pressing assignments to take time to methodically plan for something neither they nor I want to happen (and are reluctant to consider the likelihood of happening). It is difficult to determine just what is necessary to handle something that doesn’t happen regularly, and I like working on familiar tasks and with familiar people.
A little while back, our supervisor stated at a staff meeting that she wanted us all to be working on things we “felt passionate about.” In my mind I began to consider this as a way of escape from my trial. I wrote her an email describing some areas I enjoyed working on, and how much better I felt just thinking about not having this responsibility when the project is over (after the project of developing disaster recovery plans is over, it becomes a “program,” to maintain and periodically test these plans). And I did feel better, just thinking about not having to do this any more at some point! Well, this manager doesn’t respond often to emails (she gets about a hundred a day); and as I went to work the next day, with no response and the prospect of continuing to work on this project, I began to get more and more depressed—maybe “oppressed” describes it as well. I found myself unable to motivate myself to move forward—any task I could conceive related to this project looked to me as unlikely to succeed and probably incorrect, or at the least, ineffective. I was sitting at my desk, feeling paralyzed and depressed, so I called home for prayer. My wife prayed with me on the phone and then had my family pray for me after she hung up. I found myself consecrating to continue this responsibility indefinitely, whether I failed or not, as long as the Lord wanted me to. I accepted this mountain as “a way,” and the Lord began to exalt it. I found grace and strength to try a few tasks, and I got more cooperation than expected. Although this task remains a trial to me, I have found the place of blessing and grace in it. God’s way of escape in this trial was not the way I thought I had found, but His own, particular way.
Most of what I’ve been writing is directed primarily toward those who are on the road to Heaven, but God has something for those who have left it (or never yet started on it) as well: “Set thee up waymarks, make thee high heaps: set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou wentest: turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities. How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter? for the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man.” (Jeremiah 31:21-22) God is calling you to turn your heart and your actions back to what He has shown and will show you is right. And to make it possible to have a changed heart, a heart that has a “highway to Zion” in it, He sent his Son Jesus, born of a virgin—“A woman shall compass a man”; “a new thing in the earth”; a provision to create a new heart, and make a new creature out of you.
Will you seek to make a highway in your heart for God? Will you maintain a highway to Zion in your heart? God will do His part if you do yours.