by Mike Ford (1955-2021)
August 24, 2011
I remember discovering at about age eight or nine a series of books called "Childhood of Famous Americans." My little school library was a converted storage room, but it had somehow acquired practically this whole series of books. These were biographies but with an emphasis on the childhoods of various famous people.
Inside the front cover were listed all the books in the series. During third and fourth grade, I read almost every book on that list. My favorites, however, fell in the section entitled "Explorers and Pioneers," which contained biographies of people like Amelia Earhart, Davy Crockett, George Rogers Clark, Jedediah Smith, Jim Bowie, Kit Carson, Meriwether Lewis, and my favorite, Daniel Boone.
It intrigued me that these people would leave the comfort and safety of home and go off to explore unknown lands. Sometimes a bad home life would hasten their departure, but many of these young men and women had families, homes, and established lives, only to leave them for parts unknown.
Daniel Boone's grandfather came over to the American colonies from England in 1717. His own father pushed further west, establishing roots in Reading, Pennsylvania, which in those days, was still considered wilderness. From age twelve on, young Daniel was in the woods at every opportunity, hunting, spending time with Indians (this was before they were "Native Americans"), and exploring. When Daniel was fifteen, the family moved to the Yadkin Valley in North Carolina, a trip that took over a year. He married in his early twenties and settled down to farm, but at every chance, he was off to explore.
In those days, just prior to and during the Revolutionary War, the United States' population lived east of the Appalachian Mountains. West, over the mountains, was the unknown—forests filled with Indians and wild animals and danger. The Cumberland Gap, the first great gateway to the West, is a notch or a saddle in the mountains where the present borders of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee come together. Daniel Boone made many trips through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky, sometimes exploring for up to two years at a time. It is clear that his heart was not really in farming.
In 1775, Boone led a party of thirty expert woodsmen, and in less than a month, they had marked a 200-mile-long trail extending from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap and far into Kentucky. This trail became known as the Wilderness Road. This road was widened and improved over the years until it was abandoned in the 1840s. Yet, at its best, it was only a set of ruts through the woods over which more than 300,000 settlers flooded.
Portions of the old Wilderness Road remain at Cumberland Gap. Years ago, I walked a portion of the old road. Not a soul was around, and it was somewhat eerie. It is hard to describe how I felt as I walked in the footsteps of Daniel Boone and the pioneers, in the very ruts their wheels and feet had made.
Blazing a Path
We may have never thought of it this way, but what we are doing as we go about our daily lives is blazing a spiritual path for others to follow. Hebrews 6:19-20 reads:
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
This word "forerunner" is the Greek prodromos, used in Scripture only this one time. It means "scout," "guide," or "one sent before a king to prepare the way." The Greeks also used prodromos to mean "firstfruits."
In the story of Daniel Boone, he went first to scout out Kentucky, then later took a party of thirty woodsmen to improve the trail, and after that, even more people followed. Boone was the forerunner, but so were those who went with him to develop the route. That first small group was the firstfruits. Spiritually, Christ has gone ahead, showing us the way, and we, as the firstfruits, improve the trail so that others will someday walk it more easily.
The concept of a forerunner runs throughout the Bible. We could say that Adam was a forerunner, as well as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and of course, Christ. Notice that each of these forerunners had followers—their firstfruits. Adam had Eve and their sons and daughters that followed them. Noah had his wife and family. Abraham had Sarah and Lot, and later were added Ishmael and Isaac, and then Jacob and his children. Moses had Aaron and Miriam and then all the children of Israel. Elijah led to Elisha. John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of Christ, who called His disciples—us.
In other words, we have a part to play as well. It is not the leading role but a supporting one. Nonetheless, it is a necessary part. There is no call for a "big head" here: God could have called someone else or raised up stones, as John the Baptist says in Matthew 3:9. However, He did not; He called us specifically (John 6:44). Therefore, we should not waste our opportunity.
Preparing the Way
Notice the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3-5:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Isaiah begins with "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." The voice prophesied was that of John the Baptist, which Scripture confirms in Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 3:4; and John 1:23. Who would John be speaking to, proclaiming his message of repentance? To all who would "hear" him! Those "who have ears to hear" (see Matthew 13:9, 43, etc.), which would be all those with whom God is working, His firstfruits!
What did that "voice" say? What did he call on his audience to do? "[P]repare the way of the Lord." The instruction becomes more specific: ". . . make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth." Filling up valleys and removing the tops of mountains seems like a lot of work for one man. This is where the firstfruits come in. Why are we to do this? So that "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."
Albert Barnes, in his commentary on Isaiah written in 1851, remarks on these verses:
The idea is taken from the practice of Eastern monarchs, who, whenever they entered on a journey or an expedition, especially through a barren and unfrequented or inhospitable country, sent harbingers [forerunners] or heralds before them to prepare the way. To do this, it was necessary for them to provide supplies, and make bridges, or find fording places over the streams; to level hills, and construct causeways over valleys, or fill them up; and to make a way through the forest which might lie in their intended line of march.
Those who went before, to mark and improve the route, were the forerunners. They were "the scouts, the pioneers, the ones sent before a king to prepare the way," as forerunner is defined. Recall Daniel Boone and his party of thirty expert woodsmen laying out a 200-mile-long route. Over time, as more people came over the trail, it was improved, widened, and smoothed. It all began, however, with one man. That man then led others, and it multiplied from there.
John the Baptist was one man "crying in the wilderness," yet he prepared the way for the Son of God. Each of us, in our daily lives, interacts with family, coworkers, neighbors, and others who may know little or nothing of God and His Word. Our words and deeds could well pave the way for any of them to answer God's call at another time. Each of us has opportunities to set an example that will affect their lives, hopefully in a positive way. In this way, each of us is a forerunner, marking and improving the trail through the conduct of our lives.
Then there is the aspect of Christian living consisting of contributing our tithes, making offerings, praying, and serving the larger body, specifically this church, so that the group as a whole can accomplish more. The larger group, through God's inspiration, helps to prepare the bride and disseminate the gospel through various means, such as this magazine, the daily Berean Comment, and its Internet sites. Lest we discount this, the church's reach and influence extend well beyond our seemingly insignificant numbers.
"Strengthen the Hands"
Breaking a trail for others is not an easy task; it often involves great risk. Daniel Boone was separated from his family for long periods. His good friend and brother-in-law, John Stewart, vanished while he and Boone were on a hunting expedition into Kentucky. His body was not discovered until five years later. A few years after that, while establishing a settlement in Kentucky, a party of Indians attacked the expedition and killed several, including Boone's son, James. In another well-known episode, Indians captured several young girls, including one of his daughters.
Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [those who have gone before], let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author [Greek archegos, meaning "scout, trailblazer, pathfinder"] and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
We do have trials, and we will have trials. Christ, however, has gone ahead, showing us that, despite them, we can reach the end of the trail. Is it not interesting that "trial" and "trail" are so similar in spelling?
In verses 12-13, the author of Hebrews encourages us to "strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed." Breaking a trail is difficult, exhausting work, and many of those who set out with us on this adventure have quit the effort.
However, we are not actually breaking the trail—that has already been done. We are the firstfruits, yet still forerunners because we are widening and improving the path. We are filling the low spots, leveling the high areas, strengthening the "hands which hang down," and making "straight paths" as latter-day Daniel Boones, so that many others can experience the joys of life in God's Family.