Proverbs 3:17 speaks of paths in the plural. What are the ways to the goal of shalom? What characterizes the actions that lead to peace?
In answering this question, Jeremiah presents an illuminating case study in his conflict with the other prophets. It is striking that it was the 'false' prophets who were the prophets of peace!
"Oh, Lord GOD, look! The prophets are telling them that you said, 'You will not experience war or suffer famine. I will give you lasting peace and prosperity in this land.'" (Jer 14.13 NET)
At first Jeremiah thought God was misleading the people because of their message of shalom (Jer 4:10; see also 6:14 and 8:11). Certainly his was a contrary message as God reveals to him the hopelessness of Judah's situation: "I will exterminate them by war, famine, and disease." (Jer 14.12 TANAK).
It is not surprising that Jeremiah, who proclaimed such a message of disaster and destruction, was accused of treason. His message was not in the national interest! He was weakening the hands of the people (Jer 38:4). Rather than surge to the defense of Jerusalem, the people should seek to save their lives. Defeat was inevitable!
Jeremiah did not have only a negative message of judgment and ruin. He also pointed out the characteristics of the ways that led to peace.
In Jeremiah 22:1-5, Jeremiah is commanded by God to confront the king and to deliver the message entrusted to him. First comes the general command for 'right justice' (mishpat utsedaqah), the correct principles implemented in a way that brings about shalom. The king was commanded to pursue certain actions that illustrate what this would mean:
rescue from the defrauder him who is robbed; do not wrong the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow; commit no lawless act, and do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place. (Jer 22:3 TANAK)
The litmus test of 'right justice' was defense of the weaker against the stronger - the protection of those who have lost their pensions, for example. Note the triad: the non-Israelite, the fatherless, and the widow. These represented the marginalized most vividly. In our context, we might ask, 'How are the homeless doing?' This is what the king was to be about. These were the criteria that measured the justice of the society.
Indeed, the very existence of the state rested on these actions:
But if you do not heed these commands, I swear by Myself -- declares the LORD -- that this palace shall become a ruin." (verse 5 TANAK)
God places before the king the way to life, well-being, and the way to death. Which path will the king choose? The strength of a nation is not its ability to wage war, but to pursue the well-being of its weakest members.