Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people…
The text reminds us of Psalm 55:5, "Oh that I bad wings," etc.! of Elijah's longing that he might die; of the similar dejection of Moses. Even our Lord said, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" But such desire as that of the text is in itself -
I. UNNATURAL. We are formed to mingle with our fellow-men, to live with them, not away from them.
1. It is in intercourse with them life becomes interesting to us. We are taken out of ourselves, fresh sources of pleasure and advantage are continually opened up to us.
2. Sympathy also is in fellowship. Our joys are more than doubled and our sorrows more than halved by the power of that sympathy which solitude can never know.
3. Opportunities of doing good are not to be had "in the wilderness," and when we "leave" our people.
4. Nor are the benefits they can confer on us to be found there. Heart and mind and soul are blessed by companionship and injured by solitude and isolation. Hence such wish as that of the text is, apart from the motive given, unnatural.
II. AND IT MAY BE WRONG.
1. It is so when it is the child of impatience. Doubtless there is much often to try our patience, and to make us wish that we could have done with it all. But we should not think much of the laborer who, because the toil was arduous, threw up his work ere the day was done; or of the soldier who left in the midst of the campaign.
2. Yet more culpable is it when it springs from indolence. There are many who dislike real work in any form. Exertion and effort are shrunk from everywhere. And in their religious life it is the same. And from such poor motive such wish as that of the text sometimes springs.
3. Still worse is it when it comes of unbelief. When all faith is gone, and the dark, dread falsehood begins to get hold of a man, that rest is only to be gained by breaking out of this life altogether.
III. BUT IT MAY PROCEED FROM CAUSES WHICH (JAN ONLY EXCITE OUR COMPASSION.
1. Extremity of suffering: Job, Paul.
2. Experience of human infidelity, as in Psalm 55.
3. When all the purposes for which God ordained us to live in fellowship with one another are unattainable. Such was the case with Jeremiah. Pleasurable interest in such fellowship as was his could not be for him, but only daily vexation of his righteous soul (cf. Lot). Sympathy he could neither give nor find. Ever so desirous of doing them good, they spurned and despised all his efforts. And as to gaining good from them, it was but a continual contact with pollution. What wonder, then; that Jeremiah longed to be away from such a scene? "The hermits of the East, the anchorites of the desert, are more closely linked with ourselves in feeling than some at first may think. Our impulses are often identical with theirs; and if our actions vary it is because our standard of right, not our nature, is changed. In the life of each man there are hours when he sighs for the desert; hours when, bowed down by the sense of sin in himself and the sight of it in others, wearied out by striving to teach a stiffnecked generation, disheartened at seeing the 'good cause' advance so slowly, he cart scarcely refrain from following, in his small way, the example of that emperor who exchanged the palace for the cloister, and the crown for the cowl." These are moments such as came to Jeremiah now. "The Emperor Charles uttered in deeds what we have all breathed in sighs. We do and we must long to flee away and be at rest; but then it must remain a longing, and nothing more" (G. Dawson).
IV. AND GOD HAS MADE PROVISION FOR ITS SATISFACTION. Not by giving us permission to retire to desert solitudes, except, as with Elijah and Paul, it may be for a while to prepare for future and higher service. But in the manner that the psalmist suggests where he says, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then," etc. Yes, wings like a dove will bear us into the present rest of God. The dove is the emblem of meekness. Like the lamb amongst the beasts, so the dove amongst the birds is the symbol of lowly meekness and gentleness. But lowly meekness is the way to rest, the rest God gives, the peace of God. Listen to our Savior: "Come unto me, all ye that labor... Take my yoke for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11.). The dove is the emblem of purity. It was not only amongst those birds that were counted clean, but was especially selected for presentation to God in sacrifice, as that which was pure alone could be. The doves were allowed to fly about the temple and to rest on its roofs and pillars (see H. Hunt's picture of the 'Finding in the Temple'). But purity opens the door of heaven, and enraptures the beholder with the beatific vision there. "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God." Wings are these, therefore, well likened to those of a dove, "covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold." Yes," keep thyself unspotted from the world," and God shall so manifest himself to thee that thy soul shall be at rest, let the wicked rage around thee as they may. And the dove was the selected symbol of the Holy Spirit. "I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove," said John the Baptist. But his wings will bear thee where thou mayest see the fatherly love of God, his wisdom guiding all, and his gracious purpose being more and more accomplished. "He will take of the things of Christ and show them unto thee." And in them thou shalt have peace. The psalmist's passionate longing may then be fulfilled for us, We may have "wings like a dove." These, of meekness, purity, and the blessed Spirit of God. And so, without quitting the station assigned us or departing to any wilderness, we may have even now the rest of God. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.