I did know you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.…
I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought, etc. Mercy is the subject of these words; and mercy, like the mystic pillar that guided the Israelites in the wilderness, has two sides - a bright one to guide and cheer, and a dark one to confound and destroy. In these two aspects the text presents it.
I. Here is mercy IN BENEFICENT ACTION. "I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. According to their pasture, so were they filled." What mercy did the great Father show the Israelites in the wilderness! The wilderness was a trying region (Deuteronomy 8:15; Jeremiah 2:6). How constantly the Almighty interposed on behalf of his people! He gave them water from the rock and manna from the clouds. He fought their battles, guided them through perplexities, and helped them in every exigency and trial. The hand of mercy was ever outstretched on their behalf, supplying them with all that they required. In truth, mercy gave them, not only necessities, but luxuries. "Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked." Thus mercy is treating us now, giving us "all things richly to enjoy" in nature, and offering to us all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. The bright side of mercy gleams on us in this life, lights up our path and cheers us on the way.
II. Here is mercy IN RIGHTEOUS DISPLEASURE. "They were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me." Observe:
1. The cause of the indignation. "They have forgotten me." They abused his mercy. His mercy led them to self-indulgence, the pampering of their appetites, the gratification of their lusts, and the fostering of indolence and pride. Alas! how often the mercies of God in providence are abused I Whilst they should lead men to repentance and to a higher life, they lead them to worldliness and impiety. Because of this, mercy becomes indignant, the oil breaks into flame.
2. The severity of the indignation. "Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them: I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them." What terrible words are these! As a lion, savage and strong; a "leopard," crafty and vigilant, watching an opportunity to wreak destruction; a "bear," bereaved of her whelps, terribly exasperated and heartless ; - he "will rend the caul of their heart." It is said the lion always aims at the heart of the beast he falls upon. "Devour them like a lion; the wild beast shall tear them." What does all this mean? It does not mean that the Almighty is carried away by a savage impulse, that he has, in fact, aught of passion in him. No, but it means that after his mercy has been abused it will assuredly become the destroyer. Mercy abused becomes a determined, resistless destroyer. A plant that is not strengthened by the sunbeam is scorched; the soul that is not saved by mercy is damned,
"Thy mercy, Lord, is like the morning sun,
Whose beams undo what sable night had done;
Or like a stream, the current of whose course,
Restrained awhile, runs with a swifter force.
Oh I let me glow beneath those sacred beams;
After, bathe me in those silver streams.
To thee alone my sorrows shall appeal;
Hath earth a wound too hard for Heaven to heal?"
(Francis Quarles.) D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.