Verse 4. They wandered in the wilderness. They wandered, for the track was lost, no vestige of a road remained; worse still, they wandered in a wilderness, where all around was burning sand. They were lost in the worst possible place, even as the sinner is who is lost in sin; they wandered up and down in vain searches and researches as a sinner does when he is awakened and sees his lost estate; but it ended in nothing, for they still continued in the wilderness, though they had hoped to escape from it.
In a solitary way. No dwelling of man was near, and no other company of travellers passed within hail. Solitude is a great intensifier of misery. The loneliness of a desert has a most depressing influence upon the man who is lost in the boundless waste. The traveller's way in the wilderness is a waste way, and when he leaves even that poor, barren trail, to get utterly beyond the path of man, he is in a wretched plight indeed. A soul without sympathy is on the borders of hell: a solitary way is the way of despair.
They found no city to dwell in. How could they? There was none. Israel in the wilderness abode under canvas, and enjoyed none of the comforts of settled life; wanderers in the Sahara find no town or village. Men when under distress of soul find nothing to rest upon, no comfort and no peace; their efforts after salvation are many, weary, and disappointing, and the dread solitude of their hearts fills them with dire distress.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 4. They wandered, etc. In these words it is not easy to ascertain the persons immediately intended. But this is a circumstance not to be lamented. It is even an advantage; it constrains us to a more spiritual and evangelical interpretation of the subject. And thus the whole representation is fully and easily embodied. For the people of God are "redeemed" -- redeemed from the curse of the law, the powers of darkness, and the bondage of corruption. They are "gathered" -- gathered by his grace out of all the diversities of the human race; "out of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues." Whatever this world is to others, they find it to be "a wilderness"; when they are often tried, but their trials urge them to prayer, and prayer brings them relief. And being divinely conducted, they at length reach their destination: and this is the conclusion of the whole, and it applies to each of them: And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. -- William Jay.
Verse 4. Wandered. Their passage through the wilderness was not a journeying, such as when men pass on in a road to some inhabited place; but a wandering up and down away from all path and road, and so in an endless maze of desolation. --Henry Hammond.
Verse 4. Wandered in the wilderness, etc. He has lost his way. When he was in the world, he had no difficulties; the path was so broad that he could not mistake it. But when the work of divine grace begins in a sinner's heart, he loses his way. He cannot find his way into the world; God has driven him out of it, as he drove Lot out of Sodom. He cannot find his way to heaven; because he at present lacks those clear testimonies, those bright manifestations whereby alone he can see his path. This is his experience then, that he has lost his way; having turned his back upon the world; and yet unable to realise those enjoyments in his soul that would make heaven his home. He has so lost his way, that whether he turns to the right hand or the left, he has no plain land marks to show him the path in which his soul longs to go.
We need not stray from the text to find where the wanderer is. "They wandered in the wilderness." The wilderness is a type and figure of what this life is to the Lord's people. There is nothing that grows in it fit for their food or nourishment. In it the fiery flying serpents -- sin and Satan -- are perpetually biting and stinging them: and there is nothing in it that can give them any sweet and solid rest. The barren sands of carnality below, and the burning sun of temptation above, alike deny them food and shelter.
But there is a word added which throws a further light upon the character of the wilderness. "They wandered in the wilderness, in a solitary way;" a way not tracked; a path in which each has to walk alone; a road where no company cheers him, and without landmarks to direct his course. This is a mark peculiar to the child of God -- that the path by which he travels is, in his own feelings, a solitary way. This much increases his exercises, that they appear peculiar to himself. His perplexities are such as he cannot believe any living soul is exercised with; the fiery darts which are cast into his mind by the Wicked One are such as he thinks no child of God has ever experienced; the darkness of his soul, the unbelief and infidelity of his heart, and the workings of his powerful corruptions, are such as he supposes none ever knew but himself. It is this walking "in a solitary way", that makes the path of trial and temptation so painful to God's family. --J.C. Philpot (1802-1869), in a Sermon entitled "The Houseless Wanderer."
Verse 4. In a solitary way. -- The greater part of the desert being totally destitute of water is seldom visited by any human being; unless where the trading caravans trace out their toilsome and dangerous route across it. In some parts of this extensive waste the ground is covered with low, stunted shrubs, which serve as landmarks for the caravans, and furnish the camels with a scanty forage. In other parts, the disconsolate wanderer, wherever he turns, sees nothing around him but a vast interminable expanse of sand and sky; a gloomy and barren void, where the eye finds no particular object to rest upon, and the mind is filled with painful apprehensions of perishing with thirst. Surrounded by this dreary solitude, the traveller sees the dead bodies of birds, that the violence of the wind has brought from happier regions; and, as he ruminates on the fearful length of his remaining passage, listens with horror to the driving blast, the only sound that interrupts the awful repose of the desert. ("Proceedings of the African Association.") --Mungo Park, 1771-1806
Verse 4. In a solitary way. See the reason why people in trouble love solitariness. They are full of sorrow; and sorrow, if it have taken deep root, is naturally reserved, and flies all conversation. Grief is a thing that is very silent and private. Those people that are very talkative and clamorous in their sorrows, are never very sorrowful. Some are apt to wonder why melancholy people delight to be so much alone, and I will tell you the reason of it.
- Because the disordered humours of their bodies alter their temper, their humours, and their inclinations, that they are no more the same that they used to be; their very distemper is averse to what is joyous and diverting; and they that wonder at them, may as wisely wonder why they will be diseased, which they would not be, if they knew how to help it; but the disease of melancholy is so obstinate, and so unknown to all but those who have it, that nothing but the power of God can totally overthrow it, and I know no other cure for it.
- Another reason why they choose to be alone, is, because people do not generally mind what they say, nor believe them, but deride them, which they do not use so cruelly to do with those that are in other distempers; and no man is to be blamed for avoiding society, when it does not afford the common credit to his words, that is due to the rest of men. But,
- Another, and the principal reason why people in trouble and sadness choose to be alone, is, because they generally apprehend themselves singled out to be the marks of God's peculiar displeasure, and they are often by their sharp afflictions a terror to themselves, and a wonder to others. It even breaks their hearts to see how low they are fallen, how oppressed, that were once as easy, as pleasant, as full of hope as others are, Job 6:21 ; "Ye see my casting down, and are afraid." Psalms 71:7 ; "I am as a wonder unto many." And it is usually unpleasant to others to be with them. Psalms 88:18 ; "Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness." And though it was not so with the friends of Job; to see a man whom they had once known happy, to be so miserable, one whom they had seen so very prosperous, to be so very poor, in such sorry, forlorn circumstances, did greatly affect them; he, poor man, was changed, they knew him not, Job 2:12-13 : "And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great." As the prophet represents one under spiritual and great afflictions, that "he sitteth alone, and keepeth silence", Lamentations 3:28 . --Timothy Rogers (1660-1729) in "Trouble of Mind, and the Disease of Melancholy."
Verse 4. They found no city to dwell in; nor even to call at or lodge in, for miles together; which is the case of travellers in some parts, particularly in the desert of Arabia. Spiritual travellers find no settlement, rest, peace, joy, and comfort, but in Christ; nor any indeed in this world, and the things of it; here they have no continuing city, Hebrews 13:14 . --John Gill.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 4. Wandering Jews. Illustrate the roaming of a mind in search of truth, peace, love, purity, etc.
Verse 4-10. The words contain a brief history of man's fall and misery and of his restoration by Jesus Christ; which are described under these particulars.
- The lost state of men by nature.
- They are brought to a right sense of it, and cry to the Lord Jesus for deliverance.
- He hears them and delivers them out of all their distresses.
- The tribute of thanks due to him for this great deliverance.