35. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.
35. Et introducem vos in desertum gentium, et judicabor vobiscum illic facie ad faciem.
36. Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD.
36. Quemadmodum judicatus sum cum patribus vestris in deserto terrae Ægypti, sic disceptabo vobiscum dicit Dominator Iehovah.
He specially marks this reason here, which is a medium between rejection and reconciliation to favor: for God's bringing the Israelites out of Chaldaea might seem a sign of favor, as if he were again their deliverer. But he here defines why he intended to bring them forth, namely, to plead with them in the desert as with their fathers. We know that when the people came out of Egypt they did not possess the promised land, because they shut the door against themselves by their ingratitude: but if there had been no hope left, it was better for the people to spend their time under the tyranny of Egypt than to pine away in the desert. For it was a kind of life scarcely human to wander in a wilderness and to behold nothing pleasant or agreeable; a mere solitude instead of cultivated fields, and nothing but discomfort instead of beautiful flowers and trees and undulating ground: and besides this, to feed on nothing but manna, to taste no wine, to drink only water from the rock, and to endure heat and cold in the, open air. Such freedom then was by no means agreeable, unless they had hoped to become possessors of the land of Canaan. But a whole generation was deprived of that advantage through their ingratitude. God therefore appositely compares them to their fathers, who had gone forth into the wilderness, and he says, I will make you pass into the desert of the nations. Here he compares the desert of Egypt to that of the Gentiles. Although the passage from the land of Canaan to Chaldaea is partly across an unfruitful wilderness, yet I do not doubt that God here metaphorically points out the state of the people after their return from exile.
The complete meaning is, as he surrounded their fathers throughout their whole life in the wilderness, so after they were brought back from Chaldaea their life should be as solitary as if they were banished to an obscure corner of the world, and to a miserable and deserted land. Here, therefore, another region is not intended, but the state of the people when dwelling in the land of Canaan; although he speaks not only of that small band which returned to their country, but of the liberty promiscuously given to all. He calls that state a desert of the Gentiles, to which all were subjected, whether they remained in distant regions or returned home. We must hold, then, that God would be so far the deliverer of the people that the benefit would reach only a few, since, when the multitude wandered in the desert, they perished there, and did not enjoy the promised inheritance. We now see how God established his sway over the Israelites, when he did not suffer them to be perpetually captive, and yet did not show himself appeased when he brought them back, since he still remained a severe judge. I will bring you, therefore, into the desert of the nations; this is the heat of anger of which he had spoken, and I will judge you, or plead with you, face to face. He signifies by these words, that although their return to Judea was evident, yet he was not propitious, since he met them as an adversary. There, says he, I will meet with you face to face, as when contention is rife, adversaries become opposed, and contend hand to hand: thus God here points out the extremity of rigor when he says, that he will dispute with them face to face. But he says, that he was a pleader in the desert of Egypt, and the sense extends to the future; not that it ought to be understood that God descended to plead a cause, and place himself at another's tribunal; still it was a kind of pleading when the people were compelled to feel that their impiety and obstinacy was not excusable; and also when experience at the same time taught them that God was by no means appeased, since his wrath was again stirred up. Isaiah's language is slightly different: Come you, says he, let us reason together, I will plead with you. (Isaiah 1.) He is there prepared to argue his cause, as if with an equal. But the case is soon closed and the sentence passed, since it is evident that the people are deservedly punished by God on account of their sins. Thus he pleaded with their fathers in the Egyptian desert when he deprived them all of entrance into the promised land. And afterwards he often punished them for their murmurs, perverse cravings, lusts, idolatries, and other crimes. Hence, let us learn that God is pleading with us whenever any signs of his anger appear; for we cannot derive any advantage from obstinate resistance: and hence nothing remains but to accuse ourselves for our faults. It follows --