The word wilderness, which is more frequently used than desert of the region of the Exodus, more nearly approaches the meaning of the Hebrew.......

The word wilderness, which is more frequently used than desert of the region of the Exodus, more nearly approaches the meaning of the Hebrew, though not quite expressing it. When we speak of the desert our thoughts are naturally borne to such places as the Sahara, a great sandy waste, incapable of vegetation, impossible as a dwelling-place for men, and where no human being is found except when hurrying through as quickly as he can. No such ideas are attached to the Hebrew words for desert. Four words are chiefly used in Hebrew to express the idea:

Midbar:The more general word. It is from the root dabar, "to lead" (cattle to pasture). Hence midbar among its other meanings has that of tracts of pasturage for flocks. Midbar is the word generally used in the Pentateuch for the desert of the Exodus; but of the regions of the Exodus various districts are distinguished as the desert of Sin (Exodus.16:1), the desert of Sinai (Exodus.19:1), the desert of Sur (Exodus.15:22), the desert of Sin (zin) (Numbers.13:22), etc. Moreover, it is used of other districts, as in Western Palestine of the wilderness of Juda (Judges.1:16), and again in the east of the desert of Moab (Deuteronomy.2:8).

'Arabah:derived from the root 'arab, "to be arid", is another word for desert, which seems to express more than one of its natural characteristics. The word means a steppe, a desert plain; and it conveys the idea of a stretch of country, arid, unproductive, and desolate. Very frequently the word 'arabah has a mere geographical sense. Thus it refers to the strange depression extending from the base of Mount Hermon, through the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, to the Gulf of Akabah. So, too, there are the Arboth Moab (Numbers.22:1), the Arboth Jericho (Joshua.4:13), etc., referring to the desolate districts connected with these places.

Horbah:derived from the root harab, "to lie waste", is translated in the Septuagint by the words eremos, eremosis, eremia. In the Vulgate are found the renderings ruinoe, solitudo, desolatio. A strange translation occurs in Psalm.101:7. St. Jerome translated the Psalm direct from the Hebrew employs the word solitudinum, which seems more correct: "I am like a night raven of the wastes". The lexicon of Gesenius gives as the first meaning of horbah, "dryness"; then as a second meaning, "a desolation", "ruins". A combination of these senses seems to have been the reason why in the poetical books the word is used of the wilderness. The word conveys the idea of ruin or desolation caused by hostile lands, as when God says to Jerusalem (Es.v,14): "I will make thee desolate"; or when the Psalmist, referring to the punishment inflicted by Jehovah, says (Psalm.9:7): "The enemy are consumed, left desolate for ever".

Camels are the main transportation in the desert

Qumran is located at the Wilderness of Judah

Jeshimon:derived from jasham,"to be desolate". It was looked upon as a place without water, thus Isaiah 43:19: "Behold I shall set up streams in the desert [jeshimon]". It was a waste, a wilderness. In poetical passages it is used as a parallel to midbar,(Deuteronomy.32:10; Ps.lxxviii,40 (Heb.): "How often did ye provoke him in the wilderness [midbar], and grieve him in the desert [jeshimon]?" Frequently it is used of the wilderness of the Exodus. Besides such uses of the word, it seems when used with the article often to have assumed the force of a proper name. In such cases it refers at times to the wilderness of the Exodus (Psalm.78:40(Heb.)etc.). Parts of the waste region about the Dead Sea are called the jeshimon; and to the north-east of the same sea there is a place called Beth-Jeshimoth (Numbers.33:49), where the Israelites are said to have encamped at the end of the wanderings. These are the principal words used for desert in the Bible. There are, however, others less frequently used, only one or two of which can be mentioned here: such as tohu, used in Genesis.1:2: "the earth was void". In Deuteronomy.32:10, it is used in parallelism with midbar, and in Psalm107:40 it refers to the desert directly.

A word may be said here concerning the chief deserts referred to in the Bible. Perhaps the most interesting is that of Exodus. In the Pentateuch this tract is treated as a whole as "the desert", but, as a rule, special parts of it are referred to, as the desert of Sin, the desert of Sinai, the desert of Cades, the desert of Pharan, etc. Books have been written to discuss the geography of this region. Suffice it to say that it comprises the ground over which the Israelites travelled from their crossing of the Red Sea till their arrival in the Promised Land.

We do not enter into the question raised by modern critics as to whether the geography of the Exodus had different meanings in different parts of the Pentateuch. The desert of Juda, too, plays an important part in the Bible. It lies to the west of the 'arabah, the Jordan, and the Dead Sea. To it belong the deserts of Engaddi, that of Thecua, and that of Jericho, near the city of the same name. To the east of Palestine are the deserts of Arabia, Moab, and the desert of Idumea, near the Dead Sea. We are told (Exodus.3:1) that Moses fed the flocks of Jethro, and led them to the interior parts of the desert. This desert was in the land of Madian, close to the Red Sea, and in it was Mount Horeb, which St. Jerome says was the same as Sinai. The desert to which David fled from Saul (1Samuel.23:14) was the desert of Ziph, which lies south of the Dead Sea and Hebron. John the Baptist lived and taught in the desert of Judea, west of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, near Jericho. Finally, the scene of Christ's temptation (Matthew.4:1-11), of which St. Mark adds (1:13): "He was with wild beasts", was most likely in the 'arabah to the west of the Jordan. But this is only speculation.

The Wilderness of Judah

© 2024 Duns Scotus Bible Centre. All rights reserved