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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Wilderness, Desert

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WILDERNESS, DESERT . These terms stand for several Heb. and Gr. words, with different shades of meaning.

1. midbâr (from dâbar , ‘to drive’) means properly the land to which the cattle were driven, and is used of dry pasture land where scanty grazing was to be found. It occurs about 280 times in OT and is usually tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘wilderness,’ though we have ‘desert’ about a dozen times. It is the place where wild animals roam: pelicans ( Psalms 102:6 ), wild asses ( Job 24:5 , Jeremiah 2:24 ), ostriches ( Lamentations 4:3 ), jackals ( Malachi 1:3 ); and is without settled inhabitants, though towns or settlements of nomadic tribes may be found ( Joshua 15:61-62 , Isaiah 42:11 ). This term is usually applied to the Wilderness of the Wanderings or the Arabian desert, but may refer to any other waste. Special waste tracts are distinguished: wilderness of Shur, Zin, Paran, Kadesh, Maon, Ziph, Tekoa, Moab, Edom, etc.

2. ‘ârâbâh (probably from a word meaning ‘dry’) signifies a dry, desolate, unfertile tract of land, ‘steppe,’ or ‘desert plain.’ As a proper name, it is applied to the great plain including the Jordan Valley and extending S. to the Gulf of Akabah, ‘ the Arabah .’ but it is applied also to steppes in general, and translated ‘wilderness,’ ‘desert,’ and sometimes in pl. ‘plains,’ e.g . of Moab, of Jericho.

3. chorbâh (from a root ‘to be waste or desolate’) is properly applied to cities or districts once inhabited now lying waste, and is translated ‘wastes,’ ‘deserts,’ ‘desolations,’ though it is once used of the Wilderness of the Wanderings ( Isaiah 48:21 ).

4. tsiyyâh meaning ‘dry ground’ is twice translated ‘wilderness’ in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] : Job 30:3 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘dry ground’), Psalms 78:17 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘desert,’ RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘a dry land’).

5. tôhû has the special meaning of a ‘wild desolate expanse.’ In Job 6:18 it is the waste where the caravans perish, it is applied to the primeval chaos ( Genesis 1:2 ), also to the Wilderness of the Wanderings ( Deuteronomy 32:10 waste howling wilderness’).

6. The NT terms are erçmos and erçmia , the former being used either as noun or as adjective, with ‘place’ or ‘country’ understood. Generally the noun is tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘wilderness,’ the adjective ‘desert’ in the English versions.

On deserts named in NT see artt. on respective names.

W. F. Boyd.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Wilderness, Desert'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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