The Scriptures, by "desert," generally mean an uncultivated place, a wilderness, or grazing tract. Some deserts were entirely fry and barren; others were beautiful, and had good pastures. David speaks of the beauty of the desert, Ps 65:12-13. Scripture names several deserts in the Holy Land. Other deserts particularly mentioned, are "that great and terrible wilderness" in Arabia Petraea, south of Canaan, Nu 21:20; also the region between Canaan and the Euphrates, Ex 23:31; De 11:24. The pastures of this wilderness are clothed in winter and spring with rich and tender herbage; but the heat of summer soon burns this up, and the Arabs are driven to seek pasturage elsewhere.
(1.) Heb. midbar, "pasture-ground;" an open tract for pasturage; a common (Joe 2:22). The "backside of the desert" (Ex 3:1) is the west of the desert, the region behind a man, as the east is the region in front. The same Hebrew word is rendered "wildernes," and is used of the country lying between Egypt and Palestine (21/14'>Ge 21:14,21; Ex 4:27; 19:2; Jos 1:4), the wilderness of the wanderings. It was a grazing tract, where the flocks and herds of the Israelites found pasturage during the whole of their journey to the Promised Land.
The same Hebrew word is used also to denote the wilderness of Arabia, which in winter and early spring supplies good pasturage to the flocks of the nomad tribes than roam over it (1Ki 9:18).
The wilderness of Judah is the mountainous region along the western shore of the Dead Sea, where David fed his father's flocks (1Sa 17:28; 26:2). Thus in both of these instances the word denotes a country without settled inhabitants and without streams of water, but having good pasturage for cattle; a country of wandering tribes, as distinguished from that of a settled people (Isa 35:1; 50:2; Jer 4:11). Such, also, is the meaning of the word "wilderness" in Mt 3:3; 15:33; Lu 15:4.
(2.) The translation of the Hebrew Aribah', "an arid tract" (Isa 35:1,6; 40:3; 41:19; 51:3, etc.). The name Arabah is specially applied to the deep valley of the Jordan (the Ghor of the Arabs), which extends from the lake of Tiberias to the Elanitic gulf. While midbar denotes properly a pastoral region, arabah denotes a wilderness. It is also translated "plains;" as "the plains of Jericho" (Jos 5:10; 2Ki 25:5), "the plains of Moab" (Nu 22:1; De 34:1,8), "the plains of the wilderness" (2Sa 17:16).
(3.) In the Revised Version of Nu 21:20 the Hebrew word jeshimon is properly rendered "desert," meaning the waste tracts on both shores of the Dead Sea. This word is also rendered "desert" in Ps 78:40; 106:14; Isa 43:19-20. It denotes a greater extent of uncultivated country than the other words so rendered. It is especially applied to the desert of the peninsula of Arabia (Nu 21:20; 23:28), the most terrible of all the deserts with which the Israelites were acquainted. It is called "the desert" in Ex 23:31; De 11:24. (See Jeshimon.)
(4.) A dry place; hence a desolation (Ps 9:6), desolate (Le 26:34); the rendering of the Hebrew word horbah'. It is rendered "desert" only in Ps 102:6; Isa 48:21; Eze 13:4, where it means the wilderness of Sinai.
(5.) This word is the symbol of the Jewish church when they had forsaken God (Isa 40:3). Nations destitute of the knowledge of God are called a "wilderness" (Isa 32:15, midbar). It is a symbol of temptation, solitude, and persecution (Isa 27:10, midbar; Isa 33:9, arabah).
Not meaning a barren, burning, sandy waste, in the case of Sinai and Palestine. Sand is the exception, not the rule, in the peninsula of Sinai. Even still it is diversified by oases and verdant valleys with wells. Much more formerly, for traces exist in many parts of Egyptian miners' smelting furnaces. But forest after forest being consumed by them for fuel, the rain decreased, and the fertility of the land has sunk down to what it now is. Arabah (now the Ghor) is the designation of the sunken valley N. and S. of the Dead Sea, especially the N., the deepest and hottest depression on the earth. Though in its present neglected state it is desolate, it formerly exhibited tropical luxuriance of vegetation, because the water resources of the country were duly used.
Jericho, "the city of palm trees," at the lower end, and Bethshean at the upper, were especially so noted. Though there are no palms growing there now, yet black trunks of palm are still found drifted on to the shores of the Dead Sea (Eze 47:8). In the prophets and poetical books arabah is used generally for a waste (Isa 35:1). It is not so used in the histories, but specifically for the Jordan valley. (See ARABAH.) The wilderness of Israel's 40 years wanderings (Paran, now the Tih) afforded ample sustenance then for their numerous cattle; so that the skeptic's objection to the history on this ground is futile.
Midbar, the regular term for this "desert" or "wilderness" (Ex 3:1; 5:3; 19:2), means a pasture ground (from daabar, "to drive flocks") (Ex 10:26; 12:38; Nu 11:22; 32:1). It is "desert" only in comparison with the rich agriculture of Egypt and Palestine. The midbars of Ziph, Maon, and Paran, etc., are pasture wastes beyond the cultivated grounds adjoining these towns or places; verdant in spring, but dusty, withered, and dreary at the end of summer. Charbah also occurs, expressing dryness and desolation: Ps 102:6, "desert," commonly translated "waste places" or "desolation." Also Jeshimon, denoting the wastes on both sides of the Dead Sea, in the historical books. The transition from "pasture land" to "desert" appears Ps 65:12, "the pastures of the wilderness" (Joe 2:22.).
Not a stretch of sand, an utterly barren waste, but a wild, uninhabited region. The words rendered in the Authorized Version by "desert," when used in the historical books denote definite localities.
1. ARABAH. This word means that very depressed and enclosed region--the deepest and the hottest chasm in the world--the sunken valley north and south of the Dead Sea, but more particularly the former. [ARABAH] Arabah in the sense of the Jordan valley is translated by the word "desert" only in
2. MIDBAR. This word, which our translators have most frequently rendered by "desert," is accurately "the pasture ground." It is most frequently used for those tracts of waste land which lie beyond the cultivated ground in the immediate neighborhood of the towns and villages of Palestine, and which are a very familiar feature to the traveller in that country.
3. CHARBAH appears to have the force of dryness, and thence of desolation. It is rendered "desert" in Psal 102:6; Isai 48:21; Ezek 13:4 The term commonly employed for it in the Authorized Version is "waste places" or "desolation."
4. JESHIMON, with the definite article, apparently denotes the waste tracts on both sides of the Dead Sea. In all these cases it is treated as a proper name in the Authorized Version. Without the article it occurs in a few passages of poetry in the following of which it is rendered; "desert:"