(1.) Heb midhbar, denoting not a barren desert but a district or region suitable for pasturing sheep and cattle (Ps 65:12; Isa 42:11; Jer 23:10; Joe 1:19; 2:22); an uncultivated place. This word is used of the wilderness of Beersheba (Ge 21:14), on the southern border of Palestine; the wilderness of the Red Sea (Ex 13:18); of Shur (Ex 15:22), a portion of the Sinaitic peninsula; of Sin (Ex 17:1), Sinai (Le 7:38), Moab (De 2:8), Judah (Jg 1:16), Ziph, Maon, En-gedi (1Sa 23:14,24; 24:1), Jeruel and Tekoa (2Ch 20:16,20), Kadesh (Ps 29:8).
The wilderness of the sea (Isa 21:1). Principal Douglas, referring to this expression, says: "A mysterious name, which must be meant to describe Babylon (see especially ver. Isa 21:9), perhaps because it became the place of discipline to God's people, as the wilderness of the Red Sea had been (comp. Eze 20:35). Otherwise it is in contrast with the symbolic title in Isa 22:1. Jerusalem is the "valley of vision," rich in spiritual husbandry; whereas Babylon, the rival centre of influence, is spiritually barren and as restless as the sea (comp. Isa 57:20)." A Short Analysis of the O.T.
(2.) Jeshimon, a desert waste (De 32:10; Ps 68:7).
(3.) 'Arabah, the name given to the valley from the Dead Sea to the eastern branch of the Red Sea. In De 1:1; 2:8, it is rendered "plain" (R.V., "Arabah").
(5.) Tohu, a "desolate" place, a place "waste" or "unoccupied" (De 32:10; Job 12:24; comp. Ge 1:2, "without form"). The wilderness region in the Sinaitic peninsula through which for forty years the Hebrews wandered is generally styled "the wilderness of the wanderings." This entire region is in the form of a triangle, having its base toward the north and its apex toward the south. Its extent from north to south is about 250 miles, and at its widest point it is about 150 miles broad. Throughout this vast region of some 1,500 square miles there is not a single river. The northern part of this triangular peninsula is properly the "wilderness of the wanderings" (et-Tih). The western portion of it is called the "wilderness of Shur" (Ex 15:22), and the eastern the "wilderness of Paran."
This term and that of DESERT do not usually refer in scripture to such places as the vast sand-plains of Africa, though there are some such in Palestine, but the words mostly refer to non-arable plains where the vegetation but thinly covers the limestone with patches of verdure. In places where the ground is not worth cultivating it can be used for pasture. Some of such deserts are comparatively small, but others are extensive. The wilderness of JUDAH is a plain extending the whole length of the Dead Sea; but some of it can be used for pasture land. It may be said to include the wilderness of EN-GEDI, that of MAON, and probably that of ZIPH and of JERUEL.
The wilderness of BETH-AVEN and of GIBEON were in the allotment of Benjamin.
The wilderness of DAMASCUS was far north, and that of BEER-SHEBA far south; and that of SHUR, still farther south-west.
Those of KEDEMOTH, of EDOM, and of MOAB were east of the Dead Sea.
The rest were not in Palestine proper, but were the deserts through which the Israelites passed or were located in their wanderings: namely, ETHAM, KADESH, PARAN, SIN, SINAI, and ZIN. See WANDERINGS OF THE ISRAELITES.
Typically the wilderness was outside Canaan, and stands in contrast to it. The wilderness was the place of testing to the Israelites, and it is the same to the Christian, to humble him, and to prove what is in his heart. De 8:2. He has to learn what he is in himself, and the God of all grace he has to do with. There is need of constant dependence or there is failure, while the experience is gained of knowing One who never fails to succour. Canaan is figuratively a heavenly position and conflict, corresponding with the need of the armour of Eph 6:11, to stand against the wiles of the devil. For this one needs to realise what it is to be dead and risen with Christ. It is association in spirit with Christ in heaven.