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Four Hebrew words have been translated as “desert.”
Hebrew: midbar, “pasture-ground;” an open tract for pasturage; a common (Joel 2:22). The “backside of the desert” (Exodus 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 “wilderness,” and is used of the country lying between Egypt and Israel (Genesis 21:14, 21; Exodus 4:27; 19:2; Joshua 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 (1 Kings 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 (1 Samuel 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 (Isaiah 35:1; 50:2; Jeremiah 4:11). Such, also, is the meaning of the word “wilderness” in Matthew 3:3; 15:33; Luke 15:4.
Hebrew: Aribah'—The translation of the Hebrew Aribah', “an arid tract” (Isaiah 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” (Joshua 5:10; 2 Kings 25:5), “the plains of Moab” (Numbers 22:1; Deuteronomy 34:1, 8), “the plains of the wilderness” (2 Samuel 17:16).
Hebrew: Jeshimon—In the Revised Version of Numbers 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 Psalms 78:40; 106:14; Isaiah 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 (Numbers 21:20; 23:28M.), the most terrible of all the deserts with which the Israelites were acquainted. It is called “the desert” in Exodus 23:31; Deuteronomy 11:24. (See JESHIMON.)
Hebrew: horbah'—a dry place; hence a desolation (Psalms 9:6), desolate (Leviticus 26:34); the rendering of the Hebrew word horbah'
It is rendered “desert” only in Psalms 102:6, Isaiah 48:21, and Ezek. 13:4, where it means the wilderness of Sinai.
Desert as a symbol
The word desert is the symbol of the Jewish church when they had forsaken God (Isaiah 40:3).
Nations destitute of the knowledge of God are called a “wilderness” (32:15, midbar).
It is a symbol of temptation, solitude, and persecution (Isaiah 27:10, midbar_; 33:9, _arabah).