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WILDERNESS. most commonly in OT מִדְבָּר, H4497, which gives the sense of driving animals out to graze on land too rough or dry to be cultivated, cf. our “rangelands” and in NT, ἔρημος, G2245, a lonely or waste place. The S and E of the land of Pal. (q.v.) is bordered by true deserts, and these thrust a number of salients over its historic borders into the land. Thus there is “the wilderness” of Beersheba (Gen 21:14) in the S, and of En-gedi (1 Sam 24:1) in the E, within what is later described generally in Matthew 3:1 as the wilderness of Judea.

The majority of references, however, and those where the text simply has “the wilderness,” are to the desert of Sinai, in which the wanderings of Israel occurred. This covers the Sinai Peninsula and penetrates northward into Judea. To any but the true desert tribes, it must appear as a completely foreign, and exceedingly hostile environment of rock and stone. This hostility made the wilderness significant as a place where God could test His chosen, either collectively “in the day of testing in the wilderness” (cf. Pss 78; 95; 107) or individually, in an alien world where only by depending upon Him could they survive at all. At His command the wilderness could become fruitful, as Isaiah saw (chs. 32; 35; 41).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See Desert; Wilderness of Judaea; WANDERINGS OF ISRAEL.