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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Additional Resources
• Nave's Topical Bible
• Torrey's Topical Textbook
Desert, Journey of Israel Through The
• Easton's Bible Dictionary
• Fausset's Bible Dictionary
• Smith's Bible Dictionary
• International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Greek - desert
Greek - desert, deserts
Greek - desert, deserts
Hebrew - desert, desert region
Hebrew - desert, desert plain, desert plains, deserts
Hebrew - desert, deserts
Hebrew - desert
Hebrew - desert, deserts
Hebrew - desert creatures, nomads of the desert
Hebrew - desert

Areas with little rainfall to the east and south of Palestine and inhabited by nomads with flocks and herds. Three major deserts figure in biblical events: the plateau east of the mountains to the east of Jordan River; the area south of Edom, and the triangle bordered by Gaza, the Dead Sea, and the Red Sea. The Bible pictures raiders from the desert—Amalekites, Midianites, Ishmaelites—threatening Palestine farmers. Saul relieved some of this pressure (1 Samuel 14:48).

Palestine's desert areas received brief if hard rains in March and April. At times they blossomed briefly, but long dry spells returned its normal desert characteristics. The Hebrew language distinguishes with several words what English describes as desert or wilderness.

Midbar is the most prominent and inclusive term but is used in several different contexts with differing meaning. It can describe the southern boundary of the Promised Land (Exodus 23:31; Deuteronomy 11:24). This southern wilderness can be divided into various parts: Shur (Exodus 15:22); Sin (Exodus 16:1); Paran (Numbers 12:16); Zin (Numbers 13:21). This entire southern desert region can be called the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus 19:1) above which rises Mount Sinai. North of this is the wilderness of Judah (Judges 1:16), lying east of the road connecting Jerusalem and Hebron. Here deep, narrow gorges lead down from the Judean hills to the Dead Sea. Midbar also describes the area surrounding a settlement where herds are pastured (1 Samuel 23:24; 1 Samuel 24:1; 2 Chronicles 20:20; compare Joshua 8:24). Settlements in the desert arose particularly during times of political stability and served as military stations against bedouin invasions and as protection for commerce on the desert trade routes.

Arabah often appears as a synonym for midbar. This is the basic term for the long rift reaching from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and on down to the Red Sea. It describes ground dominated by salt with little water or plants. Arabah is never used to describe pasturelands. It serves as the eastern boundary of the Promised Land and is often translated, “plain,” if it is not transliterated as “Arabah” (Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 12:1).

Yeshimon designates the wasteland which is unproductive. The word appears either in parallel with midbar or as part of a territorial designation such as in 1 Samuel 23:24. See Jeshimon. God holds out hope for restoration of the wild lands (Isaiah 43:19-20).

Chorbah describes hot, dry land or land with destroyed settlements. It can designate dry land opposed to water-covered land (Genesis 7:22; Exodus 14:21). It describes the desert in Psalms 102:7; Psalms 106:9; Isaiah 25:5; Isaiah 50:2; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 64:10; Jeremiah 25:9.

Tsiyyah points to a dry region (Job 30:3; Psalms 78:17; Psalms 105:41; Isaiah 35:1; Jeremiah 50:12; Zephaniah 2:13).

Shamamah is a desolate and terrifying land and often indicates God's destruction of a place (Exodus 23:29; Leviticus 26:33, Jeremiah 4:27; Ezekiel 6:14; Ezekiel 23:33).

Negeb refers to the dry land and is a technical name for the southern desert whose northern border lies north of Beersheba. Annual rainfall ranges from 100 to 300 millimeters a year. Rainfall varies drastically year to year. Negeb came to mean “south” in Hebrew and could be translated the “south country” (Genesis 24:62).

The dry, mostly uninhabited desert held fear and awe for Israel. It could be described like the original chaos prior to creation (Deuteronomy 32:10; Jeremiah 4:23-26). Israel was able to go through the desert because God led them (Deuteronomy 1:19). Its animal inhabitants caused even more fear—1snakes and scorpions (Deuteronomy 8:15); wild donkeys (Jeremiah 2:24). The desert lay waste without humans or rain (Job 38:26; Jeremiah 2:6). The desert was a “terrifying land” (Isaiah 21:1 NAS). The only expectation for a person in the wilderness was death by starvation (Exodus 16:3).

God's judgment could turn a city into desert (Jeremiah 4:26), but His grace could turn the wilderness into a garden (Isaiah 41:17-20).

In the New Testament the desert was the place of John the Baptist's ministry (Luke 1:80; Luke 3:4) and where demon-possession drove a man (Luke 8:29). The crowds forced Jesus into the unpopulated desert to preach (Mark 1:45). Jesus took His disciples there to rest (Mark 6:31). See Wilderness.

Trent C. Butler

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'DESERT'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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