An area inhospitable to human habitation. In the OT four Hebrew words are used for desert: “desolate land” (midbar), which is by far the most common; ‘arabah, normally used for the dry plain of the rift valley, especially south of the Dead Sea; “wasteland” (yeshimon), used especially for the barren dissected slopes of Judah overlooking the Dead Sea; and “dry, deserted area” (‘arbah). With the exception of the last all these are also translated as “wilderness,” so the two words “desert” and “wilderness” are really interchangeable. In the NT period the Transjordan and Palestine deserts had been largely “tamed” by the Nabateans to promote their far-flung trade, and they managed to cultivate patches of ground that had never been farmed before. The words translated “wilderness” (Gk. er–emos, er–emia) in the NT refer to uninhabited areas (Matt 4:1; Matt 14:13; Matt 15:33; Mark 1:12-13; Mark 6:31; Luke 4:2), but the writers certainly also had in mind parallels with Israel’s testing and feeding in the desert during the exodus.

Matt 4:1

The Temptation of Jesus
1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Matt 14:13

Feeding the Five Thousand
13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they follo ... View more

Matt 15:33

33The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?”

Mark 1:12-13

The Temptation of Jesus
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with ... View more

Mark 6:31

31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

Luke 4:2

2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

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