The most common Hebrew word translated wilderness is miḏbār (H4057), which appears about 250 times. The literal idea, of course, is that of a desert, or other such uninhabited wasteland (Deu_32:10; Job_38:26), such as the great Sinai wilderness (Deu_2:7; cf. Exo_19:1-2; Lev_7:38), or sometimes even vast pastureland (Joe_2:22; Psa_65:12). Besides Sinai, many other tracts of wilderness are referred to including Beersheba (Gen_21:14), Sin (Exo_16:1; Exo_17:1), Judah (Jdg_1:16; Psa_63:1 title), Damascus (1Ki_19:15), Shur (Exo_15:22; Exo_16:1), and Egypt (Eze_20:35).
The figurative ideas behind miḏbār, however, provide deep application. One of the concepts represented by wilderness is that of trial and testing. A dominant theme throughout the Pentateuch, for example, is Israel’s presence in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Deu_8:2, in fact, explicitly states that the desert was a place to prove whether Israel would obey God’s commandments. Sadly, she repeatedly failed, from grumbling about food (Exo_16:2-3) and water (Exo_17:1-3), to her idolatry at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32), to her ultimate failure in “the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh” (Num_13:26; see Numbers 13-14)), where the people were afraid to enter the Promised Land. This resulted in their having to wander in the wilderness for forty years, demonstrating that judgment is also represented by wilderness.
Two other ideas pictured in a wilderness, however, are positive, namely, solitude and preparation. David felt he could be at rest in the wilderness away from people (Psa_55:6-7) and had the opportunity to seek God early in the morning while in the wilderness (Psa_63:1). God took Moses into the wilderness to prepare him for what he would face (Exo_2:15 ff, Midian was located either in Arabia, east of the Gulf of Aqaba, or in the Sinai Peninsula). Likewise, John the Baptist was prepared in the wilderness (Mat_3:1-4), and our Lord Himself spent forty days and nights in the wilderness, where he experienced all the above (Mat_4:1-2). Further, on at least one other occasion He “withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed” (Luk_5:16).
Dear Christian Friend, even if you live in a city of a million people, you live in a wilderness—it is called the world. Your faith will be tried and tested every day, but God is using the trials and testing to prepare you and to prove He is there with you.
Scriptures for Study: What does Php_2:14 command? Read 2Co_11:23-30. Besides “perils in the wilderness,” what else did Paul suffer, and what was his attitude?