There is a great deal of difference between the pasturelands which did not have enough water to grow crops, but still had enough grass to feed the animals, and the “great and terrible wilderness” of Sinai. Yet the same Hebrew word is used to describe both types of terrain. What links these two different ideas is the lack of water in both places (cp Exod 15:22; Psa 63:1; 107:35).

The word midbar is derived from the word dabar, which means to ‘drive’ or to ‘move one thing to another place’ as is the case with moving the sheep and goats from one place to another, or the ‘switch’ or the ‘transfer’ of a fertile land to a desert. In Song of Solomon 4:3 midbar is translated “speech.”

In the prophecy of Isaiah, the opening up of a highway through the midbar and the provision of water in the desert were symbols used to describe the redemption of the returning exiles from Babylon (Isa 43:14-21). In the future age, Yahweh “shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness (midbar) like Eden, and her desert like the garden of Yahweh; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.”