(Israel Institute of Biblical Studies)
Reconsidering the Wasteland
When we hear the word “desert,” most of us envision an unending wasteland of scorpions and sand dunes. This may be true of some deserts, like the Sahara, but the desert through which the children of Israel wandered for 40 years is a whole different story. Located between Egypt and Israel, the Sinai Desert may seem hot, dry, and barren, but to those who know where to look, it is full of life.
Hebrew Reveals the “Desert”
Bedouin shepherds who live in the Sinai are masters of desert subsistence. For millennia, they have known that the desert is an ideal place to pasture large herds of goats and sheep. Alone with their animals, they roam the countryside in search of shrubs and bushes. This explains the word for “desert” in the original Hebrew of the Bible: midbar מִדְבָּר. At the heart of this word is the root DBR which means “to graze.”
Prepare for the Journey of a Lifetime
Therefore, it makes tremendous sense that in the Bible, God is described as a shepherd, and we as His flock (Ezekiel 34). After 400 years of brutal enslavement, the freed Israelites were not ready to go directly into Canaan. God provided His flock with a period of rehabilitation and the empty wilderness was the perfect setting to rest, graze, and prepare to do His will.