Stories We Like: A Guide to the Comma
A large, dry, barren region, usually having sandy or rocky soil and little or no vegetation. Water lost to evaporation and transpiration in a desert exceeds the amount of precipitation; most deserts average less than 25 cm (9.75 inches) of precipitation each year, concentrated in short local bursts. Deserts cover about one fifth of the Earth's surface, with the principal warm deserts located mainly along the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, where warm, rising equatorial air masses that have already lost most of their moisture descend over the subtropical regions. Cool deserts are located at higher elevations in the temperate regions, often on the lee side of a barrier mountain range where the prevailing winds drop their moisture before crossing the range.
Our Living Language : A desert is defined not by temperature but by the sparse amount of water found in a region. An area with an annual rainfall of fewer than 25 centimeters (9.75 inches) generally qualifies as a desert. In spite of the dryness, however, some animals and plants have adapted to desert life and thrive in these harsh environments. While different animals live in different types of deserts, the dominant animals of warm deserts are reptiles, including snakes and lizards, small mammals, such as ground squirrels and mice, and arthropods, such as scorpions and beetles. These animals are usually nocturnal, spending the day resting in the shade of plants or burrowed in the ground, and emerging in the evenings to hunt or eat. Warm-desert plants are mainly ground-hugging shrubs, small wooded trees, and cacti. Plant and animal life is scarcer in the cool desert, where the precipitation falls mainly as snow. Plants are generally scattered mosses and grasses that are able to survive the cold by remaining low to the ground, avoiding the wind, and animal life can include both large and small mammals, such as deer and jackrabbits, as well as a variety of raptors and other birds.
(1.) Heb. midbar, "pasture-ground;" an open tract for pasturage; a common (Joel 2:22). The "backside of the desert" (Ex. 3:1) is the west of the desert, the region behind a man, as the east is the region in front. The same Hebrew word is rendered "wildernes," and is used of the country lying between Egypt and Palestine (Gen. 21:14, 21; Ex. 4:27; 19:2; Josh. 1:4), the wilderness of the wanderings. It was a grazing tract, where the flocks and herds of the Israelites found pasturage during the whole of their journey to the Promised Land. The same Hebrew word is used also to denote the wilderness of Arabia, which in winter and early spring supplies good pasturage to the flocks of the nomad tribes than roam over it (1 Kings 9:18). The wilderness of Judah is the mountainous region along the western shore of the Dead Sea, where David fed his father's flocks (1 Sam. 17:28; 26:2). Thus in both of these instances the word denotes a country without settled inhabitants and without streams of water, but having good pasturage for cattle; a country of wandering tribes, as distinguished from that of a settled people (Isa. 35:1; 50:2; Jer. 4:11). Such, also, is the meaning of the word "wilderness" in Matt. 3:3; 15:33; Luke 15:4. (2.) The translation of the Hebrew _Aribah'_, "an arid tract" (Isa. 35:1, 6; 40:3; 41:19; 51:3, etc.). The name Arabah is specially applied to the deep valley of the Jordan (the Ghor of the Arabs), which extends from the lake of Tiberias to the Elanitic gulf. While _midbar_ denotes properly a pastoral region, _arabah_ denotes a wilderness. It is also translated "plains;" as "the plains of Jericho" (Josh. 5:10; 2 Kings 25:5), "the plains of Moab" (Num. 22:1; Deut. 34:1, 8), "the plains of the wilderness" (2 Sam. 17:16). (3.) In the Revised Version of Num. 21:20 the Hebrew word _jeshimon_ is properly rendered "desert," meaning the waste tracts on both shores of the Dead Sea. This word is also rendered "desert" in Ps. 78:40; 106:14; Isa. 43:19, 20. It denotes a greater extent of uncultivated country than the other words so rendered. It is especially applied to the desert of the peninsula of Arabia (Num. 21:20; 23:28), the most terrible of all the deserts with which the Israelites were acquainted. It is called "the desert" in Ex. 23:31; Deut. 11:24. (See JESHIMON.) (4.) A dry place; hence a desolation (Ps. 9:6), desolate (Lev. 26:34); the rendering of the Hebrew word _horbah'_. It is rendered "desert" only in Ps. 102:6, Isa. 48:21, and Ezek. 13:4, where it means the wilderness of Sinai. (5.) This word is the symbol of the Jewish church when they had forsaken God (Isa. 40:3). Nations destitute of the knowledge of God are called a "wilderness" (32:15, _midbar_). It is a symbol of temptation, solitude, and persecution (Isa. 27:10, _midbar_; 33:9, _arabah_).