The Wilderness as the Biblical Equivalent of the Frontier

Background of the Concept of the Wilderness

In the Bible one of the prominent ideas or concepts both in the Old and New Testaments is the idea of the wilderness. There are different wilderness areas including the wilderness of Judaea (the Judaean hills extending to the Dead Sea), the wilderness of Sin (the southern Sinai peninsula), the wilderness of Paran (the central Sinai peninsula), the wilderness of Ziph (the wilderness around the town of Ziph which was in Judaea near the city of Hebron) the wilderness of Moab(the wilderness in Moab on the east of the Jordan in what is now central Jordan), the wilderness of Edom (the wilderness in Edom on the east side of the Jordan River in what is now southern Jordan) etc. The wilderness in the Bible had the idea of a place that was uncivilized, undeveloped and lawless or desolate. These were also the areas outside the main towns that were protected by walls around their outer boundaries called the walled or fenced cities in Bible days. This was true not just of the cities of Israel but also of other countries such as Damascus in Syria and Babylon in Mesopotamia or approximately the current area of the country of Iraq. In the wilderness areas there were few people and people were vulnerable to the elements such as the sun's heat, the dryness and wind and animals including snakes and wild beasts and also lawless people like bandits or robbers. With little vegetation it was also easy to lose one's way there as there were also few roads. There is also sometimes the idea in the Bible that the wilderness is a God forsaken place where evil spirits roam freely. This is generally the idea of the wilderness in the Bible and I believe the reader who reflects on these characteristics of the wilderness in the Bible or has read some passages about the wilderness in scripture and has some knowledge of the concept of the frontier especially of the American West as popularized in American history and culture will see some similiarity between the concept of the wilderness in the Bible and the American West in popular and serious American history as a place on the edge of civilization legally, morally and geographically and in communications. The wilderness in both places is also seen as a place where people have to live off the land and frequented by wild animals including some hostile or dangerous to humans such as snakes or lizards, dangerous spiders, vultures or at least in Israel and perhaps in the American west scorpions.

Hagar the Mother of Ishmael Flees From Sarah to the Wilderness in Genesis 16 and Becomes the Ancestor of All the Arabs

Sarah encouraged Abraham to have sex and a child with her maid servant Hagar of Egypt because Sarah thought she would be unable to have a child and that God wanted to fulfill His promise and a multitude of descendants of Abraham's descendants through Hagar although God later allowed Sarah to have a child Isaac who was the true seed of promise and through whom came God's chosen earthly people the Jews and their Messiah and the Saviour of the world the Lord Jesus Christ. However when Hagar had a child through Abraham she despised Sarah because she was old and not able to have a child. Sarah then got envious and upset and dealt harshly with Hagar who fled into the wilderness. This would be the wilderness of southern Israel, the Gaza Strip or the northern Sinai peninsula since the Way to Shur was a road between Israel and the Gaza Strip and northern Egypt especially the Nile Delta. This wilderness area in the northern Sinai by the way to Shur is sometimes called the Wilderness of Shur. When Hagar had fled into the wilderness the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water or oasis and encouraged her asking her from where she came and where she was going. Hagar mentioned she was in the wilderness because she was fleeing from her master Sarah. The angel of the Lord then instructed Hagar to return to Sarah and be submissive to her instructions. The angel of the Lord also promised Hagar that he would multiply Hagar's seed so that they would be virtually without number which can be seen to be fulfilled in the current world situation as the Arabs are descendants of Hagar and Abraham and in many cases dwell in wilderness areas of Africa and Asia. The angel of the Lord also said to Hagar that she would be of child through Abraham and that she was to call his name Ishmael who became also an ancestor of the Arab people many of whom dwell in the wilderness. The scripture reference in Genesis 16 of Hagar Sarah's handmaid fleeing into the wilderness and being comforted by the angel of the Lord and being assured she would have a child Ishmail and a multitute of descendants is as follows:

Scripture Reference in Genesis 16 of Hagar Fleeing Into the Wilderness and Being Assured by The Angel of the Lord She Would be an Ancestor of a Multitude of People (the Arabs)

And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee. But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face. And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the way to Shur. And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to they mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name, Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. Genesis 16:3-11

God Reveals Himself To Moses in the Wilderness (Desert) With His New Name I AM (Jehovah or Yahweh - the Self Existent One in Exodus 3

Moses at first was keeping the flocks or being a shepherd of his father in law Jethro who was a Midianite. Moses then led the flock to the backside or fringe of the desert or wilderness to the mount of God, mount Horeb which is also called Mount Sinai in the Bible but could actually be in Midianite territory which is current north west Saudi Arabia probably the Mountain now called Mount Lawz which means the Mount of Almonds. This would be instead of the traditional location in the southern Sinai peninsula and this idea is gaining more popularity with more archaeological discoveries especially of probably abundant remains of chariot wheels perhaps by the Egyptians in the Gulf of Aqaba part of the Red Sea. The angel of the LORD then appeared to Moses in a bush in the desert of wilderness and there was a fire in the midst of the bush but the bush wasn't burnt up indicating a supernatural event or phenomena. God called Moses out of the bush and Moses was willing to respond saying here I am. This angel of the LORD revealed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God revealed to Moses in the wilderness that he had heard of the affliction or oppression of the Israelites in Egypt and that he was come to deliver the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians and to bring the Israelites into the promised land of Canaan that he had assigned to the Israelites the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who was renamed Israel. God then instructed Moses that he was to be the leader of Israel through which he would deliver the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians and that they would come back into this Mount Horeb in the region frequented by the Midianites. God then revealed himself by his new name to Moses in response to Moses's question what name or identity should he give to the Israelites of the one who sent or commissioned him as I AM or "the LORD" or Jehovah or Yahweh. The scripture passage in Exodus 3 of the angel of the LORD (God) appearing to Moses in the wilderness and appointing Moses to be the means of delievering the Israelites from the oppresion of Egypt and God promising he as the self existant and eternal God would give the Israelites the Land of Canaan as the promised land is as follows:

Scripture Reference in Exodus 3 of God Appearing to Moses in the Wilderness and Appointing Moses to be Israel's Deliverer by God as the I AM or Self Existant One

Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert (wilderness), and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, and thou mayest bring forthh my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharoah, and that I should bring forth the childrend of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain. And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. Exodus 3:1-14

Ceremony on the Day of Atonement in Which a Live Goat Was Brought Into the Wilderness to Carry Away the Sins of Israel from Leviticus 16

In Leviticus 16 there is described some of the ceremonies that the Israelites were to perform through the high priest on the Day of Atonement. One of these involved two goats. One of these goats was to be offered to God as a sacrifice for the sins of God's chosen people Israel for the past year. The other goat was also to be offered to God in a different way. On that goat the sins of Israel were to be ceremonially transferred by the high priest placing his hands on the head of the goat and then confess the sins of the people of Israel. Then a man was to bring this goat into the wilderness and when the goat was brought into the middle of the wilderness it was to be let free. This was meant to symbolize the sins of Israel being brought away from them and their camp or inhabited place to a desolate or wilderness land where they were thought to not bother the people of Israel anymore. The wilderness in this sense was viewed as a God-forsaken land or land of desolation and it was used in this sense other times in the Bible. In the original context in Leviticus the wilderness would be the area in the Sinai peninsula that was wilderness or desert outside the encampment of Israel but when the Temple was built in Jerusalem the wilderness was viewed as the wilderness of Judaea near the Dead Sea. It is sometimes used in this sense in other parts of the world such as in the US southwest at least by the white man. In the New Testament view this ceremony in the Day of Atonement is meant to symbolize the Lord Jesus Christ in His death on the cross for our sins taking the sins of the believer far away from us that we will never encounter them or be bothered by them again. The scripture reference of the sins of Israel being transferred to the live goat that was led out to the wilderness and the use of the wilderness as a desolate area in Leviticus 16 is as follows:

Scripture Reference from Leviticus 16 of the Live Goat of the Day of Atonement Being Led Out to the Wilderness to Remove the Sins of the Israelites from Them

And when he (Aaron the high priest) hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all the transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:20-22

Summary of God Leading the Israelites Through the Wilderness in Deuteronomy 8

God through Moses reminds the Israelites or Jews of his rescueing them from slavery in Egypt and then leading them through the wilderness to at that time being on the verge of leading them into the promised land of Israel. God calls the wilderness great and terrible for its extent and severity. God also says there were scorpions, fiery serpents and no water. All these things would speak of the desolate or God- forsaken nature of the wilderness or desert. However even in these severe conditions God provided for the Israelites his chosen earthly people with providing water from the rock. God also reminds the Israelites that he provided manna or bread from heaven for food for them when they travelled through the wilderness. God was reminding them of his goodness to provide for them then and to preserve them alive to go into the promised land and enjoy more of his goodness. Sometimes in the New Testament the wilderness is used as an analogy of the life of the Christian in this world where we are only passing through to our promised land which is heaven. However this is not a perfect analogy because we as Christians won't have any adversaries to fight when we get to heaven like the Israelites did when they entered their earthly promised land and had to overcome the Canaanites whose land God gave to Israel or the Jews because of the Canaanites' idolatry and ungodliness. The scripture passage in Deuteronomy 8 about the Israelites going through the wilderness and the dangers but God's provision is as follows:

Scripture Passage from Deuteronomy 8 of God Leading the Israelites Through the Wilderness and His Provision and Protection

Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; Deuteronomy 8:14-16

Lament of the Psalmist When He Feels Forgotten by God as Figuratively as One of the Animals of the Wilderness in Psalm 102

Although later on in this Psalm the Psalmist regains more faith and thanksgiving or praise to God, in verse 6 he feels alone in a desolate land like one of the animals that inhabit the wilderness. He mentions particularly a comparison to himself as the pelican or owl in the wilderness. The Psalmist may also have intended to indicate he felt forsaken by God because both the owl and the pelican in Leviticus 11:16-18 were considered unclean animals that God had instructed he and other Israelites not to eat under the Law of Moses. Christians or members of the true Church can also sometimes now feel in the wilderness and not blessed of God if we don't have as much fellowship with other believers or aren't seeing more blessing of God in our lives in the sense of answered prayer or would like to see more progress towards Jesus coming soon to take us and the whole Church to heaven from this world system which to the Christian as a citizen of heaven is like a wilderness. The scripture reference from Psalm 102 of the Psalmist feeling forgotten by God as an animals in the desert or wilderness is as follows:

Scripture Reference from Psalm 102 of the Psalmist Giving Himself and His Then Current Situation in Life as an Animal in the Wilderness When He Felt Forgotten of God as an Analogy To Christians Now Who Feel Forgotten by God in This World

I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. Psalm 102:6

The Temptation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Wilderness by the Devil in Matthew 4

The temptation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the wilderness by the devil is definitely a prime example of my idea of associating the wilderness or frontier with the devil or lawlessness both with some animals and some of the people. In this case the wilderness mentioned was probably the wilderness of Judaea near the Dead Sea. Although this was very hostile territory the scripture says specifically that it was the spirit or the Holy Spirit that led Jesus to the wilderness so it was definitely part of God's will for Jesus as part of His first earthly ministry. It is no surprise that the devil could be readily found in the wilderness as one thing Satan is good at and likes to do is to attack people when they are weak or vulnerable in this case when the Lord Jesus was hungry and probably also thirsty and maybe tired. The scripture says that Jesus fasted forty days and then was hungry. This is probably about the maximum the human body could endure without dying so the Lord Jesus would be very weak and hungry. The first thing the devil did to tempt the Lord Jesus was to exploit his prime vulnerability at that time which was in his flesh. Although the Lord Jesus didn't with his virgin birth and perfect human nature have anything in him that could give in to sin he could be genuinely tempted. To be tempted isn't wrong for Jesus or for us but it is wrong to give into the temptation. Instead of giving into Satan's temptation for Jesus to use his divinity to turn the stones into bread he rebuked the devil by the word of God which all Christians have the right and obligation to do also. Then the devil transported Jesus to the holy city meaning Jerusalem and put him on a pinnacle or high point of the temple and challenged Jesus to jump down and trust in God and his holy angels to deliver him. Jesus again refused to give into the temptation of the devil but instead countered him with the word of God. It is true the devil quoted scripture in this case from Psalm 91 but he probably purposely left out the phrase in all thy ways as Jesus wouldn't be following God in all his ways if he tempted God by jumping from the temple. This would be a temptation to Jesus in the pride of life as it would be quite a spectacle to be delivered in mid-air in the sight of the crowds in the temple. The devil then took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and promised them all to Jesus if he would bow before Satan and worship him. This was an appeal to Jesus in the lust of the eyes. Although the Bible doesn't say where this mountain was it could have been a high mountain in the Judaean wilderness. Although some people might not believe it the devil was correct in promising Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them as the New Testament makes clear that the devil is the god and prince of this world since the fall of Adam who God initially gave dominion over this world. The authority over this world is partly with Jesus now but will be fully manifested to be under him from the time of his second coming at the end of the tribulation when Jesus will judge this world and put the devil in the bottomless pit. Satan also did with Jesus what he has done with many other people through time is to attempt to get them to worship him (Satan). Jesus knew that God would grant him authority over the world in God's time after Jesus' second coming and that to give into Satan would spoil God's plan of salvation through Jesus and so successfully again countered the devil with the appropriate use of the scriptures. This was all done by Jesus when he was still enduring his fasting conditions and in this case probably back in the wilderness. After this the devil left Jesus and angels came and ministered to Jesus to comfort and strengthen him as then the Lord Jesus had successfully endured Satan's temptations in the wilderness. Satan has probably tempted mere human beings although not this severely in wilderness areas of the world including in western United States especially when they were hungry or thirsty or otherwise especially vulnerable to the devil's attacks. The names of some places in western United States like Death Valley and the Devil's Playground would also suggest this. The scripture reference from Matthew 4 of the devil's temptation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the wilderness after Jesus' 40 days fasting and increased vulnerability to the devil's temptations is as follows:

Scripture Reference from Matthew 4 of the Tempting of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Devil in the Wilderness

Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. Matthew 4:1-11

Prophecy of God Turning the Wilderness of Israel To be Like the Garden of Eden in the Messianic or Millennial Kingdom of Messiah (Christ) Jesus from Isaiah 51

There is much material in the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament including several entire chapters that describe the physical, social or spiritual conditions of Israel or the nations in the Messianic or Millennial Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what will be realized at the end of the tribulation and the Second coming in power and glory to earth of the Lord Jesus Christ as Israel's Messiah who will judge the world and set up God's Kingdom for the true Christians from this present Church age and believing Jews and Gentiles from the tribulation and Old Testament times. One chapter that is mostly devoted to this Messianic or Millennial Kingdom is Isaiah 51. Among other things in verse 3 of that chapter God promises he God (or the LORD) will comfort Zion (earthly Jerusalem). God elaborates on this comfort by saying he will comfort all her (Israel's) waste places and make her wilderness like Eden. This wilderness that will be made like Eden would probably be especially the wilderness of Judaea near the Dead Sea and the wilderness of the south or what is currently called the Negev which I think in Hebrew means south or southern area. This will probably be largely achieved by God restoring the latter rains that he has held back for a long time from Israel to the lack of faith or disobedience of the Jews to him and His word the Holy Bible such as the many secular Jews now or many Jews also not yet placing their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah promised in the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures. This will cause streams and rivers or bodies of water in these former wilderness which will bring more vegetation and animal life and make these areas more habitable for humans. This greater bounty of the land of Israel that had previously been a wilderness will also be a cause for singing and rejoicing in the Millennial Kingdom in the creator God, the God of Israel who also revealed himself personally as Israel's redeemer and the saviour of the world in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ or Y'Shua HaMashiach. The reference to the turning of the wilderness of Israel into a garden like that of Eden in the Millennial or Messianic Kingdom providing a source of rejoicing to Jews and other believers then in Isaiah 51 is as follows:

Scripture Reference from Isaiah 51 of God Turning the Wilderness Areas of Israel Into Bountiful Areas Like the Garden of Eden and Accompanying Rejoicing in the Millennial or Messianic Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (Messiah)

For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. Isaiah 51:3

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