The word wilderness stops us in a wilderness, if it is of so various and doubtful signification.
I. Sometimes it denotes only the fields, or the country in opposition to the city; which we observed at Matthew 3:1: where if any one be displeased that I rendered 'Seah of the wilderness' by 'the country Seah,' when it might be rendered, and perhaps ought, 'the Seah which the Israelites used when they encamped in the wilderness,' let him, if he please, take another example for it.
"They do not water and kill the cattle of the wilderness." The Gloss is, "It was usual to water cattle before killing them, that they might the more easily be flayed. But they water domestic [or tame] cattle. And these are cattle of the wilderness, those that go out to pasture in time of the Passover, and return home at the first rain, that is, in the month Marchesvan. Rabba saith, These are cattle of the wilderness, all that feed in the meadows and come not home." The Gloss is "The cattle of the wilderness are those that are abroad in the fields."
II. The word "the wilderness," denotes a champaign country, where one man's ground is not distinguished from another's by fences.
"They do not breed up smaller cattle in the land of Israel, but in Syria they do. And in the wildernesses of the land of Israel." Where the Gloss thus: "They do not breed such cattle in the land of Israel, that they feed not down the fields: now the fields in the land of Israel do belong, without doubt, to some Israelite." But they fed in the deserts; that is, where field was not distinguished from field, but all was common. Hence you may understand what is signified by the desert of Ziph, of Maon, of Tekoah, &c.; namely, a region or country near to cities, where also were scattered houses; but especially, either champaign, where no fences were to make distinction of lands; or mountainous, and that which was barren and without improvement.
III. There is no need to speak of the deserts that were altogether desolate and without inhabitant; such as the deserts of Arabia, of Libya, &c.