Desolate, lonely, empty; used substantively to mean “the wilderness”
A Clever Verse for Context
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness (erēmos), where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. (Luke 4:1-2)
Wilderness (erēmos) is a potent concept throughout the Bible. After being delivered from slavery under the Egyptians, the Israelites flee into the wilderness and receive divine guidance. Prophets go to the wilderness both to escape persecution (1 Kings 19) and come out of the wilderness bringing revelations from God (1 Kings 19, Mark 1). The wilderness then is both a place of safety and formation. It is the place God’s people flee when they have nowhere else to go, and the place from which they emerge restored and transformed. As the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus 40 days, we also spend 40 days in the spiritual wilderness that is Lent. This is a time when we withdraw from a world misoriented in regards to God. It is a time when we seek spiritual renewal and even, if we’re lucky, a vision of our own.
In Trojan Women (415 BCE), the Greek playwright Euripides describes the aftermath of the brutal war between the Trojans and the Achaeans. He frequently uses the word “desolate” (erēmos) to describe the post-war Trojan landscape, as at the opening of the play, when the god Poseidon observes that Troy’s “groves are desolate (erēmos), and the temples of the gods drip with blood and gore” (see Trojan Women, lines 15-16). Poseidon goes on to explain that the gods, too, tend to abandon cities that have been seized by such “evil desolation (erēmos)” (see Trojan Women, lines 25-27).
Wilderness can mean a place that is desolate, safe, revelatory, or all three at the same time. How would you describe the wilderness?
The wilderness can be both an internal experience as well as an external place. When have you felt like you were in the wilderness?
A Clever Prayer to Close
18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.