Deuteronomy 32:13–14—How could there be sufficient pasture for the herds of 2 million people in a desert?

Problem: The Bible informs us that the children of Israel wandered in the “desert” for 40 years (cf. Ex. 19:2; 23:31). They numbered over 600,000 adult men (Ex. 12:37; Num. 1:1–4:49), which would be a total population of some 2 million. But, Deuteronomy 32:13–14 speaks of there being plenty of produce for them and their flocks, which seems highly improbable for this many people and flocks in a “desert.”

Solution: Several things should be kept in mind. First of all, the Hebrew word “desert” does not imply the total desolation that it may connote today. It can be translated “wilderness.” There were rivers and pastures in this wilderness.

Second, there is good evidence, even from modern times, that this wilderness had far more water and vegetation than it presently does, as is demonstrated by archaeological exploration of the remains of previous civilizations in that area.

Finally, God Himself provided for all their needs in the wilderness in several ways:

1. God provided them ample food (manna) for the entire 40 years (Ex. 16:35).

2. He also gave water “abundantly” for them and their flocks (Num. 20:11).

3. Since they came with “a great deal of livestock” (Ex. 12:38), they would naturally have plenty of milk to drink.

4. Since the land was apparently more arid than today, there were undoubtedly natural rivers, springs, and pastures as well.

5. By commerce with the surrounding nations (Midianites, Edomites, and Ishmaelites), they could obtain other needed things with the large amount of silver and gold they took from Egypt (cf. Ex. 12:35–36).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.