Glossary of Terms

Midian & Midianite


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Midian. In O.T. times an area in the southwest Arabian Desert. The Midianites were nomadic people who made raids upon the Israelites while the Israelites were entering Canaan and in the time of the judges. The Midianites were finally defeated by Gideon. Gen. 37:28; Ex. 2:15-22; Num. 31:7; Judg. 6:1-6; 7:1 (see vs. 2-23 for description of the battle).

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Midianites, descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham and his concubine Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2). When Abraham expelled Isaac’s rivals ‘to the east country,’ Midian was included (Gen. 25:6). Thus, the Midianites were counted among the ‘people of the East’ (Judg. 6:3, 33; 7:12), a general designation for the nomadic inhabitants of the Syrian and Arabian deserts. The ‘land of Midian’ (Exod. 2:15) probably refers to the center of Midianite territory, that part of northwestern Arabia bordering the Gulf of Aqaba’s eastern shore (cf. 1 Kings 11:18). The term ‘Midianite’ probably identified a confederation of tribes that roamed far beyond this ancestral homeland, a usage that explains the biblical references to Midianites in Sinai, Canaan, the Jordan Valley, Moab, and Transjordan’s eastern desert. Apart from the ot, sources of information on the Midianites are few; nonbiblical texts are ambiguous, and it is difficult to associate any archaeological artifacts with this elusive people.

The first significant reference to the Midianites is a record of their involvement in the sale of Joseph into slavery, an account in which Midianites are closely associated or equated with Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:25-28, 36; 39:1; cf. Judg. 8:24).

Of great importance to Exodus is Moses’sojourn in Midian. Moses went there as a fugitive from Egyptian justice (2:15), was befriended by Jethro, the priest of Midian (2:16; 3:1), and married Jethro’s daughter Zipporah (2:21). While still in the general region of Midian, Moses was commissioned to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt (3:1-15; 4:19). Later, Moses’Midianite brother-in-law, Hobab, guided the Israelites in the wilderness (Num. 10:29-32).

When the Hebrews were encamped in the plains of Moab, the ‘elders of Midian’ and the Moabite king Balak hired Balaam to curse their new enemies (Num. 22:1-7; cf. Josh. 13:21). Since the Midianites led Israel into idolatry and immorality at Shittim (Num. 25:1-7, 16-18), Moses was commanded to seek revenge by destroying the Midianite population in this region (Num. 31:1-12).

Following seven years of oppression by the people of the East, the Hebrew warrior Gideon soundly defeated the camel-riding Midianites. Many years later, Gideon’s victory was recounted in Ps. 83:9, 11; Isa. 9:4; and 10:26.


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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