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Midian, Midianites

Mid´ee-uhn, mid´-ee-uh-nits

A son of Abraham and his concubine Keturah (Gen 25:1-2), and his descendants. 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; Judg 6:33; Judg 7:12), a general designation for the nomadic inhabitants of the Syrian and Arabian deserts. The Midianites are involved in the story of Joseph’s sale into slavery, an account in which they are almost equated with Ishmaelites (Gen 37:25-28; Gen 37:36; Gen 39:1; Judg 8:24). Later, Moses’s sojourn in Midian is important to the story of the exodus: there, he was befriended by Jethro, the priest of Midian (Exod 2:16, Exod 3:1), and he married Jethro’s daughter Zipporah (Exod 2:21). In Midian, he was commissioned to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt (Exod 3:1-15, Exod 4:19) and his Midianite brother-in-law, Hobab, guided the Israelites in the wilderness (Num 10:29-32). But later, the “elders of Midian” and the Moabite king Balak hired Balaam to curse the Israelites (Num 22:1-7; Josh 13:21). And since the Midianites led Israel into idolatry and immorality at Shittim (Num 25:1-7; Num 16-18:1), Moses was commanded to seek revenge by destroying the Midianite population in this region (Num 31:1-12). Finally, in the period of the judges, the Hebrew warrior Gideon soundly defeated the camel-riding Midianites (Judg 6-7; Ps 83:9; Ps 83:11; Isa 9:4; Isa 10:26).

  • Powell, Mark Allan, ed. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. Abridged Edition. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.