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MIDIAN, MIDIANITES (mĭd'ĭ-ăn, -īts, Heb. midhyān, midhānîm)

1. A son of Abraham by Keturah (Gen.25.1-Gen.25.6).

2. Midian’s descendants and the land they claimed, lying mostly east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, then southward through the Arabah and (in the time of Moses) including the southern and eastern parts of the Sinai peninsula. Traders in a caravan are called “Ishmaelites” (Gen.37.25), then “Midianites” (Gen.37.36), the former referring to their descent from Ishmael (Gen.25.12-Gen.25.18) and the latter to their abode in the land of Midian. When Moses fled from Egypt forty years before the Exodus (Exod.2.15-Exod.2.21), he helped the daughters of Reuel (or Jethro) the priest of Midian, was invited to their encampment, and married Zipporah, the priest’s daughter. Thus the descendants of Moses had Midianite as well as Levite ancestry. Jethro, though priest of Midian, acknowledged the God of Israel as supreme (Exod.18.11); but neither he nor his son Hobab, though very friendly to Moses, could bring himself to join Israel (Num.10.29).

Toward the end of the life of Moses, Midian had apparently become confederate with Moab (Num.22.4). Through the counsel of Balaam, the Midianite women and girls wrought much harm in Israel, and God commanded Moses to conquer the nation (Num.25.16-Num.25.18). Two hundred years later, in the days of Gideon, God delivered Israel into the hand of Midian for seven years (Judg.6.1-Judg.6.6). They allowed the Israelites to plow and to sow the seed, but they (the Midianites) did the reaping. Gideon defeated them and killed their two kings Zebah and Zalmunna (Judg.8.21). The names of these kings and of the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb (Judg.7.25), give us a picture of their civilization. Zebah means “a slaying” or “a sacrifice”; Zalmunna, “deprived of shade”; Oreb, “raven”; and Zeeb, “a wolf.”

Though the Midianites were nomads, they had great wealth in the time of Moses. They had not only 675,000 sheep, 72,000 oxen, and 61,000 donkeys, but also gold, silver, brass, iron, tin, and lead; all of which are mentioned in the booty taken by the men of Israel (Num.31.22, Num.31.32-Num.31.34). The Midianites have long since disappeared from the earth.——ABF

MIDIAN, MIDIANITES mĭd’ ĭ ăn, īts (מִדְיָ֑ן, מִדְיָנִ֜ים, LXX Μαδιάμ, Μαδιηνα̂ιοι). The name of the land and the people who were generally E and SE of Canaan.

The Biblical record.

The name of the country and the people who comprised it come from a forefather named Midian. After Sarah and Hagar, Abraham took another wife whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Gen 25:1f.; 1 Chron 1:32). The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah (Gen 25:4, 1 Chron 1:33). Abraham sent all his concubines’ sons away, “eastward to the east country” (Gen 25:6).

Genesis 36:35 refers to an otherwise unknown battle in the country of Moab at which one Hadad was the hero. The traders who took Joseph out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites were Midianites (37:28, cf. v. 36).

The land of Midian played an important part in the life of Moses. Moses fled there from Pharaoh (Exod 2:15). He met and eventually was employed by Reuel (or Jethro), a priest of Midian who had seven daughters (2:16-22). One of these Midianite girls, Zipporah, became his wife. It was while Moses was watching Jethro’s flocks that he came to Horeb, the mountain of God (3:1). The location of Horeb (or Sinai) and Midian is a problem with many facets.

Mention of Midian does not occur again until the Exodus when Israel passed through Moab, which bordered on Midian. To protect themselves the elders of Moab and Midian hired Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel (Num 22:4ff.).

Relations between Israel and Midian further deteriorated after a Heb. man married a Midianite woman (25:6). This caused a plague which ceased only when the offenders were killed. The summary comment of Moses on Midian was, “They have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian, their sister, who was slain on the day of the plague on account of Peor” (25:18). The Lord further cursed Midian (ch. 31). Even though five chs. of genealogy and legislation intervene between this and the previous episode, it seems to come as a result of that international marriage. Israel was victorious in the battle that God prompted them to begin. They slew every male and five Midianite kings, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba (31:7f.). They also slew Balaam. The people spared all the women, but Moses ordered that only the unmarried of them should live (31:14-18).

The land of Midian.

The boundaries of the land of Midian are very indefinite. The suggestion of Genesis 25:6 that it was simply E is not very specific. It could mean anything or everything all the way from Mt. Hermon to the Euphrates and S to the Arabian peninsula, and perhaps include the Sinai peninsula. All of this is rugged desert country. Most scholars limit the term “Midian” to that part of Arabia E of the Gulf of Aqabah. The ancient geographer Ptolemy knew of a “Modiana” and a “Madiana” (VI. 7, 27). Madiana is prob. the Madiam mentioned by Eusebius (Onamastica 136:31). It may be the modern el-Bed twenty-six m. E of the Gulf of Aqabah. The Madian mentioned by Josephus was on the coast of the Red Sea, i.e., the Gulf of Aqabah (Antiq. II. xi. 1).

The people of Midian.

Although the Midianites were descendants of Abraham through his wife Keturah, they never were considered part of the covenant people of God. The hospitality of Jethro to Moses is commendable, but beyond that the Midianites were a people hostile to Israel.

Being desert people, their existence was nomadic. When some of them picked up Joseph it was typical of their way of life—trading, traveling, and troubling others. Most Bedouin know no boundaries and apparently these Midianites knew none either. They were as far N as Moab according to Genesis 36:35. If Horeb is in Sinai, then they were SW of Elath (Num 10:29). They were “beyond the Jordan” in the vicinity of the plains of Moab in Numbers 25 and 31. They were even in the area S of Galilee in Cis-Jordan when Gideon routed them (Judg 6-8).

Archeology and Midian.

Since nomads build no cities and since no Midianite city name is even known, archeologists have little with which to work. Surveys of N Arabia have been made, but nothing noteworthy has come to light. The only relationship one can draw is between the name of the Haiappu tribe in the lists of Tiglath-pileser III and Ephah, one of the sons of Midian (Gen 25:4). According to the Assyrian record, that tribe paid taxes in gold, silver, camels, and spices. Isaiah 60:6 connects the names Midian, Ephah, and Sheba. In the Assyrian record the Haiappu occur with the Sabeans (i.e., Sheba).


J. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (1934); H. H. Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua (1948), 152f.; E. G. Kraeling, Bible Atlas (1956), 100f., 108ff.; J. M. Adams, Biblical Backgrounds (rev. 1965), 106.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

mid’-i-an, mid’-i-an-its (midhyan, midhyanim; Madiam, Madienaioi):

1. The Seed of Abraham to the Time of the Judges:

2. The Kenite Branch:

The Kenites appear to have been a branch of the Midianites. Jethro could hardly have attained the dignity of the priesthood in Midian had he been of alien blood (Jud 1:16). See Kenites. Again, the tribesmen are named indifferently Ishmaelites and Midianites (Ge 37:25,28,36; Jud 8:22,24). They must therefore have stood in close relations with the descendants of Hagar’s son.

3. Modern Arabs:

The representations of Midian in Scripture are consistent with what we know of the immemorial ways of Arabian tribes, now engaged in pastoral pursuits, again as carriers of merchandise, and yet again as freebooters. Such tribes often roam through wide circles. They appear not to have practiced circumcision (Ex 4:25), which is now practically universal among the Arabs. The men wore golden ornaments, as do the modern nomads (Jud 8:24 ).

4. Historical References:

The name of "Midian" is not found in Egyptian or Assyrian documents. Delitzsch (Wo lag das Paradies? 304) suggests that Ephah (Ge 25:4) may be identical with Chayapa of the cuneiform inscriptions. If this is correct the references point to the existence of this Midianite tribe in the North of el-Chijaz in the times of Tiglath-pileser and Sargon (745-705 BC). Isaiah speaks of Midian and Ephah apparently as separate tribes, whose dromedaries bear gold and frankincense to Zion (60:6); but he gives no hint of the districts they occupied. The tribe of Ghifar, found in the neighborhood of Medina in Mohammed’s day, Knobel would identify with Epher, another of Midian’s sons.

5. Territory:

No boundaries can now be assigned to "the land of Midian." It included territory on the West as well as on the East of the Gulf of `Aqaba (Ex 4:19). It lay between Edom and Paran (1Ki 11:18). In the time of the Judges their district seems to have extended northward to the East of Gilead (8:10).

A trace of the ancient name is found in that of Madyah, a place mentioned by the Arabic geographers, with a plentiful supply of water, now called Maghair Sho`aib. It lies East of the Gulf of `Aqaba, some miles from the coast, almost opposite the point of the Sinaitic peninsula. The name Sho`aib, given by Mohammed to Jethro, may here be due to ancient Midianite tradition.