(Midʹi·an), Midianites (Midʹi·an·ites) [Of (Belonging to) Midian].
1. One of Abraham’s sons by his concubine Keturah; the father of Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. (Ge 25:1, 2, 4; 1Ch 1:32, 33) Before his death, Abraham gave presents to Midian and the other sons of his concubines and then sent them to the land of the East.—Ge 25:5, 6.
2. The descendants of Abraham’s son Midian are collectively designated as “Midian” and “Midianites.” (Nu 31:2, 3) At times the Bible seemingly refers to them as Ishmaelites. (Compare Ge 37:25, 27, 28, 36; 39:1; Jg 8:22, 24.) This may imply that the descendants of Abraham through his sons Ishmael and Midian were much alike in their way of life, and there may have been a further amalgamation through intermarriage among the two peoples. It also appears that at least some of the Kenites were known as Midianites. Since the Kenites are already mentioned as a people before Midian’s birth, this may mean that Moses’ Kenite brother-in-law Hobab was a Midianite merely from a geographic standpoint.—Ge 15:18, 19; Nu 10:29; Jg 1:16; 4:11; see ISHMAELITE; KENITE.
Being descendants of Abraham, the Midianites likely spoke a language that closely resembled Hebrew. Gideon, for instance, apparently had no difficulty in understanding the Midianites. (Jg 7:13-15; 8:18, 19) There is also a possibility, however, that Gideon learned the tongue of the Midianites, Israel having been under their domination for seven years.—Jg 6:1.
The Midianites were primarily nomadic tent dwellers. (Jg 6:5, 6; Hab 3:7) But in Moses’ day they are also reported as residing in cities. (Nu 31:9, 10) At that time they were quite prosperous, having asses and animals of the flock and the herd numbering into the tens of thousands. (Nu 31:32-34) Their riches included gold ornaments having a total weight of more than 191 kg (512 lb t, valued now at over $2,150,000).—Nu 31:50-52.
Apparently both men and women adorned themselves with gold ornaments, including nose rings and earrings. Midianite kings were arrayed in “garments of wool dyed reddish purple,” and even their camels had necklaces, evidently with moon-shaped ornaments attached.—Nu 31:50; Jg 8:21, 26.
Doubtless the Midianites acquired much of their wealth through trade and plunder. (Compare Ge 37:28; Jg 6:5, 6.) As early as the time of Joseph, caravans of Midianite merchants traveled to Egypt. It was to such a caravan bound for Egypt and carrying aromatic resins that Joseph was sold by his half brothers.—Ge 37:25, 28.
Cause Israel to Sin. Later, the Midianites manifested hostility toward the Israelites. They cooperated with the Moabites in hiring the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. (Nu 22:4-7) When this failed, the Midianites and Moabites, at Balaam’s advice, cunningly used their women to induce thousands of Israelite males to become involved in sexual immorality and idolatry in connection with Baal of Peor. (Nu 25:1-9, 14-18; 31:15, 16; 1Co 10:8; Re 2:14) Thereafter the Israelites, in obedience to divine command, took vengeance upon Midian. The Midianite cities and walled camps in the area were consigned to the fire. Thousands of domestic animals and many gold articles were taken as spoils. With the exception of the virgins, all, including the five kings of Midian—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—were put to death.—Nu 31.
Less than three centuries later, the Midianites had recovered from this blow sufficiently to be able to oppress the Israelites for seven years. (Compare Jg 6:1; 11:25, 26.) Along with the Amalekites and “Easterners,” these tent-dwelling nomads, with their livestock and innumerable camels, penetrated Israel’s land all the way to Gaza, plundering the domestic animals of the Israelites and also consuming their harvests.—Jg 6:2-6.
Crushing Defeat by Gideon. Finally, when Israel called to Jehovah for aid, he raised up Gideon to deliver them. (Jg 6:7-16) The rout that Jehovah effected by means of him was so complete that there is no record of any further harassment from the Midianites. (Jg 8:28) Their princes Oreb and Zeeb were slain, as were their kings Zebah and Zalmunna. (Jg 7:25; 8:5, 21; see GIDEON.) Centuries later the victory over Midian was still alluded to when illustrating the smashing of enemy power.—Isa 9:4; 10:24-26; see also Ps 83:9-11.
3. The territory occupied by the Midianites was known as “Midian” or “the land of Midian.” (1Ki 11:18; Hab 3:7) It is generally agreed that the descendants of Midian established themselves mainly in the NW part of Arabia just E of the Gulf of ʽAqaba. But the extent of their landholdings is uncertain and must have varied in the course of their history. During Moses’ lifetime many Midianites were apparently living near Moabite territory and in the vicinity of the region controlled by Amorite King Sihon.—Nu 22:4; 31:8-12; Jos 13:21.
Moses himself spent about 40 years in the land of Midian. There he married Zipporah, one of the seven daughters of Jethro the priest of Midian. (See JETHRO.) By her he had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Moses’ work as a shepherd for his father-in-law took him to the mountainous area around Horeb, suggesting that he resided in the vicinity of the Gulf of ʽAqaba. However, whether the region around Horeb was then a part of “the land of Midian” cannot be determined. (Ex 2:15-22; 3:1; 4:18-20; 18:1-4; Ac 7:29, 30) It seems that at a later time Edom was at least in part referred to as Midian.—1Ki 11:14-18.