Studying the history of the Midianites through the pages of the Bible reveals some interesting facts. Most fascinating is that they were almost annihilated by Moses who had married one of them (Zipporah) and had lived with them for 40 years while he was in exile. For Moses, he must have found it really hard to war against his wife’s own people, slaying their kings and rulers as well as people. You may be surprised at the number of other things the Bible tells us about these people:
- Midian was Abraham’s 4th child from Keturah and these people settled in the east i.e. today somewhere in the gulf/arab region. In other words, the Midianites were relatives of the Israelites, same father but different mothers (NB: Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, was borne by his housemaid, Hagar, while his second son was borne by Sarah his 1st wife). Also, Midianite traders (also called Ishmelites in the Bible, perhaps because they all settled in the eastern plains – Gen 37:28, 36; Gen 39:1) bought Joseph from his brothers and sold him to Pharaoh in Egypt.
- Following what we know about Joseph’s buyers, there must have been a well known and travelled route from the land of Midian to Egypt and this probably made it easy for Moses to travel from Egypt to Midian when he ran away after killing the Hebrew. Did you know that Mt. Horeb (a.k.a. Sinai) was in the land of Midian (Ex. 3:1)? 🤔 God spoke to Moses through the burning bush around Mt. Horeb (Sinai) and promised Moses as a sign that he would return to this same mountain with the Israelites (Ex. 3:12). He also met his wife, Zipporah, here, and had two sons with her (Acts 7:29). Her father, Jethro, was known as the Priest of Midian. When the Bible said Jethro brought Moses’ wife to him, they were literally not that far away from Mt. Sinai, as Moses had returned with the Israelites to the land he previously exiled in. Also did you know that Elijah returned to this very Mt. Horeb when God spoke to him in a still small voice? Read 1 Kings 19:8-13; compare and contrast God’s appearance to Elijah with how He appreared to Moses and the Israelites in Exodus 19:16-20.
- The Bible also tells us that the Midianites plotted with the Moabites and Balaam the false prophet on how to penetrate the camp of the Israelites since curses were not working. Women of Moab and Midian subsequently seduced and committed harlotry with the Israelites. This caused God to instruct Moses to attack the Midianites, destroying their men and the women who weren’t virgins. I suspect these were really beautiful and seductive women. Perhaps Moses wife Zipporah was also eye catching? Perhaps there’s something about her looks that even caused Moses sister Miriam to despise her?
- Moses didn’t completely destroy the Midianites. They re-appeared in full force many years later as Joshua 6-8 tells of how the Israelites were attacked severely by the Midianites for 7 years, causing the Israelites to flee into dens, caves and mountain strongholds. They were only subsequently delivered by the hand of Gideon – remember him? He asked God to confirm His instruction through wet fleece and wet ground, and also fought with 300 men down from 32,000 against an army as numerous as locusts and innumerable as sand by the seashore. After Gideon’s victory, Midian more or less became a byword. In fact, Judges 8:28 says: “thus Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, so that they raised their heads no more.”
Other than these people providing a wife and place of exile to Moses, plus God appearing to Moses and Elijah atop Mt. Sinai which is situated in the land of Midian, the people were mostly a thorn in the side of the Israelites. This is similar to the Israelites’ experience with the children of Ishmael, Lot and Esau. 💡