Fausset's Bible Dictionary


("strife".) Abraham's son by Keturah (Gen 25:2). The race occupied the desert N. of Arabia, and southwards the E. of the Elanitic gulf of the Red Sea; northwards, along the E. of Palestine. The oases of Sinai too were included in their "land," because they had pasturage stations there. As merchants passing through Palestine from Gilead to Egypt, they bought Joseph from his brethren (Gen 37:28). They are there called Ismaelites, though Ishmael was Hagar's son not Keturah's.  But being close neighbors, and related on their common father Abraham's side, and joined in caravans and commercial enterprises, Ishmael, the name of the more powerful tribe, was given as a general name for both and for several smaller associated tribes (compare Jdg 8:1 with Jdg 8:24). Moses fled to the land of Midian (Exo 2:15-16; Exo 2:21; Exo 3:1), in the pastures near Horeb, and married a daughter of the priest of Midian.

They were joined with Moab in desiring Balsam to curse Israel (Num 22:4; Num 22:7; Num 25:6; Num 25:15; Num 25:17-18), and then in tempting Israel at Shittim to whoredom and idolatry with Baal Peor. So, by Jehovah's command, 1,000 warriors of every tribe, 12,000 in all, of Israel "vexed and smote" their five kings (Zur included, father of Cozbi the Midianite woman slain with Zimri by Phinehas in the act of sin) and Balaam the giver of the wicked counsel which brought Jehovah's wrath on Israel for the sin (Num 31:2-17). Their males and any women that knew man carnally were slain, and their cities and castles burnt. Their inferior position as tributary dependents on Moab accounts for their omission from Balaam's prophecy. (On Israel's oppression by Midian (Judges 6-8), and deliverance, see GIDEON.)

A considerable time must have elapsed to admit of their recovery from the blow inflicted by Moses. Midian by its consanguinity was more likely to corrupt Israel than the abhorred Canaanites. The defeat by Gideon was so decisive that Midian never afterward appears in arms against Israel; symbolizing Messiah's, Israel's, and the church's final triumph over the world: Isa 9:4; Hab 3:7 "the curtains (tents) of Midian tremble." Though nomadic as the Bedouins they yet settled in the land of Moab, occupying Sihon's "cities" and "goodly castles," which they did not build (probably the more ancient ones in the Lejah are as old as Sihon and Midian), and retaining beeves, sheep, and asses, but not camels, which are needless and unhealthy in a settled state.

In their next raids on Palestine in Gideon's days they appear as nomads with countless camels. The "gold, silver, brass, iron, tin, and lead" (Num 31:22) taken by Moses, along with the vast number of cattle and flocks, accord with the picture of their wealth in Judges (Jdg 6:4-5; Jdg 8:21-26), partly pastoral, partly gold, and the metals obtained either by plunder or by traffic with Arabia. Traces of the name Midian appear in Modiana E. of the Elanitic gulf, mentioned by Ptolemy (vi. 7). Also the Muzeiny Arabs W. of the gulf of Akabah. Moses' entreaty of Hobab illustrates their wandering habits.


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)