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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

Midianites

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Mid´ianites, a tribe of people descended from Abraham's son Midian. His descendants must have settled in Arabia, and engaged in trade at an early period, if we identify them with those who in the time of Jacob appear, along with the Ishmaelites, as merchants traveling from Gilead to Egypt, and who, having in their way bought Joseph from his brethren, sold him in the latter country (; ). It is, however, very difficult to conceive that the descendants of a son of Abraham, born so many years after Isaac, had become a tribe of people at the time when the descendants of Isaac himself were so few. One is therefore much inclined to suppose that these Midianites were different and distinct from those descended from Abraham's son; and there appears the more ground for this when at a later period we find two tribes of Midianites, different in locality and character, and different in their feelings towards the Israelites. If this distinction be admitted, then it would be necessary to seek the earlier Midianites in those dwelling about the eastern arm of the Red Sea, among whom Moses found refuge when 'he fled from Egypt,' and whose priest or sheikh was Jethro, who became the father-in-law of the future lawgiver (;; ). These, if not of Hebrew, would appear to have been of Cushite origin, and descended from Midian the son of Cush. We do not again meet with these Midianites in the Jewish history, but they appear to have remained for a long time settled in the same quarter, where indeed is the seat of the only Midianites known to Oriental authors.

The other Midianites, undoubtedly descended from Abraham and Keturah, occupied the country east and south-east of the Moabites, who were seated on the east of the Dead Sea; or rather, perhaps, we should say that, as they appear to have been a semi-nomad people, they pastured their flocks in the unsettled country beyond the Moabites, with whom, as a kindred, although more settled tribe, they seem to have been on the most friendly terms, and on whose borders were situated those 'cities and goodly castles which they possessed' (). These Midianites, like the other tribes and nations who had a common origin with them, were highly hostile to the Israelites. In conjunction with the Moabites, they designedly enticed them to idolatry as they approached Canaan (;;; ); on which account Moses attacked them with a strong force, killed all their fighting men, including their five princes or emirs, and made the women and children captives (Numbers 31). The account of the spoil confirms the view which we have taken of the semi-nomad position of the Midianites—namely, 675,000 sheep, 72,000 beeves, 61,000 asses, 32,000 persons. This was only the 'prey,' or live stock; but besides this there was a great quantity of 'barbaric pearl and gold,' in the shape of 'jewels of gold, chains, and bracelets, rings, earrings, and tablets.'

Sometime after the Israelites obtained possession of Canaan, the Midianites had become so numerous and powerful, that, for seven successive years, they made inroads into the Hebrew territory in the time of harvest, carrying off the fruits and cattle, and desolating the land. At length Gideon was raised up as the deliverer of his country, and his triumph was so complete that the Israelites were never more molested by them (; Judges 7; Judges 8). To this victory there are subsequent allusions in the sacred writings (;;; ); but the Midianites do not again appear in sacred or profane history.

 

 

 

 

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Midianites'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/m/midianites.html.

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