The Land of Midian

The heartland of Midian was located immediately east of the Gulf of Aqaba, although the Midianites’ nomadic lifestyle often took them far beyond this region and even into the land of Israel. The Bible mentions the Midianites as early as Joseph’s time (Genesis 37:25-36) and as late as Isaiah’s time (Isaiah 60:6), but they may have existed in some form into the time of the New Testament as well, because the first century writers Josephus and Ptolemy mention places named Madian (likely also called Madiam and Madiana) and Modiana. Genesis notes that the Midianites were descended from Abraham through his wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1-6), but when Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph is sold to Midianite traders while at Dothan in Canaan, it appears that they are also referred to as Ishmaelites, suggesting that there must have been some categorical overlapping of these groups by the Israelites. Later Moses fled to Midian after killing an Egyptian, and he married Zipporah, a daughter of the Midianite priest named Reuel (Exodus 2). Later Reuel (also called Jethro) visited Moses and assisted him while he was with the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Exodus 18). When the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, however, the Midianites were involved in the plot to bring Balaam to curse to the Israelites (Numbers 22:4-7), and they led the Israelites into idolatry, leading Moses to curse them (Numbers 25). Later, the Israelites later fought against the Midianites and defeated them (Numbers 31). During the time of the Judges, Midianites regularly raided places in Israel such as the Jezreel Valley (Judges 6:1-6), and the Lord raised up Gideon to defeat them. Centuries later Isaiah foretold of a time when the wealth of the nations, including Midian with its young camels, would be brought to Israel (Isaiah 6:1-7). Primarily because of Moses’ interactions with the Midianite Reuel, various mountain peaks within the land of Midian have been offered as possible locations of Mount Sinai, although the Bible specifically notes that Reuel (or Jethro) left Mount Sinai to return to his own land (Exodus 18:27; Numbers 10:30), suggesting that Mount Sinai was not located in Midian.

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