The Land of Midian and the Red Sea

It is an important key to discovering the pathway of exodus from Egypt to know where the land of Midian is. The land of Midian is where Moses ran away and settled down, and also where Jethro’s home town was. This is precisely where the Mountain Sinai is located.  Similarly, the pathway out of Egypt would change, depending on whether the Red Sea is in immediate vicinity to Egypt or at the Gulf of Aqaba.

The word “Midian”  appears 39 times in the Bible. The land of Midian is where Moses fled to after killing an Egyptian.

When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well (Exodus 2:15, NIV). Jethro who later became Moses’ father-in-law was a Midianite priest. Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock (Exodus 2:16, NIV).

Moses was married to Zippora, a daughter of Jethro, and lived in that land for 40 years. And he meets God in the midst…. “ Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up (Exodus 3:1-2, NIV).

It is self- evident by the context of the passage that Mountain Horeb was located in the Land of Midian.

Paul also double-confirms the fact that where Moses fled to was the Land of Midian.

When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons (Acts 7:29, NIV).

As Numbers 22:3-4 states “and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites. The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field,” the Moabite elders are described as the Midianite elders.

Many scholars agree on the fact that the land of Midian was the large territory in the northern Arabia, which is at the east side of Gulf of Aqaba. In other words, it is the northern area of  today’s Saudi Arabia. This means that it is not in Sinai Peninsula. The fact that the land of Midian is located in Arabia is also revealed in the Book of Isaiah.

Herds of camels will cover your land,
young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
bearing gold and incense
and proclaiming the praise of the Lord (Isaiah 60:6, NIV).

Even the ancient historians testify about the land of Midian, which supports the argument that Mountain Sinai is in Saudi. Josephus, a renown first century historian, defined the land of Midian as ‘The east of Gulf of Aqaba of the Red Sea within the Arabian Peninsula.’ An influential second century geographer Ptolemy also recorded that the land of Midian was ‘the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, the adjacent area next to the north west of Arabia.’ A third century well-respected theologian Origen also confirmed that the land of Midian was ‘an area covering the northwestern side of Arabia to east of the Red Sea (The Gulf of Aqaba).’

 

The next area to look at is the location of the Red Sea. We believed in the past that Moses and the Israelites began their journey from Goshen and crossed the sea very close to Egypt, which we thought as the Red Sea. Yet this assumption poses many problems.

According to the Septuagint, the Red Sea is recorded as ‘Yam Suph’ in Hebrew. In Greek, it was translated to ‘Eruthra Thalassa,’ which in turn was translated into ‘the Red Sea’ in English. The ‘Yam’ refers to a ‘Sea,’ but the word ‘Suph’ does not mean ‘Red.’ This mistake was made because of a geographical error. The Gulf of Aqaba did not exist on the map when the Bible was translated. The Gulf of Aqaba appears on the world map only 38 years after Magellan’s voyage in 1522. The Gulf of Aqaba is not seen on any of the ancient maps. Alongside this situation, the Red Sea ends up being recorded as ‘Reed Sea’ in the German Bible translated by Martin Luther in 1534, which misled people to recognize it as the sea with reeds.

The word ‘Yam Sup’ appears 24 times in the Hebrew Bible. Yet there are passages that do not make sense if we assume that this sea was a sea with reeds close to Egypt.

 

“I will establish your borders from the Red Sea[a] to the Mediterranean Sea,[b] and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you (Exodus 23:31, NIV).

The Red Sea appears in the process where the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, is mentioned. If it is referring to the sea adjacent to Egypt, it does not make sense to use it as a term indicating the border of Canaan. Rather, it sounds more natural to see it as the Gulf of Aqaba.

 

Also 1Kings, 9:26 states, “King Solomon also built ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath in Edom, on the shore of the Red Sea” (NIV).

The verse states that Edom was on the shore of Red Sea. When the fact that Edom was located in the southeast of Canaan, the east of Mountain Seir, is taken into consideration, the Red Sea adjacent to Egypt has nothing to do with Edom. Rather, it is much more natural to think of the Red Sea as the Gulf of Aqaba, in light of the fact that Ezion-geber is found right above the Gulf of Aqaba.

When all the above-mentioned records and logic are counted, the land of Midian is the south of Palestine, within Arabia Felix, the east of the Gulf of Aqaba, which means, in a nutshell, today’s Arabia. The land of Midian in the Bible was not referring to the land of Egypt within the Sinai Peninsula.

 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (Exodus 14:30-31, NIV).

Gaze at the entrance to the Red Sea across Nuweiba of Egypt along the shoreline of the Gulf of Aqaba. Watch God’s mighty hands that worked an extraordinary miracle through Moses who obeyed God’s command to stand at the Red Sea with the Israelites over two million and the livestock behind him. Remember that they crossed the Red Sea and entered into the land of Midian. We will travel toward the heart of Midian along the coastline right where the Israelites crossed the sea.