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The Five Philistine Cities

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The Philistines and Their Five City Strongholds

 

Location

 

The Philistine territory encompassed the southern coastal plain of Israel. They occupied five city-states that controlled a major travel route connecting Africa with Asia and Europe called the Via Maris.

The cities of the Philistines were Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza, Ekron, and Gath.

Historical Background

 

1. The Philistines were an ancient people who lived on the south coast of Canaan from around 2000 BC until 604 BC. From around 715 BC to 604 BC they were controlled by the Assyrian Empire and then destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. 

 

2. After becoming part of the Babylonian Empire and later part of the Persian Empire, they lost their distinct ethnic identity and disappeared from the historical and archaeological record by the late 5th century BC. 

 

3. The Philistines are best known in the Bible for their biblical conflict with the Israelites. The Philistines are mentioned around 222 times in the Bible, beginning with Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, and ending with Zechariah, the second to the last book of the Old Testament.

4. It appears that a sea people called the Peleset, from the Aegean Sea area, settled and mixed in with the Philistines in around 1155 BC.

5. The Philistines worshiped the false god, Dagon, a god of fertility. A couple of references to Dagon temples in the Philistinian cities of Gaza and Ashdod are mentioned in Judges 16:23, and 1 Samuel 5:2-5.

The Five Philistine City Strongholds

1. Ashdod

1. Ashdod is located on the Mediterranean Sea and is the northernmost city of the five Philistine cities.

 

2. It's about 18 miles (29 km.) south of Jaffa and Tel Aviv.  

 

3. Tel Ashod is just about 2.75 miles (4.5 km.) inland from the sea. It remains in its natural form and has had some excavations carried out but not extensive ones.

4. It appears that the city was large and extended all the way to the sea, or had another part of the city that was by the sea.

5. During the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua and the Israelites, giants known as Anakim were found here (Josh. 11:22). Ashdod was allotted to Judah, but they failed to conquer it (Josh. 13:3, 15:46–47). 

6. During the time of Samuel, Ashdod, and the other main cities of the Philistines were still independent. 

7. Ashdod was conquered and came under the authority of Assyria in around 711 BC. Later, Babylon conquered it as well in around 605 BC.  

8. In later times, the Ashdod-Yam Fortress (also called Qal’at el-Mina) was built by Caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705 C.E) at the end of the seventh century AD on the ruins of a Byzantine settlement. The fortress was part of a coastal defense system designed to prevent a Byzantine invasion from the sea. The system consisted of a string of strongholds along the Mediterranean Sea situated in sight of one another. In times of danger, massages were conveyed by means of beacons of fire (by night) and smoke signals (by day). In 1033, the fortress was destroyed by an earthquake and abandoned. It was reconstructed and resettled during the Crusader Period, (12th and 13th centuries AD). Its name was changed to Castellum Beroart. It was finally abandoned after the Crusaders were banished from the country in 1290.

Ashdod in the Bible

1. The Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and took it to Ashdod and placed it in the House of Dagon (their false god).

1 Samuel 5:1-2: Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon, and placed it beside Dagon.

The Ark may have resided in the house of their false god, Dagon, which could have been by the sea. From Ashdod, the Ark was taken to Gath.

2. God prophesied that a people of mixed origins or nationalities would live in Ashdod and among the Philistines. This was certainly fulfilled in history and can even be seen today.

Zechariah 9:6: And a people of mixed origins will live in Ashdod, and I will eliminate the pride of the Philistines.

3. Ashdod was the recipient of many prophecies proclaiming its doom and destruction.

Isaiah 20:11, Amos 1:8, Jeremiah 25:20, and Zechariah 2:4, 9:6. However, Ashdod continued to be inhabited as the Jews intermarried with its inhabitants after their return from Babylon (Neh. 13:23–24). 

4. In the New Testament, Ashdod is called Azotus.
Acts 8:40: But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

 

2. Ashkelon

1. Ashkelon is located just south of Ashdod, it also is on the Mediterranean Ocean and was one of the five cities of the Philistines. The origin of the name Ashkelon appears to come from the word “shekel,” denoting a measure of weight – a fitting name for a commercial port city. The specific name Ashkelon is mentioned in the Egyptian execration texts of the 19th century BC, and it appears again in other, later Egyptian inscriptions. 

2. Ashkelon has the world's oldest Canaanite Gate in the world that dates back to almost 4000 years ago.

Ashkelon in the Bible

1. Joshua and the Israelites conquered Ashkelon in the conquest of the Promised Land (Josh. 13:3), and it was allotted to Judah, who then occupied it (Judg. 1:18).  

 

2. One of the golden tumors (emerods) that was returned with the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines was from Ashkelon.

1 Samuel 6:17: Now these are the gold tumors which the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the Lord: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, and one for Ekron.

3. Askelon is mentioned by David when, after Saul and Jonathan die, David laments and mourns over them.

2 Samuel 1:19-20: Your beauty, Israel, is slaughtered on your high places! How the mighty have fallen! 20 Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate.

4. Ashkelon was also denounced by Jeremiah (Jer. 25:20, 47:5–7), Zephaniah (2:4–7), and Zechariah (9:5).

3. Gaza

1. Gaza is located south of Ashkelon and Ashdod, it also is on the Mediterranean Ocean and was one of the cities of the Philistine Pentapolis. It is the southernmost city. Today, virtually no ruins remain from this city as it has been destroyed in later years due to what appears to be political reasons.

2. It was on a hill rising about 200 ft. (61 m.) above the valley floor. There were sand dunes between it and the sea, which was about 2 miles away.

 

3. Today, because ancient Gaza lies in the Gaza Strip, where land is scarce and Israeli interests are not valued, the remains of ancient Gaza are practically nonexistent. 

Gaza in the Bible

1. In the conquest of the Promised Land, Joshua and the Israelites failed to conquer Gaza, along with several other main cities of the Philistines (Josh. 10:41, 11:22). 

2. Later, the tribe of Judah captured Gaza but couldn’t control it for long, and it fell back into the hands of the Philistines (Judg. 1:18). 

3. Samson had many encounters with the Philistines. In one encounter, Samson carried heavy gates from Gaza all the way to the Hebron area, a distance of around 42 miles (72 km.).

Judges 16:1: Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a prostitute there, and had relations with her.

 

Judges 16:3: Now Samson lay asleep until midnight, and at midnight he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two doorposts, and pulled them up along with the bars; then he put them on his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of the mountain which is opposite Hebron.

4. Samson met his death in Gaza.

Judges 16:28-30: Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Then Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left. 30 And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he pushed outwards powerfully, so that the house fell on the governors and all the people who were in it. And the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed during his lifetime.

5. After the Philistines defeated the Israelites in battle and captured the Ark of the Covenant during the priesthood of Eli and his two wicked sons, Gaza, along with the other main cities of the Philistines, sent a trespass offering to God when the ark was returned to the Israelites at Beth-Shemesh (1 Sam. 6:17–18). 

 

6. When Hezekiah reigned, he defeated and pursued the Philistines to Gaza but did not seem to have captured the city. However, the Assyrians later captured it in 720 BC. 

 

7. In the New Testament, Philip was sent to Gaza to evangelize the Ethiopian eunuch.

Acts 8:26: But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Get ready and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

4. Gath

1. Gath (Tell Es-Safi) is located east of Ashkelon about 17 miles (28 km.) The word Gath means “winepress.”

2. Gath was one of the five main cities of the Philistines (Josh. 13:3; 1 Sam. 6:17). 

 

3. The site is a large, multi-period site that is made up of many layers. Each layer represents a different phase in the history of the site.

 

4. Tell Es-Safi has a long history of settlement. The site was first settled sometime around 5000 BC. It has been continually settled until modern times. The last settlement there was an Arab village that was abandoned during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. 

 

5. It was a well-fortified walled city (2 Chron. 26:6).

 

6. Joshua and the Israelites were unable to conquer Gath despite the numerous conflicts between the Israelites and the inhabitants of Gath.

 

7. It wasn’t until King David that the city was conquered and became part of the Israelite Kingdom (1 Chron. 18:1).

 

8. Its name is most remembered as the home of the giant, Goliath, whom David slew (1 Sam. 17:4).

Gath in the Bible

1. It has archaeological remains that are unusual that reveal giants once lived here. This is affirmed by the Bible.

1 Chronicles 20:8: These were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants. It was also the hometown of the warrior Goliath, who appears in the Bible. 

2. It was one of the Philistine cities where the Ark of the Covenant resided before being taken to Ekron.

1 Samuel 5:8: So they sent word and gathered all the governors of the Philistines to them, and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” And they said, “Have the ark of the God of Israel brought to Gath.” So they took the ark of the God of Israel away.

3. Goliath, the giant that young David slew was from Gath.

1 Samuel 17:4: Then a champion came forward from the army encampment of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath. His height was six cubits and a span.

4. When King Saul was seeking to kill David, David went to Gath to hide from Saul and acted like a crazy person because he feared the king of Gath.

1 Samuel 21:10-15: Then David set out and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath. 11 But the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David, the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten  thousands’?” 12 David took these words to heart and greatly feared Achish king of Gath. 13 So he disguised his sanity while in their sight and acted insanely in their custody, and he scribbled on the doors of the gate, and drooled on his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Look, you see the man is behaving like an insane person. Why do you bring him to me? 15 Do I lack insane people, that you have brought this one to behave like an insane person in my presence? Shall this one come into my house?”

5. Later, when King Saul was again pursuing David to kill him, David fled and lived in Gath for a while.

1 Samuel 27:2-3: So David set out and went over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath. And David lived with Achish in Gath, he and his men, each with his own household—David with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal’s widow.

5. Ekron

1. Ekron is located east of Ashdod and the Mediterranean Sea about 13 miles (20 km.) 

 

2. In archeological terms, Tel Ekron (Tel Miqne-Ekron) is significant because it is one of the largest Iron Age sites in Israel.

 

3. More than 100 oil presses were found here, as well as the Ekron Inscription, which clearly identifies the site as Philistine, Ekron.

 

4. Just to the west of Tel Ekron is Kibbutz Revadim, where a Museum of the History of Philistine Culture shows a reconstructed Philistine street with many artifacts.

Ekron in the Bible

1. Joshua and the Israelites failed to conquer Ekron in the conquest of the Promised Land as found in Joshua 13:3.

 

2. It was allotted to Judah in the division of the land and then to the tribe of Dan as found in Joshua chapters 15-19.

3. However, the tribe of Dan failed to conquer the area and moved to the northern part of Israel. Judah wound up conquering Ekron and inhabiting it as found in Judges 1:18. 

4. Ekron was one of the Philistine cities where the Ark of the Covenant resided before being returned to the Israelites at Beth Shemesh.

1 Samuel 5:10: So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And as the ark of God came to Ekron, the Ekronites cried out, saying, “They have brought the ark of the God of Israel to us, to kill us and our people!”

1 Samuel 6:13-16: Now the people of Beth-shemesh were gathering in their wheat harvest in the valley, and they raised their eyes and saw the ark, and rejoiced at seeing it. 14 And the cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite and stopped there where there was a large stone; and they split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the saddlebag that was with it, in which were the articles of gold, and put them on the large stone; and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices that day to the Lord. 16 When the five governors of the Philistines saw it, they returned to Ekron that day.

5. After David killed Goliath in the Valley of Elah, the Israelites pursued and defeated the Philistines all the way to Ekron.

1 Samuel 17:52: Then the men of Israel and Judah rose up and shouted, and they pursued the Philistines as far as the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the Philistine dead lay along the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath and Ekron.

6. Ekron is included, among other cities, in pronouncements of judgment by the prophets Amos 1:8, Jeremiah 25:20, Zephaniah 2:4, and Zechariah 9:5–7.

The Philistines in the Bible

 

1. According to Genesis 10:6-14, the Philistines were descendants of Ham, one of Noah's sons. 
Genesis 10:13-14: Mizraim fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom came the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

 

2. At Beersheba, Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech, king of the Philistines.

Genesis 21:32: So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, got up and returned to the land of the Philistines.

Genesis 26:1: Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines.

3. Abraham lived in the territory of the Philistines which included much of the Negev (southern part of Israel). 

Genesis 21:34: And Abraham resided in the land of the Philistines for many days.

 

4. In the book of Judges, God used the Philistines to punish the Israelites because of their disobedience.

Judges 10:7: And the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the sons of Ammon.

5. King Saul fought against the Philistines all throughout his reign.

1 Samuel 14:52: Now the war against the Philistines was severe all the days of Saul; and when Saul saw any warrior or any valiant man, he attached him to his staff.

6. The well-known story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 takes place in the Valley of Elah just east of Gath, which was the hometown of Goliath.

1 Samuel 17:1-3:  Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Saul and the men of Israel were assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah, and they drew up in battle formation to confront the Philistines. The Philistines were standing on the mountain on one side, while Israel was standing on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them.

7. When Saul pursued David, David fled and lived with the Philistines.

1 Samuel 27:1: Then David said to himself, “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to safely escape into the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.”

8. The Philistines killed King Saul and his sons in battle.

1 Samuel 31:2: And the Philistines also overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines killed Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul.

 

9. King David defeated the Philistines and subdued them.

2 Samuel 8:1: Now it happened afterward that David defeated the Philistines and subdued them; and David took control of the chief city from the hand of the Philistines.

10. During King Saul's time, he ruled over the Philistines.

1 Kings 4:21: Now Solomon was ruling over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.

11. God prophesied that the cities of Gaza Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron would become desolate. This prophecy has certainly come to pass.

Zephaniah 2:4: For Gaza will be abandoned, and Ashkelon will become a desolation; the inhabitants of Ashdod will be driven out at noon, and Ekron will be uprooted.

Faith Lesson from the Philistines

 

1. God used the Philistines to punish the Israelites because they turned away from Him and followed false gods. In the same way, God often uses people in our lives to get us back on track with the Lord when we stray.

 

2. God revealed Himself as the Creator and true Lord to the Philistines on different occasions so they would know He was the true God. God reveals Himself to everyone through His creation so that everyone is without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

3. Any person from any nation was welcome to join in the Jewish faith and obtain salvation and be right with God. The Philistines had this opportunity like every other nation.

4. What about us? Are we right with God and letting our lights shine to a world that needs God and His salvation through Jesus Christ?

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