(A·zeʹkah) [from a root meaning “dig up” [that is, hoe]].
A city in the Shephelah region, guarding the upper reaches of the Valley of Elah. The site is identified as Tell Zakariyeh (Tel ʽAzeqa), about 26 km (16 mi) NW of Hebron.
The first mention of the city occurs at Joshua 10:5-11 with regard to the combined attack of five Canaanite kings against Gibeon. Joshua and his army, coming to the relief of Gibeon, chased the Canaanite armies “as far as Azekah and Makkedah,” a distance of about 30 km (19 mi). The city was thereafter assigned to the tribe of Judah.
During the reign of King Saul (1117-1078 B.C.E.) the Philistines massed their forces between Socoh and Azekah, putting forth Goliath as their champion. When the Israelites arrived, the two armies faced each other across the Valley of Elah until David’s surprise victory over Goliath put the Philistines to flight.
At the division of the nation following Solomon’s death (c. 998 B.C.E.), King Rehoboam of Judah fortified Azekah along with Lachish and other strategic cities. (2Ch 11:5-10) Excavations made at Tell Zakariyeh reveal the remains of walls and towers and evidence of a fortified citadel at the location’s highest point.
When Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian troops overran the kingdom of Judah (609-607 B.C.E.), Azekah and Lachish were the last two fortified cities to fall before the overthrow of Jerusalem itself. (Jer 34:6, 7) Apparent confirmation of this was revealed by the discovery of the inscribed ostraca called the Lachish Letters, one of them containing the following message, evidently directed by a military outpost to the military commander at Lachish, which reads in part: “we are watching for the signals of Lachish, according to all the indications which my lord hath given, for we cannot see Azekah.” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. B. Pritchard, 1974, p. 322) If, as seems to be the case, this letter was written at the time of the Babylonian attack, it would indicate that Azekah had already fallen so that no signals were being received from that fortress.