A city of the Philistine axis lords. (1Sa 6:17, 18) Situated as it was, to the E of the Plain of Philistia, Gath figured prominently in the Israelite-Philistine seesaw domination of the area. Gath was the birthplace of Goliath and other giant warriors, and it was occupied by the Anakim at the time that Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. (Jos 11:22; 1Sa 17:4; 2Sa 21:15-22; 1Ch 20:4-8) The residents of Gath were called Gittites.—Jos 13:3.
Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land did not include the territory occupied by the Philistines. This was to be accomplished later. Nevertheless, when Jehovah instructed Joshua to assign the territory to the tribes, Judah’s assignment included the territory in which Gath was located.—Jos 13:2, 3; 15:1, 5, 12.
In Samuel’s day the captured ark of the covenant was brought to Gath, with disastrous consequences to the city’s inhabitants. (1Sa 5:8, 9) Shortly thereafter, Israel subdued the Philistines, and certain cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel “kept coming back to Israel from Ekron to Gath.” (1Sa 7:14) Later, when David slew the Gittite giant Goliath, Israel pursued the Philistines as far as Ekron and Gath.—1Sa 17:23, 48-53.
After this, when David was forced to flee from Saul, he took refuge in Gath. When the servants of Achish the king of Gath began to say: “Is not this David the king of the land?” David became afraid and feigned insanity in order to escape. (1Sa 21:10-15) David composed two psalms recalling this experience in Gath. (Ps 34:Sup; 56:Sup) On David’s next visit to Gath, however, he came, not as a lone fugitive, but as the leader of 600 warriors and their families. No doubt anxious to secure David’s support against Saul, Achish granted him and his men safe residence in the town of Ziklag until Saul was killed 16 months later, after which David moved to Hebron. (1Sa 27:2–28:2; 29:1-11; 2Sa 1:1; 2:1-3) In his dirge over Saul and Jonathan, David noted that the news of Saul’s death would cause rejoicing and exultation in the Philistine cities of Gath and Ashkelon.—2Sa 1:20.
During David’s reign, Gath and its dependent towns came into Israelite hands. (1Ch 18:1) Some men from Gath became loyal supporters of David, and when David fled from Absalom, there were 600 Gittites among those who went with him. (2Sa 15:18) But during Solomon’s rule Achish was still referred to as king of Gath. (1Ki 2:39-41) Evidently Achish was a vassal prince and not a king in the usual sense. (See AXIS LORDS.) Solomon’s successor Rehoboam rebuilt and fortified Gath.—2Ch 11:5-8.
King Hazael of Syria captured Gath from King Jehoash of Judah sometime after Jehoash’s 23rd year (876 B.C.E.). (2Ki 12:6, 17) The Philistines must have regained control of the city later, for Uzziah recaptured it in his campaign against them. (2Ch 26:3, 6) The prophets Amos and, afterward, Micah refer to Gath as a foreign city. (Am 6:2; Mic 1:10) Following the Assyrian king Sargon’s boast of conquering it not long after 740 B.C.E., there are no further historical references to Gath, and later Biblical mention of Philistine cities does not include it.—Zep 2:4; Jer 25:17, 20; Zec 9:5, 6.
The exact location of Gath is unknown. Although several sites have been proposed, archaeological excavations at most of these sites did not fit the historical description of the city of Gath. Some scholars now favor Tell es-Safi (Tel Zafit), 18.5 km (11.5 mi) ESE of Ashdod. Yohanan Aharoni states: “Since there remains no suitable tell in this more southerly region, we should reconsider an earlier proposal to equate Gath with Tell es-Safi. This is a large and outstanding site with a contemporary lower city spread out at its feet in which an abundance of Philistine pottery was discovered. Its position at the point where the Wadi es-Sant (the Valley of Elah) enters the western Shephelah corresponds nicely with the account of David’s victory over Goliath the Gittite. Their fight took place farther east between Sochoh and Azekah (1 Sam. 17.1), and afterwards the Israelites pursued the Philistines ‘as far as Gath . . . and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron’ (vs. 52).”—The Land of the Bible, translated and edited by A. Rainey, 1979, p. 271.