(Phi·lisʹti·a), Philistines (Phi·lisʹtines).
Covering an area from a point near Joppa in the N down to Gaza in the S, Philistia stretched for about 80 km (50 mi) along the Mediterranean Sea (Ex 23:31) and extended some 24 km (15 mi) inland. “The sea of the Philistines” evidently refers to the part of the Mediterranean that bordered the coast of Philistia. The sand dunes along the coast penetrate the land for a considerable distance, sometimes for as much as 6 km (3.5 mi). Apart from this, the region is fertile and supports grain, olive groves, and fruit trees.
During a major part of the Hebrew Scripture period, the Philistines occupied the coastal plain and were among Israel’s avowed enemies. (Isa 9:12; 11:14) An uncircumcised (2Sa 1:20), polytheistic people (Jg 16:23; 2Ki 1:2; see BAAL-ZEBUB; DAGON), the Philistines superstitiously consulted their priests and diviners to make decisions. (1Sa 6:2; compare Isa 2:6.) And their warriors, when going into battle, carried idols of their gods. (2Sa 5:21) Within their land, known as Philistia (Ex 15:14; Ps 60:8; 87:4; 108:9; Isa 14:29, 31), lay the cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. For centuries each of these cities was ruled over by an axis lord.—Jos 13:3; 1Sa 29:7; see AXIS LORDS.
History. The island of Crete (usually held to be identical with Caphtor), though not necessarily the original home of the Philistines, was the place from which they migrated to the coast of Canaan. (Jer 47:4; Am 9:7; see CAPHTOR; CRETE.) Just when this migration began is uncertain. However, as early as the time of Abraham and his son Isaac, Philistines resided at Gerar in southern Canaan. They had a king, Abimelech, and an army under the command of a certain Phicol.—Ge 20:1, 2; 21:32-34; 26:1-18; see ABIMELECH Nos. 1 and 2.
Some object to the Genesis references to Philistine residence in Canaan, arguing that the Philistines did not settle there until the 12th century B.C.E. But this objection does not rest on a solid basis. The New Bible Dictionary edited by J. Douglas (1985, p. 933) observes: “Since the Philistines are not named in extra-biblical inscriptions until the 12th century BC, and the archaeological remains associated with them do not appear before this time, many commentators reject references to them in the patriarchal period as anachronistic.” However, in showing why such a position is not sound, mention is made of the evidence of a major expansion of Aegean trade reaching back to about the 20th century B.C.E. It is pointed out that a particular group’s not being prominent enough to be mentioned in the inscriptions of other nations does not prove that the group did not exist. The conclusion reached in that New Bible Dictionary is: “There is no reason why small groups of Philistines could not have been among the early Aegean traders, not prominent enough to be noticed by the larger states.”
When Israel left Egypt in 1513 B.C.E., Jehovah chose not to lead the Israelites by way of Philistia (the most direct route from Egypt to the Promised Land), lest they become discouraged because of immediate warfare and decide to return to Egypt. (Ex 13:17) The Philistines likely would not view the approach of millions of Israelites as mere international traffic, which normally flowed through their land. They were then a settled people, whereas the Sinai region to which Jehovah directed Israel had largely nomadic tribes and many unsettled regions into which Israel could enter without provoking immediate conflict.
At the time aged Joshua apportioned the land W of the Jordan, the Philistine territories were still untouched by the conquest. (Jos 13:2, 3) Later, however, the men of Judah did capture three of the main Philistine cities, Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron. But this was only a partial victory, for Judah “could not dispossess the inhabitants of the low plain, because they had war chariots with iron scythes.”—Jg 1:18, 19.
In the time of Judges. For years thereafter, the continuance of the Philistines and other peoples in Canaan served to test Israel’s obedience to Jehovah. (Jg 3:3, 4) Time and again they failed the test by adopting false worship. Therefore Jehovah abandoned the Israelites to their enemies, including the Philistines. (Jg 10:6-8) But when they cried to him for aid, he mercifully raised up judges to deliver them. (Jg 2:18) One of these judges, Shamgar, struck down 600 Philistines using a mere cattle goad. (Jg 3:31) Years later, as had been foretold before his birth, Samson took “the lead in saving Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Jg 13:1-5) Evidence of the extent of Philistine control early in Samson’s judgeship can be seen in that, to avoid trouble, men of Judah on one occasion even delivered up Samson to them.—Jg 15:9-14.
The prophet Samuel witnessed oppression from the Philistines and also shared in defeating them. While he was serving at the tabernacle in Shiloh during the final part of High Priest Eli’s judgeship, the Philistines struck down about 4,000 Israelites in the area of Aphek and Ebenezer. The Israelites then had the sacred Ark brought to the battlefield, thinking that this would bring them victory. The Philistines intensified their efforts. Thirty thousand Israelites were slain, and the Ark was captured. (1Sa 4:1-11) The Philistines took the Ark to the temple of their god Dagon at Ashdod. Twice the image of this god fell on its face. The second time the idol itself was broken. (1Sa 5:1-5) The Ark was then passed from one Philistine city to another. Wherever it went, there came to be panic and pestilence. (1Sa 5:6-12) Finally, seven months after the capture, the Ark was returned to Israel.—1Sa 6:1-21.
Some 20 years later (1Sa 7:2), the Philistines marched against the Israelites who were, at Samuel’s direction, assembled at Mizpah for worship. This time Jehovah threw the Philistines into confusion, enabling his people to subdue them. Later, “the cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel kept coming back to Israel from Ekron to Gath.”—1Sa 7:5-14.
Saul’s reign until subjugation by David. However, this did not end Israel’s difficulties with the Philistines. (1Sa 9:16; 14:47) Apparently before Saul’s reign they had established garrisons in Israelite territory. (Compare 1Sa 10:5; 13:1-3.) The Philistines were strong enough to prohibit the Israelites from having their own smiths, thereby keeping them disarmed. This also forced the Israelites to go to them to have their agricultural implements sharpened. (1Sa 13:19-22) The situation was so severe that even Hebrews sided with the Philistines against fellow Israelites. (1Sa 14:21) Nevertheless, with Jehovah’s help, Saul’s first major campaign against the Philistines resulted in Israel’s striking them down from Michmash to Aijalon.—1Sa 13:1–14:31; see MICHMAS(H).
Later, upon recovering from this defeat, the Philistines assembled their forces to fight against Israel. The two armies took their position on opposite sides of the Low Plain of Elah, in Judah. Morning and evening, for 40 days, the warrior Goliath emerged from the Philistine camp, challenging Israel to supply a man to fight him in single combat. (1Sa 17:1-10, 16) This challenge was answered by the shepherd David, who struck Goliath to the earth with a stone from his sling and used Goliath’s own sword to put him to death. (1Sa 17:48-51) The Israelites then pursued the fleeing Philistines, striking them down as far as the cities of Gath and Ekron.—1Sa 17:52, 53.
Thereafter David continued waging successful warfare against the Philistines. When he would return from battle, the women, in celebration of the victory, would say: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” (1Sa 18:5-7; see also 1Sa 18:25-27, 30; 19:8.) This caused Saul to become jealous of David, finally resulting in David’s having to run for his life. He fled to the Philistine city of Gath. (1Sa 18:8, 9; 20:33; 21:10) There the servants of King Achish appear to have sought David’s death. But by disguising his sanity, he was able to leave the city unharmed. (1Sa 21:10-15) Sometime thereafter David, though still pursued by Saul, saved the Judean city of Keilah from Philistine pillagers. (1Sa 23:1-12) A later Philistine raid in Israelite territory forced Saul to turn back temporarily from chasing David.—1Sa 23:27, 28; 24:1, 2.
Because of continually being hunted by Saul, David again decided to take refuge in Philistine territory. Received favorably by King Achish of Gath, David was given the city of Ziklag. (1Sa 27:1-6) A year or two later, when the Philistines were preparing to fight against Saul’s forces, King Achish, believing that David had become “a stench among his people Israel,” invited him to go along. But the other Philistine axis lords did not trust David, and at their insistence, he and his men returned to Philistia. In the ensuing conflict with Israel, the Philistines gained a decisive victory and Saul and three of his sons perished.—1Sa 27:12; 28:1-5; 29:1-11; 31:1-13; 1Ch 10:1-10, 13; 12:19.
When David was finally anointed as king over all Israel, the Philistines invaded the Low Plain of Rephaim (SW of Jerusalem) but suffered humiliating defeat. (2Sa 5:17-21; 1Ch 14:8-12) A later Philistine offensive likewise ended in victory for Israel. (2Sa 5:22-25; 1Ch 14:13-16) During his reign David fought numerous other battles with the Philistines and succeeded in subduing them. On one occasion, however, he nearly lost his life.—2Sa 8:1; 21:15-22; 1Ch 18:1; 20:4-8.
From Solomon’s reign onward. For years after that there is no record of warfare with the Philistines. David’s son Solomon enjoyed a peaceful reign (1037-998 B.C.E.), and his dominions extended as far as the Philistine city of Gaza.—1Ki 4:21-25; 2Ch 9:26.
Some 20 years after the ten-tribe kingdom came into existence, the Philistines occupied Gibbethon, a city in Dan. While trying to take the city, Israel’s King Nadab was killed by Baasha, who subsequently began to reign as king. (Jos 19:40, 44; 1Ki 15:27, 28) Gibbethon was still under Philistine control some 24 years later when Omri, army chief of Israel, encamped against it.—1Ki 16:15-17.
While Jehoshaphat reigned (936-c. 911 B.C.E.), the Philistines were evidently subject to him, for they brought gifts and tribute. (2Ch 17:11) But, during the rule of his son Jehoram, the Philistines and Arabs invaded Judah and carried away considerable spoil from Jerusalem. They also took captive Jehoram’s wives and sons—all except the youngest, Jehoahaz. (2Ch 21:16, 17) Decades later Judean King Uzziah successfully warred against the Philistines, capturing Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. He even built cities in Philistine territory. (2Ch 26:6-8) However, the reign of Uzziah’s grandson Ahaz saw the Philistines capture, and take up residence in, a number of Israelite cities all the way from the Negeb up to the northern border of the kingdom of Judah. (2Ch 28:18) Ahaz’ son Hezekiah, in fulfillment of a prophecy uttered by Isaiah (14:28, 29), struck down the Philistines clear to Gaza.—2Ki 18:8.
Prophetic References. The prophecy of Joel indicated that because of their selling “the sons of Judah” and “the sons of Jerusalem” to “the sons of the Greeks,” the Philistines would experience like treatment. (Joe 3:4-8) Since the words of the prophet Joel appear to have been recorded in the ninth century B.C.E., the defeats of the Philistines at the hands of Uzziah (2Ch 26:6-8) and Hezekiah (2Ki 18:8) could have been included in the fulfillment of this prophecy.
However, a larger fulfillment evidently came after the Israelites returned from Babylonian exile. Notes commentator C. F. Keil: “Alexander the Great and his successors set many of the Jewish prisoners of war in their lands at liberty (compare the promise of King Demetrius to Jonathan, ‘I will send away in freedom such of the Judaeans as have been made prisoners, and reduced to slavery in our land,’ Josephus, Ant. xiii. 2, 3), and portions of the Philistian and Phoenician lands were for a time under Jewish sway.” (Commentary on the Old Testament, 1973, Vol. X, Joel, p. 224) (Compare Ob 19, 20.) Noteworthy, too, is the fact that Alexander the Great took the Philistine city of Gaza. Many of the inhabitants were slain, and the survivors were sold into slavery. A number of other prophecies likewise pointed to the execution of Jehovah’s vengeance upon the Philistines.—Isa 14:31; Jer 25:9, 20; 47:1-7; Eze 25:15, 16; Am 1:6-8; Zep 2:5; Zec 9:5-7; for details see ASHDOD; ASHKELON; EKRON; GATH; GAZA No. 1.
At Ezekiel 16:27, “the daughters of the Philistines” are depicted as being humiliated on account of Jerusalem’s loose conduct. (Eze 16:2) The reason for this appears to be that Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness to her God Jehovah was without parallel, for the Philistines and other peoples had held fast to the worship of their false gods.—Compare Jer 2:10, 11.