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Reference: Philistines


A celebrated people, who inhabited the southern seacoast of Canaan, which from them took the name of Philistia, Ps 60:8; 108:9, or Palestine. They seem originally to have migrated form Egypt to Caphtor, by which some understand Crete, and others with the ancients Cappadocia, Ge 10:14, and thence to have passed over to Palestine under the name of Caphtorim, where they drove out the Avim, who dwelt from Hazerim to Azzah, that is, Gaza, and swelt in their stead, De 2:23. The country they inhabited lay between the higher land of Judea and the Mediterranean, and was in the main a level and fertile territory. It resembles our own western prairies; and bears splendid crops year after year, though miserably cultivated and never manured.

The Philistines were a powerful people in Palestine, even in Abraham's time, B. C. 1900, for they had then kings and considerable cities, Ge 20.2; 21.32; Ex 13.17. They are not enumerated among the nations devoted to extermination with the seed of Canaan. Joshua, however, did not hesitate to attack them by command from the Lord, because they possessed various districts promised to Israel. But these conquests must have been ill maintained, since under the judges, at the time of Saul, and at the beginning of the reign of David, the Philistines had their own kings and lords. Their state was divided into five little principalities, at the head of each of which was a "lord," namely, Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron - and they oppressed Israel during the government of the high-priest Eli, that of Samuel, and during the reign of Saul, for about one hundred and twenty years. Shaamgar, Samson, Samuel, and Saul opposed them, and were victorious over them with great slaughter, at various times, but did not destroy their power, Jg 3:14; 1Sa 4; 7; 14; 31. They maintained their independence till David subdued them, 2Sa 5:17; 8, from which time they continued in subjection to the kings of Judah, down to the reign of Jehoram, son of Johoshaphat, when they revolted, 2Ch 21:16. Jehoram made war against them, and probably reduced them to obedience; for it is observed that they revolted again from Uzziah, who kept them under his sway using his whole reign, 2Ch 26:6-7. During the unfortunate reign of Ahaz, the Philistines made great havoc in the territory of Judah; but his son and successor Hezekiah again subdued them, 2Ch 28:18; 2Ki 18:8. They regained their full liberty, however, under the later kings of Judah; and we see by the menaces uttered against them by the prophets Isaiah, Amos, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, that they brought many calamities on Israel, for which God threatened to punish them with great misfortunes, Jer 47; Eze 25:15; Am 1:6-8; Ob 1:19; Zec 9:5. See also Ne 13:23. They were partially subdued by Esar-haddon king of Assyria and afterwards by Psammetichus king of Egypt; and there is great probability that they were reduced by Nebuchadnezzar, as well as the other people of Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine, during the siege of Tyre. They afterwards fell under the dominion of the Persians; then under that of Alexander the Great, who destroyed Gaza, the only city of the Philistines that dared to oppose him. They appear to have become entirely incorporated with the other inhabitants of the land under the Maccabees, and are no more mentioned as a distinct people. The ancient Philistines appear in sacred history as a warlike people, not strangers to the arts of life, Jg 15:5; 1Sa 13:20; worshippers of Baal and Ashtoreth, under the names of Baal-zebub and Dagon; having many priests and diviners, 1Sa 6:2; 2Ki 1:2; Isa 2:6. They appear to have been of the race of Shem, their language being akin to the Hebrew, yet distinct from it, Ne 13:24. Their land, once rich and covered with cities and towns, is now desolate, Zep 2:4-7.

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(Ge 10:14, R.V.; but in A.V., "Philistim"), a tribe allied to the Phoenicians. They were a branch of the primitive race which spread over the whole district of the Lebanon and the valley of the Jordan, and Crete and other Mediterranean islands. Some suppose them to have been a branch of the Rephaim (2Sa 21:16-22). In the time of Abraham they inhabited the south-west of Judea, Abimelech of Gerar being their king (Ge 21:32,34; 26:1). They are, however, not noticed among the Canaanitish tribes mentioned in the Pentateuch. They are spoken of by Amos (Am 9:7) and Jeremiah (Jer 47:4) as from Caphtor, i.e., probably Crete, or, as some think, the Delta of Egypt. In the whole record from Exodus to Samuel they are represented as inhabiting the tract of country which lay between Judea and Egypt (Ex 13:17; 15:14-15; Jos 13:3; 1Sa 4).

This powerful tribe made frequent incursions against the Hebrews. There was almost perpetual war between them. They sometimes held the tribes, especially the southern tribes, in degrading servitude (Jg 15:11; 1Sa 13:19-22); at other times they were defeated with great slaughter (1Sa 14:1-47; 17). These hostilities did not cease till the time of Hezekiah (2Ki 18:8), when they were entirely subdued. They still, however, occupied their territory, and always showed their old hatred to Israel (Eze 25:15-17). They were finally conquered by the Romans.

The Philistines are called Pulsata or Pulista on the Egyptian monuments; the land of the Philistines (Philistia) being termed Palastu and Pilista in the Assyrian inscriptions. They occupied the five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, in the south-western corner of Canaan, which belonged to Egypt up to the closing days of the Nineteenth Dynasty. The occupation took place during the reign of Rameses III. of the Twentieth Dynasty. The Philistines had formed part of the great naval confederacy which attacked Egypt, but were eventually repulsed by that Pharaoh, who, however, could not dislodge them from their settlements in Palestine. As they did not enter Palestine till the time of the Exodus, the use of the name Philistines in GE 26:1 must be proleptic. Indeed the country was properly Gerar, as in ch. 20.

They are called Allophyli, "foreigners," in the Septuagint, and in the Books of Samuel they are spoken of as uncircumcised. It would therefore appear that they were not of the Semitic race, though after their establishment in Canaan they adopted the Semitic language of the country. We learn from the Old Testament that they came from Caphtor, usually supposed to be Crete. From Philistia the name of the land of the Philistines came to be extended to the whole of "Palestine." Many scholars identify the Philistines with the Pelethites of 2Sa 8:18.

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The inhabitants of the Maritime Plain of Palestine (cf. art. Palestine, 1) from the period of the Judges onward to the 6th cent. or later. They are said to have come from Caphtor (Am 9:7; Jer 47:4; De 2:23), which is with much probability identified with Crete. At all events they came from over the sea.

Rameses III. of the XXth Egyptian dynasty encountered a piratical sea-faring people on the borders of Syria, whom he called Purusati (= Pulista or 'Philistines'). They afterwards made incursions on the northern coast of Egypt as well as on the coast of Palestine. In the latter country they gained a permanent foothold, owing to its disorganized condition. When Wenamon made his expedition to Lebanon for a king of the XXIst dynasty (c. 1100), a Philistine kingdom existed at Dor. (For these facts cf. Breasted, Ancient Records, iv. 274 ff., and History of Egypt, p. 513.)

The Philistines first make their appearance in Biblical history late in the period of the Judges, when Samson, of the tribe of Dan, is said to have waged his curious single-handed combats with them (Jg 13; 14; 15; 16). These conflicts were the natural result of the impact of the Philistines upon Israel's western border. The reference to the Philistines in Jg 3:31 is a later insertion (cf. Israel,

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Descendants, with the Caphtorim, of the Pathrusim, and the Casluhim, two clans descended from Ham. Ge 10:14; De 2:23; Jer 47:4; Am 9:7. They were found in the S.W. of Palestine when Abraham went to sojourn at Gerar, Gen. 20; and both Abraham and Isaac had certain contentions with them respecting the wells which they had digged. Ge 21:25-34; 26:1-18. They were a warlike people, which was the reason that God did not lead the Israelites near to them when He led them out of Egypt. Ex 13:17. It is probable that at first they were a sort of colony of Egypt. Their five cities commanded the coast road from Egypt to Syria, and there is proof that Egypt had a strong hold on Palestine before the arrival of Joshua; but it was then declining.

As they occupied a part of the promised land, the Israelites should have dispossessed them; but when Joshua was old 'all the borders of the Philistines' were still unoccupied by the Israelites. They represent the pretension and intrusion of man in the flesh into that which belongs to God. Nazariteship in Samson is God's way of deliverance, but the Nazarite utterly failed, and in the days of Eli the Israelites were conquered by them and the ark taken. When Saul was king he was in fear of them, and they were enabled to enter his dominions, and in a battle Saul and his sons lost their lives. It was by David, God's king, that the Philistines were really conquered, and under Solomon we find they were tributary.

When the kingdom of Israel was divided, the Philistines regained their independence more or less. God used them at times to punish His guilty people, and at other times gave those that served Him power over them. In the prophets destruction is pronounced upon their land and the remnant of the people. The five fortified cities of the Philistines, with their 'daughters' or dependent villages, were Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron. The Philistines were idolaters and worshipped Dagon, Ashtaroth and Baal-zebub. 1Sa 5:2; 31:10; 2Ki 1:2; Jer. 57; Eze 25:15-17; Am 1:7-8; Zep 2:5. PHILISTIM in Ge 10:14 is the same Hebrew word that is elsewhere translated Philistines.

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(immigrants), The origin of the Philistines is nowhere expressly stated in the Bible; but as the prophets describe them as "the Philistines-from Caphtor,"

Am 9:7

and "the remnant of the maritime district of Caphtor"

Jer 47:4

it is prima facie probable that they were the Caphtorim which came out of Caphtor" who expelled the Avim from their territory and occupied it; in their place,

De 2:23

and that these again were the Caphtorim mentioned in the Mosaic genealogical table among the descendants of Mizraim.

Ge 10:14

It has been generally assumed that Caphtor represents Crete, and that the Philistines migrated from that island, either directly or through Egypt, into Palestine. But the name Caphtor is more probably identified with the Egyptian Coptos. [CAPHTOR]

See Caphtor, Caphtorim

History. --The Philistines must have settled in the land of Canaan before the time of Abraham; for they are noticed in his day as a pastoral tribe in the neighborhood of Gerur.

Ge 21:32,34; 26:1,8

Between the times of Abraham and Joshua the Philistines had changed their quarters, and had advanced northward into the plain of Philistia. The Philistines had at an early period attained proficiency in the arts of peace. Their wealth was abundant,

Jg 16:5,19

and they appear in all respects to have been a prosperous people. Possessed of such elements of power, they had attained in the time of the judges an important position among eastern nations. About B.C. 1200 we find them engaged in successful war with the Sidonians. Justin xviii. 3. The territory of the Philistines having been once occupied by the Canaanites, formed a portion of the promised land, and was assigned the tribe of Judah.

Jos 15:2,12,45-47

No portion of it, however, was conquered in the lifetime of Joshua,

Jos 13:2

and even after his death no permanent conquest was effected,

Jg 3:3

though we are informed that the three cities of Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron were taken.

Jg 1:18

The Philistines soon recovered these, and commenced an aggressive policy against the Israelites, by which they gained a complete ascendancy over them. Individual heroes were raised up from time to time, such as Shamgar the son of Anath,

Jg 3:31

and still more Samson, Judg 13-16, but neither of these men succeeded in permanently throwing off the yoke. The Israelites attributed their past weakness to their want, of unity, and they desired a king, with the special object of leading them against the foe.

1Sa 8:20

Saul threw off the yoke; and the Philistines were defeated with great slaughter at Geba.

1Sa 13:3

They made no attempt to regain their supremacy for about twenty-five years, and the scene of the next contest shows the altered strength of the two parties. It was no longer in the central country, but in a ravine leading down to the Philistine plain, the valley of Elah, the position of which is about 14 miles southwest of Jerusalem. On this occasion the prowess of young David secured success to Israel, and the foe was pursued to the gates of Gath and Ekron.

1Sa 17:1

... The power of the Philistines was, however, still intact on their own territory. The border warfare was continued. The scene of the next conflict was far to the north, in the valley of Esdraelon. The battle on this occasion proved disastrous to the Israelites; Saul himself perished, and the Philistines penetrated across the Jordan and occupied the, forsaken cities.

1Sa 31:1-7

On the appointment of David to be king, he twice attacked them, and on each occasion with signal success, in the first case capturing their images, in the second pursuing them "from Geba until thou come to Gazer."

2Sa 5:17-25; 1Ch 14:8-16

Henceforth the Israelites appear as the aggressors. About seven years after the defeat at Rephaim, David, who had now consolidated his power, attacked them on their own soil end took Gath with its dependencies. The whole of Philistine was included in Solomon's empire. Later when the Philistines, joined by the Syrians and Assyrians, made war on the kingdom of Israel, Hezekiah formed an alliance with the Egyptians, as a counterpoise to the Assyrians, and the possession of Philistia became henceforth the turning-point of the struggle between the two great empires of the East. The Assyrians under Tartan, the general of Sargon, made an expedition against Egypt, and took Ashdod, as the key of that country.

Isa 20:1,4-5

Under Senacherib, Philistia was again the scene of important operations. The Assyrian supremacy was restored by Esarhaddon, and it seems probable that the Assyrians retained their hold on Ashdod until its capture, after a long siege, by Psammetichus. It was about this time that Philistia was traversed by vast Scythian horde on their way to Egypt. The Egyptian ascendancy was not as yet re-established, for we find the next king, Necho, compelled to besiege Gaza on his return from the battle of Megiddo. After the death of Necho the contest was renewed between the Egyptians and the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar, and the result was specially disastrous to the Philistines. The "old hatred" that the Philistines bore to the Jews was exhibited in acts of hostility at the time of the Babylonish captivity,

Eze 25:15-17

but on the return this was somewhat abated, for some of the Jews married Philistine women, to the great scandal of their rulers.

Ne 13:23-24

From this time the history of Philistia is absorbed in the struggles of the neighboring kingdoms. The latest notices of the Philistines as a nation occur in 1 Macc. 3-5. Institutions, religion, etc. --With regard to the institutions of the Philistines our information is very scanty, The five chief cities had, as early as the days of Joshua, constituted themselves into a confederacy, restricted however, in all probability, to matters of offence and defence. Each was under the government of a prince,

Jos 13:3; Jg 3:3


1Sa 18:30; 29:6

and each possessed its own territory. The Philistines appear to have been deeply imbued with superstition: they carried their idols with them on their campaigns,

2Sa 5:21

and proclaimed their victories in their presence.

1Sa 31:9

The gods whom they chiefly worshipped were Dagon,

Jg 16:23; 1Sa 5:3-5; 1Ch 10:10

1Macc. 10:83, Ashtaroth,

1Sa 31:10

Herod. I. 105, and Baalzebub.

2Ki 1:2-6

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