What is the significance of Gaza?Gaza is a city along the Mediterranean Sea that often marked the southwestern edge of the region because it borders the desert (Genesis 10:19; Joshua 10:41). Originally part of Canaanite territory, Gaza was conquered and ruled by Egypt for three hundred and fifty years before the Philistines took over in the twelfth century BC. The Philistines made this city one of the five cities in its pentapolis along with Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. The name Gaza means "fierce" or "strong" and it became a significant fortified city bordering the desert wilderness and an important port and stop on the trade routes between Africa and Europe and Asia.
In the Bible, the Israelites conquered the land under Joshua, and the tribe of Judah inherited Gaza as part of its territory (Joshua 10:41; 15:45–47). However, they failed to drive out the Philistines, so the Philistines continued to live in and rule from their pentapolis including Gaza (Judges 1:18–19). Israelite judge Samson carried off the doors of the city gate when the city's inhabitants tried to capture him (Judges 16:2–3). Later, however, through Delilah's deception, the Philistines did capture Samson and bring him to Gaza where he became a grinder in the prison (Judges 16:21). Eventually, when God renewed his strength, Samson toppled the house in Gaza, killing the Philistine governors, many civilians, and himself (Judges 16:30).
Under Saul's and David's kingships, the Philistines were defeated so that succeeding king Solomon "had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates. And he had peace on all sides around him" (1 Kings 4:24). Later, King Hezekiah "struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city" (2 Kings 18:8). So Gaza remained an important city that alternated between Philistine and Israelite rule.
Because of its consistent warring against Israel, God warned of judgment and destruction for the city of Gaza (Amos 1:6–7; Zephaniah 2:4; Zechariah 9:5; Jeremiah 25:17–29). Gaza eventually fell to Assyrian rule, then Egyptian control (Jeremiah 47:1), then Persian conquest. The Greeks took Gaza under Alexander the Great. The Seleucid Empire then ruled there before the Romans conquered the city. Due to these myriad empires ruling this port city, Gaza became incredibly diverse with Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians, Bedouins, and Jews living there.
In the New Testament, Philip was told, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza" (Acts 8:26). On this road, Philip met an Ethiopian who was reading and trying to understand the scroll of Isaiah. "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus" (Acts 8:35). Thus, by traveling toward Gaza, the gospel was spread, presumably not only to Ethiopia and northern Africa, but to many places from this port city.
Currently, the city of Gaza, mainly inhabited by Muslims, is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority as part of the Gaza Strip where political turmoil has been extensive. So Gaza remains a city often at odds with Israel and an important place to share the good news of the gospel.
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