What do we know about the Philistines?

The Philistines were a strong, warring people who often served as foes against the Israelites in the Bible. They were first listed in Genesis 10:14 among the descendants of Noah through his son Ham. Because of their location near the Mediterranean coast, the Philistines are often associated with the various Sea Peoples of ancient history. While much about their origin is unknown, the Bible mentions that the Philistines were in contact with both Abraham and Isaac around 2000 BC. They were specifically mentioned as being in the land where Abraham lived before he arrived. Genesis 21:34 states, "And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines."

After the time of Abraham and Isaac, the next mention of the Philistines is not found until after the Israelites had left slavery in Egypt. Exodus 13:17 notes, "When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near."

Joshua 13:3 mentions five major cities of the Philistines. These cities had certainly been occupied for some time. While Israel took control of its land under Joshua's leadership, the Philistines would still pose a threat in the future.

During the period of the judges, the Philistines are often mentioned as the means through which God brought judgment upon the Israelites for their sins. For example, Judges 13:1 notes, "And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years." It is clear the Philistines were likely the "other" major force in the area. In 1 Samuel 5 we even find that the Philistines had stolen the ark of the covenant, though later returned it due to judgments that came upon them for doing so.

It would not be until the time of King David that the Philistines would be removed from power against the Israelites for good (1 Samuel 7:12-14).

Why were the Philistines considered enemies of God's people? Scripture records at least one major reason—their worship of other gods. Philistines worshiped three gods: Ashtoreth, Dagon, and Baal-Zebub, dedicating shrines to each in various cities (Judges 16:23; 1 Samuel 5:1-7; 2 Kings 1:2). Further, the Philistines had often attacked God's people.

Ezekiel 25:16-17 notes the Lord's plans to wipe out the remaining Philistines during Ezekiel's time: "Behold, I will stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites and destroy the rest of the seacoast. I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I lay my vengeance upon them." The Philistines would later disappear into the pages of history, just as prophecy predicted.

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