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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Philistia, Philistines

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The territory of Philistia consisted largely of the plainlands that stretched along the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. The region was known in ancient times as ‘the land of the Philistines’, from which we get the modern name ‘Palestine’. The coast road from Egypt to Palestine was known as ‘the way of the land of the Philistines’, and the Mediterranean Sea was sometimes called ‘the Sea of the Philistines’ (Exodus 13:17; Exodus 23:31).


Establishment in Palestine

It is believed that the Philistines came originally from Crete, known in ancient times as Caphtor. They were well established in Palestine by the time they begin to feature in the Bible story (Genesis 10:14; Deuteronomy 2:23; Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 9:7). They followed the Canaanite religions, and the Bible treats them as native Canaanites. They worshipped the common gods and goddesses of Canaan (the Baals and the Ashtaroth), as well as their own local Baal gods such as Dagon and Baal-zebub (Judges 16:23; 1 Samuel 5:1-5; 1 Samuel 31:8-13; 2 Kings 1:2; 1 Chronicles 10:8-12; see BAAL; BEELZEBUL; DAGON).

There were five main population centres in the Philistine territory, and these became known as ‘the five cities of the Philistines’ – Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. The leaders of these cities were known as ‘the five lords of the Philistines’ (Joshua 13:2-3; Judges 3:3; Judges 16:5; Judges 16:8; Judges 16:27; Judges 16:30; 1 Samuel 5:11; 1 Samuel 6:4; 1 Samuel 6:12; 1 Samuel 6:16-18; 1 Samuel 7:7; 1 Samuel 29:6-7).

Involvement with Israel

Abraham, and later Isaac, settled for a time in Philistine territory in the south of Canaan. Although they had reasonably good relations with the Philistine leader, their herdsmen and the Philistine herdsmen were frequently in conflict (Genesis 20; Genesis 21:25-34; Genesis 26:1-33; see ABIMELECH).

When the Israelites under Joshua conquered Canaan, they took control of most of the hill country but could not gain similar control over the plain country occupied by the Philistines. As a result the Philistines reasserted their independence and became a source of trouble during Israel’s early days in Canaan (Joshua 10:41; Joshua 11:21-22; Joshua 13:3; Judges 3:1-3; Judges 3:31; Judges 10:6-7; Judges 13:1; Judges 14; Judges 15).

The Philistines suffered a major setback when Samson brought about the death of all their leading civilian and military rulers (Judges 16). After they had recovered, the Philistines attacked Israel and captured the ark of the covenant (1 Samuel 4:1-11). But the ark brought so much trouble to the Philistines that they soon returned it (1 Samuel 5; 1 Samuel 6; 1 Samuel 7:1-2). Samuel then led Israel to national repentance, after which Israel defeated the Philistines and seized some of their cities (1 Samuel 7:5-14). The Philistines soon regained their territory and even advanced into Israel’s hill country. Some years later, after Saul became king, the Israelites drove them out (1 Samuel 13:19-23; 1 Samuel 14:1-47).

This did not mean that Saul was free from the Philistine threat. Conflicts continued to arise (1 Samuel 14:52; 1 Samuel 17:1-54; 1 Samuel 23:27-28). These conflicts brought military fame to David, though at the same time they brought him jealousy and hatred from Saul (1 Samuel 18:6-9; 1 Samuel 18:14; 1 Samuel 18:30). In fleeing from Saul, David on two occasions found refuge in the Philistine city of Gath, and even used Gath as a base from which to operate his private army (1 Samuel 21:10-15; 1 Samuel 27). David pleased the Philistine ruler with his raids on various tribal peoples (

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Philistia, Philistines'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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