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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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or PHILISTINES, a people who are commonly said to have descended from Casluhim, the son of Mizraim or Mizr, who peopled Egypt. The Philistines, it is probable, continued with their progenitors in Egypt until they were sufficiently numerous and powerful to stretch themselves along the coast of Canaan; doubtless by driving out that portion of the family of Ham. It is certain that, in the time of Abraham, the Canaanites were in possession of the rest of the land, to which they gave their name: but the extreme south of Philistia, or Palestine, was even then possessed by the Philistines, whose king, Abimelech, reigned at Gerar.

After this, in the time of Joshua, we find their country divided into five lordships or principalities; namely, Gaza, Askelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron; giving sometimes also, as it appears, the title of king to their respective rulers; Achish being termed king of Gath, 1 Samuel 21:10 . The time of their coming to Palestine is unknown; but they had been long in Canaan when Abraham came thither, in the year of the world 2083. The name Philistine is not Hebrew. The Septuagint generally translate it ‘Αλλοφυλοι , strangers. The Pelethites and Cherethites were also Philistines; and the Septuagint sometimes translate Cherethim, Κρηται , Cretes. They were not of the cursed seed of Canaan. However, Joshua did not forbear to give their land to the Hebrews, and to attack them by command from the Lord, because they possessed a country promised to Israel. But these conquests of Joshua must have been ill maintained, since, under the Judges, under Saul, and at the beginning of the reign of King David, the Philistines had their kings, and their lords, whom they called Sazenim; since their state was divided into five little kingdoms, or satrapies; and since they oppressed the Israelites during the government of the high priest Eli, and of Samuel, and during the reign of Saul, for about a hundred and twenty years, from A.M. 2848 to A.M. 2960. True it is, that Shamgar, Samson, Samuel, and Saul, opposed them, and killed some of their people, but did not reduce their power. They continued independent till the time of David, who subdued them, 2 Samuel 5:17; 2 Samuel 8:1-2 , &c.

They continued in subjection to the Kings of Judah down to the reign to Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, about two hundred and forty-six years, when they revolted from Jehoram, 2 Chronicles 21:16 . Jehoram made war against them, and probably reduced them to his obedience again; because it is observed in Scripture, that they revolted again from Uzziah, who kept them to their duty during his whole reign, 2 Chronicles 26:6-7 . Uzziah began to reign A.M. 3194. During the unfortunate reign of Ahaz, the Philistines made great havoc in the territory of Judah; but his son and successor Hezekiah subdued them again, 2 Chronicles 28:18; 2 Kings 18:8 . Lastly, they regained their full liberty under the later kings of Judah; and we may see, by the menaces made against them by the Prophets Isaiah, Amos, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, that they brought a thousand hardships and calamities on the children of Israel, for which God threatened to punish them with great misfortunes.

Esar-haddon, successor to Sennacherib, besieged Ashdod, or Azoth, and took it by the arms of his general, Thasthan, or Tartan. Psammetichus, king of Egypt, took the same city after a siege of twenty-nine years, according to Herodotus. During the siege of Tyre, which held out thirteen years, Nebuchadnezzar used part of his army to subdue the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and other nations bordering on the Jews. There is great probability that the Philistines could not withstand him, but were reduced to his obedience, as well as the other people of Syria, Phenicia, and Palestine. Afterward they fell under the dominion of the Persians; then under that of Alexander the Great, who destroyed the city of Gaza, the only city of the Phenicians that dared to oppose him. After the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Asmoneans took by degrees several cities from the country of the Philistines, which they subjected. Tryphon, regent of the kingdom of Syria, gave to Jonathan, the Asmonean, the government of the whole coast of the Mediterranean, from Tyre to Egypt; consequently, all the country of the Philistines.

The land of the Philistines bordered on the west and south-west of Judea, and lies on the south-east point of the Mediterranean Sea. The country to the north of Gaza is very fertile; and, long after the Christian era, it possessed a very numerous population, and strongly fortified cities. No human probability, says Keith, could have existed, in the time of the prophets, or at a much more recent date, of its eventual desolation. But it has belied, for many ages, every promise which the fertility of its soil, and the excellence both of its climate and situation, gave for many preceding centuries of its permanency as a rich and well cultivated region. And the voice of prophecy, which was not silent respecting it, proclaimed the fate that awaited it, in terms as contradictory, at the time, to every natural suggestion, as they are descriptive of what Philistia now actually is. "I will stretch out my hand upon the Philistines, and destroy the remnant of the sea coasts," Ezekiel 25:16 . "Baldness is come upon Gaza; Ashkelon is cut off with the remnant of their valley," Jeremiah 47:5 . "Thus saith the Lord, For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof. I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof. And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon; and I will turn my hand against Ekron; and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord God," Amos 1:6-8 . "For Ashkelon shall be a desolation;" it shall be cut off with the remnant of the valley; "and Ekron shall be rooted up.—O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee, that there shall be no inhabitant; and the sea coast shall be dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks," Zephaniah 2:4-6 . "The king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited," Zechariah 9:5 .

The land of the Philistines was to be destroyed. It partakes of the general desolation common to it with Judea and other neighbouring states. While ruins are to be found in all Syria, they are particularly abundant along the sea coast, which formed, on the south, the realm of the Philistines. But its aspect presents some existing peculiarities, which travellers fail not to particularize, and which, in reference both to the state of the country and the fate of its different cities, the prophets failed not to discriminate as justly as if their description had been drawn both with all the accuracy which ocular observation, and all the certainty which authenticated history, could give. Volney, (though, like one who in ancient times was instrumental to the fulfilment of a special prediction, "he meant not so, neither did his heart think so,") from the manner in which he generalizes his observations, and marks the peculiar features of the different districts of Syria, with greater acuteness and perspicuity than any other traveller whatever, is the ever ready purveyor of evidence in all the cases which came within the range of his topographical description of the wide field of prophecy: while, at the same time, from his known, open, and zealous hostility to the Christian cause, his testimony is alike decisive and unquestionable: and the vindication of the truth of the following predictions may safely be committed to this redoubted champion of infidelity. "In the plain between Ramla and Gaza," the very plain of the Philistines along the sea coast, "we met with a number of villages badly built, of dried mud, and which, like the inhabitants, exhibit every mark of poverty and wretchedness. The houses, on a nearer view, are only so many huts, (cottages,) sometimes detached, at others ranged in the forms of cells, around a court yard, enclosed by a mud wall. In winter, they and their cattle may be said to live together; the part of the dwelling allotted to themselves being only raised two feet above that in which they lodge their beasts:"—"dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks."—

"Except the environs of these villages, all the rest of the country is a desert, and abandoned to the Bedouin Arabs, who feed their flocks on it."—Thus accomplishing the words of prophecy, "the remnant shall perish; the land of the Philistines shall be destroyed, that there shall be no inhabitant; and the sea coast shall be dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks." "The ruins of white marble, sometimes found at Gaza, prove that it was formerly the abode of luxury and opulence. It has shared in the general destruction; and, notwithstanding its proud title of the capital of Palestine, it is now no more than a defenceless village," (baldness has come upon it,) "peopled by, at most, only two thousand inhabitants."—"It is forsaken," says the prophet, "and bereaved of its king." "The sea coast, by which it was formerly washed, is every day removing farther from the deserted ruins of Ashkelon." "Amidst the various successive ruins, those of Edzoud," Ashdod, "so powerful under the Philistines, are now remarkable for their scorpions."—Here again we are reminded of the words of inspiration: "The inhabitants shall be cut off from Ashod."

Thus Volney becomes an unconscious commentator upon prophecy. But let us hear a Christian traveller. "Ashkelon," says Richardson, "was one of the proudest satrapies of the lords of the Philistines: now there is not an inhabitant within its walls; and the prophecy of Zechariah is fulfilled: ‘The king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited.' When the prophecy was uttered, both cities were in an equally flourishing condition; and nothing but the prescience of Heaven could pronounce on which of the two, and in what manner, the vial of its wrath should be poured out. Gaza is truly without a king. The lofty towers of Ashkelon lie scattered on the ground, and the ruins within its walls do not shelter a human being. How is the wrath of man made to praise his Creator! Hath he not said, and shall he not do it? The oracle was delivered by the mouth of the prophet more than five hundred years before the Christian era, and we beheld its accomplishment eighteen hundred years after that event." There is yet another city which was noted by the prophets, the very want of any information respecting which, and the absence of its name from several modern maps of Palestine, while the sites of other ruined cities are marked, are really the best confirmation of the truth of the prophecy that could possibly be given. "Ekron shall be rooted up." It is rooted up. It was one of the chief cities of the Philistines; but, though Gaza still subsists, and while Ashkelon and Ashdod retain their names in their ruins, the very name of Ekron is missing.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Philistim'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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