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Philistia in prophecy

The Philistines are first mentioned in Gen 10:14. Apparently they came from Caphtor, or Crete, very early in Bible times (Deu 2:23; Jer 47:4; Amo 9:7). The land of Canaan received its other name -- Philistia, or Palestine -- from them (Psa 60:8; 87:4; Isa 14:29).

The Philistines ousted other peoples and settled initially on the Maritime Plain north of Gaza -- a very fertile and desirable area. They seem to have lived in the region around Gerar and Beersheba as early as the time of Abraham (Gen 21:32,34; 26:1).

After the Exodus, the tribes of Israel were directed by God to journey to Canaan by a route that bypassed the coast of the Philistines (Exo 13:17,18), presumably because they were too strong for Israel at that time. When the Israelites began to settle the Land, the tribe of Judah captured Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron (Jdg 1:18), three of the five main Philistine cities; the other two were Gath and Ashdod. But a bit later, because of its idolatries, Israel was handed over into the hands of the Philistines (Jdg 10:6,7). It was delivered from them (Jdg 10:11,12), but soon fell under their dominion again, and remained so, off and on, through the times of Samson (Jdg 14-16), Eli (1Sa 4-6), Samuel, and Saul (1Sa 10:5: 12:9; 13:19-21; 14:52). After Saul's army was defeated, and he and his sons slain by the Philistines (1Sa 28:4; 29:11; 31:1-13), king David overcame and repelled them on several occasions (2Sa 3:18; 5:17-25; 8:1; 19:9; 21:15-22; 23:9-17).

After David's reign, the Philistines are mentioned less frequently, although they come in for threats of judgment by various prophets at later times because they invariably aligned themselves with Israel's enemies (Babylon and Assyria) against their old foe Israel.

The Philistines are joined with other Arab nations confederated against Israel in the latter days was pointed out (Psa 83). This prophetic psalm undoubtedly had a historic fulfillment (possibly 2Ch 20 or 2Ch 32), yet it also points forward to a time when the combined enemies of Israel "know that thou alone, whose name is the Lord, art the Most High over all the earth" (v 18). Today, the modern counterpart to the ancient Philistine territory is what is now called the Gaza Strip, with its exploding Palestinian Arab population -- nearly all of which are inflamed with the most intense hatred of their Israeli "oppressors".

Bible prophecies about Philistia seem to fall into two main categories, with some natural overlapping: (1) first, the Philistines' hatred toward Israel takes shape in despicable actions; and (2) then, the Lord Himself takes vengeance upon these enemies of His people.

"The Syrians before [to the north and east], and the Philistines behind [to the south and west]... shall devour Israel with open mouth... Therefore the Lord will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day" (Isa 9:12-14). The initial fulfillment of this prophecy was in the days of Hezekiah, when the Jews found themselves squeezed in a wedge between their old enemies Syria and Philistia, and also facing the furious onslaught of the Assyrian (Isa 10:5,6,11-15,24,25). The immediate result was the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, but the final result was that Assyria and its allies, including the Philistines, were themselves punished severely at the hand of God: "In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt... and from the coastlands of the sea. They [Ephraim and Judah] will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east [Edom, Moab, and Ammon]" (Isa 11:11,14; cp Isa 10:12,25-27; 14:29-31).

That this prophecy is to be fulfilled yet again in the Last Days is evident from its connection with Isa 9:6,7 and all of Isa 11. The special child descended from David -- Jesus Christ (Luk 1:32) -- will bring judgments upon these Arab haters of Israel, recover the faithful remnant of Israel from captivity in Egypt and Assyria, and establish God's glorious Kingdom in Israel.

If the nations mentioned in Isa 9-11 sound very much like those listed in Psa 83, then it is because that psalm could have initially applied to the Assyrian invasion in the reign of Hezekiah, and because it also has a Last Days application. There is an interesting verbal connection. The psalmist's prayer in Psa 83:11 ("Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb" -- Midianite princes slain by Gideon) will be fulfilled by Isaiah's Last Days prophecy: "My indignation will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction. And the Lord of hosts will wield against them a scourge, as when he smote Midian at the rock of Oreb" (Isa 10:25,26).

Joel: The evil deeds of the Philistines and the subsequent retribution by God is aptly described by Joel: "What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will requite your deed upon your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, removing them far from their own border. But now I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will requite your deed upon your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the sons of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far off; for the Lord has spoken" (Joel 3:4-8).

It is plain that Joel 3 is part of a Last Days prophecy (cp vv 14-17,20), when Judah shall be inhabited forever because the Lord dwells in Zion. Then "Jerusalem [shall] be holy, and no stranger shall pass through her any more", for God says, "I will avenge their blood, and I will not clear the guilty."

Amos: Philistia is listed among the oppressors of Israel in the prophecy of Amos, who wrote shortly before the time of the great Assyrian invasions of Israel: " 'For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they carried into exile a whole people to deliver them up to Edom. So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour her strongholds. I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and him that holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn my hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,' says the Lord GOD" (Amo 1:6-8; cp Amo 3:9).

This passage indicates assistance by the Philistines in taking the Jews into captivity (cp Joel 3 above). As a possible Last Days application, the phrase "for three transgressions and for four" could suggest several attempts to destroy Israel (1948, 1967, 1973?), only the last of which (it may be assumed) will be successful.

Obadiah: In his short vision, the prophet Obadiah sees a future time when "Edom" will be punished, for his violence against his "brother" Jacob, by being cut off forever (v 10). At a time called "the day of the Lord" (v 15), mount Zion -- the Temple Mount in Jerusalem -- will be the scene of deliverance and holiness (v 17), and the house of Jacob will possess their land. At that time (and not before), when "Saviours" will appear on mount Zion, and when the kingdom of Israel will truly belong to God (v 21), then "... they of the south shall possess the mount of Esau; and they of the plain the Philistines: and they shall possess the fields of Ephraim and... Samaria: and Benjamin shall possess Gilead" (v 19).

Some Bible students suggest that v 19 has already been fulfilled by the unbelieving nation of Israel, in winning the war of 1967 and occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, v 19 is "sandwiched" between verses 17 and 21, which clearly tell of Messiah's kingdom. Only after Christ has returned will a redeemed and restored Israel truly possess her ancient land.

Ezekiel: During the ascendancy of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, the Philistines were still filling a similar hostile role, and thereby still threatened with a similar punishment from God: "Thus saith the Lord God; Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart, to destroy it for the old hatred; Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethim, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them" (Eze 25:15-17).

Zephaniah: This prophet prophesied during Hezekiah's reign, also pronouncing divine judgments upon the Philistines: "For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up. Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the Cherethites! the word of the Lord is against you; 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" (Zep 2:4-6).

But the time of the Philistines' (and the Assyrians' -- cp v 13) defeat will also be the time when Israel, redeemed from their last captivity, will finally dwell securely in their own land, under the benevolent hand of their Messiah (v 7; cp also Zep 3:14-20).

Jeremiah: In Jer 25, Jeremiah predicts vengeance upon the Philistines in the Last Days. He lists their cities (v 20) along with "all the mingled people" (vv 20,24 -- the word is "ereb", closely related to "Arab") of Egypt, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Sidon, Dedan, Tema, Arabia, Elam, and Media -- all Muslim territories -- and finally Babylon. God will cause all of these to drink of "the wine cup of this fury" (v 15). This figure of a "cup" of judgment being filled up to the brim, and given by God to the wicked, is common in the Bible, and is often used in regard to the great judgments of the Last Days (Psa 11:6; 75:8; Isa 51:17,22,23; Oba 1:16; and esp Rev 14:8,10; 16:19; 18:6).

Jer 47 also contains a reference to God's vengeance upon the Philistines.

Zechariah: Finally, Zechariah also lifts up a burden against the Philistines: "Ashkelon will see it [the power of God] and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither. Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. Foreigners will occupy Ashdod; and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines" (Zec 9:5,6).

That this is a Last Days prophecy may be seen from the context: "I [the Lord] will encamp about my house... and no oppressor shall pass through them any more" (v 8; cp Joel 3:17). The king who will come in the name of the Lord "will speak peace to the nations, and his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth" (v 10); he will also set free the "prisoners" from the waterless pit (the resurrection of the dead!) (v 11).


The "Philistines", or Palestinians, will be among Israel's enemies in the Last Days. Along with the nations of Syria and Jordan ("Edom", "Moab", and "Ammon"), they will be helped by the "Assyrian"/"Babylonian" to defeat their old nemesis. (This aspect, of duality -- and repetition of fulfillment -- in Bible prophecy, is much more common than many Bible readers realize.)

The Palestinians' enjoyment of victory will be brief, however. The prototypical Philistine/Palestinian, the giant Goliath, was rendered powerless by David's little stone (1Sa 17). Likewise, the Oppressor of the Last Days will be destroyed by another little stone, which strikes it on its feet (Dan 2:34) -- feet, incidentally, of iron mixed with clay (vv 41,43: the word "mixed" is arab; cp "mingled" in Jer 25). That "little stone" which destroys the image in Dan 2 -- ie Christ (Psa 118:22; Isa 8:14,15; 28:16; Mat 21:42-44; 1Pe 2:6-8) -- will then become a great mountain and fill the whole earth with the glory of God (Dan 2:35,44).

The power of the Philistine against Israel will soon be destroyed forever, but the faithful remnant of Israel will (through the preaching of "Elijah": Mal 3:1,2; 4:5,6) be blessed with the coming of Christ in the Kingdom of God.

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