Speaking the Truth in Love

Enemies of God’s People

The Old Testament depicts a seemingly endless enmity between the Israelites and the Philistines. For instance, the book of Judges tells of Shamgar, a man who delivers Israel by killing “six hundred of the Philistines with an oxgoad” (3:31). The far more familiar story of Samson’s struggle with the Philistines is recorded in the same book. Blessed by the Spirit of the Lord with great physical power, Samson single-handedly defeats the Philistines on more than one occasion (including the day when he slays 1,000 warriors with the jawbone of a donkey). After being betrayed by his Philistine mistress Delilah, Samson dies with thousands of his Philistine enemies in the collapse of the temple to Dagon (16:30).

Later, in the days of the united kingdom, Jonathan fights and defeats the Philistines (1 Sam. 13:3). Young David defends the honor of Israel in the valley of Elah by taking down the giant Philistine Goliath (17:50). As king, David subjugates the Philistines, but they regain power in the period of the divided monarchy (2 Chron. 28:18).

Who were these people? The non-Semitic Philistines came to Canaan “from Caphtor” (Amos 9:7), perhaps Crete or the islands of the Aegean. Their territory extended from Joppa to south of Gaza. This small area, which boasted five great Philistine cities (Ashdod, Gath, Ashkelon, Gaza, and Ekron), was a plain on the Mediterranean coast. Eventually, the land of Canaan itself took the name of the Philistine plain: Palestine.

The Philistines have failed to survive as a people. In fact, in modern usage “philistine” has become merely an adjective describing a person who is ignorant, uncouth, or barbarous. Any surprise? Would we expect the enemies of God’s people to do anything else but perish and leave behind a bad name?

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