The Philistine people were seafarers, who, after suffering defeat at the hands of the Egyptians, settled in the land of Canaan along the coastal plain in the 12th century BC. The land became known as Philistia, and stretched from Gaza in the South to modern day Tel Aviv in the North.
The Pentapolis of Philistia was composed of 5 major cities laid out along the two branches of the International Highway: Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod on the coastal branch and Gath and Ekron on the inland branch. Any attempts to expand their borders were met with resistance by the Israelites, who lived in the hill country to the East. The best-known accounts of this resistance are the stories of Samson and King David.
Samson in Philistia
Samson is most well known for his long hair, superhuman strength, and weakness for Philistine women – particularly Delilah. During his lifetime Philistia ruled over Israel, but Samson had been chosen by God to deliver the Israelites from Philistine control. While he was by no means a model leader in Israel, Samson did deal several blows to the Philistines. In one instance he killed 1,000 men with nothing but the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15), and the final act of his life leveled the crowded temple of Dagon in the city of Gaza (Judges 16: 23-31).
King David and the Philistines
The story of how a young David took down the giant, Goliath from Gath, with nothing but a sling and stone is one of the best-known stories of the Bible (1 Samuel 17). But David’s interactions with the Philistines only began there. On two occasions, David actually sought asylum in Gath from the jealous King Saul, and lived among the Philistines for over a year (1 Samuel 21:10-15; 1 Samuel 27:1-12). Ultimately David was the one to defeat the Philistines in the 10th century BC (2 Samuel 5). After this, only a few isolated towns remained of the once mighty seafaring nation.
Today, thanks to archaeological excavations, visitors to Israel can see the ruins of Philistia for themselves, and imagine what it must have been like in the days of Samson and David.