THE PHILISTINES

 

 

By DAVID RICHARDSON

 

 

The history of the Philistines occupies considerable space in the records of Scripture, the reason doubtless being that there are details to which the Spirit of God would invite our attention.  The Philistines were descendants of Ham through Migraim and Casluhim (Gen. 10: 14), but not nations of Canaan.  Typically they are men with a knowledge of divine things, but subtle and implacable enemies of the people of God.  As such, they are shown to us in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, the Judges and some of the Kings of Israel.

 

 

The Philistines occupied a small strip of country on the south-west border of Canaan, a land which had been promised to Abraham and his seed.  Do we not see here at once the position and character of the foe of which God would teach us?  It has been said that in Genesis the moral source of things may be traced, and in other parts of Scripture, especially in Revelation, their moral conclusion is reached.  The dwelling-place of the Philistines, may be suggestive of a foe on the borderland who, when finally developed, “defies the armies of the living God” in the person of a typical Goliath.  Their early history has to do with Abraham, the “man of faith and Isaac, “the heir of promise In each case it was the same character of sin, calling their wife their sister.  Abraham and Isaac denied their true relationship, a sin, alas, we are frequently falling into by giving a false impression of our relationship with the ascended Christ whose Kingdom now is not of this world.  It was Abimilech,* King of the Philistines, who took both Sarah and Rebekah, and it would appear that, religious though he was and boasting of “the integrity of his heart as the Chief of the borderland people, he is ever watching to entice sojourners and strangers to give up that with which they are indissolubly bound, and that which should be the dearest and nearest to them.  The teaching here typically and morally is so obvious that it cannot be missed.  Genesis 36. gives us the history of the Philistines with the wells which Abraham dug and Isaac recovered after they had been filled up.  Water was a necessity for man and beast, and yet the Philistines choked the wells from which life was sustained.  This is ever the character of the warfare the borderland enemy is waging against those who desire to drink only from the wells of water which the man of faith digs and makes his own.  To stop the sources of supply drawn from the living streams is the work of the Philistines, and every follower of the true Isaac, the heir of the Promised Land, will find as Isaac’s servants did that they have to contend for the wells of springing water.

 

* Probably not one and the same person, as the name Abimilech is used in a similar way to the name Pharaoh.

 

 

The Philistines come into greater prominence when Israel enters into the possession of Canaan, and they were amongst those who were not driven out but were left to prove the descendants of the chosen people who had not known all the wars of Canaan (Judges 3: 1).

 

 

The lengthy details which are given concerning Samson and the Philistines suggest that the Spirit of God has much to unfold to those who are willing to pay attention to them.  We are all slow learners and most of us know by experience that we can only attain spiritual knowledge by growth, and the moral history of Samson has much to teach us if we diligently seek the Truth.  The plain teaching is, we think, that the Philistines are diligently seeking to ascertain the secret of our power that they may dispossess us of it.  The history of Samson shows what devices the Philistines resorted to in order to nullify the exceptional physical powers which the Lord had given to Samson.  The Philistines are set to destroy the special powers any servant of God may have, as those gifts are used of God for the enemies’ discomfiture.  Each saint of God has some peculiar gift because he is not exactly like any other saint, and it is this individual character which the Philistine seeks to know that he may destroy if possible.  There is much in the life of Samson which is hard to understand, but it surely shows that if any man upon whom the power of God may come in a very marked and distinctive way follows a course which is subversive to the exercise of it, then the end is the same morally as that reached by Samson. The Philistines at last discovered the strong man’s secret, and they cut off his hair, put out his eyes, and tortured him in the prison house.  “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him and it should be our daily concern to keep that secret, knowing that if the subtle foe discovers covers it and dispossess us of it, our end will be that our eyes will be put out and the moral torture of the prison house will be ours also.

 

 

The Philistines later captured the “ark of Godand Scripture furnishes us with remarkable details of its subsequent history.  This seems to indicate the nearness with which the Philistine enemy is associated with that which stood as the solemn and sacred symbol of Jehovah.  Sore judgment fell upon the Philistines whilst the Ark was in their possession, and their idol-god Dagon was dismembered, the head and palms of the hands falling upon the threshold of the house of Dagon, whilst the Ark was in the idolator’s temple.  In sending back the Ark to the land of Israel accompanied by golden images of emerods and mice, there is probably much typical teaching which the Spirit of God will open out to all who seek it.  We may, however, learn what destruction will be wrought morally amongst those who handle the sacred person of Christ as represented by “the ark of God” with defiled and unholy hands.  We see, too, what havoc God will make (as He did with the men of Beth-shemeth) with those in outward covenant relationship with Him who presume to look into “the ark of God

 

 

The trespass offering made by the Philistines of the golden emerods and the golden mice “which mar the land” (see 1 Sam. 6.) would evidently teach us that religious men have no conception of what is due to God from them as sinners; as the emerods spoke of God’s chastising visitation, and the mice which marred the land as that which destroyed the bread of man.

 

 

How instructive is 1 Samuel 7., in which we see that in the days of Samuel, when the Philistines were sorely pressing the children of Israel; and they came to him to pray for them, he took a sucking lamb and offered it wholly unto the Lord for a burnt-offering, and prayed unto God for Israel.  And as Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering the Philistines drew near to battle, and the Lord thundered upon them with a great thunder and discomfited them; so the Philistines were subdued and they came no more into the coast of Israel, and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.  The Philistines, the border foes, whom God yet permits to remain in Canaan that He may prove those of us who have not known war, can be subdued in no other way except as Samuel subdued them for Israel - by prayer and by offering to God in burnt-offering that which was most precious and acceptable to Him, a sucking lamb, which typified the Lord Jesus Christ in His tenderest compassion for His people.

 

 

The later history still of the Philistines records their slaying Saul, the anointed of the Lord, and Jonathan his son, which drew forth the poetic lament of David - “How are the mighty fallen ... for there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away Yes, truly, and how many since have fallen morally upon Mount Gilboah, slain by the same enemy into whose hands they have been permitted to fan because, like Saul, “they have done foolishly and have not kept the commandment of the Lord their God  In their fall, alas, they have, like Saul, caused the death of a Jonathan and many others who were in the line of battle.  “He that hath ears to hear let him hear  David finally subdued the Philistines by defeating their champion, Goliath, the details of which we hope to study separately; but they come again into the land after David had passed away.

 

 

Prophetically the Philistines come under review (Jer. 47.; Ezek. 25: 15-17), and like all the enemies of God and His people, they historically perish.  There may possibly yet remain a revival of the Philistine as Scripture sets him forth in a figurative way; and as his historical details were written aforetime for our learning, we should pay careful heed to his characteristics that we may be overcomers of a foe which is permitted in the land.  Thank God, he will be finally cast out when the Lord shakes not the earth only but heaven also.

 

 

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