Who Were The Philistines During Bible Times?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Who were the Philistines?  Where did they come from?

Philistine’s Origin

We have to go all the way back to Genesis 10 to see the first mention of Philistines but before that it’s important to know that Ham, who was cursed by his shameful behavior toward his father (Gen 9:22), was the descendant of  what would become many of Israel’s worst enemies.  Genesis 10 has been called The Table of Nations because that’s where more than 70 nations descended from Noah have been identified by scholars.  To find the origin of the Philistines, we must go back to “The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan” (Gen 10:6), the descendants of the Casluchim, and more specifically from “Cush [who] fathered Nimrod” (Gen 10:8) and finally, “Egypt fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim,  Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came), and Caphtorim” (Gen 10:13-14).  The Philistine line started with cursed Ham and ended with “Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came).”  So the Philistines are descended from Ham (Noah’s son) and are ethnically related to Egypt.

Who Were The Philistines During Bible Times

The Philistines name comes from the Hebrew word “Philistia,” from which we get the modern word “Palestine.”

The Philistine’s Name

It is believed that the Philistines originally came from the island of Crete and controlled the whole Aegean Sea and the reason historians called them the “Sea Peoples” was due to their maritime domination.  This explains why the original Philistia had so much coast line.  The Philistines name comes from the Hebrew word “Philistia,” from which we get the modern word “Palestine.”  Since that is where they dwelt at one time, the Philistines’ name refers more to their geographical location than it does their ethnic origin however that’s how the land got its name, just like they call those who live in America Americans. Today, in that same region, they call themselves Palestinians, and it is not believed that they are related to the ancient Philistines who have all but vanished from the face of the earth.

Abraham and the Philistines

Since the Philistines have been around for so long, they already had a kingdom established by the time Abraham had an encounter with them as “there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines” (Gen 26:1).  At that time, Israel was still in the loins of Abraham and there was only Abraham and Isaac but then came the first sign of trouble between God’s chosen people and the Philistines as “Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy.  He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him” (Gen 26:12-14).  As you might expect, “the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father.).  And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we” (Gen 26:15-16).  King Abimelech of the Philistines saw that God had blessed Abraham and Isaac so much that the king even feared Abraham and Isaac’s power.  This was just the beginning of what would eventually lead to one of Israel’s greatest enemies; the Philistines, who would be at war and often dominate Israel, but as part of God’s discipline of His people.

David and Goliath

Did the turning point or the beginning of the end for the Philistines come after David defeated Goliath?  Actually, the wars between the Philistines and Israel began to heat up during King Saul and King David’s reign, but in the latter years, David would nearly extinguish the Philistines.  At least their ability to make war with Israel was greatly diminished. After David inquired of the Lord about whether he should go up against the Philistines and the Lord said yes, so “David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer” (2 Sam 5:25) and “David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines” (2 Sam 8:1).  Even after this defeat of the Philistines, they would continue to be a thorn in Israel’s side for many more years. The Book of First Samuel mentions the Philistines 100 times but by the time you get to the time period of Second Samuel, this goes down to only 24, showing that the Philistines are slowly being whittled down to nothing.

Prophecies for the Philistines

The Prophet Zephaniah prophesied the end for the Philistines as he wrote “Woe to you inhabitants of the seacoast, you nation of the Cherethites! The word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines; and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left” (Zeph 2:5).  The word “woe” means judgment and so the “inhabitants of the seacoast” (the Philistines) were told that God “will destroy you until no inhabitant is left” and that has come true.  Try to find a Philistine today and you won’t be able to.  Try and track down some long lost descendants of the Philistines and you’ll discover that they can’t prove it.


Jeremiah the Prophet wrote of a similar fate of the Philistines that Zephaniah had written, “the day that is coming to destroy all the Philistines, to cut off from Tyre and Sidon every helper that remains. For the Lord is destroying the Philistines, the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor” (Jer 47:4) but the final nail in the Philistines coffin comes from the judgment of God as Ezekiel wrote, “Thus says the Lord God: Because the Philistines acted revengefully and took vengeance with malice of soul to destroy in never-ending enmity, therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites and destroy the rest of the seacoast” (Ezk 25:15-16).

Look for more answers to questions here: Bible Answers to Questions by Category

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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