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Ashkelon In The Bible


Ashkelon, an ancient city with a rich history, holds a unique place in the biblical narrative. Located along the Mediterranean coast, Ashkelon was one of the five major cities of the Philistine Pentapolis, making it a prominent center of trade and culture in antiquity. In this blog post, we will delve into the historical and biblical significance of Ashkelon.

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Ashkelon in the Bible: The Ancient Seaport City of the Philistines


Ashkelon was one of the five chief cities of the Philistines, a little north of Gaza and on the coast. It was taken by the tribe of Judah and not long after the death of Joshua (Judges 1:18), but was retaken by the Philistines and remained in their hands throughout the Old Testament period.


Amos (about 750 BC), Jeremiah (about 600 BC) and Zephaniah (about 620 BC) all prophesied against it, with the following predictions:

  • Amos denounced the city because of its complicity with Phoenicia and Edom in their warfare with Israel. I will destroy the inhabitants and the one who holds the scepter in Ashkelon. (Amos 1:8).
  • Jeremiah foretold of the destruction of the Philistine cities: The LORD is about to destroy the Philistines, the remnant from the coasts of Caphtor. Gaza will shave her head in morning; Ashkelon will be silenced. (Jeremiah 47:4-5).
  • Zephaniah announces God’s judgement on the Philistine cities: Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins. At midday Ashdod will be empty and Ekron uprooted. (Zephaniah 2:4).
  • Shepherds and sheep will dwell in the area of Ashkelon (Zephaniah 2:6).
  • In a reference to the future of Ashkelon, Zephaniah states: The land by the sea where the Kerethites dwell, will be a place for shepherds and sheep pens. It will belong to a remnant of the house of Judah; there they will fine pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon (Zephaniah 2:6-7).

Historical Background:

Ashkelon is situated in present-day Israel and has a history dating back over 3,000 years. Its strategic location along the coast, as well as its proximity to Egypt, made it a vital hub for trade and cultural exchange in the ancient world. The city’s history is characterized by its prominence in various regional conflicts and shifts in power.

Biblical References:

Ashkelon is mentioned in the Bible primarily in the context of the Israelites’ interactions with the Philistines, who were the city’s primary inhabitants. Here are some key references:

  1. The Capture of Ashkelon: In the book of Judges, Samson, one of the Israelite judges, is said to have slain thirty Philistines and taken their possessions as part of a wager. This event took place in Ashkelon, reflecting the ongoing tensions between the Israelites and the Philistines.
  2. Prophetic Warnings: Several biblical prophets, including Jeremiah and Zephaniah, issued prophecies of judgment and destruction against Ashkelon due to its involvement in hostilities against the Israelites and other offenses.
  3. Archaeological Discoveries: Archaeological excavations in Ashkelon have provided a wealth of information about the city’s history. These findings include ancient artifacts, structures, and inscriptions, offering insights into daily life, culture, and governance during different periods of Ashkelon’s existence.

Modern Ashkelon:

Today, Ashkelon is a modern city in Israel, known for its beautiful beaches and archaeological sites. It has evolved from its ancient origins into a thriving urban center with a diverse population.

What is the significance of Ashkelon in the Bible?

Ashkelon is a coastal city in the southern part of Israel on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is just north of Gaza and about 36 miles south of modern-day Tel Aviv. In biblical times, Ashkelon was the oldest and largest seaport in ancient Canaan. Over history, it has been ruled by the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Philistines, and others. The geographical location of Ashkelon likely led to these various nations and tribes vying to control it, as it would have been a highly desirable seaport for trade and military staging.

Ashkelon – Philistine Rule

The Bible speaks of various battles for the control of Ashkelon. Judges 1:17–18 gives an account of the armies of Judah taking it from the Canaanites: “The men of Judah went with the Simeonites their fellow Israelites and attacked the Canaanites living in Zepeth, and they totally destroyed the city. Therefore it was called Hormah. Judah also took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron—each city with its territory.” Throughout Israel’s history, the Philistines were a people group hell-bent on destroying the Israelites, fighting with them at nearly every turn. Joshua mentioned Ashkelon as one of five cities held by Philistine rulers, along with Gaza, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron (Joshua 13:3; cf. 1 Samuel 6:17).

Samson, in his wrath against the Philistines, “went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything” (Judges 14:19). David includes a reference to Ashkelon in his dirge for Saul and Jonathan: “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice” (2 Samuel 1:20). The contention between the Israelites and the Philistines is a common theme in the Old Testament, with the city of Ashkelon being one of the main theaters of battle.

Ashkelon – Prophecies of Destruction

Various prophets went on to prophesy about the ultimate destruction of Ashkelon. Jeremiah said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them’” (Jeremiah 25:15–16). One place made to drink the cup of the Lord’s wrath was Ashkelon (verse 20). Later, Jeremiah wrote, “Ashkelon will be silenced” (Jeremiah 47:5) and that the “sword of the Lord” has been ordered “to attack Ashkelon and the coast” (Jeremiah 47:6–7). The prophet Zechariah, speaking of God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies, said, “Ashkelon will see it and fear” (Zechariah 9.5). Zephaniah stated plainly, “Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins” (Zephaniah 2:4). Philistine control of Ashkelon was about to come to an end, as foretold by God through His prophets.

Post-Philistine Ashkelon

Ashkelon was conquered by Assyria about 734 BC, and it was under Assyrian rule that the Philistines were finally driven out. The city changed hands many times after that, as Greeks and Maccabees and Romans and Muslims and Crusaders all had their turn. Some think that Herod the Great was born in Ashkelon; the fact is he did build a palace and aqueduct there. After Saladin destroyed Ashkelon in AD 1191, the city lay in ruins for a century. A town was later built by Arabs near the original site of Ashkelon and called Al-Majdal.

After the Arab-Israeli War of 1948—49, the place was formally granted to Israel, who renamed it Ashkelon. This event could be seen as a fulfillment of Zephaniah’s prophecy that Ashkelon would eventually be a peaceful place belonging to Judah:
“The land by the sea will become pastures
having wells for shepherds
and pens for flocks.
That land will belong
to the remnant of the people of Judah;
there they will find pasture.
In the evening they will lie down
in the houses of Ashkelon.
The Lord their God will care for them;
he will restore their fortunes” (Zephaniah 2:6–7).


Ashkelon’s historical and biblical significance underscores its role as an ancient seaport city that played a pivotal part in the region’s history. Its interactions with the Israelites, as depicted in the Bible, offer a glimpse into the complex dynamics of the time. As a modern city, Ashkelon serves as a bridge between the ancient world and the contemporary era, allowing us to explore the layers of history and culture that have shaped this coastal city.

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