Ashdod is an ancient city in the land of Canaan. The ruins of Ashdod are situated on the coastal plains of southwestern Israel, 35 kilometers south of Tel Aviv and 4.5 kilometers away from the Mediterranean coast.
Excavations at the Ashdod ruins have yielded a wealth of cultural artifacts from the eras of the ancient Canaanites, the Philistines, the Israelites, and the Greeks. The ancient Canaanite stratum dates back to the 17th century B.C.; by the 14th century B.C., Ashdod was already a highly fortified city. The Bible records Joshua leading the Israelites into Canaan at the beginning of the 14th century B.C. and entering into battle with Canaanite kings and peoples (ref: Jos 11:18) until the land rested from war. (ref: Jos 11:23) Nevertheless, some Canaanites remained in the land, including the Anakim left in Ashdod. (ref: Jos 11:22) As Joshua was old and advanced in years, much of the land still remained to be possessed. (ref: Jos 13:1)
When the territory of Canaan was distributed among the Israelites, Ashdod was allotted to the tribe of Judah (Jos 15:46-47), who had not yet taken over the city. At the time, the coastal plains of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron were under Philistine control (ref: Jos 13:3), which is why the Bible refers to the area as the “land of the Philistines”. (ref: 1Sa 27:1) With Egypt to its south and the coastal route connecting Syria and Mesopotamia to its north, the city of Ashdod served as a strategic center for the Philistines’ military and religious activities (ref: 1Sa 5:1-2).
The conflict between the Israelites and the Philistines goes far back to 1375 to 1050 B.C., the era of the Judges. (ref: Jug 3:3, 13:1) During the time of Eli the judge, the Israelites were fighting the Philistines and losing ground. In a reckless move, the Israelites decided to bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord onto the battlefield. The Philistines captured the ark of God. (1Sa 4:1-11)
From there, the Philistines brought the ark to Ashdod and placed it in the house of Dagon to show that their god had triumphed over the God of Israel. To their shock, early the next day, Dagon was found fallen on his face to the ground, a posture of surrender, before the ark of the Lord! The people of Ashdod put Dagon back in his place, only to find Dagon fallen on his face again, with his head and both his hands lying cut off. The Lord’s hand was heavily upon the people of Ashdod, terrifying and striking them with tumors. In panic, the people of Ashdod brought the ark of the God of Israel to Gath and then to Ekron, to the same result. At the end, the Philistines could do nothing but to return the ark, along with figures of gold as a guilt offering, back to the Israelites. (ref: 1Sa 5-6)
From the book of 1 Samuel, we can see that the Philistines were the chief enemies of Israel during the time when Samuel was prophet and Saul reigned as king (1050 – 970 B.C.). When David became king, the Philistines were finally subdued after years of battle. When Solomon ascended to the throne, the Philistines were among the people who brought tribute and served the king all the days of his life. (ref: 1Ki 4:21)
When the United Kingdom of Israel was divided, the Philistines re-emerged to afflict the southern kingdom of Judah. (2Ch 21:16) When Uzziah was king of Judah (792 – 740 B.C.), he waged against the Philistines and broke down the wall of Ashdod among other cities. (2Ch 26:6) In 712 B.C., Ashdod was taken by Assyria (Isa 20:1), then occupied by Egypt. Around the time of 600 B.C., the city of Ashdod was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzer king of Babylon (ref: Amo 1:8) but it was rebuilt after Babylon was conquered by Persia in 539 B.C. The fate of Ashdod had been foreseen by Jeremiah and other prophets (Jer 25:20; Zep 2:4; Zec 9:6)
In 445 B.C., when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the Ashdodites were among the people who attacked the Israelites (Neh 4:7). Later, when some Jews married Gentile women from Ashdod and other cities, Nehemiah contended with them and opposed their desire to intermarry.
In the eras of the Maccabees and the New Testament, Ashdod was known by its Greek name Azotus, adopted under Hellenistic rule. In the second century B.C., Azotus was burned and plundered by Judah and Jonathan Maccabee (ref: 1 Maccabees 5:68, 10:84). In 63 A.D., Ashdod was consolidated into the Roman Syria. Under the rule of Herod the Great, Ashdod was rebuilt as a key city of the time.
In 33 A.D., when the Church suffered persecution at Jerusalem, the disciples were forced to scatter to regions across Judah and Samaria. Philip, who was chosen as one of the “Seven Deacons”, found himself at Azotus (Ashdod), where he proclaimed the good news to all the towns as he passed through the region.
Since the Middle Ages, Ashdod went into a gradual decline. After the establishment of the State of Israel, a modernized city was built approximately 6 kilometers northwest of the Ashdod ruins. It has become one of three international ports in Israel.
To enrich your knowledge about the city of Ashdod, check out the Book of 1 Samuel Bible Study Workbook and the Book of 1 Samuel Docudrama.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant place; I have a goodly heritage. — Psalm 16:5-6 (NRSV)
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