In Old Testament times, Gath was among the five cities ruled by the Philistines, with the other four being Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron. (ref: Jos 13:3) Many Canaanite cities and towns, such as Gath-hepher and Gath-rimmon (Jos 19:13, 45), incorporated the name of Gath (literally translated as “wine vat”) as those were the days when vineyards and wine vats were prevalent in the area. (ref: Isa 5:1-2)
The Bible places Gath to the east of the Philistinian plains near the valley of Elah in the northern mountainous areas of Judah. (ref: 1Sa 17:1-2, 52) However, scholars have found it challenging to pinpoint a specific location. Most identify Tel es-Safi, located 18 kilometers southeast of the modern city of Ashdod, as the ruins of Gath. Archeological excavations reveal a large expanse with upper and lower cities with strong walls and fortifications.
As recorded in the Bible, Gath was first inhabited by the giant Anakites who came from the Nephilim. (Num 13:33) At the time of Joshua and the conquest of Canaan, the Anakim still lived in Gath. (Jos 11:21-22) When the land was divided among the Israelites, Gath was included in the lot for the tribe of Judah (ref Jos 15:1, 5, 12) but remained under the rule of the Philistines. (Jos 13:2-3)
It was from the ruins of Gath at Tel es-Safi where “Goliath’s potsherds” were discovered. The potsherds, dating back to 10 B.C., contain inscriptions of two names that resemble “Goliath” in what is known to be the earliest forms of Philistine writing. The Philistines are nautical people who originated from Crete and nearby Mediterranean islands. (ref Gen 10:14) By the early 12th century B.C., the Philistines had captured the coastal plains in the southwestern regions of Canaan. Their metalsmithing techniques gave them the upper hand over the Israelites in battles. (ref: 1Sa 13:19-22) From the coastal plans, the Philistines made increasing gains in their conquest of Israel between the era of the Judges and the time of Saul. (ref: 1Sa 13:5-7, 31:1, etc.), making a name of themselves as the fiercest enemy of Israel at the time. During Eli’s tenure as the Judge of Israel, a battle left not only the Israelites defeated but the ark of God captured by the Philistines. However, when the ark was brought to the city of Gath, God’s wrath came upon it and all of its inhabitants were struck with tumors. (1Sa 5:8-9) When Samuel became Judge, Israel recovered their territory from the hand of the Philistines, so that “the towns that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath.” (1Sa 7:14)
During the reign of Saul, David, still a young man, killed Goliath of Gath from the camp of the Philistines in the valley of Elah. Emboldened, the troops of Israel and Judah rose up and pursued the Philistines “as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron.” (1Sa 17:4, 50-52) This Goliath, together with the four men of great size mentioned in 1 Samuel 21:15-22, are likely to be descendants of the Anakite giants. (ref. Num 13:33) David’s victory over Goliath earned him praise and accolades from the people of Israel but also caused Saul’s jealousy, resolving to kill David (1Sa 18:6-19:24). In the face of Saul’s deadly pursuit, David fled the land of Israel and sought asylum with King Achish of Gath, yet his history of bloodshed with the people of Gath overtook him. With his life at stake, David feigned madness in their presence to escape the scourge of death (1Sa 21:10-22:1). Through many years of wandering in the wilderness of Judah, David gradually amassed a troop of impressive strength. When David, once again, fled Saul and sought refuge in Gath, he was no longer on his own but joined by his family and six hundred fighters. (1Sa 27:1-4) Deeming the strength of David’s army as of value to Gath in battling Saul, King Achish of Gath gave David the land of Ziklag, which was approximately 20 kilometers to the south of Gath. David lived in Ziklag for one year and four months. (1Sa 27:5-7) It was during this time that Saul died in combat with the Philistines. (1Sa 31:1-6) As written in David’s lamentation, the deaths of Saul and Jonathan were not to be told in Gath nor Ashkelon lest their people rejoiced over the grief and shame of Israel. (2Sa 1:20) Later, David left King Achish of Gath and returned to Judah in Hebron where he was anointed king over the house of Judah. (2Sa 2:1-3) David’s experiences in Gath led him to pen two psalms (ref: Psa 34, 56), in which he demonstrated his firm trust in God even in this long period of affliction. After many more years of battle and David became king of the United Kingdom of Israel, the Philistines were finally defeated and the city of Gath conquered. (1Ch 18:1) Later, when Absalom revolted against David, David had to flee Jerusalem once again. In the men who followed David, there were six hundred Gittites from Gath. (2Sa 15:18-22, 18:2)
Throughout the reign of Solomon, the land of the Philistines was under the rule of Israel. (ref: 1Ki 4:21) While the ruler of Gath was still named king, it was likely more in name than in independent sovereignty and power (1Ki 2:39) In the days of Rehoboam (930-913 B.C.), Gath remained under the rule of the southern kingdom of Judah. (ref: 2Ch 11:5-10). In the days of Jehoram king of Judah (853-841 B.C.), the Philistines renewed their affliction on Judah. (ref: 2Ch 21:16) Gath was captured by King Hazael of Aram (841-806 B.C.) (2Ki 12:17) and then taken back by the Philistines in retaliation for Uzziah king of Judah’s attack on the Philistines in Gath and other cities. (2Ch 26:6)
It is believed that Gath was conquered by the Assyrians or even destroyed in the time of the prophet Amos (760-750 B.C.) (ref: Amo 6:2), because Gath was no longer mentioned among the cities of the Philistines along with Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron. (ref: Amo 1:7-8, Zep 2:4, Jer 25:20, Zec 9:5) After the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel (722 B.C.), no further mention of Gath was found in the Bible.
We invite you to explore the Book of 1 Samuel Bible Study Set, published by Spring of Water International Ministries in 2019, to view the site and discover more interesting background in the film about the city of Gath!
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” Psalm 34:7-8, by David
《播種國際事工查經系列 • 撒母耳記上》。播種國際事工出版。2019
馬自毅。《聖經地理》。 上海學林出版社。 2005.7。
Spring of Water International Ministries: www.sowim.org
Holy Light Bible Geography: http://biblegeography.holylight.org.tw/