This three-part series of timelines delineates all the Biblically recorded wars and battles the Philistines fought with the children of Israel. It begins by listing all the early confrontations starting around 1380 B.C. and ends with the last one that occurred late in the seventh century B.C.
Shortly after 1380 B.C.
The first war!
Judges 1:18 - 19, 3:1 - 3
The Israelites, in spite of Joshua's death in 1380, continue their quest to claim their birthright in the Promised Land. The tribe of Judah initiates a war with the Philistines when it launches attacks against its major cities of Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron. Although Judah takes most of the land it was promised by God (Joshua 15:31, 45 - 47), it quickly is retaken by the enemy.
Death by ox goad
A man named Shamgar slays 600 Philistines who may have attempted to invade Israel. The tool he used against the enemy was an ox goad, a sharp metal-tipped stick used to direct such animals during plowing.
Nothing more is known about this event nor is anything revealed about Shamgar himself. Although some Biblical commentaries consider him one of Israel's Judges, the Bible is silent regarding him holding such a responsibility.
1085 - 1065
Judges 14 - 16
God allows his people, west of the Jordan River, to be oppressed forty years by the Philistines. He permits their subjugation as punishment for worshipping a variety of pagan gods like Baal, Chemosh and several others (Judges 10:6 - 7, 13 - 16). It will take history's strongest man, a Danite miraculously born when the Lord healed a barren woman, to begin releasing their grip on Israel.
Samson begins his one-man war by killing thirty Ashkelon men immediately after his wedding celebration to a Philistine woman. His second battle, roughly a year later, takes place in Timnath. In revenge for the burning death of his wife and father-in-law, he slaughters many of the enemy.
The enemy's response to Samson's revenge is to attack the Judean city of Lehi. After the Judeans surrender Samson, he discovers the fresh jawbone of a donkey (an old one would have been too brittle) and uses it to single-handedly kill 1,000 men!
Samson's greatest act of war, however, requires the highest sacrifice. At a well-attended Philistine victory celebration, he causes two pillar supports to collapse when he miraculously receives his strength back one last time. The supporting pillars cause the entire building he is in to fall, killing not only himself but also 3,000 of the enemy!
Ark of the Covenant captured!
The Philistines rule over God's people during this time in history. While the enemy is encamped at Aphek the Israelites, who are gathered at Ebenezer, launch an attack.
After Israel is repelled and loses 4,000 men the nation's elders command the Ark of the Covenant be brought from Shiloh onto the battlefield. Treating the Ark like a good luck charm, they hope its mere presence will bring victory. They, however, are sadly mistaken as God's people are defeated a second time and lose 30,000 warriors.
The Ark is also captured during Israel's loss at Aphek. It returns to Israelite territory after seven months (1Samuel 6:1) of the Lord (somewhat humorously) punishing the Philistines.
A thunderous victory!
1Samuel 7:2 - 14
The children of Israel gather at Mizpeh, where Samuel is located, to repent of their idolatry. Sensing an opportunity to catch Israel off-guard, the Philistines launch an attack against the city.
Samuel, as the enemy approaches the city, prays for God's protection. The Lord hears his prayers and produces a mighty thunder that causes confusion and panic amongst the enemy. The Israelites pursue the fleeing army and kill many of their soldiers.
War ends Saul's dynasty
1Samuel 13:1 - 14:23
Jonathan, roughly two years into his father Saul's rule over Israel, attacks a garrison in Geba and initiates a war. King Saul then calls on all the people to join him in battling their great enemy. The Philistines, always ready for a fight, quickly gathers 3,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen and a large contingency of troops at their camp near Michmash.
Those who come to Saul, who is stationed in Gilgal, are overwhelmed by the enemies' numbers and are fearful to do battle. The king, after waiting seven days for Samuel to arrive, notices the men who came to him are deserting him. He makes the hasty and foolish decision, in order to stem the loss of manpower, to offer sacrifices to God.
When the prophet Samuel finally arrives, he chastises Saul for unlawfully offering sacrifices. The punishment for his rash behavior is that God will not allow any of his descendants to succeed him on the throne.
Saul, with an army of only 600, moves his men to Geba. The enemy, from Michmash, take the offensive and send out three bands of raiders to loot and destroy the land as well as disarm anyone they find.
Jonathan then decides to carry out a secret mission with his armor bearer. The two men travel to Michmash where, after they are challenged to a contest, kill twenty enemy troops. The surprise killing stuns the Philistines and causes panic amongst their troops. Saul, who sees their confusion, immediate launches a war and wins a great victory.