Sovereign Over All

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Gaza,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they carried into exile a whole people
    to deliver them up to Edom.
So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza,
    and it shall devour her strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod,
    and him who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
    and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,”
says the Lord God. Amos 1:6-8 ESV

The focus of God’s judgment now moves geographically south, to the nation of Philistia and Gaza, one of its major cities. Philistia was located on Israel’s southwestern border and had long been a source of conflict for the people of God. It is believed that the Philistines were originally a seagoing people who originated from region of Aegean, near the island of Crete. The name “Philistine” is derived from the Hebrew word Philistia. In Greek, the name is rendered as palaistinei, from which we get the modern name of “Palestine.” The Bible indicates that during the days of the prophet, Samuel, and the judge, Samson, the Philistines migrated from the Mediterranean coastline and settled five cities that operated as autonomous and independent kingdoms each having their own king or lord. These five cities comprised a loose confederation that called for joint military operations when facing their mutual enemies. And for nearly 200 years, the Philistines focused much of their attention and aggression on the people of God. Their use of iron weapons made them a formidable adversary, and it would not be until the reign of King David, that the Israelites had any real success in eliminating the Philistines as a threat.

In keeping with the pattern He established with Syria, God mentions four transgressions for which the Philistines are guilty. But, as before, He only elaborates on one of them. The truth is, God could have chosen from a long list of sins that the Philistines had committed against His people. But it’s important to remember that He had often used these very same people to punish the rebellious Israelites. The book of Judges reveals one such occasion.

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. – Judges 13:1 ESV

The prophet Samuel would later remind the people of Israel that God had allowed their enemies to defeat their ancestors because they had failed to remain faithful to Him.

“But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them.” – 1 Samuel 12:9 ESV

Yet, God warns the Philistines that He will hold them accountable for their actions. They were guilty of having raided Israelite settlements and selling off the inhabitants as slaves to the Edomites. The prophet Joel elaborates on the egregious actions of the Philistines and other nations, warning that God would repay them for their mistreatment of the people of God.

“What do you have against me, Tyre and Sidon and you cities of Philistia? Are you trying to take revenge on me? If you are, then watch out! I will strike swiftly and pay you back for everything you have done. You have taken my silver and gold and all my precious treasures, and have carried them off to your pagan temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, so they could take them far from their homeland.” – Joel 3:4-6 NLT

During the reign of King Jehoram, God had sent the Philistines and Arabs against the southern kingdom of Judah, allowing them to plunder the temple, deport the royal household, and take many of the citizens of Jerusalem as captives, later selling them as slaves.

And the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the anger of the Philistines and of the Arabians who are near the Ethiopians. And they came up against Judah and invaded it and carried away all the possessions they found that belonged to the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, his youngest son. – 2 Chronicles 21:16-17 ESV

God’s problem with the Philistines was not that they harrassed and attacked the people of Israel. It was that they treated them them as little more than property to be sold. They showed God’s people no respect, devaluing them as persons, and using them as a means to line their own pockets. What the Philistines failed to recognize was that the Israelites were God’s chosen people. He had set them apart as His own chosen possession, and they were of great value and worth to Him. By mistreating and devaluing the people of Israel, the Philistines were guilty of dishonoring God. And they would pay dearly for their mistake.

Amos mentions four of the five Philistine cities, describing the judgment they would face for their crimes against God and His people.

“So I will send down fire on the walls of Gaza,
    and all its fortresses will be destroyed.
I will slaughter the people of Ashdod
    and destroy the king of Ashkelon.
Then I will turn to attack Ekron,
    and the few Philistines still left will be killed.” – Amos 1:7-8 NLT

God vows to avenge the treatment of His people. The fire that destroys the walls of Gaza will come from His hands. The slaughter of the people of Ashdod will be His doing. He will personally destroy the king of Ashkelon and attack the city of Ekron. In other words, God has taken the actions of the Philistines personally and, as a result, He will get personally involved in their destruction.

We know from the book of 2 Chronicles, that King Uzziah of Judah would partially fulfill this prophetic word from God.

Uzziah declared war on the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. Then he built new towns in the Ashdod area and in other parts of Philistia. God helped him in his wars against the Philistines, his battles with the Arabs of Gur, and his wars with the Meunites. – 2 Chronicles 26:6-7 NLT

Eventually, the Philistines would be completely wiped out by God. They would suffer humiliating losses to the Egyptians and later, to the Assyrians and Babylonians. Those who were not defeated or deported as slaves would simply be assimilated into the surrounding Canaanite culture. The prophet Jeremiah would later describe the utter annihilation of the Philistines by the sovereign hand of God Almighty.

“The time has come for the Philistines to be destroyed,
    along with their allies from Tyre and Sidon.
Yes, the Lord is destroying the remnant of the Philistines,
    those colonists from the island of Crete.
Gaza will be humiliated, its head shaved bald;
    Ashkelon will lie silent.
You remnant from the Mediterranean coast,
    how long will you cut yourselves in mourning?

“Now, O sword of the Lord,
    when will you be at rest again?
Go back into your sheath;
    rest and be still.

“But how can it be still
    when the Lord has sent it on a mission?
For the city of Ashkelon
    and the people living along the sea
    must be destroyed.” – Jeremiah 47:4-7 NLT

As Amos continues through his list of judgments against Israel’s enemies, it’s important to remember that the focus of his book is on the people of God. He will ultimately turn his attention to Judah, then Israel. But by beginning with the pagan nations that surrounded God’s chosen people, Amos is highlighting the sovereign power of God. All nations stand before Him as guilty and convicted, and none will go unpunished. Yahweh is the one true King who rules over the entire universe that He created.

The psalmist points out the real problem to which Amos is referring.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.” – Psalm 2:1-3 NLT

Ultimately, the Syrians and the Philistines were guilty of plotting against God. Their attacks on the people of God were nothing more than a veiled attempt to thwart the plan of God. And the psalmist goes on to describe how foolish and futile it is to oppose the will of God.

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.” – Psalm 2:4-6 NLT

Nations will come and go. Kingdoms will rise and fall. But the sovereign will of God remains unchanged. The Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians, Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites were no match for God Almighty. Their 15 minute of fame would come and go. But the Lord’s plans stand forever. He remains sovereign over all.

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations
    and thwarts all their schemes.
But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever;
    his intentions can never be shaken. – Psalm 33:10-11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson