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).
A summary of the prophecies
The Lord used three prophets, Amos, Jeremiah and Zephaniah to pronounce judgement on Ashkelon in the form of the city’s complete destruction. However, Zephaniah went further and said that a remnant of the House of Judah would rebuild it and they will graze their flocks on its pasture.
Fulfillment of the prophecies
Judgment fell upon Ashkelon precisely as predicted:
When this vast seaport, the last of the Philistine cities to hold out against Nebuchadnezzar finally fell in 604 BC, burnt and destroyed and its people taken into exile, and the Philistine era came to an end.
In 1270, the Mamluk Sultan Baybars ordered the citadel and the harbor at the site, to be destroyed in order to prevent the city’s re-establishment. As a result of this destruction, the site was abandoned by its inhabitants and fell into disuse and for 700 years; the once mighty city lay in ruins.
Following the establishment of the state of Israel (1948), Jewish settlers came quickly to the area in order to establish a Moshav Ovdim (a workers cooperative settlement). In 1952, South African Jews initiated the establishment of the Afridar neighborhood, from which the new City of Ashkelon grew. The Jewish people recognised the splendid location of the old city, and now it has been transformed into a beautiful garden city with a magnificent marina. All in keeping with Zephaniah’s prophecy. The reference to sheep grazing on its pasture could simply be a metaphor for it to become a place of peace, serenity and prosperity. Or it could be taken literally. Either way, as the image shows sheep do graze in the area. It was taken by a group involved in an archaeological dig.
Ashkelon was destroyed along with the other four Philistine cities of Gaza, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The house of Judah re-inhabited Ashkelon. All of which confirm the power of scriptural prophecy and the reliability of the Bible. See the images below of Ashkelon today.
Image credits in order:
1 Wikimedia commons.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkelon  Henry Bilecki, The Master Terrorist, Lulu Publishing, 2003, pages 96-97.  https://gath.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/the-pecking-order-at-tell-es-safigath.