Glimpses of Israel - Ashdod

Ashdod may be a modern Israeli port on the Mediterranean coast, but it has a history spanning more than three millennia. In the heyday of the Philistines it was one of the five principal Philistine cities mentioned often in the Scriptures – Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, Gaza and Ekron – as belonging to the five lords of the Philistines.

It was the same five lords who sent an offering to the Lord to appease Him after He had smitten them with tumours. They had captured the Ark of the Lord God from the Israelites, had taken it to Ashdod, and had "brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon" (1 Samuel 5:2) their fish god.

God certainly humiliated their god, and then He "ravaged them and struck them with tumours, both Ashdod and its territory" (5:6), so much so that they decided in desperation to return the Ark and to send a trespass offering to appease their tormentor.

It was also to their god Dagon that the Philistines had earlier "gathered together to offer a great sacrifice . . . and to rejoice" when they had at last trapped Samson their enemy, "the destroyer of our land, and the one who multiplied our dead" (Judges 16:23, 24).

As with so many other Biblical cities that sprang into life again after the rebirth of Israel in 1948, Ashdod was rebuilt on its ancient site, thus fulfilling Ezekiel's prophecy: "I will make you inhabited as in former times, and do better for you than at your beginnings" (36:11).

Ashdod is now not only a busy oil terminal with modern port installations, but there is an archaeological dig, the mound of Tel Mor about a kilometre in from the port itself. Here many finds have been excavated which throw light on the early trade and commerce that was carried on with surrounding countries, particularly Egypt and Cyprus, the Phoenician coastal towns, and Rome.

During the period of Greek influence in Canaan, Ashdod became known as Azotus, and this name it retained during the Roman occupation. The New Testament records that Philip passed through Azotus after his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza as recorded in Acts chapter 8.