This message was preached at the monthly meeting of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony in the Bible Presbyterian Church hall, Kilburn, London on 25th May 2012.
Upon reading it I was struck at how some of the statements in particular correlate very much with events in today’s Gaza over the last three months.
The text of the message has just been published in the SGAT magazine, ‘Watching and Waiting’, January — March 2024 and we have received kind permission to reprint that article here on ‘The Burning Bush’.
I trust this proves helpful and informative.
God’s Purpose for Gaza
By Ivan Foster
(This is a summary of a message preached at a meeting of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony on 25th May, 2012).
I have enjoyed studying this subject in God’s Word and am confident that I have benefitted from the study. God has a purpose even for such a small entity as Gaza and it is the privilege of Christians to know the purpose of God. God has revealed in very minute detail what He is going to do in the future regarding obscure nations, even nations about which we may not know much. I believe that it is vital for us to give attention to anything that God has revealed; our neglect of whatever God has said in His Word will lead to ignorance, which inevitably will be to our cost.
The last chapter of Luke illustrates the importance of studying the Word of God. We read of two individuals on the road to Emmaus. They were in utter despair and desolation. They could not understand what had happened. The Saviour drew near and began to teach them. ‘He said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself’ (24:25-27). Moses and all the prophets had taught the death and resurrection of Christ. Additionally, the Lord Jesus through His ministry repeatedly emphasised what was going to happen, but it seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. So, when it happened, it caught them unprepared, unawares, ill-informed, ignorant, as if they had never heard anything. They had been given the glorious truth but they had paid no heed to it, and in consequence, when the events prophesied came to pass, these disciples were thrown into confusion.
There is a lesson for us. Days are coming upon this world, when events will break forth on those nations, primarily around Israel, and circulating out from that area. If we have never studied these things or taken heed to what God has stated, we will be just as foolish as were the two on the road to Emmaus. God has a purpose, and these messages, which have been given in this series of meetings, have been looking at that purpose for various nations, and it is important for us to study what God has said. Many people might think this to be an obscure Bible study, and ask what possible purpose there can be in such a pursuit. In answer to that, I can only ask, Why did God tell us in the Bible of His purpose for Gaza, this tiny dot on the map of the world, if it is of no value to study this subject? If there is no purpose in studying it then surely there is no purpose in God revealing it, and dare any say to the Almighty that He has included things in His Word which really are to no purpose? That is the logic of criticism which may be levelled against us for taking up a topic such as this.
The city of Gaza is reckoned to be one of the oldest in the world. It has passed through many phases and has been subject to many invasions and occupations. Yet, Gaza is still here today. In times more modern than Bible days, the most significant invasion and conquest was that by the Rashidun army which was the primary military body of the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. In its time, the Rashidun army was the most powerful and effective military force in the world. The size of the Rashidun army was initially 13,000 troops in 632AD but as the Caliphate expanded, the army gradually grew to 100,000 troops by 657 AD. That invasion shaped Gaza into the present fanatical and implacable Muslim entity that it is.
It is, however, the Gaza of the Bible, and what God has to say of it, which will occupy us now. The name Gaza means ‘The Strong.’ That, doubtless, was a name they gave to themselves and it shows what they thought of themselves; so it speaks of their pride.
THE FIRST REFERENCE TO GAZA
1. The principle of the first reference is important in Bible study. The first mention of Gaza is in Genesis 10:19, where we read, ‘And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha.’ Here we find mention in the midst of that little cluster of names; we particularly take notice of the company in which God has placed Gaza. God was speaking of the descendants of Canaan, and telling us their borders. The territory of the Canaanites stretched from Sidon in the north to Gaza and Gerar in the south and stretched eastward toward Sodom and Gomorrah and the River Jordan. This area is characterised by cities notorious in their rebellion against God. The link with Sodom and the other cites of the plain indicates something of the nature of this city of Gaza. My grandmother used to say, ‘Show me your company and I will tell you who you are.’ God has shown the company of Gaza and surely we cannot but take note of this.
2. The people of Gaza, as Canaanites, were a cursed people. All men are under the curse of God for since the fall of Adam the judgment of God has been on all nations. Galatians 3:10 reads, ‘For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ Every man who fails to keep God’s law is under the curse and the Bible says, ‘All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ But Gaza is a people under a specific curse. In Genesis we read the origin of this curse. After the flood, Noah emerged upon a new world but it was not a world without sin. Only eight people had survived the judgment of God that had befallen a wicked generation, but sin had not been purged from the world. An awful virus was to be found in the nature of the eight whom God had spared. A son of Noah was engaged in a gross wickedness and Noah, upon realising the wickedness that had taken place, uttered a curse. ‘And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren’ (Genesis 9:25). Although Ham was the chief offender in the sin which provoked God’s wrath, the judgment of God would manifest itself chiefly in Canaan and his descendants.
3. The curse that befell that people was a most terrible imprecation. Noah’s words did not result as an outburst of anger; the word ‘curse’ was not used as an expletive, as many today use the word. It was a holy utterance, the manifestation of holy wrath against sin. That is a totally different thing from the modern usage of the word. It is the same word as was used of God against the serpent (Genesis 3:14), the earth (Genesis 3:17), and Cain (Genesis 4:11). All thus cursed were condemned to the fires of judgment – the serpent, or Satan, ‘everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41); the earth, ‘The heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men’ (2 Peter 3:7); Cain, ‘They have gone in the way of Cain … to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever’ (Jude 11-13). It should be observed that the last four cities linked to Gaza were destroyed by the fire of God. ‘And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger, and in His wrath’ (Deuteronomy 29:23).
IT WAS THE LAST REFUGE OF THE ANAKIMS
Gaza is also linked with an infamous people called the Anakims. In Joshua 11:22, there is information that helps us to understand the character of Gaza and its people. This verse says, ‘There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained.’ The Anakims were giants. I will not try to explain the origin of these giants, but we can trace the Hebrew word employed to Genesis 6:4. ‘There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.’ They were days of extreme wickedness which will not be paralleled until the closing days of this age, just before the Saviour returns. Giants seemed to reside particularly among the Canaanites. They were part of the Canaanite race and in Joshua’s time, the last place they found for a refuge was in Gaza.
1. It speaks of the resilience of the people. Israel under God was able to defeat the Anakim giants, eradicate them, destroy them, except in Gaza. That underscores for us the resilience of this people of Gaza. They survived the onslaught of Joshua and his army. They were a people able to resist God’s chosen people, even when the hand of God was on the nation of Israel.
2. It speaks of the strength of those locations. The Anakims had been defeated in the mountains (verse 21), but not in Gaza and Gath and Ashdod. We can draw the conclusion from this that they had tenacity. There was a spirit of defiance in the Gazites which made them more than a match for Israel. Even in those days of much power and great blessing, Judah could not overcome Gaza but was made to co-exist with them.
3. It was part of the inheritance of Judah but never seemed to be conquered fully, even in a day of blessing. Gaza is specifically mentioned in Joshua 15:47 as a place which Judah should have destroyed and inherited, but co-existence was permitted. Judges 1:18-19 tells us, ‘Judah took Gaza … and the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitant of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.’ Here there was this same resilience, this defiance, this show of strength that caused the people of Gaza to stand head and shoulders above other Canaanite regions. See also Judges 3:3. By the time of which we read in 1 Samuel 6:16, Israel had retreated and the lords of the Philistines (one of whom was from Gaza) had become more strong; so that they had become an independent nation again. What resilience they showed!
THEY WERE CHIEF AMONGST ISRAEL’S ENEMIES
Israel had many enemies. Indeed, it can be said that everybody outside Israel was an enemy; but chief among them were the people of Gaza.
1. They ever affiliated with Israel’s enemies. Judges 6 records an invasion of Israel, which was a chastisement from the Lord, because of their backsliding. ‘The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian.’ We need to learn that we cannot sin against the Lord and get away with it. That applies to individuals, churches, denominations, or nations. No one can sin against God and escape the consequences. God is on the throne, and we need to realise that in this present age. There were men among the Israelites who told the people it was time to modernise and put aside old notions; to alter their life-style relating to sabbath-keeping and the worship of God; to be more in keeping with the nations round about. God saw all this and delivered them into the hand of Midian. ‘And they (the Midianites) encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass,’ (verse 4). The invader stopped his spoiling at the precincts of Gaza. Gaza was left alone because it was in confederacy.
2. They were ever a source of trouble for God’s people. In Judges 16 is the story of a great man who fell at Gaza. I refer to Samson. See verses 1 and 21. Time and again as you read of this little location in the Bible, you will see that the people were an abiding source of trouble and affliction and vexation for Israel.
3. Out of that area came one of the clearest foreshadowings of the Antichrist. Of all the collection of foreshadowings with which God provides us in the Bible, Goliath of Gath and the information given to us by God about him is worthy of the closest examination. His name means ‘splendour’ and, no doubt, he was a splendid example of manhood. He is described in 1 Samuel 17:4-7. (1) He was a man marked by the number six. He had a helmet, a coat, greaves, a target, a spear, and a shield; six items are here listed for us. Six in the Bible does have an ominous association. The antichrist has the mysterious number, ‘666.’ Men have brought forward all kinds of strange notions about this number, but when the antichrist appears those who have studied God’s Word will know without concerning themselves about spurious ideas. (2) One went before him (verse 7). Antichrist will have his false prophet. (3) The battle took place on David’s second visit (see verse 15). The Lord Jesus has visited Israel, and is now gone back to His Father. He is coming again one day, and we are told in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, that He will destroy that Wicked (the antichrist) with the brightness of His coming. (4) He stood on a hill and defied God and Israel (verses 3, 10, and 45). This is something the antichrist will do. (5) Up until that moment David was despised and unknown (verses 28, 55, and 58). So was Christ despised and will be till the day when Israel’s eyes will be opened and they look upon Him Whom they pierced. So out of Gaza came one of the clearest examples of the antichrist.
4. The cruel hatred seen today was displayed of old. They are a cruel people. We hear of their doings, though we never hear a fraction of the terrorism that is wrought. They have taught the world. What Ulster went through for 30 odd years was largely springing from the teaching that the IRA received from the Palestinian terrorists. The cruelty that is so linked with Gaza today was seen in early times. Look how they treated Samson. ‘But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house’ (Judges 16:21). The fact that Samson slew more at his death than in his life is a wonderful picture of the ultimate triumph of Israel over her enemies; also, of the spoiling by Christ of His enemies in His death. Colossians 2:15 says, ‘having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.’
5. The hour of Israel’s distress was Gaza’s opportunity. ‘Thus saith the LORD: For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they carried away captive the whole captivity, to deliver them up to Edom’ (Amos 1:6). This is a reference to events that are enlarged upon in 2 Chronicles 21:16-17, ‘Moreover the LORD stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines, and of the Arabians, that were near the Ethiopians: and they came up into Judah, and brake into it, and carried away all the substance that was found in the king’s house, and his sons also, and his wives; so that there was never a son left him, save Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons.’ In a day of affliction for Israel, Gaza saw the opportunity, and struck. So it has ever been.
THE LORD HAS NOT FORGOTTEN THEIR EVIL DEEDS
We discover when we look at the prophets that God has not forgotten these deeds of centuries ago, although of a minor nature compared with the world’s events. ‘Thus saith the LORD: For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they carried away captive the whole captivity, to deliver them up to Edom: but I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof: and I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon, and I will turn mine hand against Ekron: and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord GOD’ (Amos 1:6-8).
‘The burden of the word of the LORD in the land of Hadrach, and Damascus shall be the rest thereof: when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel, shall be toward the LORD (that gives us the time; has Israel yet looked thus to the Lord? God is speaking specifically of a future time.) and Hamath also shall border thereby; Tyrus, and Zidon, though it be very wise. And Tyrus did build herself a strong hold, and heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets. Behold, the Lord will cast her out, and He will smite her power in the sea; and she shall be devoured with fire. Ashkelon shall see it, and fear; Gaza also shall see it, and be very sorrowful, and Ekron; for her expectation shall be ashamed; and the king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited. And a bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth: but he that remaineth, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite. And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes’ (Zechariah 9:1-8; see also a parallel passage in Zephaniah 2:4-7).
Nearly 3000 years have passed since the incidents referred to in this passage. Yet the Lord will visit Gaza and the Philistines generally for this wickedness. What a lesson for sinners! ‘Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil’ (Ecclesiastes 8:11). ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ (Galatians 6:7).
This prophecy in Zechariah 9 of the destruction of the Philistines, and of Damascus, and Tyre, was partly accomplished by Alexander the Great, who ravaged all these countries with his victorious army, took the cities, and planted colonies in them; but it was only a partial fulfilment, as verse 7 makes plain.
YET EVEN FOR GAZA THERE IS HOPE
Despite all the wickedness of Gaza in its defiance and rebellion against God and its coldness towards Israel, the Bible holds out hope for this people.
1. God shall severely judge the Philistines. That we have considered.
2. However, a remnant will be spared. There will be those that remain after the judgment. Isaiah 11:10-14 reads, ‘And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west: they shall spoil them of the east together: they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab: and the children of Ammon shall obey them.’ This is God’s recovery of a scattered people, Israel. It will be at the return of Christ. Who is going to be helping in the recovery of Israel? The Philistines. They will carry them on their shoulders. That is what the prophet says. From Zechariah 9:7, we learn that there will be those who remain after the judgment. The word ‘remaineth’ means ‘spared’ or ‘remnant.’ God is going to spare a remnant of the Philistines
3. They will be brought to a knowledge of Jehovah. Again, in Zechariah 9:7, ‘.. . even he, shall be for our God.’ He shall become a convert.
4. In the reign of Christ, they will serve Him by aiding Israel return to their land. What a contrast to the present activities of the Philistines! Is it far-fetched? No, God is going to work. He will cause those Philistines, who have lived for centuries seeking to disinherit Israel, to carry them on their shoulders back to their heritage – that land which God swore unto Abraham, that He would give to His people for ever.
Do you know who the chief men, the closest bodyguards, of David were? They were Philistines. The Cherethites, the Gittites and possibly the Pelethites were all Philistines who had loyally and devotedly served David. In this they were a foreshadowing of the future service Philistines will render to great David’s Greater Son, the Lord Jesus, in His Millennial reign.
Think of the change in Saul of Tarsus. He was able to write in later life of what the grace of God had done for him. ‘But they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me’ (Galatians 1:23-24). That is what God did for the apostle, and He is going to do it with the remnant of the Gazites. Oh, how glorious is God’s mercy. In taking up the study of God’s purpose for Gaza we see the love, mercy, grace, and the wondrous bounty of God to undeserving, ill-deserving, hell-deserving sinners.
(This article has been printed as a separate booklet and is part of a series on various Bible countries. The messages were given at the SGAT meetings held in 2012. The series includes British Isles, Egypt, Gaza, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Israel (past) and Israel (present). Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria. The booklets are obtainable at 40p each or £3.30 the set from : Mr Stephen Toms, 1 Donald Way, Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 9JB).