Question: "Why were the Philistines and the Israelites always at war?"
Answer: The Philistines were an ancient people, listed in the initial records of those who descended from Noah after the time of the flood (Genesis 10:14). Abraham and Isaac interacted with the Philistines (Genesis 21:33–34). But it was during the time of the Exodus that the Lord promised that the land of Israel would include the territory of the Philistines (Exodus 23:31), meaning some kind of conflict would have to take place to remove the Philistines from the land.
When Joshua was old, he mentioned the land of the Philistines as one of the areas that still remained to be defeated by the Israelites (Joshua 13:1–3). Because the Philistines were not completely removed, they continued as ongoing enemies of Israel.
During the time of the judges, the Philistines were often listed as the group who enslaved Israel before God raised up a judge to defeat them. This pattern continued up to the time of David and Goliath, a battle fought within a larger Israelite-Philistine conflict (1 Samuel 17). David defeated Goliath, initiating a great victory for Israel, yet the Philistines would continue to battle against Israel in the future.
During Solomon’s reign the Philistines were subdued, yet the later prophets note that the Philistines continued to battle against Israel. The Philistines would later be devastated by the same Assyrian kingdom that overtook Israel (2 Kings 18:33–35). Philistia was not completely destroyed until the reigns of the Babylonian and Persian empires.
From the first Hebrew, Abraham, until the deportation of Judah to Babylon, the Philistines were a perennial enemy of the Israelites. The conflict was over more than land but involved divergent worldviews. Unlike the Israelites, the Philistines served human-made deities and were known as a violent, warlike people.
Seven major battles between the Israelites and Philistines are recorded in the Old Testament. They include the Battle of Shephelah (2 Chronicles 28), the Battle of Aphek (1 Samuel 4), the Battle of Eben-Ezez (1 Samuel 7:13–14), the battles at Michmash (1 Samuel 14), the battle involving David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), the battle at Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31), and Hezekiah’s defeat of the Philistines (2 Kings 18:5–8).
The Philistines’ eventual defeat was not due to Israel’s strength or military prowess. As Psalm 44:3 says, “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.”