The Shephelah

The Shephelah, meaning “lowlands,” was a band of gentle hills lying between the coastal plain and the hill country of Israel, and it was covered with sycamore fig trees and olive trees (1 Kings 10:27; 1 Chronicles 1:15; 9:27; 27:28). This pastoral description of the region paints a deceptively peaceful picture, however, for the various valleys that cut through this region from west to east offered invading armies quick access to the heartland and key cities of Israel, making the Shephelah a very strategic stretch of land. Because of this, several important towns kept close watch over its key access points, including Aijalon, Beth-shemesh, Azekah, Libnah, Mareshah, and Lachish. From the very beginning of Israel’s conquest of the land, the valleys of the Shephelah were the location of pivotal battles, beginning with Joshua’s defeat of the Amorites at Aijalon while the sun stood still (Joshua 10:10-14). The Shephelah continued to serve as a buffer between the Philistines and the Israelites from the time of the Judges through the time of the Divided Monarchy. The Valley of Sorek was home to the judge Samson, so it is no surprise that he had several hostile encounters with the Philistines there (Judges 13-16). This same valley is also where the Philistines sent the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel after it afflicted them with tumors (1 Samuel 6:1-7:2). Later, young David slew Goliath in the Valley of Elah and sent the Philistines into a panic (1 Samuel 17), and he also saved the people of Keilah from the Philistines in this valley while on the run from Saul (1 Samuel 23:1-5). Later Jehoash of Israel defeated Amaziah of Judah at Beth-shemesh (2 Kings 14:11-14), and Asa defeated a massive army of Cushites at the Valley of Zephathah (2 Chronicles 14:9-15). During the final days of the northern kingdom of Israel, the Philistines captured several towns within the Shephelah as part of what was likely an effort to compel Judah to join an anti-Assyrian alliance (2 Kings 16-17; 2 Chronicles 28; Isaiah 7-8). After Israel had fallen to the Assyrians, king Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Lachish and Libnah to bring Hezekiah firmly under Assyria’s yoke (2 Kings 18:13-17; 19:8; 2 Chronicles 32:1-23). Years later when King Zedekiah rebelled against the rule of the Babylonians, they came and attacked every fortified city of Judah. Lachish and Azekah in the Shephelah were among the last cities to fall to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 34:1-7). Finally, over four hundred years later Judas Maccabeus launched a surprise attack against Seleucid forces just west of Aijalon (1 Maccabees 3:38–4:25; 2 Maccabees 8:8–8:36).

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