In Genesis chapter 26, there are a number of points noted about wells of water. Using the NKJV, particular points paint an odd picture. First, Genesis 26:15, 17-18 (NKJV, bold added):

15 Now the Philistines had stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, and they had filled them with earth. 16 And Abimelech [king of the Philistines, living in Gerar, v.1] said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.” 17 Then Isaac departed from there and pitched his tent in the Valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them.

So it seems v.15 and the stopping up of the wells is a prelude to Abimelech's asking Isaac to depart, but Isaac does not go far (Gerar is in the Valley of Gerar), and it is reiterated that the Philistines had filled the wells (this time noting when, after Abraham's death).

But second, water was no doubt as precious to the Philistines as it would have been to Abraham, and in fact, we see this is so as Isaac begins to dig wells again and there is contention for the water (Genesis 26:19-22):

19 Also Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found a well of running water there. 20 But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they quarreled with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that one also. So he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, because he said, “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

So I'm trying to understand the historical mindset of the Philistines here:

  • What historical/archaeological evidence sheds light on the mindset of the people in this time regarding reasons water producing wells would have been filled with earth?
  • Extrapolating from that, what might be the reasons the Philistines might have filled in the wells, rather than simply start using them, after Abraham's death (since he would obviously not be contending with the Philistines had they taken over the well)?

I'm not looking for purely speculations here (the second point likely will have to involve some speculation), but academically researched information that supports the contention (and manner of contention) for well water during ancient times, in order to help elucidate the cultural significance behind these actions, which may shed light on the relationship between the early Philistines and Abraham's family as portrayed in the text.

  • Well, this is no definitive answer, but I think of Jean de Florette :) Jun 26, 2018 at 23:29
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    This question appears to be outside of the parameters of this site. It is not concerned with Biblical hermeneutics, but with historical secular knowledge that may only be open to speculation.
    – Gina
    Jun 30, 2018 at 11:27
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    @Gina The question is very much in the realm of parameters of the site. One of the primary on topic areas relates to "historical context (with regards to a particular text)." I'm trying to ascertain the historical context (if there is any that is known) as to reasons the Philistines would have stopped up the wells.
    – ScottS
    Jun 30, 2018 at 16:18
  • Question? KJV refers to Isaac as being mightier than they. Isn’t it fair to assume he was powerful by virtue of the blessing instead of wealth? Or do we KNOW this already as fact that Isaac was prosperous? Sep 23, 2018 at 11:00
  • @MelissaOwens Genesis 25:5 states "Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac," and we do know Abraham was prosperous (in the "wealth" sense; Gen 24:35), so yes, this is a fairly established fact from the text that Isaac was wealthy. Now whether that was all that was meant by his being "mightier" than the Philistines, there is probably room for debate.
    – ScottS
    Sep 24, 2018 at 18:00

4 Answers 4


Abraham was blessed in all he did. A Blessed person radiates blessings to those around them - Elohim didn't just provide for Abraham, but for the ungodly - and they recognized it. (Verses are KJV/AV.)

Gen. 21:22 - And it came to pass(1961) at that(1931) time,(6256) that Abimelech(40) and Phichol(6369) the chief captain(8269) of his host(6635) spoke(559) unto(413) Abraham,(85) saying,(559) God(430) with(5973) thee in all(3605) that(834) thou(859) doest:(6213)

After Abraham died (Gen. 26:18), the Philistines filled the (dry) wells with earth. They didn't fill them before Abraham died. And they filled them with earth, not trash, dead things, nor built an outhouse. Plus, any standing water goes stagnant and mosquitoes carry disease.

Even today, we backfill dry wells - called "protecting other USDWs" (Underwater Sources of Drinking Water).

Gen. 26:15 - For all(3605) the wells(875) which(834) his father's(1) servants(5650) had digged(2658) in the days(3117) of Abraham(85) his father,(1) the Philistines(6430) had stopped(5640) them, and filled(4390) them with earth.(6083)

They also recognized that Isaac was blessed, and wanted to partake of the blessings, as before. Yahweh allowed the blessings to be shared, again.

Gen. 26:28 - And they said,(559) We saw certainly(7200), (7200) that(3588) the LORD(3068) was(1961) with(5973) thee: and we said,(559) Let there be(1961) now(4994) an oath(423) between(996) us, between(996) us and thee, and let us make(3772) a covenant(1285) with(5973) thee;

Commentaries predominantly attribute the filling of the wells with earth as evil intentions of the Philistines. Just makes no sense, to me. Water was surely precious to them.

  • It is not the substances that filled the wells define evil, it is the intention. It was convenient to use the surrounding earth to fill the wells rather than finding something else. Jul 27, 2023 at 13:34

Given how much the Philistines liked to brew and drink beer, it does seem odd that they would fill in wells with earth. After all, it's not as if they suffered from an over-abundance of water in the arid regions they occupied. Here is some information I found about the Philistines:

"It is thought that the Philistines originated in Caphtor, the Hebrew name for the island of Crete and the whole Aegean region (Amos 9:7; Jeremiah 47:4). For unknown reasons, they migrated from that region to the Mediterranean coast near Gaza. Because of their maritime history, the Philistines are often associated with the “Sea Peoples.” The Bible records that the Philistines had contact with both Abraham and Isaac as early as 2000 B.C. (Genesis 21:32, 34; 26:1, 8).

After Isaac’s involvement with the Philistines (Genesis 26:18), they are next mentioned in passing in the book of Exodus shortly after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt’” (Exodus 13:17).

The “road through the Philistine country” refers to a route later known as the Via Maris or “the Way of the Sea,” one of three major trade routes in ancient Israel. This coastal road connected the Nile Delta with Canaan and Syria and beyond, into the Mesopotamian region of southwest Asia.

The Old Testament indicates that around the 13th century B.C., during the days of Samuel and Samson, the Philistines moved inland from the coast of Canaan. There, they built their civilization primarily in five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron (Joshua 13:3). These cities were each governed by a “king” or “lord” (from the Hebrew word seren, also rendered as “tyrant”). These kings apparently formed a coalition of equals. Each king retained autonomous control of his city, such as when Achish, king of Gath, dealt with David (1 Samuel 27:5-7), but they worked in concert in times of national emergency (Judges 16:5).

Ancient Philistine ruins contain numerous breweries and wineries, as well as countless beer mugs and other drinking vessels. Samson’s wedding feast, recorded in the book of Judges, illustrates the Philistine practice of holding week-long drinking parties; the Hebrew word misteh, translated “feast” in Judges 14:10, means “drinking feast.” Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/Philistines.html

I realise this doesn't actually answer your question, but it seems that the Philistines were a warmongering, aggressive and obstinate lot.

Edit: Genesis 26:14 tells us why the Philistines filled in Isaac's wells. They were jealous of Isaac's wealth. Anything to get rid of the competition attitude.

Archaeological evidence Philistines filled in wells - photographs: https://www.google.co.uk/search?tbm=isch&q=archaeological+evidence+Philistines+filled+in+wells&chips=q:archaeological+evidence+philistines+filled+in+wells,online_chips:biblical+philistines&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwifso6Hl4jcAhWPWsAKHax_A_EQ4lYIKSgB&biw=1370&bih=668&dpr=1

The Philistines were wronged by history: Not barbarian or even, it seems, particularly hostile, they lived cheek by jowl with the Judahites: https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium-gath-excavation-shows-philistines-weren-t-enemy-1.5424012

I also found alink to an article 'Unlocking the Secrets of the Philistines with New Cemetery Discovery' dated 17 August 2016. It suggests that evidence was uncovered suggesting the Philistines had stopped and filled up wells with earth. Unfortunately, this web page not found.

If I find anything else I will post an edit.

  • I'm undecided yet whether to upvote this as at least being "useful." You are right, it does not answer the question. But on the other hand, I was unaware of the evidence that the "Philistines liked to brew and drink beer," and can certainly see how you made your connection with that in relation to my underlying question of why they would stop up perfectly good wells of fresh water in the land they were dwelling in.
    – ScottS
    Jun 30, 2018 at 23:05
  • @ScottS - Found a web article about the Philistines being wronged by history and photographic evidence of wells filled in by the Philistines. See the links I posted.
    – Lesley
    Jul 9, 2018 at 8:38
  • Most of your updates do not seem relevant to the question (the mass of pictures on that one link don't even relate to wells, and if any do, I cannot tell; most appear to just be archaeological dig or findings pictures). There is no question that the Philistines did fill the wells (the Bible clearly indicates that). What I'm seeking is a "why."
    – ScottS
    Jul 9, 2018 at 16:09
  • You slipped in an interpretive answer as if it is fact (with Gen 26:14), but grammatically the perfect סִתְּמ֣וּ ("had stopped") implies the action had already been done, and v.18 logically confirms a prior filling (before envying Isaac) since it is related to "after" Abraham's death (rather than "after" Isaac arrived in Philistine land). Though I'm seeking historical/archaeological reasons, I'm not opposed to a biblical reasoning, if one can articulate why the text should be read as referring to having filled in the wells in response to Isaac's prosperity, not Abraham's death.
    – ScottS
    Jul 9, 2018 at 16:12

In my view, sin is a mystery in many cases. Why does someone commit evil? Reading the text, though I am no Hebrew scholar, it would seem that Abraham was tolerated and his wealth was intimidating. Also, Abraham's history shows he was not afraid of conflict. His reputation was well known. The Philistines, we know from history, were mortal enemies of Israel. Abraham obviously had dealings with the Abimelech. He lied to the King of Gerar and caused a great deal of unrest. God intervened and Abimelech was very much aware that he was dealing with God...a God he respected but did not follow.

Animosity was built as this King was forced to reckon with the situation and the man, Abraham. He knew God was with Abraham and that this God was powerful and could take his life, should he step out of line with Abraham.

Also, Abraham directly confronted Abimelech regarding the wells. This was no small matter.

I do not like people who intimidate me and make me look small. Abimelech was no different and his dislike would have been magnified, I believe, due to the fact that his ego was dealt a serious blow and his court knew it (he told them about it). He realized also that there was going to be a new neighbor in the area and that he was powerful and strong...and unafraid. Again, I refer to Abraham confronting him about the wells his men had taken.

It was Abimelech who sought to establish a covenant with Abraham. With this covenant established, the political climate seemed to settle down, for we are told that Abraham lived in the land of the Philistines for many days.

But 'still waters' run deep. Abimelech never forgot the ordeal.

It would be my suggestion that he filled these wells in an effort to drive Isaac and all of Abraham's lineage from the area. Water was a precious commodity and scripturally speaks of life. Cut off the supply and the Hebrews would be forced to vacate the area in search of a better supply. This would also give understanding to the continual filling of the well. Isaac was not a man given to conflict...so, rather than confront Abimelech, he packed up and dug another well.

  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your answer. Please take the tour (link below) to better understand how this site works. Are you able to quote some sources or references to support your assertions?
    – Dottard
    Oct 23, 2020 at 7:22

In ancient times, wells validated the possession of the land. Nomadic tribes did not build houses, they lived in tent dwellings. Digging a well marked their territory as the owner. The Philistines filled in the wells because the open well gave them rights of ownership. Filled in wells was the sign that this land now reverted back to the Philistines (enemy). The context of this passage centers around them asking them to leave and give up their ancient claims to the territory.

Bryan Cutshall, Th.D.

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Jul 27, 2023 at 13:21
  • It seems there is a contradiction for Nomadic people do not have intention to own a land. They keep moving but the well doesn't move. Jul 27, 2023 at 13:38
  • Thanks for the thoughts, but this answer would be far more useful (and potentially even worthy of accepting) if you had citations/quotes for the information you are providing. Specifically, (a) support that digging wells was a way for nomadic tribes to mark the territory they roamed in, and (b) support that filling in such wells was how more settled peoples "took back" the land the nomadic ones were claiming.
    – ScottS
    Jul 28, 2023 at 18:23

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