Metalworking in the Middle East

Before 1200 BC, bronze (a combination of copper and tin) was the predominant metal used in the Middle East. With a melting point of 1,100 degrees Celsius, bronze was softer than iron. And although it was a significant step beyond stone and wood, bronze didn't hold an edge well.

As the Bronze Age ended, many changes occurred. Both the Philistines and Israelites entered Canaan at the time, and there were many invasions, wars, and collapses of cultures. This resulted in a worldwide shortage of tin, which led to a scarcity of bronze.

During the thirteenth century BC, an Aegean people (the Philistines) migrated to the Middle East. Their sophisticated culture used iron very effectively. In fact, they developed a process that included leaving iron in the fire long enough to absorb the carbon from firewood. This process formed another more malleable from of iron; steel.

Early Bronze Age 3150-2200 BC Pre-Abraham
Middle Bronze Age 2200-1550 BC Patriarchs
Late Bronze Age 1550-1200 BC Egypt and the Exodus
Iron Age 1200-586 BC Monarchy of Israel

Iron so revolutionized the world that it gave its name to the next 600 years; the Iron Age.

Iron, as a technological advancement during biblical times, could be compared to nuclear energy or computers today. It determined which cultures would dominate world events. It revolutionized how people lived, how much land they could plow, how much stone they could shape, how much wood they could cut. And it revolutionized warfare, just as gunpowder did centuries later.

The Philistines kept their iron technology secret so others could not use it. And their pagan culture dominated the Middle East during the early Iron Age, much as Western nations shape the cultures of developing nations today.

Since they lived on the coastal plain along the international trade route, Philistines could also influence the world (a mission God had intended the Israelites to fulfill). The Israelites, on the other hand, did not even own swords and spears, and had to pay the Philistines to sharpen their tools (1 Sam. 13:19-22).

Between the time David killed Goliath and when he became king of Israel (2 Sam. 5), the Israelites learned the secret of iron technology and became the dominant culture. Some scholars believe that David, or one of his people, learned this secret while living with the Philistines (1 Sam. 27-29).

Although iron technology enabled David to destroy the enemies of God's people, he could not have been as successful as he was without God's hand upon him. Iron technology was one of the means by which God blessed David and provided a people, nation, and kingly pattern for the coming Son of David.

For Christians today, iron symbolizes the technological advancements that we can and should use to spread God's influence throughout the world.