The Latest Technology

Before 1200 BC, bronze was the metal in the Near East. Scholars believe that the technology of the ancient world was not advanced enough to heat metal to the temperature needed to melt iron and work it. The melting point of iron is 1,550 degrees Celsius, whereas copper melts at only 1,100 degrees Celsius. So, for more than 2,000 years, bronze was the metal of choice.

Bronze was a significant step beyond the stone tools and weapons of earlier times, but because it was composed of copper and tin, it was soft and didn't hold an edge well. Also, as the Bronze Age ended, there was a dramatic upheaval in the world order. It was a time of migrations (both the Philistines and Israelites entered Canaan at this time), invasions, wars, and the collapse of whole cultures. Scholars debate the cause of this upheaval, but the resulting chaos disrupted the trade routes that passed through the Middle East. It created a worldwide shortage of tin, which resulted in a scarcity of bronze, so even that inferior metal wasn't readily available. There was plenty of iron ore around, but the technology needed to smelt it didn't exist.


Against this backdrop, iron technology developed. Iron had existed in some form in the Aegean (Greek) world for some time. One of the migrations to the Middle East during the thirteenth century BC involved an Aegean people,the Philistines. Scholars don't know for certain that the Philistines invented iron technology, but they did make the most effective use of it (e.g., they developed a process that included leaving iron in the fire long enough to absorb the carbon from firewood to form another, more malleable form of iron/steel). This superior metal so revolutionized life that it gave its name to the next 600 years:the Iron Age.

Whoever had this metal could produce superior tools and weapons, leaving other societies behind in the "dark ages" of stone and bronze. Iron was to the biblical world what nuclear energy or the computer is to ours. It determined who would dominate and who would be relegated to the fringes of world events. Iron revolutionized how people lived: how much land they could plow, how much stone they could shape, how much wood they could cut. And it changed warfare to the same degree gunpowder did centuries later.

The Philistines were masters at iron technology. They developed it, and they protected it so others could not use it. Since the Philistines lived on the coastal plain by the international trade route, they also could influence the world (a mission God had intended for the Israelites). As a result, the Philistine culture with its pagan values dominated the Near East during the early Iron Age, much as Western nations shape the culture of developing countries today. The Bible confirms this fact: "Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, 'Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!'...So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand" (1 Sam. 13:19-22). Today, archaeologists find iron artifacts at most Philistine-Israelite sites from this period, but weapons are found only at Philistine sites.


A fascinating trend is appearing in the latest archaeological research. While not all archaeologists agree, evidence indicates that the Israelites acquired iron technology about the time David became king. Samuel anointed David when David was still a boy (1 Sam. 16), and God used him to destroy Goliath as a threat to Israel (1 Sam. 17). King Saul was jealous of the success of the charismatic young David and sought to kill him several times (1 Sam. 18-26). A desperate David moved in with Achish, the Philistine king of Gath. This pagan ruler gave David the city of Ziklag, where David lived for 16 months (1 Sam. 27-29). After Saul's death, David left the Philistine territory for Hebron in Judah (2 Sam. 2). He reigned as king of Judah for seven years, then moved to Jerusalem to become king of Israel (2 Sam. 5).

Some scholars believe that David (or one of his people) learned the secret of iron technology while he was with the Philistines (1 Sam. 27-29), and through it, he solidified his kingship and removed the Philistines as a threat to God's people. The Israelites eventually became the dominant culture, making good use of the new technology. Whether their dominance gained them the technology or whether the technology caused them to be superior is debatable, but the two are related.

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


Christians today can learn much from the role the new technology of iron played in the Philistine-Israelite conflict. The Philistines dominated Israel for many years because they monopolized this superior technology. When David became king, and the Israelites also began using iron, they were the dominant culture (at least, until they were unfaithful to God).

There are technologies that shape modem culture. Television, movies, popular music, and the computer all powerfully influence our society. Unfortunately, the Christian community has sometimes viewed any kind of technology as evil, leaving its use to those who do not hold traditional, biblical values-to the Philistines of our day. And they have shaped our culture according to their standards.

Only God can defeat the power of humanism in our society. But it is possible he has provided the "iron technology" to give us an edge on the humanists. If so, our failure to use it could be one cause of the loss of morality and godly values in our world.