Our Bible mentions Samaria and its people over one hundred times. But we remember the Samaritan people most for two parables that Jesus tells. To find the roots of the Samaritan people and understand their full story, we need to look to Jacob and his twelve sons. Joseph, his favorite son, was despised by his other brothers (Genesis 37:3-4), and they attempted to do away with him. God intervened and not only preserved Joseph’s life but used him to preserve the lives of his entire family. Before Jacob’s death, Joseph’s father gave him a special blessing:
(Genesis 49:22)1NIV New International Version Translations – “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.”
The blessing was fulfilled by God.
(Genesis 41:51-52) – “Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, ‘It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.’ The second son he named Ephraim and said, ‘It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’”
When Jacob (representing the nation of Israel) migrated with his entire family to be with his son Joseph in Egypt, he “adopted” the two boys and made them the primary partakers of God’s blessings. Although not the firstborn, God selected Ephraim and his descendants to be the leading Israelite tribe (Genesis 48). The land allotted to the tribes of Joseph’s two sons was the fertile land that would eventually become Samaria. Later, Israel would divide itself into two kingdoms. In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered the northern lands known as Israel. The Assyrians were aggressive and effective; the history of their dominance over the Middle East is a history of constant warfare. To assure that conquered territories would remain pacified, the Assyrians would force many of the native inhabitants to relocate to other parts of their empire. They would also send Assyrians to relocate into the conquered territory.
The Assyrians did not settle the Israelites in one place but scattered them in small populations all over the Middle East. When the Babylonians later conquered the southern kingdom, Judah, they, too, would relocate a massive amount of the population. However, they moved that population to a single location so that the Jews could set up a separate community and still retain their religion and identity.
An additional consequence of the Assyrian invasion of Israel involved the settling of a group in the capital of Israel, Samaria. This group took with them Assyrian gods and cultic practices. Within a short time, the Assyrians in Samaria were worshipping Yahweh as well as their gods. Within a few centuries, however, they would be worshipping Yahweh exclusively. Fast forward to Jesus’ time, the Jews called the Samaritans “half-breeds.” The Samaritan people were viewed as being neither Jewish nor pagan anymore. Hence, hatred and division existed between them.
Why then would Jesus refer to Samaritans in a positive way in His parables? Jesus was simply pointing out that a new attitude must be taken toward people that appear different from us. Jesus chose to pass through their towns instead of crossing the Jordan to avoid them (John 4:4-5). Jesus would also talk to a Samaritan woman, contrary to Jewish custom (John 4:9). On Mount Gerizim, the Samaritans had built their own separate Temple in Samaria. Jesus would meet and talk with the Samaritan woman at the well near Gerizim where the Samarians worshiped (John 4:19–20). Samaritans had even created their version of the Torah now known as the Samaritan Pentateuch. Yet, when Jesus gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), He was asked who is our neighbor? In this history, is our lesson!
What if technology like functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) was used to investigate our brain, could we see divisiveness and hatred? In 2021, a neurobiologist in a University College London laboratory tried to do this 2The Origin of Hatred – Scientific American. What he found was that love and hate are closely related. Love seemed to deactivate areas of the brain associated with judgment while hatred activated areas in the frontal cortex that are used when attempting to predict another person’s behavior (being judgmental). If you add to this information, history, and the impact of prior experiences, it is possible to understand why countries, peoples, families, etc. can find themselves divided by long-standing differences. Once our experiences with someone are programmed to expect behavior that does not meet our standards, the gap between understanding and divisiveness can only grow wider. In other words, hatred grows the more judgmental we become.
(Luke 6:37) – “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Jesus was implying that we should begin by regarding everyone’s viewpoint equally. However, Jesus didn’t mean we should ignore and tolerate evil. Jesus wasn’t passively tolerant toward people who were doing evil things and promoting evil values. [see Lostpine’s Study: Is it All About Compromise?] He often made judgments regarding their actions and confronted them (Matthew 21:13; 23:13-36; John 6:70-71; 8:39-47). Jesus taught in the tradition of the Old Testament where prophets consistently confronted evil, even at the risk of their lives (2 Samuel 12:1-12; 1 Kings 18:18). A parent who gives their children anything will spoil them. God sets limits for us for this purpose.
Judging, as Jesus condemned it in these verses, is unforgiving condemnation. It comes from a hypercritical, self-righteous, vindictive spirit that continually seeks to find faults in others while overlooking one’s shortcomings. The apostles recognized that in the new Christian Church, Samaritans must be accepted as equal to Jews. Peter and John conducted a special mission to Samaria to confirm Samaritans who had already been baptized by Philip (Acts 8:14-17). This initiation of the Samaritans was a middle stage between the preaching of the gospel to the Jews (Acts 2) and the preaching of the gospel to full-blooded Gentiles (Acts 10).
There are countless modern parallels to the Jewish-Samaritan hatred. We can see it wherever people are divided by racial and ethnic barriers. We can see it through the brutalities of war where hatred can be generational. Perhaps that’s why the Bible provides so many instances of Samaritans. It is not the person from the radically different culture on the other side of the world that is hardest to understand. Jesus is pointing out that it is often a nearby neighbor whose skin color, language, rituals, values, ancestry, history, and customs are different from our own. The questions then become how do we stay focused on God’s Truth but avoid judgment on inconsequential matters?
- Before passing judgment, seek wisdom and discernment (Proverbs 10:13).
- Not everyone makes decisions like you (Matthew 7:12).
- Resist the temptation to form quick opinions when you are short on facts (1 Samuel 1:1-15).
- It is only God that knows everything (Proverbs 16:2).
- Respect the diversity within the body of Christ throughout the world (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Yes, there were idols everywhere in Samaria, even in Jesus’ day. Samaritans were hated even more than the conquering Romans were. After the history of King Ahab [see Lostpine’s Study” Who was King Ahab?], the son of Omri reigned, he built a house of worship for Baal and “laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub” (1 Kings 16:34). The history of the people had sunk so low that they sacrificed their children, and to a god that is no god at all but is merely a representation of Satan himself in Baal.
Irreconcilable differences! Samaria had become a place of refuge for all the outlaws of Judea (Joshua 20:6-7; 21:21). The Samaritans willingly received Jewish criminals and refugees from justice. The violators of the Jewish laws, and those who had been excommunicated, found safety for themselves in Samaria, greatly increasing the hatred which existed between the two nations. Despite the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans, Jesus broke down the barriers between them, preaching the gospel to the Samaritans (John 4:6-26), and the apostles later followed His example (Acts 8:25). God’s Truth came for reconciliation and salvation. It is humanity’s only hope.
The most significant lesson in the Samaritan story may come from the risks of forced migration and the effects on religious beliefs and cultures. Jacob’s family all started their historical journey from the same place, the same God. Different experiences, different cultures would expose multiple generations to much sin and corruption. Their paths through history would lead them in the end divided, filled with hatred for each other. That was clearly Jesus’ point, it doesn’t have to end this way!
(John 5:22) – “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,”
- Think of the current mass migration going on in our world. Where do you see future cultural issues?
- Ideas to Explore: US Border Crisis? Expansion of Russia into Europe? Challenges coming from Muslim countries. Migration from the Blue States into the Red States?
- How do we prepare our families for living within a sinful and corrupt world? In other words, how do we keep our families focused on God and Christ in the middle of our world’s spiritual storms?
- Ideas to Explore: The importance of having a nuclear family in place. The importance of a church. The importance of the Word of God in your life.
- How would you and your family survive being exiled into a strange country or place?
- Ideas to Explore: How would you retain your faith? How would you protect your family against the sins of the world around them?
- How do we keep from worshipping false gods?
- Ideas to Explore: What are the false gods around us today? When everyone around you is wrong, how will you stay right, right with God?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations