By Tom Brennan
Samaria is one of those places and people that every Bible student will instantly recognize. They symbolize the extreme differences that existed within The Land in Jesus’ time. For a Jew to even pass through Samaria drew raised eyebrows from fellow Jews and Samaritans alike. The Good Samaritan was a confusing statement for the incredulous listeners to the lesson Jesus taught that day. Even more incredulous was His asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water and telling her that He was the prophesied Messiah. Of all people, a Samaritan and one that had five husbands and one live-in boyfriend at that. A visit to Samaria might round out our view of this place within Jesus view of what defines a lost sheep.
The catastrophic cascade of warring kings of Israel and Judah after the glory days of Solomon resulted in the Assyrians taking advantage of the weaknesses to the south and invading Northern Israel. Ten of the Tribes lived there and they undergo massive deportations and displacements. The Assyrians are brutal but are not fools. Good productive land is a better proposition than a scorched earth policy so other peoples are sent into this area to work it with some remaining locals and maintain crop production and tribute. The newcomers are idol worshippers. The locals have held onto many of the basics of their religious connections to the former kingdom. There are some differences, however. Mount Gerizim was once a holy place so a temple is erected on the foundations of much earlier non-Jewish holy altars. They adhere only to the Books of Moses as being inspired. But eventually the pagan influences are too much to resist and a mixing occurs.
By Jesus time, the Samaritans are seen as outcasts, apostates, heretics worthy of the fire and brimstone that Jesus’ disciples urge Him to summon. By the time He has restored the covenantal relationship, His commission to go into the world and make disciples includes Samaria, and no one blinks an eye.
A visit to Samaria is quite different a trip since it will give the traveler a chance to see traces of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Philips’s arrogant successors and the Romans which Jerusalem not duplicate. Jerusalem has been occupied, rebuilt and renamed so many times that Samaria’s outcast reputation preserved some elements not yet uncovered to the south.
A study of the Samaritans would help us understand a number of issues in the Bible. The Pharisees were a group that developed to restore the purity of worship, Torah observance and maintaining the distance they believed the people should keep from non-believers. Knowing who the Samaritans were will also help us understand the sections in Leviticus that declare a prohibition against intermixing the worship of the Almighty as He declares to be His alone and any element that is from outside. Too often idolatry had entered the religious lives of the Hebrews and the resulting plagues and exiles seem to have done little good to remind them of the penalties for disobedience.
When Jesus told the parable of the Samaritan who showed mercy the listeners were shocked and then saw through that shock to understand “I demand mercy not sacrifice” and saw into the heart of the Scripture which expects love of neighbor to accompany any love of self. Love of the Almighty is demonstrated by concern for others, no matter what their status in life. The Samaritans were outcasts and yet Jesus deliberately visited there; He commanded that the good news be taken to them and that they become disciples. His own chosen band was to do this, to overcome their inherited prejudices and look at these people through Jesus’ eyes.
Samaria occupies a significant role in the teachings of Jesus and how He instructed the chosen band of close disciples in how to act towards those who were considered outcasts and apostates. Seeing where these events will reinforce the lessons taught. Samaria is another one of the many places to visit in The Land.
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