4.2.5 Samaritans: Estranged Outcasts
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 2.5
Samaritans: Estranged Outcasts
The only “Samaritan” most people have ever heard of is the one in a parable that Yahshua told in Luke 10. He is popularly known as the “Good Samaritan.” The average uneducated Joe might therefore conclude, “So Samaritans were good, then, right?”
Well, not exactly. It’s a case study in irony, because in first-century Judea, Samaritans were generally considered by Jews to be unclean half-breeds, neither Jew nor gentile, but mongrels—both racially and spiritually. (I’ll explain why in due time.) Calling someone a “good Samaritan” would be like calling him a “good Nazi,” or at least a “good leper.” No self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with them. Typically, he would travel miles out of his way to avoid walking through Samaria—which was situated “inconveniently” between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north.
So bearing in mind that Samaritans were generally treated like outcasts and pariahs in the typical Jewish mindset, let us begin our study by reviewing the parable. As we shall see, it wasn’t about being a Samaritan or an outsider, but was rather meant to explain what “loving your neighbor as yourself” looked like.
“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested [Yahshua], saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’” (Luke 10:25-28) So far, so good. The scribe answered astutely, demonstrating his knowledge of the Torah—quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. We’ll never go too far wrong if God’s word is our guide.
What I find remarkable here is the lawyer’s original question. The Tanakh had revealed very little concerning the nature of the afterlife. All pre-Christian man knew for sure was the existence of Sheol, the abode of dead souls. It was generally accepted that there were two “compartments,” dividing the saved from the lost, within Sheol. Yahshua’s description of the place in Luke 16 is basically as the rabbis understood it. Josephus later described their conception of Abraham’s bosom (a.k.a. paradise) and hades in similar terms. But eternal life? Most of our knowledge and expectation of this concept comes from the teaching of Yahshua Himself. In the Old Testament, “heaven” is never spoken of as a place where people go after they die. What’s interesting here is that Yahshua—having been asked this earth-shaking question, one that no one other than God could answer with authority—merely referred to the Torah, as if the query had been the most natural thing in the world. Had not Moses written, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 18:5)
“But [the lawyer], wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” As we discussed in our previous chapter, a “neighbor” is one who by definition does not live in the same house or with the same family as you do. But the lawyer desperately wanted to restrict the term to people he found naturally “lovable”—other Israelites, preferably with the same beliefs, traditions, and standards he had. Good luck with that. “Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho [establishing that the man was Jewish], and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side….’”
The first thing Yahshua did is establish that there was a need—something upon which love could operate. It is obvious that the thieves didn’t love the man, but the passing priest and Levite should have: under God’s law, they had no excuse for failing to stop and render assistance to the fallen traveler. Beside the general “Law of Love,” the priests had been specifically set apart to minister to Yahweh on behalf of the people of Israel; and the Levites had been given “as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the work for the children of Israel in the tabernacle of meeting.” For that matter, the Levites had been appointed administrators of the “cities of refuge.” There was no wiggle room at all here.
So the priest and the Levite, though actual “neighbors” to the mugging victim, abdicated their responsibility—disobeying God in the process. Yahshua was pointing out to the lawyer that being a loving neighbor is not a matter of fitting the right racial profile or living in the right place; it’s simply doing the right thing. The most unlikely possible candidate for demonstrating the qualities of a “good neighbor” in this story would have been—you guessed it—a Samaritan. “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.” That, in a single word, is what defines someone as being a loving neighbor: compassion. “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii [maybe $200 in today’s terms], gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you….’”
Note what the Samaritan did—and didn’t do. He met a physical need, where (and to whatever extent) it was needed. First aid, emergency transportation, lodging expenses, some clothing, a few days’ worth of food. He took on a little risk, and in dealing with the innkeeper vouched for a man he didn’t even know—just because he considered him “his neighbor.” He spent money could have used somewhere else—perhaps to feed his own family. He took a little time out of his busy schedule. And perhaps most significantly, he showed compassion to someone who could be presumed to hate him for no good reason. Perhaps he even had to overcome a bit of prejudice of his own—the animosity between Jews and Samaritans in that age ran both ways.
And what didn’t he do? He didn’t try to solve all of the world’s problems—only the one that was staring him in the face in that time and place. He didn’t pay back what the robbers had stolen. He didn’t take up a collection among the other travelers, or rely upon assistance from the Roman authorities, or insist that the victim pay him back when he got on his feet. He didn’t criticize the victim for unwisely travelling alone on such a notoriously dangerous road. He didn’t cancel his own plans in order to fully insert himself into the victim’s life from that moment on—he merely postponed them for a little while. He didn’t impoverish himself or his family on the neighbor’s behalf. He didn’t take it upon himself to track down and punish the thieves. He didn’t shame the priest and the Levite who had refused to help. And he didn’t hold the victim’s presumed racial prejudice against him.
In short, he simply acted as any neighbor would who took God’s law of love (or merely his own conscience) seriously. He did what he could, and didn’t worry about what he couldn’t. “‘So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:29-37) Yahshua’s parable redefines who we think of as our neighbors. It turns our usual suppositions on their head. A true “neighbor” is someone who loves others as he does himself, as the Bible commands. Yahshua’s choice of story-line characters points out to us that racial prejudice, cultural discomfort, or good old-fashioned self-centeredness must never get in the way of showing compassion to someone we encounter who is in immediate need of what we are able provide.
And to home in on the significance of a good neighbor being a Samaritan—our subject du jour—we find ourselves facing the uncomfortably convicting admonitions of the Sermon of the Mount, where Yahshua said, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise….” This is exactly what the good Samaritan did, even though (under normal circumstances) the Jew he found beat up by the side of the road might presumably have “hated him, cursed him, and spitefully used him.” If I may read between the lines, the Jew didn’t ask for help from the Samaritan—but received it only because he had been left half dead by the thieves. Comatose men cannot cry out for help. (And I must say it: most of the world is spiritually comatose in these Last Days. We must not wait until invited to introduce them to Christ.)
Yahshua also discussed the converse scenario, stating (in effect) that it would not have been remarkable if the priest or the Levite had stopped to help their neighbor in need: “But if you love [only] those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back….” Indeed, it was remarkable that the pompous priest and the lazy Levite “passed by on the other side,” pretending not to see their neighbor in distress so they wouldn’t be inconvenienced by taking the time to help him.
The reason we are to love our neighbors (no matter who they are) is because our God loves us, even though we’re not all that lovable: “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36) The Samaritan on the road may have had good reason to presume that the Jewish mugging victim would be “unthankful and evil.” It didn’t matter: he showed mercy and compassion anyway. Let us go and do likewise.
Who were these Samaritans, and why was there such animosity between them and the Judeans? It’s a long story—but one that God went out of His way to tell us, so I can only presume it’s important that we know this.
We’re all familiar with David’s sin with Bathsheba, and how his whole reign suffered in its aftermath. I think it’s safe to say that David was driven by his passions. That’s not all bad: his passion for Yahweh began in his youth, and it never left him. But his passion for women would undo much of the good he did for Israel. I find it ironic, then, that Solomon, David’s son with Bathsheba, penned some of the most cogent warnings to be found in all of scripture about young men avoiding the seductions of strange women (see Proverbs 5 through 7). But it is doubly ironic that Solomon himself eventually fell into a trap set by his many foreign wives—the trap of idolatry. How could one who had been granted such wisdom in his youth become so foolish in his old age? It is a parable for all of us. And (more to our present point) it is the source of the Samaritan schism.
“For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to Yahweh his God, as was the heart of his father David.” Solomon’s first error was multiplying wives for himself—something specifically forbidden for the king in the Torah (Deuteronomy 17:17). “For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of Yahweh, and did not fully follow Yahweh, as did his father David.” This went far beyond merely allowing his wives to worship the gods of their pagan homelands. He actually participated in and supported these cults: “Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon.” All of these “gods” are of Babylonian derivation. Chemosh and Molech were two names for the same false deity, the focus of a fertility cult that (among other abominations) demanded the sacrifice of one’s infant children. Doing so in Israel was supposed to earn you death by stoning (see Leviticus 20:2). “And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods….”
It didn’t take a prophet to spot the problem. “So Yahweh became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from Yahweh, God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what Yahweh had commanded.” The specific warning is recorded in I Kings 9:6-7. The general warnings pepper the Torah like stars in the night sky. “Therefore Yahweh said to Solomon, ‘Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.” But even here, Solomon was shown a remarkable degree of mercy: “Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.” (I Kings 11:4-13) It was only for the sake of David’s faithfulness that Judah would remain intact—for the moment.
The “servant” referred to here is a man named Jeroboam, who rebelled against Solomon in his later years—one of several men who proved to be pebbles in Solomon’s shoe after he had started down the road of spiritual compromise. We pick up the story in verse 27. “And this is what caused [Jeroboam] to rebel against the king: Solomon had built the Millo and repaired the damages to the City of David his father. The man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valor; and Solomon, seeing that the young man was industrious, made him the officer over all the labor force of the house of Joseph….” Solomon himself was the first to put “visions of grandeur” into the head of Jeroboam.
But it was Yahweh Himself who (through His prophet) planted the seeds of rebellion in his heart. “Now it happened at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite met him on the way; and he had clothed himself with a new garment, and the two were alone in the field. Then Ahijah took hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces.” Weird, but effective. “And he said to Jeroboam, ‘Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you (but he shall have one tribe for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), because they have forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the people of Ammon, and have not walked in My ways to do what is right in My eyes and keep My statutes and My judgments, as did his father David….”’” Basically, God told Jeroboam the same thing he had Solomon: that the kingdom was to be divided because of Solomon’s idolatry. The only new information here was that Jeroboam was being assigned to lead ten of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Judah, however, would have to be excluded because of the Messianic prophecy of Genesis 49:10, in which it was said that the scepter would not depart from Judah until Shiloh (“He to whom it belongs”—Yahshua) came. Jeroboam was of the tribe of Ephraim. “However I will not take the whole kingdom out of his [Solomon’s] hand, because I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes. But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and give it to you—ten tribes.” In other words, the son who reigned in Solomon’s stead after his death would lose the ten tribes (everybody but Judah and Benjamin) to Jeroboam. “And to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Myself, to put My name there….” If you’re willing to see it, it’s prophetic (or at least poetic) that the one tribe that would remain with Judah was Benjamin—whose name means “Son of My Right Hand.” I see this as a reference to the Son of God—Yahshua. The scepter and the Son would remain together.
Basically, because of Solomon’s idolatry, Jeroboam was being handed the lion’s share of the kingdom on a silver platter. “‘So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel. Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you. And I will afflict the descendants of David because of this, but not forever.’” His “deal” was virtually identical to what Solomon’s had been: if you honor Yahweh and keep His commandments, the world will be your oyster. As usual, that would turn out to be a really big “if.” When Solomon found out, his reaction was predictable for one who had lost his bearings: “Solomon therefore sought to kill Jeroboam. But Jeroboam arose and fled to Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.” (I Kings 11:27-40)
Upon Solomon’s death, the kingdom—all twelve tribes—would naturally have fallen to Prince Rehoboam. And since Solomon had (in his later years) become kind of a jerk as a ruler—imposing high taxes and service quotas from his people (basically doing everything that Samuel had warned them about before the monarchy had even begun)—the citizens petitioned Rehoboam for a little respite. The elders of Israel gave the prince the same counsel: go easy on the people and they’ll stick with you forever. But Rehoboam’s contemporaries—the spoiled rich kids he had grown up with—gave precisely the opposite advice: be tough; make things even harder on them; take what you want. You’re the king, after all. What can they do? Rehoboam took his friends’ bad advice.
What can they do? Israel told Rehoboam to take his throne and shove it. Well, they were a bit more diplomatic: “What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!” (I Kings 12:16) Rehoboam the Dense didn’t get the message, and sent his chief tax collector, Adoram, to enforce his financial will. The citizenry stoned him to death—sending the shaken boy-king back to Jerusalem with his tail between his legs. Oops.
Now that Solomon was dead, Jeroboam came back from exile in Egypt. And true to the prophet Ahijah’s word, he was promptly made king over the ten northern tribes—to be referred to henceforth as “Israel” or “Ephraim,” in contrast with the two southern tribes, called “Judah” or the land of “Judea.” (In the New Testament, when “Jews” are referred to, the Greek word Ioudaios actually means “Judeans.”) “Now it came to pass when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had come back, they sent for him and called him to the congregation, and made him king over all Israel. There was none who followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.” (I Kings 12:20)
As we noted above, Ahijah had told Jeroboam that if he kept the Law of God, his kingdom would prosper indefinitely. But there was a problem: Jerry had grown paranoid. The Torah had instructed all of Israel to gather three times a year in “the place where Yahweh chooses.” Since the reign of David, this had been Jerusalem—and the temple had been built there. So, “Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of Yahweh at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah….’”
The prophet had implied that this would not be a problem, but Jeroboam wasn’t taking any chances. “Therefore the king asked advice, [and] made two calves of gold.” Are you kidding me? Golden calves? Had he forgotten the carnage that had ensued when the exodus generation had made a golden calf in the wilderness? “And [he] said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.’” Ironically, Jeroboam then used precisely the same lie Aaron had (see Exodus 32:4): “‘Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!...’” The idea was, the golden calves were supposed to be representations of Yahweh—a direct violation of the Second Commandment, no matter how logical Jeroboam thought it sounded.
And what about the “hardship” factor? “And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan….” Dan was in the far north of the Land (about 27 miles north of the Sea of Galilee). But Bethel? It was only twelve miles from Jerusalem. There was no plausible way to claim that this was “too much” of a trip for the people to make. (For reference, Jerusalem was situated at roughly the geographical center of the Land of Promise—nobody in the whole country, north or south, was more than a three- or four-day journey away from it.)
So from the very beginning of Jeroboam’s reign, idolatry became the new paradigm in Israel—not because he believed in false gods, but because of his own perceived self-interest. Rather than carefully following the dictates of the Torah (as he had been warned to do by Ahijah), Jeroboam made up a counterfeit religion designed to look and feel sort of like what Moses had handed down—while changing all of the specific details to prevent Israel from feeling the need to visit the Jerusalem temple. Needless to say, “Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi….” Most real priests and Levites were tied to Jerusalem, of course, so Jeroboam simply appointed “replacements.”
“Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar.” The feast of Tabernacles was to be celebrated—in Jerusalem—beginning on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. So Jeroboam even changed the date of the feast. Playing fast and loose with the Torah turned out to be a slippery slope: once you changed one thing (the venue), nothing was off the table. “So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made. So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.” I Kings 12:26-33) In New Testament parlance, this is what is known as “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
Right about now, you’re probably wondering, “Okay, but what does all of this have to do with Samaria or Samaritans?” What I have just described is the origin of the Samaritan religion—seemingly a rough approximation of the Jewish rites delineated (by Yahweh’s command) in the Torah, but tweaked to avoid any reason for Israelites from the northern kingdom to travel to Jerusalem for worship. More on this in a bit, but first let us explore how Samaria became the center of this whole mess.
About half a century (and half a dozen kings) after Jeroboam took control of the Northern Kingdom, Omri assumed the throne. “Omri became king over Israel, and reigned twelve years. Six years he reigned in Tirzah. And he bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver; then he built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, Samaria, after the name of Shemer, owner of the hill. Omri did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, and did worse than all who were before him. For he walked in all the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sin by which he had made Israel sin, provoking Yahweh, God of Israel, to anger with their idols.” (I Kings 16:23-26) For what it’s worth, the name “Samaria” (Hebrew: Shomron) is derived from the verb shamar: “to keep, watch, or preserve.” But Omri wasn’t making a statement here—he merely called the hill (and the city he built upon it) by the name of its previous owner, Shemer. It would eventually become the name by which the whole territory was known. It was the only city founded (i.e., not just conquered) by the ten northern tribes.
We may safely presume that Omri had no intention of returning the land to Shemer’s family at the Jubilee. Samaria remained the capital of the Northern Kingdom for another century and a half—until Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC. That sad notice (“he did evil in the sight of Yahweh”) became a recurring pulse, like a throbbing migraine headache, in the history of Israel. From Jeroboam to Israel’s last king, Hoshea, there were twenty rulers in the north—and all of them were judged to be “evil in the sight of Yahweh” to one degree or another. This tradition of systematic idolatry takes us one step closer to understanding what happened to make Samaria a synonym for estranged outcasts in the Jewish mind. The event that cast them out of the Land and polluted their bloodline was the Assyrian invasion in 722 BC.
The story is related in II Kings 17. “In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned nine years. He did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him.” In other words, he was bad, but not as bad as Jeroboam or Omri. This is as high a compliment as any leader of the Northern Kingdom ever got in scripture. “Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So, king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year.” After two hundred years of apostasy, we should not be surprised to find that Samaria had lost its independence. They had (just as the Torah had warned) become subservient to a foreign power—and they weren’t a very good subject, either: they were “cheating” on Assyria, hoping to buy some military assistance from Egypt. It never even occurred to Hoshea to cry out to Yahweh for relief.
The Assyrian response was swift and harsh. “Therefore Shalmaneser [V, whose reign ended in 722] seized him and put him in prison. The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.” (II Kings 17:1-6) The deportation was neither total nor permanent. Sargon II (Shalmaneser’s successor) claims to have carried away only 27,290 of the inhabitants of Samaria. It was the Assyrian practice to exile the nobility, the landowners, the prosperous, and the influential, while leaving many of the peasants to work the fields and orchards. With the leaders gone, there was less chance of insurrection. Meanwhile, they would bring in subjugated peoples from other parts of their empire and settle them alongside those they had left of the native population. The purpose of mixing populations like this was to break their subjects’ emotional or patriotic attachments to the land. Coming as it did after two centuries of apostasy and idolatry, this tactic worked relatively well on Samaria. Eventually, the two (or multiple) populations would intermarry, diluting (or polluting) everyone’s racial bloodlines.
This would become a major sticking point for Jews in Judah, who were still (despite their many faults) trying to adhere to such Torah precepts as, “You shall make no covenant with them [the seven nations of Canaan] nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of Yahweh will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.” (Deuteronomy 7:2-4) Even when they themselves were exiled to Babylon for their own idolatry (over a century later), the Jews avoided intermarriage with the gentiles to a large degree. So they looked on the Samaritans with disdain and disgust, treating them as “half-breeds,” neither Jew nor gentile, but a mongrel race.
So after a lengthy recap of Israel’s sins, the record continues, “The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. When they first lived there, they did not worship Yahweh; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. It was reported to the king of Assyria: ‘The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires….’” The pagan mindset was that a god was local—He held sway only over a certain limited territory. This was an artifact of the proliferation of the names of their deities: Ba’al was Milcom, who was Chemosh, who was Merodach, who was Molech—all derivatives of Nimrod. Astarte was Ashtoreth, who was Ishtar, who was Isis, who was Venus—all permutations of Semiramis. The same pagan god was often worshiped under several different names in several different places at the same time. So when they were settled in Samaria, the pagans inquired who the “god” of the place was, and were told it was Yahweh, the one represented by Jeroboam’s two golden calves. You can’t blame them for being confused.
“Then the king of Assyria gave this order: ‘Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.’ So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship Yahweh….” Well, sort of. Remember, the kings of Israel from Jeroboam forward had appointed “replacement” priests and Levites to fill the gap left by the real priests who still ministered in the Jerusalem temple. The Torah was still considered God-breathed scripture in Samaria, and Yahweh was still the deity of record, but everyone played fast and loose with God’s instructions because of the schism between Judah and Israel.
And more to the point, no god was worshiped exclusively (as was required in the First Commandment). “Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. The people from Babylon made Sukkoth Benoth, those from Kuthah made Nergal, and those from Hamath made Ashima; the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelek and Anammelek, the gods of Sepharvaim. They worshiped Yahweh, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshiped Yahweh, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought….”
“To this day they persist in their former practices.” The book of Kings (now in two parts) was compiled from historic sources during or soon after the Babylonian captivity—by an exile from Judah. The author/editor is unknown, but Ezra, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah have been suggested. The point here is that nothing had really changed in Samaria during the past couple of centuries: “They neither worship Yahweh nor adhere to the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands that Yahweh gave the descendants of Jacob, whom he named Israel….”
Yahweh’s word had never changed—even when He had split the kingdom in two in the wake of Solomon’s old-age idolatry. “When Yahweh made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: ‘Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. But Yahweh, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To Him you shall bow down and to Him offer sacrifices. You must always be careful to keep the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. Rather, worship Yahweh your God; it is He who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies….’” It reads like a synopsis of the Book of Deuteronomy—in force half a millennium before the kingdom even existed.
“They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshiping Yahweh, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.” (II Kings 17:24-41) We’re tempted to cluck our tongues and ask “How could they?” But is this not precisely what large segments of the modern church have done—tried to serve two masters, God and the world, at the same time? Half the time we don’t even realize how invested we are in the affairs of this world—our careers, avocations, education, petty diversions, toys, even our families. How often do we sacrifice the perfect on the altar of the adequate? How often do we dilute our passion for the things of God with the irrelevant distractions that so easily catch our eye? How often do we ignore the precepts of God when trying to reach the lost?
The cultural animosity between the Samaritans and the Jews stemmed largely from the fact that by the end of Judah’s 70-year exile in Babylon, the whole area, north and south, was being administered from Samaria by local governors appointed by the king—such as the Sanballat who troubled Nehemiah in the days of Artaxerxes. (Jerusalem, you’ll recall, lay in ruins at the time.) By this time, the Assyrians had been defeated by the Babylonians, who in turn had been swallowed whole by the Persians and Medes under Cyrus in October, 539 BC. Within a year, Cyrus issued a proclamation that the Jews could return and rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. He even provided royal funds for the project and returned much of the booty that had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar when his armies destroyed the place in 586.
The temple rebuilding project was underway within two years of Cyrus’ edict (i.e., 536 BC), and a group of Samaritans asked to be included in it, claiming to have worshiped Yahweh since the days of the Assyrian King Esarhaddon. But their offer was rebuffed by Zerubbabel and Jeshua (a.k.a. Joshua) the priest, who protested that Cyrus had authorized the Jews alone to build it (Ezra 4:1-5). Due to subsequent Samaritan opposition, the building was discontinued in the reign of Cambyses in 534 BC, but resumed during the reign of Darius I in 520 and finally completed in 515. Further Samaritan opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall and city continued sporadically during the reigns of Ahasuerus (a.k.a. Xerxes—486-464 BC) and his son Artaxerxes I (464-423 BC, who sent Nehemiah to rebuild the city’s wall and gate in 444 BC—itself a fulfillment of the Daniel 9:25 prophecy which pinpoints the date of the coming of the Messiah to Monday, March 28—Nisan 10—33AD, the exact date of Yahshua’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem).
Having been rebuffed by the Jews on the religious front, the Samaritans eventually created their own “parallel universe.” In time, the word “Samaritan” came to indicate a devotee of the Samaritan religion (in addition to merely being a resident of the region of Samaria). In the late fourth century BC (about the time Persian rule was being supplanted by the Greeks) they built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, near the city of Shechem—ironically, only about 27 miles from Jerusalem. This location was not chosen at random. Shechem had been the capital of the Northern Kingdom until Jeroboam relocated it at Tirzah. There was also a fictitious Samaritan tradition that the tabernacle had been stationed in Shechem before it had been moved to Shiloh—giving Mount Gerizim (in the eyes of the Samaritans) more legitimacy than Zion as a temple location.
Twice in Deuteronomy (11:29 and 27:11), Moses had specified Mount Gerizim to be the place that Israel was to confirm Yahweh’s blessings. That is, when they entered the Land, six tribes (Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin) were to stand on the slope of Mount Gerizim and pronounce blessings upon Israel for their compliance with God’s law, while the other six tribes (Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali) were to stand on the neighboring Mount Ebal to witness the curses for disobedience. (Don’t think of these as American-style “mountains” like Rainer or Denali—these were just neighboring hills, with a valley in between: you could shout from one and be heard on the other.)
Joshua’s compliance with the Ebal/Gerizim directive took place after Israel’s belated victory over Ai. “Now Joshua built an altar to Yahweh, God of Israel, in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of Yahweh had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: ‘an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool.’ And they offered on it burnt offerings to Yahweh, and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. Then all Israel, with their elders and officers and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, the stranger as well as he who was born among them. Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of Yahweh had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.” (Joshua 8:30-35)
Considering the gross and enduring apostasy that the northern kingdom had perpetrated for so long, one could argue that Mount Ebal (the side associated with cursing) would have been a more appropriate choice of location for the Samaritan temple. But Moses had designated Mount Gerizim as the “blessing” venue, so that’s where the Samaritans built their temple. Hope (and delusion) dies hard. In time, the Samaritans took to calling Mount Gerizim the “navel of the earth,” because of several bogus traditions that arose. They believed that Adam, Abel, and Noah had all offered sacrifices there. (The four rivers mentioned in Genesis 2:10-14 seem to place Eden in modern-day Turkey; and the ark of Noah came to rest in the mountains of Ararat, also in Turkey.) They also contended that Mount Gerizim was where Abraham had met Melchizedek and had almost sacrificed Isaac—both of which actually took place in or near Jerusalem—before it was Jerusalem.
Racially, it was pretty much the same story: the Samaritans came to believe fictitious traditions they wished to be true. We saw above (in II Kings 17) how their national blood line had been mixed during the Assyrian conquest—and even with whom. But they preferred to contend that they were pure-blooded descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and could trace their lineage all the way back to the time of Eli—a century and a half before the kingdom was split. It’s a pity that whatever genealogical records were extant were kept in the temple in Jerusalem.
By the time of Christ, the Samaritans had developed their own comprehensive theological system. Like the Jews (and today’s church, for that matter), they nominally worshiped Yahweh, but their traditions had largely supplanted the clear word of God. Their scriptures consisted of the Torah alone, of which they had their own “version,” the “Samaritan Pentateuch.” It was similar to that of the Jews, but with a few changes and additions that made it possible for them to justify their “close-but-no-cigar” religious practice—notably, specific references to Mount Gerizim not found in the Jewish Torah. Much of the Tanakh, after all, had been penned after the great north-south schism, and David and his house (held in low esteem in Samaria) dominated most of the rest of it. Needless to say, such late additions to the Jewish festal calendar as Purim and Hanukkah were not celebrated in Samaria.
One source explains, “The Samaritans held only the first five biblical books (Pentateuch) to be inspired and based their dogma and practice exclusively on these books. Such a narrow canon not only determined the direction of Samaritan theology, but further separated them from contemporary Jewish thought. Moses, for example, becomes in Samaritan thought an even more exalted figure than in Judaism. He was considered not only the chief prophet, but in later thought was described as the choicest of men, pre-existing from creation, interceding with God for Israel, and being to man ‘the light of the world.’ The messianic hope of Samaritan theology also reflects this narrow canon. A Messiah from the house of David could not be anticipated, as no evidence for such could be found in the Pentateuch. Rather, the Samaritans awaited a ‘prophet like Moses’ based on Deuteronomy 18:15-18. This anticipated prophet was also designated the ‘Taheb,’ the Restorer, for he would in the last days restore proper cultic worship on Mt. Gerizim and bring the worship of the heathen to that site.”—Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible
Ironically, even the Samaritans had false Messiahs. A first century AD Samaritan named Dositheus applied the Deuteronomy 18 passage to himself and tried to gain a following. (For that matter, so did Muhammad, in the sixth century AD, based on the Messianic expectations of Jews living in Yathrib, in the Arabian Peninsula. Apparently, anybody with a big enough ego can see himself as “a prophet like Moses.”) For the Samaritans, of course, Moses took on larger-than-life proportions. Because they accepted only the Pentateuch as scripture, Moses was regarded as the only prophet. He was thus expected to be the people’s intercessor in the final judgment, in which the righteous would be resurrected to paradise and the wicked would be roasted in eternal fire. (Hell’s torments, beyond mere “destruction” or “ceasing to be” are nowhere to be found in the Torah, by the way.)
Remarkably (to my mind) they came to basically the same conclusion as the second-temple-era Jewish rabbis about the time of man upon the earth: there would be six thousand years between the creation and the final coming of the Restorer. (Actually, the starting gun would be the fall of Adam into sin, but considering the way the first few chapters of Genesis are presented, it’s an easy mistake to make.) It’s all based on the Sabbath principle, of course. For what it’s worth, I am convinced that the rabbis and Samaritans were essentially correct in this observation. The Sabbath Law is presented so many times, in so many ways, it seems ludicrous (to me, anyway) to assume that it means nothing more significant than, “You guys need to take a break now and then.” By the way, that six thousand year deadline is fast approaching our generation. No pressure, or anything, folks.
The biggest single difference between the Samaritan and Masoretic texts revolves around the Mount Gerizim vs. Mount Moriah issue. The Masoretic Pentateuch speaks often of “the place that God will choose,” namely Jerusalem or Mount Moriah. But the Samaritan Pentateuch speaks of “the place that God has chosen,” meaning Mount Gerizim—a mere 27 miles away from Zion. It would seem that for all their animosity over the centuries, the Samaritans and Jews are no further apart theologically than, say, Shiite and Sunni Muslims, or Roman Catholicism and the Church of England. Alas, such is the problem with all man-made religion: it makes enemies out of people who should be loving each other. Instant strife: just add self-serving dogma.
The Samaritan Version of the Ten Commandments is revealing. Like the Roman Catholic version, it looks similar at first glance, but there are telling little differences that betray an agenda. In this case, the first two commandments are joined into one. Then the Samaritan version omits the Third Commandment (the one prohibiting taking Yahweh’s name lightly). The rest of the list is the same until you get to covetousness, which they again break into two parts.
Then they add the Samaritan zinger as their new Tenth Commandment: “It shall be when your God will bring you to the Canaanite land, which you are going to inherit, you shall set yourself up great stones, and plaster them with plaster, and you shall write on them all the words of this law. It shall be, when you are passed over the Jordan, that you shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in Mount Gerizim. There shall you build an altar to Yahweh your God, an altar of stones: you shall lift up no iron tool on them. You shall build the altar of Yahweh your God of uncut stones; and you shall offer burnt offerings thereon to Yahweh your God: and you shall sacrifice peace-offerings, and shall eat there; and you shall rejoice before Yahweh your God. That mount beyond the Jordan, behind the way of the going down of the sun, in the land of the Canaanites who dwell in the Arabah, over against Gilgal, beside the oaks of Moreh, against Shechem (Nablus).” Some of that is copied and pasted from other places in the Torah, but the rest is invented out of whole cloth, wishful thinking, and a transparent agenda: to redefine the “place that Yahweh your God will choose” as Mount Gerizim, not Mount Moriah—as Shechem, not Jerusalem.
Most of the other differences between the Masoretic Hebrew Torah and the Samaritan Pentateuch are minor and apparently “accidental,” bearing no evidence of agenda-driven tampering. They originally used the same 22-character alphabet (Paleo-Hebrew), but the “Babylonian Hebrew” letter style still in use today came into vogue during the Second Temple period—long after the Samaritan canon had closed. Vowel pointing, a late Masoretic invention (and something that can be used to shade or alter the meaning of the text) is not used in the Samaritan manuscripts. The Jewish Virtual Library tells us how the Masoretic (literally: “traditional”) text, complete with vowel pointing, came to us: “There were two schools of thought over the rewriting of the Bible. There was the Eastern or Babylonian school and the other was a Western or Palestinian school. The Palestinian school had two branches of thought, the Ben Asher and the Ben Naphtali in Tiberias. In 930 C.E. Aaron ben Moses ben Asher produced the first complete Bible, called the Aleppo Codex, utilizing masoretic symbols and ordering. For several centuries, various Masoretes continued to influence the pronunciation and writing of the text. However, the first “official” Bible text that is still used today was the Great Rabbinic Bible, published in 1524-1525 by Daniel Bomberg (a Christian in Venice).”
One area in which the Masoretic and Samaritan texts do not precisely match is that of numbers. For example, the years listed in the genealogies of Genesis 5 differ, and that may turn out to be quite significant. The Sabbath principle, initially laid out for us in the first chapter of Genesis, led me (not to mention the ancient rabbis) to the conclusion that fallen man’s tenure upon the earth would last only six days (read: six thousand years) before the Millennial Sabbath “rest” under the rule of the Messiah began.
I took it one step further and reasoned that each of these thousand-year “days” would last precisely one thousand years. I know, it sounds obvious when you say it like that, but we don’t usually think in those terms. The first chapter of Genesis, for example, lists different creative achievements for each of God’s six days of “work.” Peter wrote: “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (II Peter 3:8) And Moses (Psalm 90:4) concurs. If this observation is literally true (as I believe it to be), then we would expect Yahweh to be using each millennium to demonstrate a separate truth.
The point is that I expected to see a “millennial milestone” of some sort—pointing out either our dire need for salvation or a feature (a prophetic or symbolic harbinger) of God’s plan for bringing it about—spaced at precise one-thousand year intervals throughout Biblical history. These would begin at the fall of Adam and continue through the Messiah’s kingdom age—seven millennia altogether. And using the passion of the Christ—33 AD—as the “anchor date” (since this is without question the most spiritually significant event in history) it seemed to be working, for the most part. (I explain the “theory” in detail in The End of the Beginning, Appendix I, elsewhere on this website.)
The only problem was that the genealogical data in our English versions (based on the Masoretic text) “should have” placed the Great Flood of Noah a thousand years after the fall of Adam, but it seemed to be a couple of hundred years off. There are any number of ways to rationalize the discrepancy, of course, but it just didn’t seem “like God” to require them.
But then I learned that the Samaritan Pentateuch comes out “on the money,” defining Noah’s Flood as the first “millennial milestone” after Adam’s fall. As confirmation, I then learned that in the matter of this chronological data, the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (begun with the Torah in the third century BC)—matched the Samaritan Pentateuch, not the Masoretic text upon which our English translations are based. This gave me the confidence to conclude with as much certainty as a mortal man can summon that Yahshua’s Millennial Kingdom will commence on October 8 (Tishri 15—the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles), 2033. (But before you ask, no, I have no idea when the rapture will take place. Sorry.)
By the time of Christ, if a Jew called someone a “Samaritan” was a nasty insult. It meant he was considered a traitor, a cultural pariah, someone who didn’t fit within the parameters of polite society. It was taken as an article of faith in Judea that “our traditions are in perfect alignment with the will of God, so anyone who doesn’t agree with us—or worse, points out our flaws—is ungodly and evil.” Again, it sounds a lot like some churches these days.
Not surprisingly, Yahshua was accused of this very thing: “Jesus said to [the Pharisees], ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word….” That is, they were not honest seekers after the truth. If they had been, they would have been able to discern God’s presence in His words and deeds. He had just pointed out that, their pretentions notwithstanding, they were slaves to their sin—but He could free them from their chains. But their attitude was that, as children of Abraham, they were free and entitled already—they had no need of salvation.
So Yahshua revealed the ugly truth: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God….’” Well that was pretty harsh. The Pharisees were popularly considered the most pious, righteous, Torah-observant men in all of Israel—and not without cause. They were inordinately proud of their status. And yet, Yahshua pointed out that they were merely performing an act: they had no real relationship with the God whose rules they were pretending to follow. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
So the Pharisees, livid at having had their pretenses and hypocrisy exposed, lashed out with the worst pejoratives they could think of: “Then the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” (John 8:42-48) The whole “demonic” epithet was just plain silly. Yahshua was obviously in his right mind, reasonable, gentle, and merciful—even if He did speak the unvarnished truth and display abilities that no one else had, like healing the sick or raising the dead. But the “Samaritan” epithet was potentially more likely to stick. After all, He came from “up north,” where people talked with a funny accent; and He didn’t act exactly as the Pharisees behaved, with obsequious devotion to the minutiae of the Law, as viewed through the filter of centuries of pointless rabbinical tradition. The scribes and Pharisees certainly wanted Him to be treated as an estranged outcast. More to the point, they knew that if Yahshua could be branded a Samaritan in the popular mind, He couldn’t be regarded as the Son of David—a Messianic requirement. But their story didn’t hold water: all of this took place (see John 8:1) in the temple in Jerusalem—the last place on Earth a real Samaritan prophet would have gone to teach. Oops.
The Gospels record several instances in which Yahshua came in contact with Samaritans, and His actions are revealing. How, precisely, does God-in-Flesh deal with people who are branded as cultural pariahs? We have explored how and why the Samaritans came to be known as “estranged outcasts,” at least among the Jews (which is the perspective from which the Bible views everything). The schism began with Jereboam’s sin, borne of mistrust in Yahweh’s provision, but over time it took on a life of its own.
From the Jewish perspective, a big part of the problem had been racial: the inevitable intermarriage of the ten northern tribes with other captive gentile populations their Assyrian conquerors had settled among them—with the express purpose of breaking down their nationalistic fervor. What they failed to appreciate was that Yahweh had never had a problem with mixing bloodlines. There had been a large contingent of gentiles (called the “mixed multitude”) who accompanied Israel out of Egypt at the exodus. The mighty Caleb for example, numbered with the tribe of Judah, was actually a gentile, of Kennizite stock. Moses himself had married an Ethiopian (Cushite) woman (Numbers 12:1). If any gentile wished to dwell among the Israelites, Yahweh’s only requirement was that he lived (as the Jews were required to do) according to the Torah.
So the real issue wasn’t racial hatred—irrational xenophobia—but religious nitpicking. As Samaritanism (as a religion) matured, it claimed the Torah as its sole scriptural authority. Yes, they tweaked it a bit to move “the place where Yahweh shall make His name abide” to Mount Gerizim instead of Zion, but Judaism in the hands of the rabbis, scribes, and Pharisees was just as far removed from pure Torah observance as the Samaritan religion, though in different ways. Both religious traditions had been forced to make “adjustments” in order to deal with the consequences of their ancestors’ past sins. (For example, the Ark of the Covenant—essential for the rites of the Day of Atonement—had not been available for service for six hundred years.) Based strictly on Torah observance, the Samaritans had as much justification in considering the Jews to be outcasts from the pure faith as the Jews did them. No one did it right. For that matter, the church usually doesn’t “do it right” either, as witnessed by the seven challenge-ridden prophetic profiles addressed in Revelation 2 and 3.
It is therefore vital for us to consider how Yahshua dealt with Samaritans—those in the culture of His day who were the very personification of “estranged outcasts”—for in truth, all of us fit that definition. Whether through our own sins or those of previous generations, we have all lost the right to stand before God as innocent children. We all deserve to be cast out of His holy presence. So, did Yahshua treat the Samaritans as the outcasts they were, or did He graciously invite them into Yahweh’s presence? How did He deal with their sins?
The most detailed “Samaritan story” in the Gospels is that of “the woman at the well,” recorded in John 4. Yahshua and His disciples were traveling north from Judea to the Galilee region, which meant they had to get either through or around Samaria, which lay between the two. “He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph….” The reference is to Jacob’s deathbed bequest, recorded in Genesis 48:22. Sychar is in the very shadow of Mount Gerizim, a mile or so west of Shechem, and only a few miles north of the Judean border.
“Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” That is, about mid-day. They had been on the road since dawn. “A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans….” To her credit, she didn’t scream and run away at the mere sight of a Jewish traveler. On the other hand, Yahshua knew that she was quite comfortable around strange men—for all the wrong reasons.
“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’” There’s nothing like an esoteric symbol to start a conversation. But any Samaritan, being steeped in the Torah, would have been quite familiar with Moses’ use of the “water” metaphor—the means of cleansing, refreshing, and restoration. Moses had provided water for Israel by striking a rock. This was His subtle hint to her that He was the “prophet” she was expecting. And perhaps she picked up on the symbology. “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?’…” The phrase “living water” normally meant simply that it was flowing, as in a creek or from a spring—thus fresh and clean, not stagnant. We Christians, used to the symbols of Scripture, recognize that He was speaking of the influence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer, but that concept was foreign to her—at least for the moment.
“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Whoever drinks of this water [from the well] will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw….’” Yahshua would use the same kind of symbol-object relationship when He spoke of Himself as “the Bread of Life.” His point, in both cases, was that just as our physical bodies need food and water to live, our souls need spiritual food and water—things only He can provide.
She knew she needed this living spiritual water, for her life was a mess. So He led her, step by step, to the realization that He was indeed the One who could provide what her soul craved: peace with God. “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’” It was a test to see if she would be open and honest about her sins—and she passed the test. “The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly….’” Note that He didn’t condemn her for her sexual promiscuity; He merely stated a fact that she couldn’t deny, and let her draw her own conclusion. She, being a Samaritan woman, had the Torah to condemn her—what she needed now was some way to atone for her sins.
“The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.” A prophet like Moses, she was no doubt thinking. But being human, her mind immediately jumped to the primary sticking point between the Samaritans and the Jews (hoping, perhaps, to settle the issue in her people’s favor, once and for all). “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Yahshua didn’t bite. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews….’” The backstory was that God had indeed chosen Mount Moriah—Jerusalem—as “the place He would cause His name to abide”—as far back as Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac. The whole “Mount Gerizim” theory was indefensible. The Samaritans, He implied, were worshiping the right thing in the wrong way, and for the wrong reason. Sounds like much of modern Christianity to me.
The temple in Jerusalem, however, wasn’t in itself the point. It was “merely” a complex and comprehensive picture of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. In fact (based, as it was on the pattern of the wilderness tabernacle), everything it symbolized—its architecture, dimensions, furnishings, and rites—was about to be fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of the Man standing before her at the well. So Yahshua told her, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth….”
A sign is of diminished significance if that which it signifies is standing right in front of you. You don’t need the Exxon sign as you’re pulling out of the station with a full tank of gas; you don’t need the “Public Library” sign as you leave with the book you’ve checked out. And (in theory) you don’t need the temple, with all of its rites and rituals, if the reality to which those sacraments refer is already a fait accompli. That’s why the time would soon come when neither Mount Moriah nor Mount Gerizim would have any particular significance, as far as one’s worship experience was concerned. Both temples would be destroyed. (In fact, the Samaritan temple had already been gone for over a century when this encounter took place.) But as long as the Holy Spirit is dwelling within you, as long as you are trusting in God’s truth, you are in exactly the right place for worship, no matter where you are.
“The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’” (John 4:3-26) In an interesting projection of Jewish theology into Samaritan thought, the woman expressed her hope in the Messiah/Christ (both words meaning “anointed one”). The Torah speaks of priests and kings being anointed—but neither Moses, nor the prophet who would follow him (see Deuteronomy 18:15), were described as being “anointed.” It would appear that for all their petty differences, the Jews and the Samaritans shared virtually the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations—all of which ultimately depended upon the advent of the Christ. The entitled and the outcasts alike longed for the coming of the Messiah.
I find it fascinating that Yahshua plainly revealed Himself as the Messiah first—before anyone else—to (1) a woman (in a “man’s world”), who was (2) a self-confessed sinner, who was also (3) a Samaritan—a cultural outcast, estranged from the privileged religious mainstream. The pretentious prejudices of prestigious and powerful people didn’t have any influence on how Yahshua approached the world. Rather, He seemed to gravitate to those who—as a class—were least likely to be prevented by their irrational pride from receiving His grace. Those He singled out as “blessed” in the Beatitudes—the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted—were the first to receive Yahshua’s attention. Those who know they are sick are more likely to be receptive to the cure.
We might not expect someone like the woman at the well to be much of an evangelist, but we’d be mistaken: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.” Remember the story of the “Good Samaritan?” He took time out of his busy schedule to “love his neighbor” in his time of need. That’s precisely what Yahshua did here. For a Jew to spend any more time than he absolutely had to among the Samaritans was unheard of, and yet, Yahshua’s compassion compelled Him to sojourn with them for two whole days. This is how God treats lost, outcast humanity: He shows us unconditional love. “And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-42)
And I may be extrapolating (or hallucinating), but could it be that the “two-day” sojourn of Yahshua with the Samaritan outcasts could be prophetic of the Holy Spirit’s two-thousand year tenure with the mortal followers of Christ? As Yahshua told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6) The Spirit’s indwelling presence is the single defining element of the life of every Christian, all of whom are “outcasts from the world.” Unless I am mistaken about a great many things, the “church age,” from the Day of Pentecost until the King returns to reign in glory, will have a duration of exactly two thousand years—“two days” in prophetic parlance—33 AD to 2033. Unfortunately for Israel, they will have been in “time out” for their sins for the same two thousand years: “Come, and let us return to Yahweh. For He has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (Hosea 6:1-2)
There was something worse than being a Samaritan in first-century Jewish culture—being a leper. Luke relates the story of ten lepers who encountered Yahshua, one of whom was a Samaritan. One wonders if the nine Jewish lepers were racially prejudiced against the Samaritan leper in their midst, or if their common disease superseded considerations of petty cultural bias. We aren’t told. All we know for sure is that life had dealt this poor guy a really bad hand—and he knew it.
So we read, “Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.” It is unclear where they were when this took place. The clues lead me to conclude that they had traveled from Galilee south through Samaria, and were back in Judea, headed toward Jerusalem. “Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.” A bit of background: someone who developed a skin condition was required to submit himself to a priest to be evaluated: was it leprosy (a debilitating and contagious condition) or not? The rules are recorded in Leviticus 13 and 14—considered binding Law by both Jews and Samaritans. Lepers were required to remain “outside the camp” (something open to interpretation after the wilderness wanderings, but clearly indicating staying away from uninfected people), bare their heads, tear their clothing in mourning, cover their mouths, and warn passersby by crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!”
Only a priest could declare you infected, and only a priest could declare you to be cured—for which there was a prescribed (and rather complicated) thanksgiving ritual. (This—the reference to the priesthood—is what leads me to surmise that this all took place in Judea.) The thing is, the Bible doesn’t contain a single reference to any Israelite being cured of leprosy under Torah rules—ever—until Yahshua began doing it. Examples: Moses’ sister Miriam’s affliction was cured before the precept was given; Naaman was a Syrian, not an Israelite; and Judah’s King Uzziah was never cured of his leprosy. So priests in Judea who encountered Yahshua’s healing handiwork had to go back to the Torah and take a refresher course in what to do in case someone was healed. I like to imagine that the notice in Acts 6:7, that “a great many priests were obedient to the faith,” was due in large part to the influx of cured lepers who had come to them for confirmation.
Anyway, the ten lepers, while keeping a safe distance, cried out to Yahshua, whose reputation as a healer had preceded Him: “And they lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ So when He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed….” I just love that: there was no preamble, no sermon, no admonition to “go and sin no more,” just “Do what the Torah said to do when you get healed.” And when they turned around to obey Him, they discovered that they had been healed. Their faith in Yahshua’s ability and willingness to heal them was all it took.
If you’ll recall from our chapter on the priesthood, they symbolically represent intercession and judgment. It was their job to examine and “judge” whether the leprous sores had been healed, and if they were, to then administer the symbol-rich rites confirming the miracle—helping the cured leper to connect with the God who had healed Him. I covered much of this in the chapter on “Ritual Purity” in The Owner’s Manual, elsewhere on this website. Leprosy, it turns out, is a thinly veiled euphemism for sin. Only God can cure it, but the priestly ritual confirming one’s cleansing points—in a dozen different ways—toward how Yahweh heals us of our sin. The symbols—such things as two clean birds (one to be sacrificed, the other to be set free), cedar wood, scarlet, hyssop, running water, the shaving of hair, the seventh and eighth days, lambs, fine flour, and olive oil—all point, one way or another—to the process of grace through which we are healed, cleansed, and readmitted to the congregation of the righteous.
So the ten lepers, realizing they had been healed, headed toward the temple to find a priest who would declare them clean according to the requirements of the Law. “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan….” Technically, you weren’t supposed to do that—at least, if you were a Jew. According to the Torah, a leper was still considered “unclean” until he had been declared cleansed by the priest. But this man was a Samaritan—a “foreigner”—and logistically, that changed everything. In the presence of the Messiah, all of the symbols the Jews were required to present to the world were rendered rather beside the point: they were all fulfilled in Christ.
Here we see a microcosm of the functional difference between Israel and the church. We’re all sinners—victims of the “leprosy” metaphor—but Israel alone was instructed to demonstrate through the keeping of the Torah’s precepts what God was doing to save us—and how. They weren’t required to understand it all; they were merely required to do it. But the Samaritans were estranged from Israel—outcasts from Jewish society. And although they revered the Torah, they were under no obligation to perform its rites. Indeed, as outcasts, they were prevented from doing so by the very keepers of the Torah’s legacy—Israel. Being a Samaritan, it is highly doubtful that the one who turned back immediately to praise God would have even been allowed by a Jewish priest to perform the Leviticus 14 rites, as required of his fellow ex-lepers.
It seems strange to say it, but this Samaritan leper seems analogous to the church—the called-out assembly of Christ’s followers. We are outcasts from Israel (mostly because of our own sin). But we are at the same time free to be spontaneous in our praise and thanksgiving to God, unencumbered by the literal requirements of the Torah. It’s Acts 15 all over again: we “Samaritans” are not required to be physically circumcised in order to follow Christ, but our relationship to Him via the indwelling Holy Spirit means that we are spiritually circumcised in heart and soul and mind. That is, we are permanently and irreversibly cut off from the curse of our own sin through a God-ordained process involving blood and pain—not our own blood, but Yahshua’s. Another example: we are not required to literally keep the weekly Sabbath, but if we are in Christ, we do rest in His atoning grace when our work is done—for that “work,” according to Yahshua’s own definition, is simply to believe in Him.
“So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, ‘Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:11-19) Between the lines, Yahshua makes an important point concerning Israel here: the overt requirements of the Law are not to take precedence over one’s personal expression of love and gratitude toward Yahweh. Love trumps the letter of the Law, for it is the heart and essence of the Torah. Mercy is infinitely more valuable than perfect performance. Justice outweighs rote recitation of God’s lessons.
It is as Yahweh said through the prophet Isaiah: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” says Yahweh. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats…. Bring no more futile sacrifices. Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates. They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them….” Never mind the fact that Yahweh Himself had instructed Israel to do all of these things. They were not there for their own sake, but rather to reveal the ultimate truth—the coming Messiah. The Samaritan outcasts could not perform the sacrifices and rites and annual celebrations that Israel was supposed to—any more than Eskimos or Zulus or Patagonians could. But they (like us) could do what these things pointed toward: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good. Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:11, 13-14, 16-17)
There were two more instances in the Gospels in which the issue of “being a Samaritan” served to reveal Yahshua’s agenda and plan. The first happened toward the beginning of His earthly ministry, soon after He had chosen His twelve disciples. He had been teaching, healing people, casting out demons, restoring sight, and had even raised someone from the dead. So “when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” (Matthew 10:1) These guys weren’t “religious professionals,” rabbis, scribes, or Pharisees. They were mostly young and inexperienced. They had not been “trained” at all, except for following Yahshua around for a few months. And worse, they were kind of on the rough side—fishermen, working-class Joes, even a hated tax collector (Matthew, who was recording all of this). So they knew this power was not their own—it was a gift from God—to be used for His glory and wielded according to His rules.
Basically, it was like a bunch of college freshmen engineering students being told to go out and build a nuclear power plant. “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: ‘Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons….’” Yahshua sent them only to the Jews—the Judeans. Why? We must remember that although the Samaritans claimed to follow the Torah, they had no Messianic expectation from the House of David—which was Yahshua’s birthright, legitimizing His right to the throne of Israel. Being the “Son of David” meant nothing to them—except perhaps as a pejorative. They were looking strictly for “a prophet like Moses,” one who had a unique and undeniable relationship with Yahweh.
There was no Messianic hope among the gentiles either, of course. They too would have to wait for their opportunity to choose (or reject) Yahshua. The only thing that might appeal to them would be eyewitness accounts of Christ’s resurrection—and that was still three years off. Only the Jews, holders of the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets, were in a position to receive their Messiah based on their scriptural expectations. Alas, those very scriptures prophesied that He would be “despised and rejected, bruised for our iniquities, etc.,” but you can’t reject Someone’s offer if it hasn’t yet been made. The Jews’ opportunity for redemption had to come first.
The Master’s instructions continue: “Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.” Don’t prepare, He says. Don’t rely on your own resources, but on Me alone. I will provide for your daily needs through the grateful response of those who receive your word. “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” (Matthew 10:5-15)
Beyond the original Twelve, to whom do these instructions apply? Total—even unreasonable—reliance upon Yahweh as we go forth in the world is one of the most important (though counterintuitive) lessons a believer can ever learn. But bear in mind that the disciples were being sent out among their own countrymen: we should be cautious about strictly applying these tenets to missionaries bound for foreign lands. (For guidance in their case, I’d study the example of Paul, which actually overlaps this to some extent.) But my study of prophecy (The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website) led me to believe that these instructions were ultimately meant to apply to a specific group during the Tribulation.
I’m referring to the 144,000 witnesses mentioned in Revelation 7:1-8 and 14:1-5. There are several factors that led me in this direction. First, multiple scriptures declare that Israel—all twelve tribes—will be repatriated to the Land of Promise during and shortly after the Tribulation. In the near term, irrational anti-Semitism on a global scale—accelerating after the rapture—will drive this trend. Second, the Battle of Magog (Ezekiel 38, 39) will turn Israel back to Yahweh, for His mighty hand will be the only possible explanation for their survival—and they will all know it. But it will still be something of a leap from reverence for Yahweh to their recognition that Yahshua the Messiah—Jesus Christ—is actually Yahweh in the flesh, as the church insisted all along. Their hearts will need some preparation for this epiphany.
And that is where the 144,000 come in. Granted, nowhere is it flatly stated that their ministry will be confined to the Land of Israel, but in Revelation 14:1, we see all of them standing on Mount Zion with the newly returned King of Kings. It is therefore a logical conclusion that most, if not all, of their ministry will take place within the Holy Land. And surely, the nature of this ministry will be to “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” If the 144,000, like the Jewish disciples of old, do this in the name and power of Yahshua, Israel will indeed make the connection between Yahweh and Yahshua by the time He arrives.
The prophecy of “the sheep and the goats” in Matthew 25:31-46, while applying to “all the nations” worldwide, will no doubt begin with Israel. “Whoever will not receive you nor hear your words” is Yahshua’s shorthand for the “goats” who will be told by the returning King, “‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:41-45) The imagery is identical.
Remember, the Twelve were told not to spend their time going to the Samaritans or the gentiles, but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Although we’re not told outright, it seems reasonable to conclude that the 144,000 will do this as well. That means that in the short time they have to work, they will reach the entire Jewish nation with the Gospel, though not all will receive it. It works out to roughly one hundred Jews for each of the 144,000 sealed servants of God. If they had to reach the gentiles and Samaritans as well, it would work out to maybe one witness for every 60,000 souls—in other words, they’d be stretched hopelessly thin. And if we see “gentiles” as other-than-Christians to the bitter end, and “Samaritans” as the Laodicean church (that is, the people who missed the rapture but who belatedly repented—Revelation 3:14-22) then God has other means of witness prepared.
The last mention of Samaritans in the Gospels took place when Yahshua was on His way from Galilee to Jerusalem to keep His date with destiny on Golgotha. “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for [Yahshua] to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem….” If I may read between the lines, the inhabitants of this Samaritan town, having heard all the stories about Christ’s healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead among the Jews, wanted Yahshua to court them—to present His credentials as “the prophet like Moses” they were expecting. Why couldn’t He stay with them for a couple of weeks, teach in their synagogues, heal their sick, and raise their dead?
But Yahshua knew that the cross loomed before Him. More to the point, He knew that according to the Daniel 9:25-26 and Exodus 12:3 prophecies, He had to enter Jerusalem on the tenth day of Nisan, and then be offered up as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” four days later, on Passover, the 14th of Nisan. He didn’t have time to hang out and chat with a bunch of curious Samaritans—He was on a mission to save the whole world, though only He knew how or when.
The disciples—His “advance team”—were miffed at the perceived Samaritan insult. And by this time, they had grown rather used to seeing—and even performing—miracles. So they put two and two together: “And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:51-56) Though Christ had never performed a destructive miracle (yet—the withered fig tree was still in the future), the disciples knew that some of God’s prophets had. Elijah, for example (in II Kings 1) had called down fire twice from heaven to destroy 50-man companies of soldiers, just to teach the wicked King Ahaziah some respect. Did not these cheeky Samaritans need to be taught the same lesson?
No. The wrath of God was still a long way off. The mission of the Messiah was to save men from their sin and ignorance—not to punish them for not being astute enough to see prophecy unfolding before their very eyes. If He had allowed the deaths of the short-sighted Samaritans for their rebuff, He would have had to set the whole planet on fire. Everybody says no, until they say yes, even—or should I say especially—outcasts like Samaritans, you, and me. Thank God free will includes the privilege of changing one’s mind, for as long as life persists.
(First published 2019)