Datafile: SamaritansBy Nathan Mates
Some of the worst rivalries can arise between those who are the closest. Family feuds can lead to those family members not speaking to each other for years. Northern Ireland has been racked by pointless "religious" violence, despite their common heritage. This same kind of warring was also present in Jesus's time, between the Jews and the Samaritans. Each side claimed to be worshiping the same God, though in different temples. In fact, both shared the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.
And yet, from that heritage, things had gone horribly wrong. The Samaritans refused to consider any books of the Old Testament after Deuteronomy, while the Jews had Genesis through Malachi. Religious Jews would take detours in their travels (e.g. between Jerusalem and Galilee) to avoid setting foot in Samaria, and the reverse was true as well. John 4:9 notes this parenthetical comment on the situation: "(For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)" Jesus's initial command to his disciples is similar: "These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans." [Matthew 10:5]
How had things ever gotten to be in such a situation of mutual hostility? The blame lies squarely on Solomon's shoulders for his lack of wisdom concerning his actions: "Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord's command. So the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen."" [1 Kings 11:10-13]
And so, when Rehoboam, Solomon's son, became King, 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel rebelled against him. [1 Kings 12] Those 10 tribes were in the North part of Israel, and they took the name 'Israel' with them under their first king, Jeroboam. Judah and Benjamin stayed loyal to Rehoboam and the Davidic line, holding the city of Jerusalem among their lands. As Judah was such a large tribe, the southern kingdom-- named Judah-- wasn't 1/6 the size of Israel, but far closer to parity. Although a bloody civil war could have started, God put a halt to it: "'This is what the LORD says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.'" So they obeyed the word of the LORD and went home again, as the LORD had ordered." [1 Kings 12:24]
Despite this relatively bloodless split, problems still arose quickly. Jeroboam, Israel's first post-split King, got off to a worse start than Israel's first ever King, Saul. While Saul got in trouble for impatiently offering sacrifices that only a priest could do [1 Samuel 13:8-9], Jeroboam callously led the people into outright idolatry. Where Saul hadn't trusted in the Lord for help before a battle, Jeroboam topped that unfaithfulness.
As noted by the author of Samuel, Jeroboam's thoughts were as follows: "If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam." After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."" [1 Kings 12:27-28] Jeroboam had been promised-- and given-- a kingdom, by God. Jeroboam had a chance at establishing things, but he was too fearful to let God demonstrate how he could keep his people loyal to him. And so, Jeroboam got his kingdom established by angering God.
After this start, Israel was consistently rebelling against God, and paying the price for it. While there was a consistent hereditary kingship in Judah, from David down to Zedekiah, Israel suffered in turmoil. Ahijah, a prophet, had this message from God to Jeroboam: "I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have provoked me to anger and thrust me behind your back. " 'Because of this, I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel--slave or free. I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone." [1 Kings 14:8-10]
Following Jeroboam's extinction, others took the throne of Israel. And yet, their actions were no better, and so they faced the same punishment: "Ahab said to Elijah, "So you have found me, my enemy!" "I have found you," he answered, "because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD. 'I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel--slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.'" [1 Kings 21:20-22]
The author of the book of Kings has hardly a good word for any of the twenty kings in the two centuries of post-split Israel. The last king of Israel, Hoshea, was captured by the Assyrians in 732 B.C., and the kingdom completely conquered. God's people were deported from their lands, subject to a cruel and barbaric set of masters, and God had allowed this to happen. As to why this had happened, the author of Kings has a long explanation, starting with this: "All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced." [2 Kings 17:7-8; this explanation runs through verse 23]
Judah lasted about a century and a half later as an independent nation, finally being conquered and exiled by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The explanation for their fall is similar: ""Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle." [2 Kings 21:11-12]
After 70 years of exile in Babylon, Jerusalem was allowed to be rebuilt. And yet, this hasn't explained why the Jews in Jerusalem five centuries later in Jesus's time hated the Samaritans. The answer comes from the multiple names given to things. Just as the kingdom of Judah had Jerusalem as its capital city, Israel had its own capital city: Samaria. The author of Kings notes its founding as such: "He [Omri] bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver and built a city on the hill, calling it Samaria, after Shemer, the name of the former owner of the hill." [1 Kings 16:24]
Just like not all of Jerusalem was resettled in Babylon, not all of Samaria or Israel had been resettled by the Assyrians. The remnant of the population continued some of their religious beliefs until Jesus's time. Unfortunately, so did the mutual antipathy between the remnants of Israel and Judah. It is easier to side with the Jews: they held on to all of the Old Testament. Arguably, they kept more of the law than their ancestors in either Judah or Israel. [Neither side really kept up the mercy, which Jesus hammered the Pharisees for in Matthew 23.] Jesus himself limited his disciples to preaching to Jews, not Samaritans, while he was alive-- see the Matthew 10:5 quote back at the beginning of this writing.
Despite all of this, Jesus still took time to break down the walls between the sides. John's parenthetical comment above about Jews not associating with Samaritans is written in the midst of a passage detailing Jesus's evangelistic efforts to a Samaritan woman. [John 4:4-29 has the entire story.] In a parable [Luke 10:25-37], Jesus made the good Samaritan the hero for doing what is right and merciful to those in need. Jesus also marvels at the faith and thankfulness of the one Samaritan out of the 10 lepers he'd healed. [Luke 17:11-19]
Once Jesus's death has taken place, the barriers to evangelizing the Samaritans are lifted: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." [Acts 1:8] All of the world needs to hear about the saving grace of Jesus, all of the world needs to accept Jesus as their savior.
Beyond petty feuds started centuries before, Jesus's message is to all of humanity: you're a sinner, and only Jesus can take away those sins so that you can enter into fellowship with God, on this Earth and in Heaven as well. Jesus didn't come to endorse any feuds, but to unite believers instead. The power of the gospel treats all humanity the same, with regards to nation, race, gender, age, or anything else. The only differentiation is between the believer and the unbeliever. So, when witnessing, never get hung up on real or perceived differences between your audience and you, just give them the truth of Jesus's message.