Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation, whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. -Acts 10:34
It is clear from the New Testament that the Jews and the Samaritans had nothing to do with one another. They were divided racially, territorially, politically, and religiously. The general populations hated one another.
The rift between the Samaritans and the Jews and their hatred for each other is exposed in the incident of Jesus at the Samaritan well (John 4). Yet in one of Jesus’ parables it is a Samaritan who takes care of the victim who was beaten (Luke 10:25-37)
Compare the racial tension between black and white society in America today. Imagine the hatred between Serbs and Muslims in modern Bosnia, the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or the feuding between street gangs in Los Angeles or New York, and you have some idea of the feeling and its causes between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus. Race, politics, and religion all were involved.
According to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible (McGraw Hill) by Louis F. Hartman, feelings of ill will probably went back before the separation of the northern and southern Jewish kingdoms. Even then there was a lack of unity between the tribes of Jacob.
After the separation of Judah and Israel in the ninth century bc, King Omri of the Northern Kingdom bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer (1 Kings 16:24). He built there the city of Samaria which became his capital of the northern tribes of Israel.
The city of Samaria was strong defensively and controlled the valley through which the main road ran between Jerusalem and Galilee. In 722 B.C. the city fell to the Assyrians and became the headquarters of the Assyrian province of Samarina. While many of the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding area of Samaria were led off into captivity under the Assyrians, some farmers and the very poor were left behind. They intermarried with new settlers brought in from Mesopotamia and Syria. So from that point, the Samaritans became a mixed breed of people- part Jewish and part Gentile. The Jews returning from the Babyloian Exile (537 bc) condemned the Samaritans, although the Babylonian Jews probably had little more Jewish blood in them than did the Samaritans.
The story of both Israel’s and Samaria’s failures in keeping to the way of Yahweh is partly told in Chapter 17 of the Second Book of Kings. There the sacred author tells how the king of Assyria sent a priest from among the exiles to teach the Samaritans how to worship God after an attack by lions was superstitiously attributed to their failure to worship the God of the land. But Second Kings recounts how worship of Yahweh was mixed with the worship of of pagan gods.
When the new Persian Emperor Cyrus permitted the southern, Judean Jews to return to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile, the Samaritans were ready to welcome them back. The exiles, however, despised the Samaritans as renegades. When the Samaritans wanted to join in rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, their assistance was rejected. You will find this in the Book of Ezra, Chapter Four.
With the rejection came political hostility and opposition. The Samaritans tried to undermine the Jews with their Persian rulers and slowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple. Nehemiah tells us (Nehemiah 13:28-29) that a grandson of the high priest, Eliashib, had married a daughter of Sanballat, the governor of the province of Samaria.
For defiling the priesthood by marrying a non-Jewish woman, Nehemiah drove Eliashib from Jerusalem–though Sanballat was a worshiper of Yahweh. According to the historian Josephus, Sanballat then had a temple built on Mount Garizim (at the city of Samaria) in which his son-in-law Eliashib could function as priest. Apparently this is when the full break between Jews and Samaritans took place.
According to John McKenzie in his Dictionary of the Bible, the Samaritans later allied themselves with the Seleucids in the Maccabean wars and in 108 B.C. the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple and ravaged the territory. Around the time of Jesus’ birth, a band of Samaritans profaned the Temple in Jerusalem by scattering the bones of dead people in the sanctuary. In our own era which has witnessed the vandalism of synagogues and the burning of black churches, we should be able to understand the anger and hate such acts would incite.
The fact that there was such hatred and hostility between Jews and Samaritans is what gives the use of the Samaritan in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) such force! The Samaritan is the one who rose above the bigotry and prejudices of centuries and showed mercy and compassion for the injured Jew after the Jew’s own countrymen passed him by!
It is with those centuries of opposition and incidents behind their peoples that we can understand the surprise of the Samaritan woman (John 4:9) when Jesus rises above the social and religious restrictions, not just of a man talking to a woman, but also of a Jew talking to a Samaritan.
“Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation, whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him”. -Acts 10:34
Our God is no respecter of persons. That is, he takes no notice of color or race. God is not deterred by politics or religion. Jesus came for all, lived for all, died for all, and rose again for all. Now we must find a way to be like the Samaritan, who put all bigotry aside and helped and supported the injured Jew. Now we must find a way to be like Jesus, who crossed the border of the hated Samaritan territory, sat down at a Samaritan well, talked with a Samaritan woman, and ended up teaching the Gospel to the entire Samaritan town. Bigotry and racism are nothing new. For followers of Christ, neither is rising above it.