In John’s Gospel, chapter four tells the well-known story of Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman at a well. To better understand that story it is important to know the background and the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans which had been going on for centuries and still even in Jesus’ day.
It will be reflected in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman and other Samaritans.
Let’s do a little background on the Samaritans first. To read the background of what happened between the Samaritans and Jews of Judah and understand why the hatred between these two groups played a significant role in Jesus’ ministry in His day, CLICK HERE.
Let’s do a little background on the Samaritans first. The Samaritans take their name from the region of Samaria. They trace their origins back to the time of the Babylonian captivity when Israel was taken by Nebuchadnezzar. When Nebuchadnezzar came into the southern nation of Judah, he took captive most of the Jews from Judah. In 597 BC, he forced them to leave in chains. About 120 years earlier, the northern kingdom had been taken captive by the Assyrians The Assyrians took the northern kingdom away and never brought them back. Well, when that happened, when the northern kingdoms were taken away, there were a few ragtag refugees who managed to escape the Assyrians. They are out in the field, they ran at night, whatever they could to get away. And they stayed in that area, in northern Israel, what at the time was considered the northern kingdom of Israel. They remained hidden from the Assyrians but they also remained separated from the Jews in the south. You might think at that point they would run south to protect themselves and join the rest of the Jewish people who were still in Judah at that time. But no, because the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were enemies. They didn’t want to go with their other enemy, so they just stayed in the land by themselves in this region called Samaria. Jews And Samaritans
While they were there they begin to intermarry with the Gentiles from that area of the land, in Samaria. By intermarrying with these Gentiles, these refugee Jews from the northern kingdom polluted their bloodlines and they, therefore, forfeited their Jewishness – they became Gentiles as they married into Gentile families. They were no longer Jewish, and also over time, they began to abandon many of the orthodox Jewish traditions that were common in Judaism. Yet, ironically they continued to see themselves as Jewish. They thought they were Jewish.
Then 70 years later after the Babylonian captivity and after Nebuchadnezzar, that is the time the Israelites who were in Babylonia are released by Persia, by Cyrus and allowed to come back and restart building their temple under Zerubbabel. So seventy years later you have these southern Jews returning to their land. While the Samaritans who have been in the region for 190 years, their descendants hear the Jews from Judah are being released and are returning. What do they do? They travel down to Jerusalem expecting to rejoin them and participate in the rebuilding of the temple, as Jews. When they show up. Ezra records what happens at that moment. Jews And Samaritans
Ezra 4:1-3 (NKJV)
Resistance to Rebuilding the Temple
4 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the Lord God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house (temple) for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”
In short, the Jews told the Samaritans to get lost. And of course, the Samaritans took it very personally. That began a centuries-long feud between Jews in Judea and the
Samaritans who lived directly north of them in this region that is a part of Israel today. The Samaritans responded by separating themselves from Jews and challenging them for the claim of who was the true Jew. They built their own temple on a place called Mt. Gerizim in Samaria. They called it the real temple. They took the five books of Moses—the Law and deleted any reference to other place names. For example, they replaced Mt. Moriah with Mt. Gerizim. They just changed all the words so it would look like it was all about them in the first place. They eliminated all the other books of the Old Testament because they all talked about prophets sent to other places and they didn’t like that. They created their own priesthood. They developed their own theology. They mimic everything done for Israel under the Law through Moses and made a version of it that was appropriate for them in Samaria. And they called themselves Jew and thumbed up their noses to the Jews down in Jerusalem. Jews And Samaritans
You could draw parallels from what they are doing here to other movements of our day like Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses or any of these man-made religions that attempt to supplant the truth of Christianity by counterfeiting the broad outlines of what Christians believe. But not the finer details and certainly not the heart of it at the Gospel. They lack the truth because they don’t have the heart that’s been changed by the Spirit in the first place. Remember, the truth of God is granted by God from above, it’s not found my men through their own efforts. So when men lack the knowledge of the true God, all they have left is to create their own distorted version of it to suit themselves. That is what the Samaritans had done.
This rivalry over the centuries produced a fierce hatred between Jews and Samaritans. Jews saw Samaritans as only slightly better than a Gentile. The only reason they put Samaritans one rung higher on their social ladder was just owing to their heritage and the fact they were willing to adhere to the dietary laws out of the Law. For their part, Samaritans hated Gentiles as well but they actually reserved their greatest hatred for Jews. Because they were so jealous. They typically refused comfort to Jews who were traveling through Samaria on the way to or from Jerusalem. They wouldn’t let them stay at any of the homes there. They wouldn’t let them stay in hotels. They ask them where did you come from and where are you going before they would decide to rent a room to them. You can see this reflected at one point in the gospels. In Luke chapter 9, verse 51. This is another point in which Jesus and the disciples are passing through Samaria.
Luke 9:51-54 (NKJV)
A Samaritan Village Rejects the Savior
51 Now it came to pass when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 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?”
In verse 52 the messengers were disciples to arrange a place to stay for Jesus. You can clearly see the rivalry between Jews and Samaritans. It’s reflected in the disciples’ ridiculous comments. They are practically begging Jesus for the opportunity to wipe Samaritans off the face of the map. Clearly, there is no love lost between these two groups. Because of their hatred, there was some risk to a Jew like Christ choosing to pass directly through Samaria as he is choosing today in Luke’s passage. It would have been much more likely, more customary for a Jew traveling from Jerusalem back to the Galilee to walk all the way around Samaria. There was a road that let them bypass Samaria and move around it. That would have been more customary. But Jesus walks directly into the heart of Samaria.
What’s so interesting about the Samaritan culture, knowing their background now, and it’s very important to get this if you are going to understand the interaction between Jesus and this Samaritan woman, is they were certain they were the ones with the truth while Jews were the ones who are deceived. But the facts tell an opposite story. The scriptures spoke of Jerusalem, not Mt. Gerizim, not Samaria, and the history of how Samaria came to be where they are and into the existence that they know. that’s not in dispute. And no one in that day would have argued the history wasn’t what it was.
Yet, nevertheless, they’re sure that Samaritans are the true Jews while the Jewish
people in Jerusalem were the wrong ones. You are going to see that reflected in the conversation that ensues between Jesus and the woman. They had these deeply held convictions and these cherished traditions and they were completely wrong. Can we be absolutely certain about something and still be completely wrong? Of course, we can, all the time. Especially when we make up our own version of the truth.
Do you know Barna Research? Barna Research Group is famous for doing statistical surveys and analysis on Christians. They did a survey on what Americans believe and asked this question, “Is there absolute truth?” Amazingly, 66 percent of American adults responded that they believe “there is no such thing as absolute truth; different people can define truth in conflicting ways and both still be correct.” The figure goes up to 72 percent when you talk about people between the ages of 18 and 25. – Christianity Today, October 26, 1992, p. 30. Can you believe that? People actually think you can have contradictory views and both be right. But we can come to understand the difference between truth and error, right and wrong as God reveals the truth to us. Because the Truth never changes, despite what people think. Truth never changes, it cannot bend to fit the desires of an evil heart. If you change the truth to fit your desires, by definition, no longer the truth. You know the old saying, a 99% true is a 100% lie.
If the Samaritans in Jesus’ day had wanted to know the truth. Let’s say they had a heart to desire to know the truth. They could have found it easily enough. It’s not like it was hard. They could have researched the history of their traditions, they could have researched how they came to be who they are. They could have read Jewish scripture and compared it to their own. They could have found it. It wasn’t impossible. The thing is, they weren’t interested in doing something like that because just as the people we find today, they were more interested in being “right” than in knowing the truth. They were content, therefore, with their own counterfeit version of the truth. Paul says that’s the state of every person’s heart before God brings them the truth by His Spirit
John has shown us in the previous chapter, that men are self-deceived from birth thinking they have something that is true though the truth stares them in the face. That is because our dead hearts are always inventing some new way to find God.
The Samaritans had contrived this huge religious system by which they were supposedly pleasing God but it was a house of lies. But ironically, so had the Pharisees done exactly the same thing in Israel. That’s the interesting thing between these two chapters. You have a Pharisee who is representing the “true” Jewish people with their own house of lies, just as far from God. And now you have this Samaritan woman. All men prefer to believe what suits them as opposed to the truth until God shows it to them.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”