Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Rebellion and deception at Samaria

trojan horse as depicted in vergilius vaticanus 400pxThe Trojan Horse is a story by Homer about the deception that the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy and win the Trojan War. After a 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war.

In this post we look at an older example of deception.

A promise and warning

After king Solomon had finished building the temple, God promised that if he was obedient his dynasty would always rule over Israel (1 Ki. 9:1-9; 2 Chron. 7:17-22). But if his descendants turned to follow other gods there would be disaster and they would be cut off from their land and the temple would be destroyed.

Solomon’s disobedience

The Israelites were told not to intermarry with other nations because this would cause them to follow other gods (1 Ki. 11:1-8). But king Solomon “loved many foreign women”, and “his wives led him astray”. “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods” (v.4-8NIV).

The punishment for this disobedience was that the kingdom of Israel would be divided (1 Ki. 11:9-13). And that’s what happened. Ten tribes followed Jeroboam and set up the kingdom of Israel in the north and two tribes followed Rehoboam and set up the kingdom of Judah in the south.

samaria - david roberts 1839 400pxThe kingdom of Israel rebels against God

As Jerusalem was in Judah, Jeroboam set up golden calves to worship in Bethel and Dan and led the Israelites into idolatry. At first Jeroboam was based at Shechem, but then he moved to Tirzah (1 Ki. 12:25; 14:17). The first five kings of Israel reigned from Tirzah, the capital of the northern kingdom. The next king Omri reigned in Tirzah for 6 years before buying the hill of Samaria and building his palace and the city there in about 925BC (1 Ki. 16:23-24). Samaria is 55 km (35 miles) north of Jerusalem.

Omni’s son, king Ahab built, an altar in Samaria to Baal, a pagan god, under the influence of his wife, Jezebel. The palace was called the “Ivory house” (1 Kings 22:39), the furniture and some of the wall decor was made of ivory. In the Bible, Samaria was condemned by the Hebrew prophets for its “ivory houses” and luxury palaces displaying pagan riches.

Ahab was the most evil of the kings of Samaria: “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel” (1 Ki. 21:25).

All the remaining kings of Israel ruled from Samaria. They all “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Ki. 22:52) and followed the sins of Jeroboam (2 Ki. 13:2) despite the warnings of the prophets Micaiah, Ahijah, Jehu, Elijah, Elisha, Hosea, Amos, and Jonah.

The false prophets deceive Israel

There were many false prophets in Samaria. During the reign of Ahab there were 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Ki. 18:19; 22:6).

After Aram (Syria) captured Ramoth Gilead from Israel, king Ahab planned a war against them (2 Chron. 18:1-34). He asked for help from the king of Judah. When they asked the false prophets for a message from God, they were told to go ahead because they would be victorious. The Arameans would be destroyed. But Micaiah, a true prophet, predicted their defeat and Ahab’s death. And that’s what happened. Meanwhile, king Ahab had Micaiah imprisoned.

Although the Israelites in Samaria continued to follow the false prophets rather than the true ones, and they continued to worship idols, God didn’t punish them yet.

God’s mercy

In His mercy God delayed His punishment and so provided Israel with an opportunity to repent and obey the covenant once again. The kingdom continued for 130 years after the reign of king Ahab. Although they sinned, God didn’t forget the covenant He had with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God was patient with them. For example:
–  Aram (Syria) besieged Samaria and they were starving. But God miraculously rescued them (2 Ki. 6:24 – 7:20).
– “Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence” (2 Ki. 13:22-23).
– “Since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash” (2 Ki. 14:26-27).

God’s judgment – The kingdom destroyed

The climax of the covenant curses for disobedience was Israel’s expulsion from Canaan (Lev. 26; Dt. 28). During the reign of Jeru the kingdom of Israel experienced the beginnings of this curse. God judged Israel at this time by giving some of their land to the Arameans (2 Ki. 10:32-33). Then Pul the king of Assyria invaded Israel and taxed the wealthy (2 Ki. 15:19-20). And Tiglath-Pileser the king of Assyria attacked the northern tribes in 738-732 BC and deported people to Assyria (2 Ki. 15:29). Israel was a vassal under Shalmaneser the king of Assyria (2 Ki. 17:3-6). But when they stopped paying tribute, the Assyrians besieged Samaria for three years and captured the city in 722 BC.

samaria map 400pxThe Assyrians then deported many of the people out of the northern kingdom, and brought in many people from Babylon and other countries to live in Israel. Sargon II claimed to have deported 27,290 Israelites to Assyria. This policy of deportation and re-population was intended to weaken the countries that Assyria dominated, to make it more difficult for a group of people to rise up and try to reclaim independence for their homeland. In time, these different groups of people intermarried and the whole area around the city of Samaria became known as Samaria, and the people became known as the Samaritans. The leadership of Samaria was taken away and replaced by foreign peoples. So the Jews in Judea regarded the Samaritans as a mixed race, and not true Israelites.

God’s promise to Solomon was fulfilled. After they rebelled against God for many years, Israel was eventually “cut off from their land”. They suffered a similar fate to the Canaanites who were driven from their land about 780 years earlier. The Bible says that Israel was exiled because of their sin (2 Ki. 17:7-23). They had repeatedly refused to heed the prophet’s warnings of impending judgment. Instead, they followed idols and disobeyed the covenant obligations. They had been deceived by their leaders and by the false prophets.

Samaria only lasted about 200 years as a capital city. But its name continued as it was used to describe that region of the kingdom of Israel. The Bible says that those who resettled in Samaria continued to worship their national deities (2 Ki. 17:24-41). They also practiced syncretism – they mixed different religions together (this has been confirmed by archaeologists).

In 332 BC, Alexander the Great captured the city and settled Macedonian soldiers there following a revolt by the Samaritans. And in 108 BC, John Hyrcanus (a Jewish Maccabean) conquered and destroyed the city. King Herod the Great later rebuilt the city and named it Sebaste. Today the ruins of the Israelite town, as well the ruins of towns built at this same location later in history, are all adjacent or within the modern Palestinian village of Sebastia.

Samaritans oppose the rebuilding of Jerusalem

In about 627BC, the prophet Jeremiah warned the people of Jerusalem that like Samaria, because of their idolatry, they would be invaded and deported (Jer. 7:15). And in 586 BC, Judea was invaded and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews were exiled to Babylon. After the 70 year exile, Zerubbabel returned to rebuild the temple and Nehemiah returned to rebuild the city wall. Both of them were opposed by Samaritans. For example, the Samaritans:
– Pretended that they wanted to assist in the rebuilding of the temple when in fact they wanted to disrupt the work (Ezra 4:1-3).
– Tried to “discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building” (Ezra 4:4).
– “Bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans” (Ezra 4:4). They succeeded in having work on the temple stopped for 20 years until the second year of Darius’s reign (Ezra 4:24).
– Wrote letters to Xerxes and Artaxerxes to try to stop the rebuilding of the city wall (Ezra 4:6-23).

Sanballat and Tobiah led the opposition to Nehemiah. Sanballat was a prominent Samaritan – he held a position of authority in Samaria (Neh. 4:1-2). Sanballat and Tobiah:
– Ridiculed the Jews.
– Plotted to fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (Neh. 4:8).
– Tried to get Nehemiah to leave his work and meet with them in the plain of Ono in order to assassinate him (Neh. 6:1-4). They did this four times!
– Sent a letter with false accusations to Nehemiah (Neh. 6:5).
– Hired false prophets to trick Nehemiah into sinning so they could discredit him (Neh. 6:10-13).
– Tried to intimidate Nehemiah (Neh. 6:14).

One of Nehemiah’s reforms was to banish the high priest’s son because he was son-in-law of Sanballat the Samaritan!

So the Samaritans opposed those who returned to Judah from the exile in Babylon. This rebellion against the God of Judah was similar to the rebellion that had occurred in the kingdom of Israel.

Good news for Samaritans

In New Testament times the country of Samaria was the area bounded by the Mediterranean Sea (west), the Jordan Valley (east), Judea (south) and Galilee (north). During the time of Jesus there was continuing hostility between Jews and Samaritans (Jn. 4:9; 8:48; Lk. 9:52-53). When the Jews wanted to ridicule Jesus, they said that He was a Samaritan, which was a racial slur (Jn. 8:48).

The disciples were surprised to find Jesus speaking with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (Jn. 4:7-9). He revealed to her that He was the Messiah. And she believed and so did many other Samaritans (Jn. 4:28-42). This showed that salvation was being extended to all the people of the world and not just Jews.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus shows that the Samaritan acted as a neighbour who helped the injured man, whereas the Jewish Priest and the Levite didn’t help the man. So the one that Jesus commended was a hated foreigner. Jesus is saying that the command to “love your neighbour as yourself” crosses national and racial boundaries.

When Jesus healed ten men with leprosy, the only one who thanked Him was a Samaritan (Lk. 17:11-19). This indicates that Jesus didn’t show favoritism to the Jews, but included the marginalized in His ministry.

Jesus told His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Philip took the gospel to Samaria and churches were established there (Acts 8:5-14; 9:31). And Peter and John also preached in Samaria (Acts 8:25).

Lessons for us

We have looked at what the Bible says about the 200 year history of Samaria as a capital city and about the following 750 year history of Samaria as a region in Palestine. Although it was settled by God’s people, it was a center of disobedience and rebellion against God. The people were deceived by the leaders and the false prophets. And they suffered the consequences. But God kept the promises He made to Moses and Solomon. He said that disobedience would lead to being removed from their land. And that’s what happened.

God was patient, giving them lots of time to repent and change to obey the covenant. But in the long term, judgement comes to those who rebel against God. And  in the long term, false prophets will be shown to be wrong.

Jesus reached out to the Samaritans even though they followed a corrupted version of the Pentateuch. And the apostles preached the gospel to the Samaritans and set up churches.

From these events we learn that:
– If God kept the promises He made in the Old Testament, then He will also keep the promises He makes to us in the New Testament.
– If God was patient in judging the Israelites, He will be patient in judging people today. Peter confirms this, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9).
– Let’s beware of deceivers (false teachers or false prophets) whose message isn’t consistent with that of the New Testament.
– Let’s include marginalized people in our ministries, not exclude them.
– Let’s spread the good news about Jesus to all nations and races; and not write off anyone as being unworthy of God’s love and mercy.

Written, January 2019

Also see other posts on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles at Jericho

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