The name “Samaria” appears often in the Bible. What kind of place is Samaria? Why did the Jews distinguish themselves especially from the Samaritans?
Division of the Kingdom of Israel
In order to know about Samaria, let’s take a brief look at the history of the Kingdom of Israel first. The first king of Israel was Saul. However, as Saul disobeyed God, the throne was taken from him and given to David. At the age of 30, David became king of Israel and followed God wholeheartedly; he loved the law of God and observed it diligently. In addition, he tried to build the temple for the ark of the covenant, so that he would please God. Under the grace of God, he reigned over Israel for 40 years (1 Sa 15:22-23; 2 Sa 5:4; 2 Samuel 7).
After the death of David, Solomon became king. Like his father David, Solomon also conducted himself in a humble manner, so God gave him wisdom, honor and wealth. He was even blessed to complete the construction of the temple, which had been David’s long-cherished desire. However, as time passed by, Solomon used the blessings, which he had received from God, to satisfy his own pleasures and committed idolatry by marrying Gentile women, and it finally provoked the wrath of God.
The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, … 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. … 1 Ki 11:9-13
After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam succeeded him as king. Then, as God had prophesied, Jeroboam who was one of Solomon’s officials joined the ten tribes in the north and became king over them. By this, the Kingdom of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms: Judah in the south, ruled over by Rehoboam, and Israel in the north, ruled over by Jeroboam. So, it was reduced to a small country in the Near East.
Destruction of Northern Israel
The Northern Kingdom of Israel, which consisted of ten tribes, was comparatively more powerful than the Southern Kingdom of Judah which was composed of two tribes. However, Jerusalem, where there was the temple of God, belonged to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and it was a disadvantage for Israel, which they could not overcome. Since the people of Israel had to go to Judah in the south every year in order to celebrate the feasts, Jeroboam was afraid that if his people kept going to Jerusalem, they might reside there permanently. So, as a way to strengthen his power over his people, he led them into idolatry.
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.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin … 1 Ki 12:28-30
After King Jeroboam, all the kings gave themselves up to idolatry. Especially, Ahab son of Omri married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He did more evil than all the kings that were before him (1 Ki 16:30-31).
In the meanwhile, King Omri, the father of Ahab, made a hill located in the north of Shechem the capital of his kingdom. The name of the region is “Samaria.” In other words, Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Ki 16:23-24).
Thus, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had neglected God’s laws for a long time. So, when Hezekiah king of Judah sent the couriers to make the people of Israel realize the Passover—one of God’s laws—and celebrate it, they scorned and ridiculed the couriers. As a result, Israel was invaded by Shalmaneser king of Assyria and Samaria was captured 254 years after its foundation (2 Ch 30:1-10).
… Shalmaneser king of Assyria marched against Samaria and laid siege to it. At the end of three years the Assyrians took it. So Samaria was captured … This happened because they had not obeyed the LORD their God, but had violated his covenant—all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out. 2 Ki 18:9-12
Samaritans being despised
After destroying the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria compulsorily deported the people of Israel to Assyria and settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in towns of the Medes. On the other hand, he brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria—the capital city of Israel—so they would live there (2 Ki 17:6, 24).
Those gentiles intermarried with the Jews that remained in Samaria, creating a mixed breed of people. From then on, the Jews regarded the Samaritans as heathens and detested them.
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jn 4:9
The Jews even called Jesus a “Samaritan” to insult Him.
The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” Jn 8:48
However, Jesus gave His grace even to the Samaritans who were despised. He let a Samaritan woman, whom He met at a town in Samaria called Sychar where there was Jacob’s well, know who the source of living water was. He also gave salvation to the Samaritan leper—the only one among the ten lepers who returned to thank Him for His healing grace, and through the parable of the good Samaritan Jesus made us realize what kind of people would be able to enter the kingdom of heaven (Jn 4:10-14; Lk 10:30-37; Lk 17:11-19).
Preach this gospel in Samaria and to the ends of the earth
“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.” Ac 1:8
Jesus commanded His disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world, and mentioned “Samaria.” By this He meant that they should let even the Samaritans, who had forsaken God and lived as outsiders in salvation for a long time, know who the Savior was. Today, we have also received this mission. Therefore, we should preach the gospel to the ends of the earth, boldly going even to spiritual Samaria, which has been regarded as a barren land for the gospel, and proclaiming the Spirit and the Bride—the Saviors in this age—to the spiritual Samaritans.