Monday, February 15, 2010

The Woman At The Well - The First Evangelist/ Israel And her 5 husbands

The Bible is filled with stories and we often see many events happening near water wells. Water is and was a precious commodity in Israel and it is but natural that many of our stories are captured in that landscape. We see Eleazar meeting Rebekah at a well, Isaac digging up different kind of wells, Jacob meeting Rachel at a well, , Moses saving the daughters of Jethro at a well, Saul asking directions from woman at the well and the list will go on. However the most famous one of all is from the story in the gospel of John, Jesus has journeyed and come into the Samaria country. He is tired and hungry; His disciples have left him near the well to get some food, and while he waits a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. ..who were the Samaritans? and why did th Jews detest them so much so it would be almost a sin to speak to. A quick history lesson would be a appropriate here....

Second Kings Chapter 17 gives a detailed reference to the origin of Samaritans.Assyrians had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and deported the Ten Tribes into exile in Halah and Habor by the River of Gozan in the cities of the Medes (today's Persia or modern day Iraq). The King of Assyria replenished the depopulated territory of Israel with foreigners: 'And the King of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava and from Hamath and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria, instead of the children of Israel and they possessed Samaria and dwelt in the cities thereof'. So in short the King of Assyria took the children of Israel as slaves and the old people and the people that were left along their homelands were populated by foreign groups.

We hence see a land filled with foreign practices and idolatry and the disposes-ed people petitioned the Assyrian king for help. His response was to send back one of the captive priests of Israel to teach them his laws and customs. Therefore we read: 'Then the King of Assyria commanded saying, Carry one of the priests whom ye brought from thence, and let them go and dwell there, and let them teach the manner of the God of the land. Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord' (II Kings 17:27, 28).

When we consider that the Israelites had themselves gone into captivity for their idolatry and Sabbath breaking, that they worshipped Baal and Ashtaroth, and that the official priesthood since the days of Jeroboam had fostered the cult of the Golden Bulls at the shrines of Dan and Bethel, it is hardly surprising that the priest who returned to teach the Samaritans, succeeded only in joining a corrupted form of Israelite belief and worship to the customs which these people already held. Thus while they now paid lip service to the God of Israel, they continued to serve their own gods as well, according to the Biblical account.

The result was the evolution of a people group with various national and racial backgrounds, practicing a hybrid religion which bore certain outward similarities to the worship of the now exiled Israelites in Babylon. It was truly a multi-cultural, multi-faith society that had been created; a warning by the Lord since ages past need to be remembered do not mix with other people lest their gods, idols and ways become a snare for you. These people came to be called as Samarkans even though they did not necessarily dwell in the area of the former Israelite capital of Samaria but tended to be found mostly in the area of Shechem; so much so that both in the Apocrypha and in the writings of Josephus they are referred to as Shechemites. They had developed into a distinctive people by the Hellenistic period, when Shechem was rebuilt after years of desolation.

It was, however, during this period of Hellenization carried out by Alexander the Great and his successors, that a group of religious purists emerged in the Samaritan community, who decided to make a fresh start, and who erected the Samaritan Temple at Mount Gerezim. They developed their own distinctive religious system, including: the worship of the God of Israel, obedience to the Law of Moses, expectation of a coming Day of Judgment, belief in Mount Gerezim as the appointed place of sacrifice and in the return of Moses as the Taheb or the Restorer/Returning One.

When the exiles returned from Babylon during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, we see a large gulf between two sets of people groups specially in relation to Judah, Benjamin and Levi who regarded the Samaritans as racially inferior group, and their religion as counterfeit. We also see during the Maccabean Revolt the Samaritans sided with the Seleucid oppressors, to placate Antiochus Epiphanes, they even allowed their temple to be dedicated to Zeus Xenious!

In 128 B.C., they were conquered by the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus (the conqueror and incorporator of Edom/ldumea), who destroyed Temple on Mount Gerezim (this was the temple the Samaritans had instituted and true place to worship instead of Jerusalem). The racial tensions between the Jews and the Samaritans were always on the high especially with the Jews looking down upon their ways of worship and religion. At one particular Passover, between A.D. 6 and 9, the Samaritans defiled the Jerusalem Temple by scattering bones in it. Pilgrims travelling south from Galilee to Jerusalem for the religious festivals were afraid to go through Samaritan territory, a fear which was to be justified by the subsequent massacre of Galilean pilgrims by Samaritans at En-gannim in A.D. 52. The Samaritans rebelled against the Romans in A.D. 36. When a fanatic assembled them at Mount Gerezim, promising to reveal the sacred vessels which they had been taught were buried there by Moses, the rebels were ruthlessly massacred by order of Pontius Pilate. During the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66-70, a group of Samaritans joined in the rebellion and were slaughtered by the Roman Commander Vettulenus Cerealis, once again at Mount Gerezim. So we see two opposing mounts among the places of worship among the Samaritans and the Jews.

In spite of our Lord's instruction to His disciples: 'Into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not' (Matthew 10:5), and the incident when the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village which refused to receive them (Luke 9:52-54), Samaritans receive fairly favorable comment from the New Testament writers Luke and John. The one leper out of the ten who returned to Jesus to give thanks for his healing was a Samaritan (Luke 17:16). The Lord Jesus asked for water from, and subsequently ministered to, a woman of Samaria (John 4:4-30 & 39- 40); while we read of a great spiritual revival accompanied by signs, wonders and miracles in Sarnaria (Acts 8:5-25). How do we account for these events? Could there have been two types of Samaritans?

Just as every Jew residing in the Roman Province of Judea, and practicing the Jewish religion at the time of Christ, was not necessarily a true Judahite, a similar situation existed in Samaria, also a Roman territory. Isaiah the prophet had made it clear that, even though the vast bulk of Ten-tribed Israel had been taken into captivity in Assyria, a tiny pathetic handful would survive the mass deportations. This is what he says: 'Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it as the shaking of an olive tree two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost branches thereof saith the God of Israel' (Isaiah 17:6).

This accounts for the presence in the Holy Temple at Christ's Presentation as a baby, of the aged prophetess Anna of the Tribe of Asher. It also accounts for the favorable reaction of some Samaritans to Christ, and to the preaching of the Gospel. Some of them, like the leper, and the woman by the well of Sychar, while they were Samaritans by religion (worshipping at Mount Gerezim), and by provincial designation (living in the Roman province of Samaria), were clearly not descended from the mixed multitude who had been sent into the area some seven hundred years earlier, but rather from the little handful of true Israelites who had escaped deportation - the grapes and berries of Isaiah's prophecy.

In her discussion with the Lord Jesus, the woman of Samaria made her racial ancestry crystal clear, for she said to Jesus: 'Art thou greater than our father Jacob which gave us the well...' (John 4:12).

She actually claimed descent from Jacob-lsrael. Furthermore, her own life was symbolic of the experience of the woman Israel, for the Lord Jesus said to her: 'Thou hast had five husbands and he whom thou hast is not thy husband' (John 4: 18)

Israel had indeed had five husbands; her first whom she married at Sinai was:

1. ALMIGHTY GOD. She then served the following succession of alien Empires spoken of in prophecy as her lovers:




5. GREECE - And the sixth whom she served in the time of Christ was:


It was to cancel their bill of divorce to redeem them and bring them again into covenant relationship by His atoning death that Jesus came.

Thus we see revealed the true identity of the various types of Samaritans; and in the ministry of our Lord and His Apostles, to them we see the fulfilrnent of the words recorded by the Old Testament prophet Amos: 'For lo I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth' (Amos 9:9).

So coming back to our story of the woman, it was surprising enough that a Rabbi of high stature would even talk to a Samaritan especially a woman. He asks for water and the surprised woman asks "You ask for a drink from a Samaritan being a Jew". Jesus replies telling her if you knew who was asking..."I am the one who can give you waters which will never make you thirst" (Paraphrase mine).

After the discourse is over she knows that the one she is speaking to is not just a prophet but the Messiah prophesied to come to save the world. She runs back to the villages and proclaims the good news (she tasted the living waters) and many Samaritans come and believe not only because of her testimony for they saw the one who had come to redeem.

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