Lord of Time: Ancient Samaritans and Sir Isaac Newton
You may recall from a previous post in this series that we described how God caused the northern kingdom of Israel, whose capital city was Samaria, to be destroyed and deported by Assyria. Most of its people were taken away and only the very poorest were left, while at the same time other peoples from other lands were brought in to co-inhabit it with the Jewish peasantry. Assyria used these methods to crush any possibility of the northern kingdom rising again as a unified people, and eventually those who remained were called Samaritans.
As you may recall from the parable of the Good Samaritan, and from Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in the book of John, Samaritans were despised by their Judean brethren even though both peoples had originally been Israelites. The people of the northern kingdom on the whole had been less faithful to God than those of the southern kingdom in Judea. One of their unfaithfulnesses was that they rejected all but the first five books of the Old Testament.
The Judean and other Israelites felt so strongly about the importance of accepting the rest of the Old Testament that they adopted a new alphabet (what we think of as modern Hebrew characters) while in Babylonia. They used the new Babylonian script on purpose to distinguish their Old Testament from the Samaritan version of the Old Testament.
The story of the Samaritans doesn’t end there, however. During His ministry on earth, Jesus traveled back and forth between the regions of Judea (in the south) and Galilee (in the far north), which meant that He often passed through the middle region of Samaria. Jesus neither ignored nor despised the Samaritans. He showed tremendous compassion to the Samaritan woman at the well, demonstrating that the God who sent Samaritan Israel into harsh captivity for their disobedience was also the God who extended His salvation to them through Christ. That woman is one of the very few to whom Jesus ever said directly, “I am the Messiah.” He offered her living water.
Jesus also specifically made the Samaritan the hero of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, rather than the Levite who would have been a member of the priestly class. If you know the history of the Samaritans, Jesus’ behavior towards them is both startling and heartbreakingly beautiful.
Later on in history, the story of the Samaritans takes another surprising turn. The old dispute between Samaritans and Judeans and other faithful Jews, about the Old Testament, actually helped to prove the veracity of the Bible as a whole. As we know, throughout history there have been those who try to prove that the Bible is not really accurate, or not really the Word of God. In the seventeenth century, some were claiming that the Old Testament had actually been composed by Jewish scribes during the Babylonian captivity, around 500 B.C., and that none of the books were written by Moses or even written before the captivity. Imagine how devastating a blow!–if true, that would mean that none of the prophets had actually predicted what was to come, and that nothing “written by Moses” was actually written at the time of the Exodus, and that all the histories of Saul, David, and Solomon were hearsay handed down through the centuries…at best.
Fortunately, God used the unfaithfulness of the Samaritans and their subsequent deportation to Assyria to refute these arguments. No less a person than Sir Isaac Newton (famous for discovering gravity and other natural laws) pointed out during the early Enlightenment that the first five books of the Law had to exist before the Babylonian captivity, or else the Samaritans and other Judeans could not have had such a dispute about them—one which was in full swing well before the deportations to Assyria and Babylonia! If a disagreement about the Old Testament was going on before the southern and northern kingdoms were separated from one another, then no one could claim that the southern kingdom invented the Old Testament while in exile.
The story of the Samaritans is a fascinating one, and God’s use of even their sin to justify His Word only adds to our wonder. The Lord of Time is truly master of every moment and every turn in human History!