For many decades, evangelical support for Israel seemed rock solid. Today, however, many younger Christians in Western churches are hesitant to give Israel the same unconditional support their parents did. Stories of Palestinian suffering, rather than the struggles and triumphs of Israel, have attracted the sympathy of young evangelicals.
They appear to be motivated more by the cause of social justice for the “oppressed” Palestinians than the prophecy-driven backing of the restored Jewish state. Many Christian youngsters have sided with the Palestinians as the perceived underdog. And in any case, Jesus in the Gospels seems to have very little to say about the current situation.
So for a generation known to read far less in the Old Testament than previous generations, this supposed New Testament “silence” makes a big difference in how they view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, they simply ask: What would Jesus do?
That is, would Jesus affirm the national calling of Israel according to the promises made to the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets? Would He affirm Israel’s right to live in the land? Or would He rather side with the Palestinians as a weak and suppressed minority?
A strong guide for answering these questions is to look at how Jesus dealt with the most prominent indigenous minority living in Israel during his time. As we shall see, there are many striking parallels between the Samaritan people in the days of Jesus and the Palestinians of today. So, who were the Samaritans, and how did Jesus treat them?
A Replaced People
The first time the Bible mentions the Samaritans is in 2 Kings 17:22-41, which gives their historical background. The passage recounts how the northern kingdom of Israel was “carried away from their own land” (v. 23) and taken into exile in 722 B.C. by Assyria, whose King Sargon II followed a common practice of conquering empires in those days. He replaced the dislodged Israelites with people from other regions of his empire. Thus, he took people “from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities” (v. 24).
These new implants, thereafter called the Samaritans, began intermingling with some of the Israelite remnant left in the land and quickly adopted some of their religious practices. Besides their own gods and traditions, they also worshipped and “feared” the God of Israel.
Then in 586-582 B.C., a second uprooting occurred when the southern kingdom of Judah also was forced into exile by the Babylonian Empire. This gave even more room for the Samaritan people to expand and solidify their presence in the land of Israel.
Resisting the Restoration
Some 70 years later, the Jewish people started to return to the land and rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Yet the Samaritan communities were among the strongest opponents of this Jewish restoration. They resisted it religiously and politically (Ezra 4; Neh. 4:1-3). Nevertheless, Jerusalem and the temple were restored, and the Jews re-established their presence again in their promised homeland because the Lord was with them (Hag. 1:13).
Still, the Samaritans continued to oppose the Jewish return and to develop their own rival culture and national identity. Over time, they even cultivated their own form of pseudo-Judaism. The prophets and other writings of the Tanakh were rejected, and only the five books of Moses were considered binding. For this reason, the Samaritans rejected the idea of a promised Messiah from the lineage of David who would restore the kingdom for Israel. Rather, they expected a messiah figure who would be “a prophet like Moses,” as the book of Deuteronomy foretold, ushering in a moral and spiritual revival but not a national restoration.
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