Monday, September 18, 2017

Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria (Acts 1:8; 8:4-25)

Acts opens with this: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Still, it's a marvel that the Jerusalem church would take the gospel to Samaria, because history had driven a wedge between Jerusalem in the South and and Samaria to the North.

Saul came from the North, David from the South; and after Solomon's death, long-simmering North-South divisions ended up in outright schism. After that, David's sons ruled the South by a God-ordained dynasty and built the God-ordained temple on Mount Zion. But non-Davidic kings ruled in the North and even built a faux temple on Mount Gerizim, one of the two mountains from which Israel echoed blessings and curses just before they entered the promised land. This in turn formed the ritual for a covenant renewal ceremony (Deut 11:29; 27:12-26; Josh 8:30-35). Hence its significance to Israel.

Exile came to the North two hundred years before the Southern exile, and one result was a lot of Gentile intermixture among families in the North. So the Samaritans were viewed as at best a half-breed offshoot of God's covenant with Israel (2 Kgs 17:24-41). After the exile, those tensions only increased when the returnees began rebuilding in the South. The Jews refused Samaritan attempts to get involved in rebuilding Jerusalem (Ezra 4:1-3); in turn, the Samaritans undermined Jewish attempts to rebuild Jerusalem's walls, society, and temple.

Even their canon of Scripture varied, which meant their messianic hopes differed widely. The Samaritan canon consisted of a specially edited Pentateuch (Genesis - Deuteronomy). That excluded the prophetic histories of the Davidic line that led to Judah's royal messianic hopes. It also excluded the latter prophets' messianic prophecies of Daniel's heavenly "Son of Man" (Dan 7:13); Isaiah's "Immanuel" (Isa 7:14), light to the nations (Isa 9:2), and suffering Servant of the Lord (Isa 52:13-53:21); and Jeremiah's new covenant (Jer 31:31-34), which Jesus initiated with the new cup (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25).

So the Samaritan's "messiah" wasn't a Davidic figure who would bring in a renewed manifestation of God's rule; rather, he was a pseudo-Mosaic figure who would restore the institutions and patterns of Samaritan worship on Gerizim. They weren't looking for a New Jerusalem, they were looking for a New Gerizim.

And yet, the Jewish Messiah from the Davidic line sent his disciples out to take the gospel to all the world, even to Samaria--and they went! Seems like they had taken seriously the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), and the original job description for the people of God to bless the nations (Gen 12:1-2).