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Samaria is a historical and biblical name used for the central region of ancient Israel, bordered by Galilee to the north and Judaea to the south. It is about 30 miles north of Jerusalem. And it was the second capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel.
The region of Sychar in Samaria was the place where Abram built an altar, after God promised him the land of the Canaanites (Genesis 12:6–8). Later, Abraham’s grandson Jacob bought some land near Shechem and built an altar there (Genesis 33:18–20). The Samaritans claimed descent from Jacob through Joseph, and looked to Jacob as their “father” in somewhat the same way that the Jews looked to Abraham (John 8:33).
The division of the Promised Land
When the Israelites divided the Promised Land, the area of Samaria was allocated to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. King Omri, of the northern kingdom of Israel, purchased a hill in the Valley of Shechem in the territory of Samaria and built the city of Samaria, which became his capital (1 Kings 16:23–24).
“The hill of Samaria,” 7 1/4 mi. (11.6 km.) northwest of Shechem was one of great beauty and spectacular view of the sea and of the country. Militarily, the hill, with its sharp edges, was a great fortress, as is shown by the long sieges it endured (1 Kings 20:1; 2 Kings 6:24; 17:5; 18:9, 10). The surrounding area was exceptionally productive from rich springs of water. With time, the name of the capital was given to the whole northern kingdom.
Samaria’s history revealed the insight of its founder, for it continued as the capital of Israel till the close of the nation’s history. Excavations at the ancient site of Samaria date the lowest levels of the city to Omri’s day. Omri’s son, King Ahab, built a temple to Baal in the city of Samaria (1 Kings 16:32).
The origin of the Samaritans
When the Northern kingdom apostatized, the Lord permitted most of its inhabitants to be carried away as captives to Assyria. And the king of Assyria brought pagan people from Babylon and placed them in the cities of Samaria and they intermarried with the remnant of Israel. The Israelites adopted their pagan ways, and forgot the customs of their fathers (2 Kings 17:23-29). For this reason, the people of Judah refused to regard the Samaritans as brethren. After some years this corrupt group established a temple of their own on Mt. Gerizim, where they worshiped and carried on their rituals as a rival to that of the Temple at Jerusalem.
Jesus in Samaria
In the city of Sychar, Jesus rested at Jacob’s well and there He reached out for the Samaritan woman. When He asked her for water, she was surprised for the “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4: 9). The Jews of Jesus’ day disliked the Samaritans because of their religious syncretism and their mixed racial legacy. Racial hatred kept Jew and Samaritan so far apart that both avoided social contact.
And Samaritan woman added, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (John 4: 20). The spot where Jesus and the woman stood had been assigned to the descendants of Joseph (Joshua 24:32). The Samaritans had erected a temple on Gerizim about 432 B.C. but this had lain in ruins since its destruction by John Hyrcanus about 129 B.C. And they took the Pentateuch as their Bible and professed to be more orthodox than the Jews, but they worshiped God without vision—they knew not what they worshiped—and therefore worshiped Him “in vain” (Mark 7:7).
Jesus’ commission to evangelize Samaria
In the providence of God, the Jews were His chosen people that were commissioned to spread the truth to all the world (Romans 3:1, 2; 9:3–5). Jesus commissioned His disciples to go to “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And in obedience to His command, the disciples did that (Acts 8:1). “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:5–6).
In His service,