"The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can You ask me for a drink? For (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)"—John 4:9

"Give me a drink," said Jesus, opening the conversation that was to issue in such momentous results.

An answer, probably such as He had anticipated, was returned, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can You ask me for a drink?"

These words open to us an instructive, a painful chapter in human nature. The creed-feud—we had almost said the blood-feud—existing between Jew and Samaritan, has had, alas! its thousand lamentable illustrations and repetitions in the history of the world. Though involving a brief historical explanation, it will be necessary for the comprehension of the narrative that we advert to the cause of this fierce and fiery antagonism between the conterminous races—the dwellers in the same land, whose social and religious unity seems thus to have been so hopelessly destroyed.

The first Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Samaria took place under Tiglath-Pileser. The wealth and nobility of the land of Ephraim were on that occasion carried forcibly away to Central Asia. A second and more sweeping invasion occurred under Shalmaneser; while the total depopulation of the country and the extirpation of the inhabitants, seems to have been consummated in the reign of this conqueror's grandson, Esarhaddon. He, however, in his turn repeopled the now desolate territories, not with restored exiles, but with a colony of aliens from the Tigris and Euphrates. During the interim, while the nice fertile lands were evacuated and left to waste and silence, the wild animals from Hermon and Lebanon, and the adjoining jungles of the Jordan, had taken possession of the dense and rank untended vegetation of the mountains and valleys of Samaria, and, as was natural, spread terror and dismay among the new settlers. The lion, now unknown in that region, was conspicuous among these. The colonists became haunted with superstitious fears. They were Gentiles—Pagans. But on this very account, being worshipers of 'lords many and gods many,' what was to hinder them adding one more deity to those they had imported from the East? By doing homage to the local god of the new country, they might propitiate his wrath, and have these wild beasts driven away, which, they doubted not, were the messengers and executioners of his vengeance. How were they, however, to attain a knowledge of the creed and rites of the old inhabitants, so as to graft and incorporate these on their own? They adopted the expedient of asking their distant conqueror to send from among the captives by the rivers of Babylon, one of the priests of Israel, who would indoctrinate them in the worship of the God of Jacob, or, as they expressed it, "teach them the manner of the God of the land." The request was complied with; and the result was the framing of a strange, enigmatical, compound worship—a hybrid between Judaism and Paganism. The captive priest took up his abode at Bethel and having imbibed the ecclesiastical laxity of Jeroboam's age, he had probably only too readily accommodated himself to the religious presuppositions of his new disciples, and taught them to worship the one spiritual Jehovah of Israel through some visible symbol—other imported idols adorning, or rather desecrating and defiling, the sacred place. The colonists from Media and Persia, or "Cutheans," as they were called, were subsequently supplemented by Greeks and Phoenicians at the time of the conquest of Alexander the Great. These, in their turn, brought a fresh accession of false gods to the paganized territory—Baal and Ashtaroth, Minerva and Jupiter—or, as this religious medley is described in the Bible narrative, "They feared the Lord and served their own gods."

The one only portion of the old Jewish creed which seemed to have been sacredly retained, (and which, after a lapse of thirty centuries, continues intact and inviolable to this day among the handful of representative modern Samaritans,) was the five Books of Moses. Rejecting all the other prophetical writings and later Jewish traditions, the Samaritan Pentateuch has remained to this hour a sacred heirloom in their synagogue at Shechem. In later years, indeed, they had evidently shared in some of the nobler beliefs of their neighbors—notably that specified by the woman of Samaria in the course of her conversation—an indefinite expectation of the coming of a Messiah. From all we have advanced, however, it is evident that the new kingdom was essentially composed of sensuous and sensual idolaters who had no inheritance in the blood of the ancient chosen people, and to whom pertained not the adoption or the covenants. They were a heathen colony planted in the very midst of Palestine, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise. A few Hebrew women and slaves—possibly a few vinedressers and husbandmen—as we find in the case of the Jews at the time of the Babylonish captivity, were all that were left of the old inhabitants, so that their descendants could only by the slenderest links retain a claim to hereditary descent from the patriarchs of the land, Abraham and Jacob, Rachel and Joseph.

We have a remarkable proof, indeed, in the very words of our divine Lord Himself, how thoroughly Samaria was heathenized, and identified with Gentile territory. When He sent forth His seventy disciples, it could be, in His case, from no unworthy popular prejudice or antagonism of race that He gave this strict injunction, "Do not enter any towns of the Samaritans." The explanation is evident. His gospel was in the first instance to be proclaimed to the Jews alone, "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;" and it would have alike contradicted prophecy, and marred and neutralized the exclusiveness of this primary offer, if the Gentile Samaritans, who had so little in common with the Jews, had shared in the benefits of that earliest apostolic mission. Such being their heathen descent and half-heathen creed, it is not difficult to understand how the old kingdom of Judah and Benjamin should, from the first, have entertained a rooted and unconquerable aversion to the aliens. Circumstances, year after year, tended to widen this separating gulf, aggravating and intensifying the mutual antipathy. On the return of the Jews from their captivity under Zerubbabel, these suspicious and untrustworthy Samaritans made offer of their friendship and good offices, to help the returned exiles in rebuilding their walls and temple. It was sternly refused. If the former had been the genuine representatives of the old ten tribes, the others might have overlooked past jealousies; and for the sake of the national unity have hailed them as auxiliaries. But not a stone of their sacred walls is to be touched by Assyrian and Greek colonists, who had so basely compromised and mutilated the religion of their fathers. Therefore, with reference to this very proposal to assist their southern neighbors, they are spoken of, not as "Samaritans," but under the unmistakable title of "the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin." The result showed, that patriotic far-seeing Ezra had not miscalculated their duplicity and treachery; for, stung to the quick by this rejection, they immediately set themselves by every means to impede the work of the rebuilding of the temple on Zion, and joined with the children of Edom in the cry, "Raze it, raze it, even to its foundation," (Ps. 137:7.)

This they could not effect; but, to carry out the spirit of revenge and rivalry, they determined to outdo the restored capital and temple of the south, by the erection of a still nobler temple on the top of their own Gerizim. In 420 B.C., this new and magnificent temple, arose. Alexander the Great, then with his army before Tyre, not only sanctioned its building, but sanctioned the appointment of an unprincipled Jew of priestly lineage (Manasseh) to be its first hierarch. The worship set up in this rival temple was the embodiment of all that strange jumble we have described, of heathen mythology and diluted and desecrated Judaism. It remained to crown the summit of their holy mountain for two hundred years, when it was destroyed by John Hyreanus, a Jew.

Meanwhile, however, the animosity of the northern and southern kingdoms if possible increased, as did also the moral laxity and debasement of the Cutheans. Shechem became the refuge of vagabond Jews: the unclean and excommunicated in Judah and Jerusalem—the libertines who rebelled against the needed reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah—found a ready asylum in Samaria.

Perhaps of all the religious battlefields this world has been compelled in sadness to witness, none has bequeathed such lamentable memories of exasperation and deadly hate: not even those disgraceful feuds (a scandal to Christendom) on the same sacred soil of Palestine, which the Mohammedan and Turkish soldiery at this hour gaze upon in dogged silence, as they see Greeks and Latins closing at times in mortal strife, on the occasion of their most sacred anniversary and at their most reputedly sacred place—the traditional Holy Sepulcher. The Samaritan sought, by every petty annoyance, to fret and irritate the Jew, and the Jew was not slow or reluctant to retaliate in kind and degree.

Samaria, as we have previously seen, was the nearest road for the caravans of northern pilgrims going to the feasts in Jerusalem. The Samaritans churlishly refused these the poorest rites of hospitality, and compelled them often to avoid maltreatment, by taking the circuitous and more fatiguing route by the Jordan Valley. Again, it was one of the few consolations enjoyed by the bands of exiled Jews in Babylon, to have announced to them, by means of the only ancient telegraphic communication—beacons on the mountain-tops—the appearance of the paschal moon. The first beacon-fire was lit on the summit of Olivet, and thence caught up from mountain to mountain in luminous succession, until, within sight of the Euphrates, they could, for the moment at least, take down their harps from the willows as they remembered Zion and its holy solemnities. But the Samaritans indulged the mischievous delight of perplexing and putting them out of reckoning by the use of false signals. Another wicked and successful exploit is recorded; and occurring as it did under the government of Coponius only a few years previous to the gospel era, may have tended at this time to deepen these animosities—A band of Samaritans succeeded in stealing to the courts of the Temple of Jerusalem during the Passover season, and defiling the sacred precincts by scattering them with dead men's bones; thus incapacitating the Jews that year from celebrating the great Feast of their nation.

Yet, combined with all this, there was, on the part of the Samaritan, the proudest assertion of hereditary right and ancestral glory. The Jew was but of yesterday, compared with the descendants of Jacob and Joseph, and Jerusalem was a modernized capital beside the old walls of time-honored Shechem, with its oaks and terebinths, under which the Father of the faithful pitched his tents. In the words of a graphic writer, Shechem was the city of Joshua and the Judges—Zion that of David and the Kings. Shechem was Moscow; Jerusalem was only St. Petersburg. The Jewish Pentateuch was the handiwork of a modern scribe, unworthy to be named in the same breath with that written by Abishua, the son of Phineas, the grandson of Aaron!

The Jew was in no way behind in his boastful assertions of prerogative and prescriptive right, as well as in the manifestation of malevolence. An extract from the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus describes the intensity of the feeling—"There be two manner of nations which my heart abhors, and the third is no nation: those who sit on the mountain of Samaria and those who dwell among the Philistines; and that foolish people that dwell in Shechem." The Jew would refuse to eat with them; to do so, was "as if he ate swine's flesh." He denounced the Samaritan as a base time-server, who would not hesitate to purchase immunity from pains and penalties by forswearing Jehovah and kissing the impious shrine of Baal or Jove. He regarded him as unclean as the evaded leper; to harbor him in his house would entail a heritage of judgments on his children. The name 'Samaritan' became a byword of reproach. He was publicly cursed in the synagogue—cursed in the name of Jehovah, by the writing on the two tables of the law, by the curse of the upper and lower house of judgment. He was pronounced unworthy of eternal life, excommunicated alike from the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. The bitterest word of scorn the Jew could hurl at the Infinitely Pure One was this, "You are a Samaritan, and have a devil."

The yet untutored apostles shared the same exasperated feelings, when they asked their Lord to call down fire from heaven on some Samaritan village. All worthy of remembrance is His gentle yet sharp reproof, "You know not what spirit you are of." A new spirit of love, in which hereditary hate and malevolence were to have no place, was to be grafted on the hearts of men. And while, as corroborating all we have said, it is stated in our narrative, in a parenthetical clause, "The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans," it is striking to observe, how in the very same breath the disciples seem to contradict the statement. For they evidently had such dealings—it being distinctly asserted that they had "gone to the city to buy bread," How can we reconcile this apparent contradiction, but on the surmise, that they had already been so far instructed and educated by their divine Master into a more conciliatory spirit; led, in these temporal interchanges, to take down the unnatural barriers of separation, preparing the way for a higher, purer, nobler fraternity, which was, in one sense, to have its birthplace that day at the well of Sychar?

For the same reason, our Lord's request for water from a Samaritan, and a Samaritan woman, must have sounded equally strange. The very strangeness perhaps, of the request, and the kind tones in which it was given, may have made the astonished listener all the more ready to give heed to the conversation that followed. There was nothing remarkable, indeed, (as we see in the case of Eleazar and Rebekah, Moses and Zipporah,) for a wayfarer asking a female to draw water to quench his thirst. But what was no breach of courtesy or etiquette in Mesopotamia or Midian, was a startling violation of national prejudice when Jew and Samaritan met at Jacob's well. How beautifully is the comprehensive charity and love of the Great Philanthropist, in breaking down all these unnatural and wicked antipathies, illustrated in His own graphic parable of the Good Samaritan! Jesus rejected and condemned, as much as did His Jewish brethren according to the flesh, the half-heathen creed of the Samaritans. We shall come, in the subsequent narrative, to find Him boldly stating so to this woman, "You know not what you worship)." But He would enunciate and proclaim at the same time that great truth, which, alas! is so often ignored by all modern Churches—Greek, Roman Catholic, Protestant—that while there are errors, grievous errors, which we must deeply deplore, and against which we must manfully protest and contend, there are ever, among the adherents of these different creeds, to be found beautiful exceptions in moral worth and in kindly deed—men who, despite of their doctrinal errors, have the loving spirit—whose creed is their character; or whose character, rather, rises above all creeds and doctrinal formulas, noble in heart and nobler in life, who may well put their orthodox neighbors to shame.

Such is His lesson in the great parable of the Good Samaritan. "A certain man" who "went down from Jerusalem," had fallen a prey to Jewish bandits, lying bleeding amid the rough stones which still line the old robber-haunt. The priest and the Levite (the impersonations of pure Judaism) strut past without a thought of aid; while a "certain Samaritan," a chance traveler, far from his own home and all the sympathies of home, dismounted his horse, bound up the sufferer's wounds, poured into them the oil and wine he had brought for his own use. (and which, as a Samaritan, he could not get easily replenished from Jewish vendors,) set him on his own donkey, brought him to the wayside inn, and shared the very contents of his scanty purse. It was at the peril of the man's life and limb. He might have been falsely branded as himself the robber and plunderer, accused of the old crime of wreaking vengeance against a helpless Jew, and letting him feel the severity of Samaritan hate. But undeterred by all such fears and false accusations, this despised outcast and alien, heretic and schismatic, whom priest and Levite would doubtless, as they passed, eye with malignant scorn, proved in time of need the real philanthropist, the brother man. With what withering sarcasm (if we can dare use in its mildest sense such a word in connection with the holy Jesus) did He turn round to the captious questioner with the query, "Which now of these three was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?"

Thank God, the principles of religious toleration are now better understood among ourselves in this age; although the monstrous records of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, as well as the deadly strifes between Greeks and Latins, Druses and Maronites, to this day, show how deeply rooted these religious animosities are in the corrupted human heart, and how much need we have, amid all our modern civilization and enlightenment, to moderate the fervor and intensity of party and sectarian feeling. If such were the feuds between Jew and Samaritan, where, on account of the compromise of vital religious truth, there were at least substantial grounds for quarrel and schism, how should those bearing the name of their tolerant Master blush at the antipathies and party shibboleths which have no such palliation: soldiers fighting nominally under the same banner, but who, instead of cheering their comrades in the fight, are rather frowning on them with hard looks, upbraiding them with hard words, and leveling at them the curse and the anathema! There is no denying it, that one of the saddest triumphs of the Evil One is, and ever has been, this virulence of party strife, this tendency to party isolation, ecclesiastical exclusiveness. Even the Apostles, as may be remembered, were slow to relax their old narrow prejudices. It required a special miracle to enable Peter to rise above the trammels of exclusive Judaism, to teach him the magnificent truth which his "beloved brother Paul" subsequently proclaimed, that "God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the earth." Be the prejudices of His disciples, however, what they might, their Divine Master at least gave no sanction to the contracted spirit.

It is instructive to observe how specially these same Samaritans were included in His last legacy of love. In oblivion of all the past, He thus frames His parting apostolic commission—"You shall be witnesses to Me, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth." Oh, for a like spirit! not to anathematize, but to Christianize; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing; trusting in no boastful hereditary claims, the pride of creed or sect or ritualism, saying, in arrogant superciliousness, "It is not fitting to take the children's bread and to cast it to the dogs;" but remembering that Paul's weighty words have a Christian, as well as a Jewish meaning and significance—that holy lives are the true exponents of orthodox principles. "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God."

The case and words of the woman of Samaria tell us too plainly, how possible, how common it is, for one of scandalous and flagitious life to be a bold religious sectary, a zealous partisan; to speak glibly and haughtily on ecclesiastical differences about "Father Jacob" and "this mountain," and to wonder that there should be such a violation of religious etiquette that a High Church Jew should hold parley with a Low Church Samaritan. Lutheran may be ranged against Calvinist, Prelatist against Puritan, Predestinarian against Arminian, Baptist against Anabaptist, State Church against Dissenter. But tell us, among all, (collectively and individually) who is doing most honest, earnest work for Christ and humanity—who, amid the robber haunts of evil, are pouring most assiduously wine and oil into the wounds of this bleeding world? and the answer will not be hard to give: "Which now of these, then, is neighbor to him that fell among the thieves?" God speed the time, (yes, then, and not until then, will the Millennium dawn,) when Christendom, now mangled with a thousand wounds, will have these 'deadly wounds healed;' when Ephraim (that is, Samaria) shall not vex Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim; when the holy word, "Brotherhood," mimicked and travestied in these modern days in a hundred base forms, will have its true and noblest meaning illustrated and vindicated, in loving hearts, in a united Church, in a converted world!

"Down the dark future, through long generations,
The echoing sounds grow fainter and then cease,
And like a bell, with solemn, sweet vibrations,
I hear once more the voice of Christ say, 'Peace!'

"Peace! and no longer from its brazen portals
The blast of dismal war-sounds shakes the skies,
But, beautiful as songs of the immortals,
The holy melodies of love arise."

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