In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent the 12 disciples on a mission to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2 NIV). 

He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

Luke 9:3-5 (NIV)

Later, Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem when something interesting occurs. 

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them (emphasis added).

Luke 9:51-55 (NIV)

Although James and John had been previously instructed to shake the dust off their feet when a town’s people didn’t welcome them, they wanted to destroy this Samaritan village for not welcoming them. Why was there such animosity against the Samaritans? 

When Rehoboam became king and refused to lighten the load on the people, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms. The Northern and Southern Kingdom. Benjamin and Judah were in the south, while the other 10 tribes were in the north. Jeroboam, the first king of northern Israel, instituted idol worship for fear that the people would return to Judah if they went south to Jerusalem to worship (cf. 1 Kings 12).

Eventually, Omri became king of Israel (north) and bought the hill of Samaria (1 Kings 16:23). Samaria later became the capital of Israel. Many years later, when the Assyrians invaded Israel and deported all of the Jews living there, they brought people from other nations to live in Israel. 

The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns.

2 Kings 17:24 (NIV)

However, the new settlers of Samaria ran into big problems.

It was reported to the king of Assyria: “The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.”

2 Kings 17:26 (NIV)

Therefore, “the king of Assyria gave this order: ‘Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.'”

2 Kings 17:27 (NIV)

Thus, the immigrants to Samaria were instructed in the ways of the Lord, but they still worshipped other gods. 

Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places.

2 Kings 17:29 (NIV)

Although the Samaritans living in the land of Israel worshipped other gods, they still claimed to be worshipers of God. So, when the Jews from Judah and Jerusalem returned from the Babylonian exile, they made the Jews a proposition. 

They came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

Ezra 4:2 (NIV)

No doubt, the Samaritans made sacrifices to the Lord. In addition to every other “god” around. Here, the Jews have returned from exile resulting from turning from the Lord and following other gods. Thus, the Samaritan’s offer was rejected. 

But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”

Ezra 4:3 (NIV)

Since the Samaritans were told they couldn’t “help” the Jews rebuild the temple of God, they decided to make life as difficult as possible for the Jews. They bribed officials and wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes warning him that the Jewish people were rebellious and would stop paying him tribute if they were allowed to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord. Thus, when the king ordered the work to be stopped, the Samaritans used force to stop work (Ezra 4). 

Although the work eventually picked up again, the Samaritans did everything they could to delay it, adding to the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. 

Therefore, by Jesus’ time, little had been done to change the Jewish perspective of the Samaritans, which is why, when we read about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John, we should see how great a step it was for Jesus to not only be talking to a Samaritan woman but asking her for water. 

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 Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

John 4:9 (NIV)

Indeed, when we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, we can appreciate the magnitude of such a story in the eyes of those who heard it. Even the healing of the ten lepers should give us pause since we now have a better understanding of the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans.

He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Luke 17:16 (NIV)

Two things strike me when I consider the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. The first comes from this truth in Ephesians.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (emphasis added).

Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

The Jews, while they recognized that associating with the Samaritans was bad for them because of their idol worship, they didn’t see it that way. They saw the Samaritans as their enemy, and to a degree, rightly so. Yet, the Samaritans were just tools used by the real enemy to trip up the Jews. 

The second thing that strikes me is the similarity to today. Some people call themselves “spiritual” and think that’s good. These people pick and choose their beliefs and what they follow for the moment based on what feels good to them. Yet, if they continue in those ways, these people will find out too late that they were wrong. As Christians, we need to be better than the Jews who saw the Samaritans as enemies and recognize that these “spiritual” people today are truly spiritual. Still, the spirit that is leading them is not the Holy Spirit.