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“Then 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.’  So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord.” (2 Kings 17:27-28)


In these verses, we learn the origin of the Samaritans, the group of “mixed race” Jews who fair prominently in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and in the Gospels. Their origins go back to the time after Sargon II, king of Assyria destroyed the northern capital of Israel and deported its inhabitants (722 BC). But, just as Sargon uprooted Israel and transplanted them to various places in Mesopotamia, so he also uprooted other peoples from those lands and transplanted them in Israel.

These various groups of non-Jews were polytheistic, worshipping their own pagan gods in the land of the LORD. In punishment, God sent lions to harass them. This plague was so grievous that they pleaded to the Assyrian king for a priest of the LORD to be sent to them. They wanted to find out how to “serve the god of the land.”  Therefore a priest, one who had been carried away into exile, was returned to his own land to teach the heathen there to “fear the LORD.”

The fact that the Samaritans of Jesus’ day – and in the centuries that followed – worshipped the God of the Bible testifies to the efficacy of this priest’s work. Now 2 Kings 17:29-41 does explain that these Samaritans, for a time, continued to worship their own pagan gods while serving the LORD. But eventually they served God exclusively. The Samaritans clung to the Torah, the first five books of Moses, and the book of Joshua in the Bible.

It’s true that hostility existed between the Samaritans and Jews throughout the centuries. The Samaritans worshipped God on Mount Gerizim, based on Deuteronomy 11:29, 27:12, and Joshua 8:33. But the Jews worshipped on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, based on God’s guidance to David and Solomon (1 Chronicles 21:26-22:1). The Samaritans even had a temple of their own on Mount Gerizim to rival that of the Jews in Jerusalem. But the Jewish Hasmonean King, John Hercanus destroyed it in 107 BC.

But in His ministry Jesus deliberately traveled through Samaria and preached the Gospel among them (John 4:4-42). And there Jesus found many hungry hearts that were “ready to be harvested” for the Kingdom of God (John 4:35). In fact, without seeing any of His miracles, but only hearing His teaching, these Samaritans put their faith in Jesus Christ and confessed Him as the Savior of the world (John 4:42). After Jesus’ Resurrection, Philip also preached to the Samaritans and found them equally obedient to the Gospel (Acts 8:5-17).

Why did these Samaritans so eagerly receive the Gospel? Why did they respond so readily to Jesus’ ministry? Why were their hearts so “ripe and ready for harvest”? Well, Jesus Himself explained why. He told His disciples, “I am sending you to reap (among the Samaritans) what you have not planted. Others have done the hard work of planting, and you are reaping the benefits of their labor” (John 4:38). Others had done the unseen and thankless work of teaching God’s word to the Samaritans many years before.

And who were the “others” who had done all the hard work of sowing the seed of God’s word in the hearts of the Samaritans? Wasn’t Jesus primarily referring to that anonymous and obscure priest – and all who carried on his work? That priest was uprooted from his homeland, sent to a distant country, only to be brought back to do the work of a foreign missionary in his own land.

I’d like to think it was this priest who penned Psalms 42-43, where the psalmist yearns for God’s presence in a distant land. In his forced exile, he yearns to once again worship God in His temple. He describes his forced trek from Israel, past the heights of Hermon and Mount Mizar. And the waterfalls and turbulent rivers he crosses seem to echo the waves of grief and turmoil in his own heart. But he consoles himself by saying, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you disturbed within me? Place your hope in God, for I will again praise Him, for the help of His presence” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).

If he was indeed the author of those Psalms, then his hope in God paid off in ways he couldn’t have imagined. For God brought him back to his own land against staggering odds.

Now it was certainly a daunting and challenging task that faced this priest in Samaria. He had to convert pure pagans to the God of Israel and persuade them to obey His Law. I suspect he saw little success in his own lifetime and was continually frustrated at the idolatry that persisted among the Samaritans. But eventually, God’s implanted word conquered their hearts. And according to Jesus’ word in John 4:38, this priest and all his successors were supremely successful in their work. They prepared the Samaritans to receive their Messiah.

Do you ever feel like this lonely and obscure priest? Do you ever wonder if your labor for God is doing any good at all? Do you ever doubt that the good seed you’ve faithfully planted will ever come to fruition? Well, Paul the apostle told us that these very Scriptures, 2 Kings 17 included, were written for our sake, to give us hope for ourselves (Romans 15:4). “Therefore, … be steadfast and undeterred in your service and always abound in the Lord’s work. For you know that your labor for the Lord is never in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).


PRAYER:  Dear Father in heaven, please open my eyes to see Your ways. Fill my heart with hope that You will multiply and bless my frail efforts and cause them to produce a mighty harvest of righteousness and blessing for Your eternal Kingdom. In the name of Jesus Christ Your Son, Amen.


(Information from: R. T. Anderson, “Samaritans,” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, IV: 303-308; John Gray, I & II Kings, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, pp. 650-56)

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