The Middle East Crisis
Among the parables of Jesus, the Good Samaritan is one off the most explosive in its first century context. Many scholars believe that Jesus based the parable on an incident in 2 Chronicles 28 as there are so many obvious parallels between the two passages. Those who heard Jesus give the parable would have been aware of the historical incident in 2 Chronicles 28 and in the light of the implications of Jesus teaching on “who is my neighbor” becomes even more radical.
I first became aware of the parallels when using Michael Wilcock’s The Message of Chronicles (IVP, l987) as one of my resources while studying 2 Chronicles. On the basis of his work I developed my own list of parallels between the two passages. After finishing my article I discovered another list of parallels between the two passages by F. Scott Spencer, published in the “Westminster Theological Journal” (l999), which I have reproduced in the appendix.
Once the connection is made between the two passages, the question of “who is my neighbor?” expands beyond interpersonal relationships to embrace issues of reconciliation and justice between ethnic groups. With this in mind the passages seem to have direct applications to the present tensions in the state of Israel. I am exploring what some of these applications might look like in practice in the current complexity of Jewish and Palestinian relationships
THE MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
“And the sons of Israel carried away captives of their brethren 200,000 women, sons, and daughters; and took also a great deal of spoil from them, and they brought the spoil to Samaria. But a prophet of the Lord was there whose name was Oded; and he went out to meet the army which came to Samaria and said to them, ‘Behold, because the Lord, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, He has delivered them into your hand, and you have slain them in a rage which has even reached heaven. And now you are proposing to subjugate for yourselves the people of Judah and Jerusalem for male and female slaves. Surely, do you not have transgressions of your own against the Lord your God? Now therefore, listen to me and return the captives whom you captured from your brothers, for the burning anger of the Lord is against you.’”
“Then some of the heads of the sons of Ephraim—Azariah the son of Johanan, Berechiah the son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah the son of Shallum, and Amasa the son of Hadlai—arose against those who were coming from the battle, and said to them, ‘You must not bring the captives in here, for you are proposing to bring upon us guilt against the Lord adding to our sins and our guilt; for our guilt is great so that His burning anger is against Israel.’ So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the officers and all the assembly.”
“Then the men who were designated by name arose, took the captives, and they clothed all the naked ones from the spoil; and they gave them clothes and sandals, fed them and gave them drink, anointed them with oil, led all their feeble ones on donkeys, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brothers; then they returned to Samaria.”—(2 Chronicles 28:8–15, New American Standard Bible)
In the above passage, the king of Israel, along with the king of Aram, raises an army and massacres 120,000 of the Judean army in a single day. In addition, the northern kingdom carried away captive 200,000 Judean wives, sons, and daughters and a great deal of spoil. However, when the victorious army returns to Samaria, they are rebuked by the prophet Oded who is backed by some of the heads of the sons of Ephraim. In a remarkable turnaround, “the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the offices and all the assembly” (v. 14). A group of men are then appointed to repatriate the southerners and show them extraordinary kindness and compassion in doing so—incurring what must have been a considerable loss of both time and money because of the large numbers involved.
2 Chronicles & Luke 10
Many Bible commentators have pointed out the remarkable similarities between the story in 2 Chronicles and that in our Lord’s parable in Luke 10 of the Good Samaritan. A significant number of scholars believe that the passage was the basis for the parable, which is, along with that of the prodigal son, the most well known of all our Lord’s parables. A representative list of the commentators who make this connection are listed below in the end-notes.
The following are some of the features that both passages appear to have in common:
- Neighbor Love :: The issue in both passages is that of neighbor love. Chronicles stresses three times that the Judeans were the “brethren” of their northern neighbors. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the word “brother” is not used, but the question asked by the lawyer—in seeking to evade his responsibility to love his neighbor as himself—was, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The word “neighbor” is used three times in the parable just as the word “brother” is used three times in the Chronicles passage.
- Innocent Victims :: The victims are innocent civilians in both cases. In Chronicles, 200,000 wives, sons, and daughters are taken captive, all of whom are clearly non-combatants. The same is true in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We do not know who the traveler was; he is simply portrayed as an innocent Israelite who was attacked, stripped, beaten and left half-dead by bandits.
- Failure & Injustice :: In both cases, those observing the injustice failed to minister to the victimized. While it is not spelled out in Chronicles, the huge number of captives must have passed through many towns and villages on their way to Samaria. One cannot rule out the possibility that some compassion may have been extended to them by these local inhabitants; the text is silent on the matter. However, judging by the degrading state they were in when they arrived at Samaria, they had received very little in the way of food and water during their journey. This failure to minister to the victimized is, of course, also true of the priest and Levite who “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31, 32). As in Chronicles, we have individuals who witness the results of the atrocity, but they fail to minister to the brutalized man lying half-dead by the side of the road.
- Compassion :: In both stories it is Samaritans who act with compassion. When the northern army arrived back, it was those in Samaria, stirred up by the prophet Oded, and some of the heads of the sons of Ephraim, who acted in defense of the victimized (2 Chronicles 28:12–14). This is also true in the story told by Jesus. It is a Samaritan who acts with compassion on the southerner.
- Risk Taking :: A risk is taken by the men of good will in both stories. The northern army is obviously armed and dangerous and could have violently resisted the intervention of those in Samaria on behalf of the Judeans. In addition, “much spoil” was at stake. It is also significant that the initiative to show compassion did not come from the king, to whom presumably the army would have submitted, but from Oded and other leading men in Samaria. The same is true in our Lord’s parable. Many have pointed out that the Samaritan acted at considerable personal risk to himself. The bandits could have been watching, using the brutalized man as bait for their next victim.
- Mercy :: A ministry of mercy takes place in both incidents. In 2 Chronicles we read that they clothed the naked, gave them sandals, fed them, gave them drink, anointed them with oil, and led the feeble on donkeys (28:15). If there were indeed 200,000 who were taken captive, this ministry of mercy to such a vast number is indeed impressive. Likewise, in Luke chapter 10, the Samaritan bandaged up the wounds of the injured man, poured in oil and wine, put him on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him at his own expense.
- Jericho :: Another textual clue that links both stories is the mention of Jericho. In Chronicles the abused captives are returned to Jericho on donkeys (28:15). The man attacked in Luke chapter 10 is described as going to the same destination. E. F. F. Bishop points out that the site of the inn to which the victim was carried was probably in Jericho. Jericho was a frontier city on the border between Judea and Samaria and is a more likely place where a Samaritan would be trusted as a businessman. His statement “I will repay you when I come back” seems to indicate that he was probably known by the innkeeper (Luke 10:35).
[After compiling the above list from my own study, I came across an article by F. Scott Spencer in the Westminster Theological Journal in which he has drawn up a similar list of parallels. These are included in the end-notes]
The incident on neighbor love is concluded in Chronicles with the statement that the victims were “brought to their brothers” who, as we know, were the Judeans in the south (28:15). However, “their brothers” have also twice been described as Samaritans (28:8, 11). This is, of course, the point of Jesus’ parable in Luke 10. The issue at question is the crucial one of “who is my neighbor?” or with the Chronicles background in mind, “who is my brother?” If 2 Chronicles is indeed the basis for the Good Samaritan story, Jesus consciously adapts it to fit a first century context.
As we know, the Samaritans in 2 Chronicles eventually went into exile. We also know that the five pagan people groups who the king of Assyria dispatched to repopulate the north (2 Kings 17) are not necessarily the forefathers of the Samaritans in the New Testament (see the background notes below). However, by our Lord’s day, both parties deeply distrusted and despised each other. The more extreme Jewish elements regarded Samaritans as virtually another race and religion. Against such a provocative background, Jesus teaches a radical love of one’s “neighbor” that finds its roots in a common humanity that is deeper than ethnic, territorial, and religious rivalry.
The implications of the parable of the Good Samaritan are dramatic enough when seen against this first century rivalry between the groups. And this is usually the point of application when the parable is used in contemporary teaching and preaching. However, with the Chronicles background in mind (the content of which the lawyer asking Jesus the question would be intimately aware), the implications of the story are even more dramatic.
During the divided kingdom, atrocities had repeatedly been committed by both the north and the south against each other. Both regarded themselves as the legitimate heirs of the land and both sought, from time to time, to subjugate the other and take more territory. Neither side was blameless and the incident in 2 Chronicles 28 is by no means a unique outrage.
In 2 Chronicles, the barbarity was initiated by the army from Samaria and then repudiated by a more moderate faction who would not countenance the violence and slavery that was being proposed. In addition, as mentioned above, they then invested considerable time, money and personal inconvenience to right the wrong that had been perpetrated by their own people.
From this background, several applications can be made to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in our own day. As Jesus did not hesitate to appropriate the 2 Chronicles passage and apply it in his own day, perhaps we also have grounds to do the same.
Personal Compassion & Public Policy
However, before using 2 Chronicles 28 and Luke 10 to try and shed some light on the conflict in the region today, it is worth noting that Jesus does not make a distinction between personal compassion (or morality) and public policy. Ethicists often insist that private ethics (turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, etc.) cannot provide a basis for public policy, particularly in situations of national security. By basing his parable on 2 Chronicles 28, Jesus refuses to make such a distinction. It does not mean that such distinctions should never be made in the light of national security, but our Lord does not do so on this occasion.
The following should be kept in mind as we use the material in Chronicles and Luke as navigation lights in the current conflict:
- Two parties are contesting the same territory.
- Both claim to have historical rights on their side.
- All parties claim to be the true people of God (Jews, Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians).
- Abuses and atrocities have been committed by both sides over the years.
- Both sides claim common Abrahamic roots.
- Both have a considerable amount of common scripture. Palestinian Muslims hold to the authority of the Old Testament (but, as we know, with some textual changes—much like the Samaritans in the New Testament).
- Both groups, with notable exceptions on each side, tend to demonize each other (hence the shock of our Lord’s parable to his immediate hearers).
- The conflict has now impacted several generations on both sides. This was also true in the days of the divided monarchy and in the second temple period.
- Both sides call on external powers to assist them in their struggle. This was repeatedly done by both Israel and Judah during the period of the divided kingdom.
Other issues surrounding the present day conflict could be listed, but the parallels between our own day and that of Luke 10 and 2 Chronicles 28 are very striking.
Tentative Applications To Present Day Conflict
On the basis of both passages, I would like to make some tentative applications to the present conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. However, I need to add that in using Chronicles and Luke I am in no way seeking to identify the Samaritans in the text as the Palestinian people or the Judeans in the text as the Jewish people (or vice versa). My goal is to draw out principles from both passages that might be pertinent and illuminating in the present tragedy.
- Outside Corridors of Power :: A solution may not originate from within the corridors of power. In 2 Chronicles it was not the king but “some of the heads of the sons of Ephraim” who took the initiative. In Luke 10 the situation is similar. The priest and the Levite, representing the temple—the most powerful institution in Israel—“pass by on the other side.” The initiative for conflict resolution is often initially generated at a grass roots level. Long before the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland was concluded (which is now again under threat as I write) movement towards reconciliation had already been initiated by ordinary men and women representing both the Catholic and the Protestant communities. This generated a groundswell of popular opinion that eventually led to the political reforms.
- Brothers & Neighbors :: I have already mentioned that in Chronicles the word “brothers” is used three times and in Luke the word “neighbor” is used three times. In the light of 2 Chronicles 28, the lawyer’s question “who is my neighbor?” becomes the all-important question of, “who is my brother?” A first century Jew would not call a Samaritan either his neighbor or his brother, but Jesus regards him as such. Many Israelis and the Palestinians today are maintaining that a political solution is only possible when the language of “brother” and “neighbor” replaces that of “enemy” and “adversary.” Recognition of common brotherhood as the basis for mutual coexistence seems to be the only way forward. Such a recognition of the rights of the “other” is very costly. When Bishop Desmond TuTu was reflecting on the years of apartheid in South Africa, insightfully he titled his book No Future Without Forgiveness. When friends and relatives have been killed and maimed, exchanging the word “brother” for that of “enemy,” is indeed costly forgiveness—perhaps more costly than those of us observing from outside can possibly appreciate. In reflecting on the many years of conflict in the Balkans, the Croatian theologian, Miroslave Volf, in his Exclusion and Embrace wrestles with the agony of these issues, which for him is more than a theological exercise. He provides many moving insights from his own reflections, but concludes that reconciliation does not come cheaply.
- Nonviolence :: The cycle of violence by the state in 2 Chronicles and by bandits in Luke 10 is broken by an unconventional and nonviolent response in both passages. I am not advocating nonviolence as the only available option in the resolution of territorial conflict. But in some cases, it is the most effective one. Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle for Indian independence is of course the best known to most of us. More recently, George Weigel’s analysis of the 1989 revolution in Central and Eastern Europe The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the collapse of Communism “offers evidence that it was the power of nonviolent force and citizens’ conscience, not the guns and bombs of warfare, that ended Sovietism.” Neither of these conflicts have direct parallels to the present conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but both remain examples of courageous and innovative peacemaking that continue to give hope and inspiration to multitudes caught up in the destructive spiral of political violence around the world.
- Active Citizenry :: In 2 Chronicles 28 it was an internal evaluation of the morality of the military action of the North by its own informed citizens, not external political pressure from other nation states, that led to a change in public policy. It was the word of Oded and the rebuke of the army by some of the leaders in Ephraim that brought about change. Military success and its resulting oppression of the Judeans was then reversed by the Samaritans themselves—despite the fact that they now had the upper hand militarily.
- Refuse Revenge :: Ahaz was king in the south during the atrocities committed by Pekah in the north. Because of the moral failure of Ahaz, things went from bad to worse during his reign (2 Chronicles 28:16–27). However, when his son Hezekiah came to the throne (29:1), he does not take revenge on the north. Rather, he invites them to come south and celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem (30:1, 5, and 11). Such a magnanimous attitude, once the balance of power had changed, is indeed, impressive. I am reminded of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was initiated after the fall of apartheid in South Africa. The balance of power had now changed from white to black. However, instead of retribution, amnesty was offered to all those who would freely come forward and confess their crimes perpetrated under, and legitimated by, the previous regime. This example of a truly biblical approach to conflict resolution has not gone unnoticed by many regimes around the world.
- Risk Taking :: Creative conflict resolution demands risk-taking by those on both sides. As I have pointed out, both the men of Ephraim in Chronicles and the Samaritan in Luke took considerable personal risks. In 2 Chronicles, it was risk-taking on a corporate level, and in Luke, on an individual level. But both revealed the common decency—deeper than race or creed—in both parties involved in the violence. I am reminded of the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the United States when, in standing for justice, leaders from both the black and the white communities acted at considerable risk to their personal safety in refusing to stay silent. I do not want to simplify complex issues, but it would seem that there is no way the Israelis and Palestinians can move forward if each demands iron-clad guarantees of the other without making mutual concessions. Jesus and the Chronicler seem to imply that risks have to be taken by both communities.
- The Prophetic Voice :: In 2 Chronicles 28, we hear the prophetic voice of Oded, and in Luke 10, the prophetic voice of Jesus. Often in cases of territorial and racial conflict prophetic voices can be heard if we have ears to hear them. Such voices may not always come from within the community of faith. Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democracy movement in Burma (Myanmar), would be one such voice today. Such voices also exist among the Jews and Palestinians today. They might not be in the corridors of power, but prophetic peacemakers are known within each community. Outstanding courage was shown by Oded and the men of Ephraim in the face of overwhelming military might. It would seem that such courage is always needed to heed the prophetic voice.
- Restitution :: When abuses take place appropriate restitution must be made. In Chronicles it was the Samaritans who committed the atrocity and then made restitution. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the perpetrators were probably Jews. (If they were not, the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side were, of course, Jews, and thus perpetuated the injustice.) Unlike the men in Chronicles, the Samaritan was not the guilty party but chose to become the agent of healing and restoration. In Chronicles, the party that showed compassion was the one that committed the abuse. In Luke, the one showing mercy is not the source of the wrongdoing. However, in both cases restitution is made—and at considerable cost and inconvenience to the parties concerned.
I lived for some years in the Middle East during the mid-1980s and since then have tried to keep up on the tragic events in the region. The above is not presented as a “solution” to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I am in no way qualified to untangle the complexities involved on both sides. However, biblical principles are universally transferable and 2 Chronicles 28, along with Luke 10, seem to have an uncanny relevance to the current conflict. I will leave it to others who live with the tragedy on a daily basis to speak into the specifics of the peace process. All I wish to point out is that in both stories, to borrow a phrase from Walter Brueggeman, “compassion is the modality that God uses to jump fences.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan still remains a scandalous story, despite our familiarity with it and was equally offensive to those who heard it from the lips of Jesus. Brueggeman also remarked that “compassion is a radical form of criticism on the dominant culture.” The compassion in Luke 10, when yoked to 2 Chronicles 28, becomes even more provocative and we must not overlook this important historical canvas on which Jesus appears to paint his parable. In addition, unless I am mistaken, both passages also cast light on the contemporary crisis in which we need to rediscover a neighbor love rooted in a common humanity that is deeper than ethnic, territorial, and religious rivalry.
1. Further parallels between the two passages are identified by F. Scott Spencer, published in the Westminster Theological Journal, (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary) 1999.
|Victims||2 Ch 28:5–15—Massive number of Judeans, including soldiers and their families, and various prominent citizens—all denizens of Jerusalem (vv 6–8)||Luke 10:25–37
Anonymous “man,” probably a Jew and resident of Jerusalem (v 30)
|Victims’ injuries||Hardship of nakedness (v 15)
Beating (plçgçn megalçn—“a great blow”—v 5 [LXX])
Confiscation of possessions (“took much spoil”) (vv 8, 15)
|Stripping of clothes
Beating (plçgçn epithentes—“they placed blow”)
Theft (marauders called “robber”) (v 30)
|Attackers||Aramean and Israelite warriors guilty of appropriating “much spoil” (vv 8, 15)||Undesignated robbers (lçstais—v 30)|
|Israel’s leaders||Prophet (Oded) and Ephraimite rulers (vv 9–13)||Priest and Levite (vv 31, 32)|
|Judean captives taken to Jericho for treatment and recuperation (v 15)||Samaritan takes victim to an inn probably located in Jericho for convalescence (vv 30, 35)12|
|Anointing (suk), probably with oil (v 15)13
Transport on a donkey to Jericho for treatment (v 15) Clothing the naked (twice in v 15) enduô[LXX])
|Pouring on of oil and wine (v 34)
Transport on donkey to inn for treatment (v 34)
Clothing implied as part of Samaritan’s ministry since victim had been “stripped” ekduô, v 30)
|Ministers of healing||Northern Israelites (Samarians)||Samaritan|
|Kinship terminology||“Kinsfolk” (àh[MT], adelphos[LXX])—three times (vv 8, 11, 15)||“Neighbor” (plçsion)—three times (vv 27, 29, 36)|
- It might be helpful in interpreting the biblical material to give some brief background on the Samaritans. After the north went into captivity in 722 BC, the king of Assyria brought five people groups and settled them in the cities of Samaria (“So they possessed Samaria and lived in its cities,” 2 Kings 17:24–41). This new wave of immigrants were all pagans, and even though the king of Assyria sent an Israelite priest to teach them the way of the Lord, syncretism ruled the day. “Every nation still made gods of its own” (see 2 Kings 17:29 & Ezra 4:2). The “nations” mentioned here are the five ethnic groups of immigrants. They were those who opposed the rebuilding of the temple for political reasons in Ezra/Nehemiah.
These Samaritans are not necessarily identical with those found in the New Testament whose capital was probably Shechem. The region was completely Hellenized by the conquest of Alexander. Subsequently, settlement by immigrants from the south led to the resettlement of Shechem, which had long since been destroyed, and the embracing of Judaism by the whole population.
The New Testament Samaritans were probably descendents from inter-marriage between the five pagan tribes mentioned above and the remaining inhabitants of the land (2 Chronicles 3). In addition, the subsequent migrations from the south led to further inter-marriage.
The Samaritans embraced a heterodox form of Judaism, but it is hard to find accurate source material on their beliefs. They only regarded the Pentateuch as canonical. They believed Mount Gerazim to be the place appointed by God for sacrifice and built a temple there. They made this the tenth commandment in the Samaritan Pentateuch. They also believed in the return of Moses.
However, deep division and hostility divided the Jews of Jerusalem from the Samaritans. Ben Sira (180 BC) regarded the Samaritans as quite a separate group who were unworthy of even being called a people:
“Two nations my soul detests,
and the third is not even a people:
Those who live in Seir, and the Philistines,
And the foolish people that live in
John Hyrcanus captured Shechem and destroyed its temple in 128 BC, further exacerbating the tension between both communities. Between 6 and 9 AD, some Samaritans scattered bones in the Jerusalem temple during a Passover. In 52 AD a group of Samaritans slaughtered a group of Galilean pilgrims at El-Gannim.
The combination of them being a mixed race and being theologically heterodox, combined with a long history of conflict between the two communities, meant that the more extreme element in our Lord’s day regarded them as virtually another race and religion.
This is a very brief overview, most of which is taken from the IVP Bible Dictionary (vol. 3, 1980.) A detailed study of the Samaritans would take more space than this article allows for and therefore I have not referenced the more comprehensive sources.
3. A representative list of OT and NT scholars who make a connection between 2 Chronicles 28 and Luke 10 have been compiled by F. Scott Spencer (in the article mentioned above) and are listed below:
P. R. Ackroyd, I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah (Torch Bible Commentaries; London: SCM, 1973) 177; R. J. Coggins, The First and Second Books of the Chronicles (Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1976) 259; A. S. Herbert, “I and II Chronicles,” in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible (ed. M. Black and H. H. Rowley; London: Thomas Nelson, 1962) 367; O. Zöckler, “The Books of the Chronicles,” in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures 4 (Ed. P. Schaff, 1873; new ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960) 241–42; R. North, “The Chronicler: 1–2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah,” JBC, 423; W. Rudolph, Chronikbücher (HAT 21; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1955) 291; R. L. Braun, “The Significance of I Chronicles 22, 28, 29 for the Structure and Theology of the Work of the Chronicler” (Th.D. dissertation, Concordia Seminary, 1971) 194; R. L. Braun, “A Reconsideration of the Chronicler’s Attitude Toward the North,” JBL 96 (1977) 61; J. D. M. Derrett, Law in the New Testament (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1970) 210; I. H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NICGNT; Exeter: Paternoster, 1978) 445; W. Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) 594; W. Schmithals, Dos Evangelium nach Lukas (Zurich: Theologischer, 1980) 128; W. Monselewski, Der barmherzige Samariter: Eine austegungsgeschichtliche Untersuchung zu Lukas 10, 25–37 (J. C. B. Mohr: Tübingen, 1967) 174; C. E. B. Cranfield, “The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37),” Today 11 (1954–55) 370; R. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition (2d rev. ed.; New York: Harper and Row, 1968) 204. Also Bultmann and Derrett both make note of the older German articles by F. Orth, Protest. Monatschr. 18 (1914) 406–11; and K. Kastner in BZ 12 (1914) 29–30.
4. I am well aware of the problems regarding the large numbers frequently used in the OT (and the apparent discrepancies between some of the numbers used in Kings and those used in Chronicles). This is not critical to the application of the text in the above article, and for a discussion of the issues involved, the reader can refer to the technical works listed above.