Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Good Samaritans of the Old Testament

We all know that the Jews and Samaritans in Jesus' day harbored serious animosity towards each other. And so the story of the Good Samaritan is often rightly understood as teaching the importance of showing charity to all, regardless of ethnicity, religion, etc.

But--like just about everything else in the Gospels--there's likely an Old Testament episode lying in the background.

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan, but here I want to talk about some specific aspects of the story, so let's just review. Jesus begins, of course, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead" (Luke 10:30). 

After a Levite and a priest come along, passing by on the opposite side, a Samaritan comes along.
Luke 10:25-37: "But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, 34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’"
Jesus then asks, "Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" (Luke 10:36). When the answer comes, “The one who showed mercy on him,” Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37-38).

Okay--we all know that the point Jesus is making a point about the need to put nationalist tendencies aside. But is it possible that Jesus is drawing the imagery here from on an Old Testament episode?

2 Chronicles 28 relates a story about a battle between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom overpowers those from the south and take captive the people from Judah, including two hundred thousand women and children. However, after the prophet warns the northern tribes that they have sinned in taking captive those from Judea, certain chief men from the northern tribes take pity on the prisoneers (2 Chron. 28:8-11). They stand up to those coming back from the battle, condemning their actions. What happens sounds very familiar.
2 Chron. 28:15: And the men who have been mentioned by name rose and took the captives, and with the spoil they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on asses, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.
It seems likely that the story of the Good Samaritan is drawing on this episode. There we read about northern Israelites showing compassion on those from Judah. They attend to their needs, place them on their animals, and take them to a place where they can be left to be cared for. In other words, they do what the Good Samaritan does in the story in Luke's Gospel.

Once again, it would seem, Jesus' teaching seems to flow from Israel's story. In fact, the story would seem to fit into Jesus' larger program in Luke's Gospel--the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom and specifically, his concern for Judah and Israel. Interestingly, this account from 2 Chronicles is followed by Hezekiah's famous Passover. For more on the Davidic imagery in Luke's Gospel read this.


steph said...

Luke's got bigger? Luke 30.30?:-)

Michael Barber said...

Oops--fixed it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Check out the Ignatius Study Bible: Luke, p. 43.

Son said...

Sort of off topic but I recently came across a Dinesh D'Souza/Dan Barker debate entitled "Is Atheism Better than Christianity."

As a former evangelical preacher, Barker makes many scriptural claims that he uses to attack the plausibility of the Christian worldview.

It's quite an engaging and exciting debate, but I kept wondering how it might've turned out differently. For one, how might a scripture scholar have responded to Barker. Although Dinesh did a fine job he didn't engage Barker's biblical argument.

Any thoughts or comments you might have would be wonderful as this is a hermeneutic that I think believers need to counter compellingly.

The entire debate is at youtube in 15 parts. I would suggest checking out part one and fast forwarding to 7:10 where Barker lays out his claims. Before that there's a lot of long wind up. Thanks again.

Here's the link:

kentuckyliz said...

I love making these HB/CB (OT/NT) connections and learning about them. Thanks for posting this.

ZeitMike said...

This is a fascinating connection. thanks very much