Ethics: Race and Prejudice (Part 1)

An ideal world, justice would be blind. We should be judged by the content of our character, and not the color of our skin or our socio-economic level.

However, life is not always idea. Racism exists around the globe. The Jews have been the object of racial hatred in Europe, the Chinese minorities in southeast Asia, the Armenians in the Ottoman empire, the Ibos in Nigeria, the Lebanese in Sierra Leone, the Japanese in Peru, the Indians in Burma, the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka, natives and blacks in America.

Racism exists for a variety of reasons. (1) Sometimes it exists due to a feeling of superiority. (2) Sometimes it exists due to fear. (3) Sometimes it exists due to some historical event.

Biblical Example

Racial or ethnic tensions certainly existed between the Jews and the Samaritans of the First Century A.D.. there were several reasons for this: (1) The Samaritans were a mixed breed, and not of pure Jewish lineage. After Assyrian conquered Israel (722-721 B.C.), a remnant of Israelites remained in the land (Amos 5:1-3; 2 Chronicles 30:5-9; Luke 2:36). The King of Assyria then moved foreigners into the land (2 Kings 17:24-26; Ezra 4:2, 8-10). It seems that in time, many from the remnant intermarried with the foreigners. (2) The Jews rejection of Samaritan help in rebuilding the temple. The Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians (586 B.C.). The Jews returned from Babylonian captivity (536 B.C.). The Samaritans offered their help in rebuilding the temple. However, their offer was rejected (Ezra 4:1-3). The reason for this rejection is not specified. Was it due to Samaritan idolatry? Was it due to some Samaritan plot to hinder the work? (3) The Samaritans became a great opponent of Jewish efforts to rebuild. They: (a) Lobbied Persia, lying about the Jews (Ezra 4:4-24; Nehemiah 6:6-9). Josephus says that the Samaritans told Persia that it wasn’t a temple, but more of a military fortress which was being built (The Essential Writings, p. 188). These lobbying efforts continued for about sixteen years and even brought the work to a complete halt for about two years (Ezra 4:4-7, 23-24). (b) Mocked (Nehemiah 4:1-6). (c) Plotted violence (Nehemiah 4:7-16). Joseph indicates, “They killed many of them (workers B.H.) and hired foreigners to assassinate Nehemiah. But Nehemiah surrounded himself with bodyguards and was not deterred (ibid, p. 191 cf. Nehemiah 6:1-4). (4) The Samaritans established a rival temple in Samaria (cf. John 4:20). One from the Jews, from the priestly tribe, married a daughter of Sanballat, a Samaritan and fierce opponent of the Jews (Nehemiah 2:10, 19; 4:1-3, 7-8; 6:1-3; 5-ff). Nehemiah said, “I drove him from me. Remember them, O my God because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan” (Neh. 13:28-30). Josephus writes, “Whereupon Manasseh came to his father-in-law, Sanballat… Sanballat promised him not only to preserve him the honor of his priesthood, but to procure for him the power and dignity of a high priest… He also told him further, that he would build him a temple like that at Jerusalem, upon Mount Gerizim, which is the highest of all mountains that are in Samaria” (ed. Dub McClish, Studies in Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, p. 268 quoting Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, pp. 348-349). (5) The Samaritan’s behavior before Antiochus (167 B.C.). Josephus writes, “Antichos came back to Jerusalem… when he treated the inhabitants with great cruelty… He dismantled the walls of Jerusalem, burning the finest parts of the city, and stationed a Macedonian garrison in a citadel overlooking the temple. He carried away the golden vessels and treasures on the temple, putting a stop to the sacrifices. He polluted the altar by offering up a swine on it, knowing that this was against the law of Moses. he compelled the Jews to give up their worship of God and to stop circumcising their children. Those who persisted were mutilated, strangled, or crucified, with their children hung from their necks. When the Samaritans (emp. mine) saw the Jews suffering these cruelties, they sent letters to Antiochus denying any Jewish relationship. They also asked that their temple ‘temple without a name’ on Mt. Gerizim be known as that of Zeus Hellenias (Antiochus’ god B.H.)” (The Essential Writings, pp.209-210).

In Jesus’ day, The Jews had “no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9). Robert Taylor Jr. writes, “Jews usually avoided traveling in Samaria thus crossing Jordan below the southern Samaria boundary, traveling north in trans-Jordan and crossing Jordan again when past Samaria’s northern boundary. Though about twice as far as the shorter route, they gladly did it due to the Samaritan alienation they felt with deep intensity” (Studies in John, p. 54). The term “Samaritan” came to be used much as some use the “N” word today (see John 8:48). The Samaritans were not always too fond of the Jews (Luke 9:51-56). Hatred existed on both sides.

However, Jesus was different. He traveled through Samaria (John 4;1-ff; Luke 9:51-56; 17:11-ff). He spoke with Samaritans (John 4:7-ff; 4:39-42; Luke 17:11-ff). He healed a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). Though, collectively the Samaritans may have done many evils, Jesus pointed out that we should consider the individual. He told a story showing that even a Samaritan could be kind and helpful (Luke 10:25-37). He pointed out the gratitude in a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19).

Moreover, it was just the Samaritans. Jesus pointed out good in Romans (Matthew 8:5-10, esp. v. 10), and Greeks (Matthew 15:21-28, esp. v.28; Mark 7:26 tells us that this woman was Greek), and in Syrians (Luke 4:21-28). “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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