[K:NWTS 2/3 (Dec 1987) 16-22]

Samaritan Hospitality

I Kings 13

Stuart R. Jones

In pagan Greek thinking there were three major sins that the avenging Furies were supposed to punish: blasphemy against the gods; shedding kindred blood; and treachery against a host or guest. We are not concerned with ancient Greek culture at this moment. This view of evil, however, seemed to be shared by ancient peoples in general. In particular, we want to think about the sacred character hospitality had in biblical times. The very entry into the world of the Savior was marked by a surprising lack of hospitality. The duty to demonstrate hospitality toward those who prove friendly was taken for granted by David in his dealings with Nabal. David sees a great offense spoken of in Psalm 41:9.

If there is any doubt as to how strong an obligation existed between the host and guest, read Genesis 19 and Judges 19. It might have been allowable, though rude, to let someone sleep in the street. Once the guest-host relationship has been established, however, the men of Israel would rather have their own women shamefully abused by a mob than have a strange guest assaulted by them. To make such observations about the ethics of hospitality is not to say these old ethics were always correct. But if we do not observe the deep feelings that went with hospitality in biblical times, we will not understand the Scriptures very well in certain places.

In Genesis 19, we have the story of Lot taking in two angels. In light of Hebrews 13:2, it seems Lot was not aware of who his guests were. These two angels are in fact messengers of judgment who are prepared to lodge in the street. A trivial reason for this intended lodging is that angels do not need a place to sleep. The important factor is that these messengers do not want the hospitality of Sodom. They do not want their mission compromised. They do not want any form of a host-guest relationship with this condemned city. Lot must twist their arms, so to speak, in order for them to lodge with him. When the guests consent, it proves that Abraham's intercession has had some effect. Today salvation has come to Lot's house. To be sure, Jesus acts differently than these messengers on one level. He did not need his arm twisted to come to Zacchaeus's house with salvation. Jesus dispenses grace more freely in this new day. Jesus invites himself into our lives and homes.

Still, both Lot and Zacchaeus teach us that hospitality in the Bible serves as a sign. It is a sign of a relationship with obligations. It is a sign of friendship. More than that, it is a sign of God's grace. We can immediately see how the Lord extending hospitality to his disciples (as the Gospel of John alludes to in John 1:39 and John 14:2) would be a sign of God's favor. The interesting thing, though, is how the Bible turns the Lord's acceptance of hospitality into a sign of his favor. It is a forceful reminder that we are the privileged when Christ chooses to live among us and make claims on our lives.

Samaritan Hospitality

The particular story in I Kings 13 involves another twist on the biblical sign of hospitality. We can call it the theme of "Samaritan hospitality." "Samaria" is the word used in verse 32 to describe Jeroboam's newly constituted northern kingdom. The author of Kings is using a term that was more common in his own day than the day of Jeroboam. Omri was the first king over any property described as Samaria (cf. I Kgs. 16:24). The events that would unfold in the kingdom to be called Samaria would give the place such a reputation that the term "Samaritan hospitality" would sound like a self-contradiction. Add to this what we know from the New Testament and the "Samaritan hospitality" does not make sense at all.

Jesus' disciples think the place deserves fire from heaven. Samaria refused to receive Jesus and his disciples (cf. Lk. 9:51ff). Hospitality not extended or hospitality refused creates enemies and they already hated Samaria. Perhaps they remember David and Nabal or perhaps they have a clear understanding that to reject God's messengers is to reject God. In any case, Jesus rebukes their wrath despite the greatness of Samaria's offense. In John 4, Jesus also invites himself to the hospitality of Samaria. He must make the first move or grace will never come. He asks for water from a woman. She is no Rebecca or Rachel when it comes to giving water to a stranger. She seems rude. Jesus persists. Jesus ends up staying in the area for two days. Water and food are signs of grace in this place.

Jeroboam did not live long enough to meet these later Samaritans, the Philippian jailor, nor even a widow at Zarephath. Yet he somehow senses that he should persuade God's messenger to take a cup of cold water, food, anything. If he can get this prophet to accept his hospitality it will go better for him. There are always those who attach great value to the signs of grace yet still miss the point. God's word defines the sign. The sign must fit the word, not the reverse.

God wants to be very clear about his relationship to Jeroboam. He tells the prophet from Judah not to eat or drink anything in Samaria. No doubt this man was tired and hungry, but he would not consider Jeroboam's offer, much less actually seek nourishment from a sinful woman at a well. At this period, Samaria's hospitality is not desired. The prophetic word of judgment has been pronounced on this land and prophetic actions must match. The word and sign must say the same thing.

Yet the prophet allows himself to be deceived. The sign of hospitality has been allowed to contradict the word of prophecy. God cannot allow this state of confusion to continue. Following the split altar, God will give another sign.

The Sign of the Tomb

Jeroboam would not live long enough to see the prophecy fulfilled that is given in verse two. Josiah would come much later. To prove that God's word would really come to pass, God gave a sign for Jeroboam's immediate observation. The altar he made was rent asunder. That bothered Jeroboam. Now that the prophet from Judah compromises his mission by accepting a guest relationship in Samaria there might be some hope. There are many whose only hope resides in confusing issues that God has made plain. God adds another sign to clear up any possible confusion. The prophet will die. This alone is not the full sign. God uses a lion and a tomb to seal his message.

The lion is used as an instrument of God not only to discipline the prophet by killing him, but to make sure his body does not go to its normal family burial plot. The end of verse 22 seems to indicate that this is part of the sign. A beast of prey is made to deny its natural instinct to devour the body and the donkey. The beast merely guards the body to prevent it from returning to the land of Judah and the family burial plot. This prophet accepted Samaritan hospitality and must now depend on it to supply a burial place.

It will turn out that the prophet of Judah and the lying prophet of Samaria will not have their graves desecrated by Josiah (cf. 2 Kgs. 23:17ff). The mere death of the prophet is not a personal rejection by God. He is held out as a sign to a disobedient king and nation. The death of any of God's servants is a sign to those about to be judged. Most Christians' deaths fall between the extremes of discipline for sin and dramatic martyrdom. Yet in every Christian's death, Christ is present and witness to his power should be taking place. Some who die of what we call "natural causes" display a confidence that is only explicable in terms of Jesus' mighty power and comfort. Our God is real. A believer should face death differently than those who have no hope.

Whether in discipline or faithful witness, the church's trials condemn the world. Jeroboam had tried to silence this prophet. That did not work. Now that God silences the prophet, Jeroboam cannot sleep any better at night. A powerful sign has come to pass.

This powerful sign raises a question: are there any secure graves to be found in Bethel? Has the prophet of Judah been so Samaritanized that he might have his bones burnt on the altar at Bethel? Perhaps Josiah will show some respect for a fellow countryman. This prophet was not without worth. He had been sent from Judah to teach Jeroboam that boundaries and walls cannot keep the word of God from entering his kingdom. Religious isolationism will not be tolerated by the Lord even if the people of Samaria cannot easily come to the temple. This man's grave still kept the memory of God's prophetic word alive in an isolated land. There is no reason to disturb it.

The lying prophet of Samaria is not without a kind of faith in this regard. On the surface, he seems to be doing the man he lied to a favor. "Here is a man without a grave. Poor fellow! I had something to do with his predicament." Still we should note the limits on the generosity. The tomb is not an outright gift. It is a shared tomb. The Samaritan wants to share the burial plot. He has faith to believe that some of Bethel's graves will be emptied in the future and not by a gracious resurrection. Josiah will come and desecrate these tombs in righteousness. Burial with the man of Judah might afford some hope. If sharing food and water does not secure Samaria's life, perhaps a shared grave will secure some respect for one Samaritan's bones.

Concern for a secure grave usually demonstrates a man's desire to exist in some form after death, either as a memory in the minds of later family or as something that is transformed. Whatever this man's faith was concerning the resurrection, he clearly preferred sharing his grave over having it desecrated. Perhaps he could have bought a tomb in Jerusalem away from his present home. Yet if God had intended to desecrate the body of the man from Judah, the lion could have had his meal. Burial with Judah's prophet is sufficient insurance and also meets the dead man's present need.

Grave Hospitality

A Samaritan extends the ultimate hospitality. He shares not only his table but his tomb. In both he thought he had an advantage. He sees there is salvation in Judah when Josiah comes. God again lays hold of ancient custom for a sign–the sanctity of burial and the impulse among men for a family burial plot. The Lord creates a guest-host relationship through a common table and family relationship in a common tomb. "My brother," says the Samaritan.

The Samaritan has an interesting counterpart from Arimathea who would later donate a tomb. Joseph bought a burial plot away from his ancestors in Arimathea. Sometimes family burial plots are less important than other matters and Joseph is waiting for the Kingdom of God to come (cf. Lk. 23:51). Kingdom considerations dictated the tomb away from home for Joseph. Those same considerations now dictate that he give the tomb to Jesus. Christ's final act in establishing the kingdom is more important than Joseph's burial place. Only when Jesus is raised can he be raised. This tomb in Jerusalem is the great equalizer and family maker. Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles were buried there with Christ . . . . All those who trust in his resurrection . . . . All those who place their confidence in the empty tomb.

The Samaritan and Arimathean extend hospitality which Israel will not even give to its Messiah. They provide what is denied the faithful witnesses of Revelation 11. A beast slays witnesses that are faithful and no one will bury them. They have no lasting city or tombs here because Jesus' tomb is empty. Our great hope is very vexing to this inhospitable world. They scorn, they laugh, they make merry. They cover their anxiety with false hope and celebration. But there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. This is the world's only hope and the world's greatest consternation. This is your only hope; a hope which must affect both your way of life and your way of death.

First Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Baltimore, Maryland