Sixty years: a diamond anniversary. Unlike the previous nine numbers, the number sixty appears multiple times in the Bible. It also appears numerous times in everyday life: sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour. It is the atomic number of neodymium, which can be found in some magnets, loudspeakers and electric cars.
There are sixty marbles used in a game of Chinese chequers. In darts, sixty is the highest score that can be scored with a single dart.
In old literature, sixty was sometimes called “three score” because it was three times twenty (a score). The Babylonians had a number system with a base of sixty, which is known as sexagesimal. In some cultures, sixty is considered to be the age in which someone becomes a senior citizen. In Buddhism, Buddha had sixty disciples.
The number sixty appears approximately thirty-two times in the Bible. Occasionally, a particular instance is repeated in different books. Take, for example, Deuteronomy 3:4, which says:
Here’s another example:
The measurements of Solomon’s temple are mentioned in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles:
In the book of Ezra, temple measurements are also given:
Other measurements of sixty cubits include:
A handful of people have been quoted as being sixty years old at the times of certain events:
Let’s take a look at some more examples of the number sixty in the Old Testament:
I have mentioned a couple of New Testament verses above already but I have a few more to share with you. Both Matthew and Mark write about the parable of the sower, therefore, the same information is repeated, including two mentions of the number sixty.
So, does the number sixty mean anything in scripture? The French psychoanalyst René Allendy believed it represented the global karma of the world. The German philosopher Jakob Böhme called this number “the earth”. There is, however, no obvious answer based on the examples above.
I leave you with the knowledge that the word “Sabbath” is used sixty times in the New Testament.
I have nothing to tell you about the number fifty-one other than it is the atomic number of antimony. It does not appear in the Bible. The number fifty-two, however, does.
The number fifty-two is the atomic number of tellurium. There are fifty-two weeks in a year and fifty-two white keys on a piano. There are also fifty-two cards in a pack of playing cards and the British Grand Prix consists of fifty-two laps. The Ancient Mayans divided their calendars into periods of fifty-two years.
The number fifty-two appears in the Bible six times. Twice, it is mentioned that Uzziah became king when he was sixteen and reigned in Jerusalem for fifty-two years (2 Kings 15:2 and 2 Chronicles 26:3). In 2 Kings 15:27 it is recorded that “In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah son of Remaliah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years.” (NIV)
In Ezra 2:29 and Nehemiah 7:33, a census of the people of Israel logs that there were fifty-two descendants of a man named Nebo.
Finally, Nehemiah writes that the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. (Nehemiah 6:15)
The number fifty-three does not appear in the Bible, although you may be interested to know that the First World War lasted fifty-three months. It is the sixteenth prime number and the atomic number of iodine. The fictional Volkswagen Beetle Herbiehas the number fifty-three painted on its side and bonnet. In Catholicism, there are fifty-three beads on a standard rosary.
Apparently, the phrase “I am” appears fifty-three times in the Gospel of John. On three occasions, John the Baptist utters this phrase and Jesus speaks the remaining fifty.
The number fifty-four does not appear in the Bible either. In case you are wondering, it is the atomic number of xenon. There are fifty-four coloured squares on a Rubik’s cube. In golf, a score of fifty-four is referred to as a perfect round. There are fifty-four countries in Africa. In Judaism, the Torah is divided into fifty-four weekly sessions, which are known as Paracha or Sidra. These are read in the synagogue during the morning of the Sabbath.
Now, you’ll be pleased to know there are two instances of the number fifty-five in the Bible, although they both record the same thing. Fifty-five is the atomic number of caesium and is represented by the emerald in wedding anniversaries.
The first instance of the number fifty-five in the Bible is in 2 Kings 21:1 (NIV): “Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother’s name was Hephzibah.” This is repeated word for word in 2 Chronicles 33:1.
Fifty-six, the atomic number of barium, only appears once in the Bible. It records the number of decedents of a man named Netophah in the census mentioned in Ezra 2:22.
Fun fact: Shirley Temple wore fifty-six curls in her hair as a child. Her mother set her curls every day and ensured there was the exact number. Another point of interest is that Aristotle believed there were fifty-six layers of the universe.
Fifty-seven, fifty-eight and fifty-nine do not appear in the Bible. Just for fun, here are some general facts about these numbers.
The number fifty: the traditional number in a jubilee period. It is the atomic number of tin. There are fifty states in the United States of America, Hawaii being the fiftieth to join. In years of marriage, fifty is the golden anniversary. When written as 50%, it is equivalent to one half. The moon is fifty times smaller than the Earth.
In Kabbalah, a discipline taught in Judaism, there are fifty Gates of Wisdom and fifty Gates of Impurity. In classical mythology, Hercules is believed to have had fifty sons.
Some say that the number fifty in the Bible represents joy and the feast, by which they mean Pentecost, a feast that occurs fifty days after Passover. The word Pentecost comes from the Greek for fiftieth and has come to replace the original name of the festival “Feast of Weeks” or “Shavuot”. Whilst originally a Jewish feast, the day has become important to the Christian faith. As recorded in Acts 2:1-31, the disciples and other followers of Christ were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks when a mighty rushing wind started blowing and tongues of fire appeared. The disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4 ESV) It is this event that we celebrate every year in the Christian calendar.
It is thought there are around seventy-seven mentions of the number fifty in the Bible. It is never actually mentioned in the Pentecost reading from Acts, so I have looked at a few of the other examples to determine whether the number holds any importance elsewhere.
The Feasts of Weeks is first mentioned in Leviticus 23:16: Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. (NIV)
Noah’s ark was fifty cubits wide as commanded by God. “This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.” (Genesis 6:15 NIV)
In Leviticus 25, the term “Jubilee” is explained. “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.” (Leviticus 25:10-12 NIV)
Other examples include:
Genesis, the first book of the Bible is fifty chapters long, making it the fourth longest book.
The visions of Mary of Jesus of Ágreda (1602-1665) claim that it took the Holy Family fifty days to flee to Egypt after the angel warned Joseph about King Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents.
In the writings of the Roman Catholic Franciscan tertiary Maria Valtorta (1897-1961), she claims fifty guards were stationed around the summit of Golgotha after Jesus’ crucifixion.
As with the number forty, fifty may have been used as way of saying “a lot” or “umpteen”, however, as you can see from the above examples, the number fifty is most often used in relation to measurements or amounts. This suggests the number may have had a stronger significance, which may or may not be linked to Pentecost. Some theologians say the number fifty is connected to the life of man but there are also other interpretations.
René Allendy (1888-1942) said that fifty symbolises the universe, also stating, “it is a favourable number marking a grace, a kindness, a regeneration.” On the other hand, Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803), a devout Catholic, claimed the number fifty represented “the spiritual ascension to the intuition, the number of the illumination.”
Whatever the interpretation, there is no doubt that the number fifty has most strongly become associated with Pentecost. So, to finish, I leave you with a fun fact: the word “soldier” appears in the Bible fifty times.
Do you know what is special about the number forty-three? It is the first number that does not appear in the Bible! Do you know what else does not appear in the Bible? The number forty-four! So, let’s move on to number forty-five.
Forty-five is the atomic number of rhodium. There are forty-five minutes in each half of a football match (discounting any extra added time). In terms of marriage, forty-five years is marked by a sapphire wedding anniversary.
If we add up the numbers one to nine (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9) we get the answer forty-five. This is thought to be the age when Saint Francis of Assisi died. The ancient measurement cubit is believed to be approximately forty-five centimetres.
In the Bible, the number forty-five appears three times:
There is no established significance of the number forty-five, although, psychoanalyst René Allendy (1889-1942) suggests the meaning could be derived from nine (the father, son and Holy Spirit) and five (divine grace), which when multiplied together make forty-five.
Since there is nothing else to say, let’s move on to the number forty-six, the atomic number of palladium. It is also the number of chromosomes in the human body. Oklahoma was the forty-sixth state to join the United States of America.
The number forty-six only appears once in scripture: They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (John 2:20, NIV) This verse comes from the account of Jesus clearing the Temple courts of moneychangers and animals. When questioned about his authority, Jesus says he could destroy the temple and raise it back up in three days. The sceptical Jews responded by pointing out that it had taken forty-six years to construct the building. Jesus, of course, was metaphorically talking about his body, death and resurrection.
In my article about the number forty, I stated that there are forty days in the season of Lent. This is not strictly true. If you added up the days from Ash Wednesday until Easter day, you will see there are in fact forty-six days. So, why do we say there are only forty? According to the ancient church, the six Sundays during Lent were not days of penance. Good news for all of you who give something up for Lent, you could have a reprieve on Sundays!
According to the visions of Mary of Jesus of Ágreda (1602-1665), Saint Joachim, the father of Mary, mother of Jesus, was forty-six when he married Saint Ann. Sicard of Cremona (1155-1215), an Italian prelate, claims Mary was forty-six when her son was crucified.
I am afraid to say, the number forty-seven does not appear in the Bible either, however, forty-eight and forty-nine do appear, albeit briefly.
According to Judaism, forty-eight prophets (discounting the seven prophetesses) were recorded in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. Also, according to the Mishnah or Oral Torah, there are forty-eight ways to acquire wisdom.
The Counting of the Omer, which is based on passages from Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16, is a Jewish holiday that lasts forty-nine days.
Although there is no direct meaning of the number forty-nine from the Bible, the Christian mystic Jakob Böhme states that as the square of seven, forty-nine symbolises paradise. I will let you decide whether to agree with him or not.
There is little to say about the number forty-one in the Bible. It is only written five times. Rehoboam was forty-one when he began to reign in Jerusalem. Later, King Asa ruled Jerusalem for forty-one years. Plus, Jeroboam reigned in Samaria for forty-one years.
The number forty-two, on the other hand, holds far more importance. It is, as Douglas Adams wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. Unfortunately, no one knows what the question is.
Another author to utilise the number forty-two is Lewis Carroll. There were forty-two illustrations in the original publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the book, Rule 42 is quoted at Alice stating, “All persons more than a mile high to leave the court.”
Forty-two is the atomic number of molybdenum. It is also the angle of a rainbow. There are forty-two laws in a game of cricket.
In Japanese culture, the number forty-two is considered unlucky because it sounds like their word for “dying”. In Egyptian mythology, the dead are asked forty-two questions to determine their fate. In Buddhism, there is a scripture known as the Sutra of 42 Sections. The Guttenberg Bible, the first book to be printed on a printing press, was nicknamed the “42-lined Bible” because there were forty-two lines of text on each page.
Some people believe the number forty-two has a direct connection with the antichrist. His malevolent force is predicted to last forty-two months at the end of time.
Revelation 11:1-2 (NIV) says “I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.”
Forty-two also crops up in Revelation 13:4-5 (NIV): People worshipped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshipped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months.
Other uses of the number forty-two in the Bible, however, are not related to the coming of the antichrist.
According to the Gospel of Luke, there are forty-two generations between David and Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew, on the other hand, records forty-two generations between Abraham and Jesus.
My final fun fact: the word “star” is written forty-two times in the Old Testament.
Luke 10:38-42 (NIV) At the Home of Martha and Mary
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
This passage should not be separated from the Good Samaritan reading (Luke 10:25-37). The lawyer asked the question, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responds with two answers: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus illustrates the latter with the well-known parable.
The story of Mary and Martha is an example of how to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. So, in my opinion, these two pericopes must always be read together. Martha is an independent woman with money and owns the house. Jesus is not in any way saying that offering hospitality is not important. Indeed, Greek civilisation was oiled by the giving of hospitality, and so it was in Israel.
"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)
So, hospitality is vital but it is also true that Martha had distractions and worries. It is this that Jesus focuses on when Martha says that Mary is not helping. Mary, on the other hand, has chosen to listen to Jesus. She assumes the position of a disciple at his feet. It is because of this that Jesus says that Mary's priority is the right one.
Both Mary and the Samaritan were outcasts. For the Jews, both these people would not be considered worthy of hearing God's word and being a disciple. Yet, these two stories told one after the other highlight the inclusivity of the message of Jesus.
We need to challenge ourselves by looking at our everyday routines. Are we allowing distractions to come before worshipping God? We should be truly present in God and feel in as much the same way as we do listening to a piece of music that galvanises us and take us into a different place, transforming us momentarily.
We have to prioritise putting God first and align our lifestyles and our life choices with showing God the glory. What distractions do we have? Are we being too ambitious? Do we spend too much time chasing money? Are we weighed down with worries? By putting God first, these distractions can be sidelined and our focus will remain on God.
We have to rethink our image of God not as a domesticated, tame father but one who challenges us. The true purpose of God is to receive our worship and as Psalm 15 (NIV) says:
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
2 The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbour,
and casts no slur on others;
4 who despises a vile person
but honours those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
God's purpose for his creation is to be healthy and loved, hence we not only have to look after this wonderful world but also the 7 billion+ people who live in it, each of whom is known personally by God.
As we go out into the world, we know God loves us and cares for us, therefore, our lifestyle and life choices are such that we do what God wants, which is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbour, just as Mary and the Samaritan show us.
Life begins at forty, so the saying says and there are lots of instances of the number in the Bible. First, let’s look at examples of forty in everyday life. Forty is the atomic number of Zirconium. Negative forty is the unique temperature at which the Fahrenheit scale and Celsius scale overlap. In other words, -40 degrees Fahrenheit is the same temperature as -40 degrees Celsius.
Those who have been married for forty years will be celebrating their Ruby Wedding Anniversary. After celebrating, they may find themselves in need of “forty winks”, i.e. a short nap.
There are forty squares on a standard Monopoly board. There were forty thieves in the story Ali Shar and Zumurrud (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) from the stories of Thousand and One Nights. There are forty weeks in an average human pregnancy term. The trademark name WD-40 is an abbreviation of “Water Displacement, 40thformula”.
According to the Arabic proverb, “to understand a people, you must live among them for forty days.” The number forty as written is the only number to be spelt in English with its letters in alphabetical order.
Typically, the number forty is used to represent a large, approximate number. In these cases, it is a synonym for the word “umpteen”. As a result, the number forty appears multiple times in many religions.
In Islam, Muhammad was forty years old when he first received the revelation from the angel Gabriel. Non-believers were banned from entering the Holy Land for forty years. Musa, who we know as Moses, spent forty days on Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments. Muhammad prayed and fasted in a cave for forty days. Muhammad had forty followers who helped to spread the religion of Islam.
In Judaism, a mikvah (a ritual bath) consists of 40 se’ah of water, which is equivalent to approximately 760 litres. A man is expected to study Kabbalah until he is forty years old.
In Christianity, one of the most important festivals of the year is the season of Lent, which lasts for forty days. The reason there are forty days in Lent is that the Bible records Jesus fasted for forty days and nights. "After fasting forty days and fortynights, he was hungry." Matthew 4:2 (NIV). As we know, the forty days of Lent led up to Jesus' crucifixion, which is swiftly followed by his Resurrection. Another link appears in Acts 1:3, which records that Jesus visited his Disciples to prove to them he had risen from the dead. This took place over a forty-day period until his ascension.
Due to the forty-day periods either side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the number forty has come to symbolise the death of the body and spiritual rebirth. Several theologians have attributed the number to the cycle of the world, a repetitious circle of birth and death throughout the universe.
In the Bible, there are nearly one hundred mentions of the word forty. I will not list them all but let’s have a look at the most significant ones.
So, Jesus’ fast in the desert lasted forty days. The flood of Noah lasted forty days. Elijah walked for forty days. Moses resided on Mount Sinai for forty days. The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years. Several leaders and kings ruled for forty years. Are these coincidences, approximations or a symbol of something much bigger?
There are a number of events that are not directly written about in the Bible, however, have come to be believed by various groups of Christians. Some of these also involve the number forty. Some say that Jesus preached over a period of forty months. Between his death and resurrection, he spent forty hours in the tomb. According to the Roman Catholic writer Maria Valtorta (1897-1961), Jesus received forty lashes during his whipping. This, however, is disputed by the earlier visions of Mary of Jesus of Ágreda (1602-1665) that claimed Jesus received 5115 blows of the whip.
According to an old prophecy, no man or animal would have crossed Egypt for forty years. In the Book of Secrets of Enoch written in 1896 by Robert Charles (1855-1931), the four rivers in the Garden of Eden were subdivided by forty and surrounded the entire planet. According to the Gospel of Barnabas written by a man claiming to have been one of the original disciples, at the end of the world, there is going to be a forty-year period of darkness.
Returning to the Bible, the Book of Exodus, which is the seventh longest book in the Bible, contains forty chapters. The number one is mentioned forty times in the Gospel of John alone. The term “City of David” is used forty times in the Old Testament. Finally, the word “adore” appears forty times in the New Testament.
As you can see, I have combined three numbers into one article. This is not to say they are irrelevant, rather there are only a few examples of each in the Bible. So, I thought we would take a quick look at thirty-seven, thirty-eight and thirty-nine before we move on to forty, which I promise will be much more exciting.
Here are the few mentions of each number in the Bible. I will go into more details below.
Thirty-seven is the twelfth prime number and the atomic number of rubidium. The normal human body temperature is thirty-seven degrees Celsius.
According to the Early Church Fathers, thirty-seven is a symbol of Christ. According to Gematria, the numerical value for the words “I am” is thirty-seven, as is ALEA, which means “Word of God”. Thirty-seven is also the numerical value of the name Abel.
According to Talmudic tradition, Isaac was thirty-seven years old at the time he was taken to Moria to be sacrificed. Usually, in Christian teachings, we assume Isaac is still a child at this point.
In the New Testament, there are four chapters with a total of thirty-seven verses: Mark 7, Mark 13, Luke 17 and Acts 4.
Thirty-eight is the atomic number of strontium. I am afraid that is all I have got to tell you.
Thirty-nine is the sum of five consecutive prime numbers (3+5+7+11+13). It is the atomic number of yttrium. In Afghanistan, it is an unlucky number. The “curse of 39” is the belief that the number is cursed and purportedly linked with prostitution.
In the Bible, the words “mischievousness” and “impurity” are written thirty-nine times.
Finally, have you heard of the Bible of Ostervald? Compiled by Protestant pastor Jean-Frédéric Ostervald, the Old Testament only contains thirty-nine books.
Unless you are a mathematician, there is very little of note about the number thirty-five. It is the atomic number of bromine and those interested in puzzle games, such as Tetris, may be interested to know it is possible to make thirty-five different shapes or hexominoes with six squares. If you have been married for thirty-five years, you celebrate your coral wedding anniversary.
The German philosopher and Lutheran Protestant theologian and mystic Jakob Böhme (1575-1624) called the number thirty-five “the eternal residence of the soul,” although I am not sure why. Looking at the appearances of the number in the Bible, of which there are five, there is no obvious meaning or symbolism attached.
According to the visions of Mary of Jesus of Ágreda (1602-1665), it was on the thirty-fifth day of Jesus’ forty days in the desert when the devil began to tempt him.
The number thirty-six holds more meaning for Christian theologians. If we add up all the numbers from one to thirty-six we reach a total of 666, which as we know is believed to be the number of the devil.
In Jewish tradition, the number thirty-six has a couple of special significances. The first is the belief that when God created the light on the first day, it shone for exactly thirty-six hours. Secondly, in the Torah, Jews are commanded thirty-six times to love, respect and protect the stranger.
Before we look for the number in the Bible, I have found out a few interesting things about the number thirty-six. Firstly, it is the atomic number of Krypton, which comes from the Greek word kryptos, meaning “hidden one”. It is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas.
There are thirty-six inches in a yard. A pipe wrench is also thirty-six inches long. A standard beer barrel can hold thirty-six gallons (163.7 litres). There are thirty-six possible outcomes when rolling two dice.
The number thirty-six only appears twice in the Bible:
In the Book of Revelation, there is a record of thirty-six visions; perhaps this is another reference to the devil? Speaking of the devil, the word “beast” is used thirty-six times in Revelation and the name “Satan” appears both thirty-six times in the New Testament and thirty-six times in the Old Testament.
Finally, it is thought there were a total of thirty-six years between the crucifixion of Christ and the death of Saint Paul.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:25-3725 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This is a famous story, which in some respects has lost its shocking end because it is so familiar. In the third century AD, Origen of Alexandra in Egypt (184-253) thought the Samaritan story was an allegory and proposed the following:
The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The Priest is the law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord's body, the inn, which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. The manager of the inn is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And, the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Saviour's second coming.
This reading was universally accepted for centuries but it was John Calvin who made us rethink the story.
It is very easy to dramatise this text and one would benefit taking a role and getting a sense as to how the story unfolds. You could be the innkeeper coping with the nuisance of a wounded man, which would be a hindrance to his business with only the promises that the Samaritan would return. You could be the Priest or the Levite thinking of excuses as to why they passed by on the other side and did not help. The story says that the road was from Jerusalem to Jericho, suggesting they had already fulfilled their temple obligations.
Martin Luther King Jr really enjoyed this parable and visited the actual road where the action of the story took place. It was indeed notorious for its danger and difficulty and was known as the "Way of Blood" because of the blood that had been shed there. In his "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech, on the day before his death, he described the road as winding and meandering. If the Priest and the Levite looked over at the man, they would wonder if the robbers were still around or perhaps the man on the ground was merely faking, to lure them over. So, the first question the Priest would have asked is, "If I stop to help this man, what would happen to me?"
MLK goes on to say, "On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
MLK is saying we need to do more than just help the beggar by actually transforming the whole situation in which these robberies occur. So, we have to look at the social infrastructure that supports poverty and creates an underclass. This parable is far more than what it seems and challenges us far more deeply than just asking who is my neighbour.
The second book of Chronicles 28:15 would have been well-known to people of Jesus' time. In essence, the Northern Israelite Army based in Samaria invaded Judea and took many women and children, creating carnage. When the captured women and children were taken to Samaria, the prophet Obed confronted the army, saying that they were no better than their Judean enemies. The army in Samaria, therefore, reclothed, looked after and returned their prisoners to their homeland. Knowing this story puts Jesus' parable into context.
I was fascinated by the difference between the Jews and the Samaritans and why there was this hatred. The Samaritans descended from the tribe of Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph's sons, as well as from the Levites. The Samaritan religion centred on Mount Gerizim, which they considered to be the true place for God to be worshipped. In the book of Joshua 8:30-35 and Deuteronomy 7 and 8, we read about the importance of this mountain and how earlier on in the taking of Canaan, this mountain was so important a temple was built. The Jews, on the other hand, made Jerusalem their centre of worship.
In Ancient Hebrew, Samaritan means guardian, keeper or watcher of the Torah Law, but in Modern Hebrew, it just means inhabitants of Samaria. The Samaritans, who may well have numbered up to 1 million in population, believed it was on Mount Gerizim that Abraham offered Isaac to show his total obedience and, therefore, the reason for God's blessing. The Samaritans believe in one God and that the Torah was given by God to Moses but that Mount Gerizim is the sanctuary of Israel's God. They believe in resurrection and Paradise, that the dead will be raised by a restorer who will probably be Moses, but that post-Babylonian exile works, such as the Tanakh and Talmud, which is so authoritative to the Jews, have no authority. It is said there are 6000 differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and that of the Masoretic Jews. Even the Ten Commandments have differences, for example, the tenth commandment for the Samaritans is that they keep the sanctity of Mount Gerizim.
The Samaritans believe their descendants come from North Israel, either before the Syrian conquest in 721 BC or are part of the repopulating of the area following Sargon II of Assyria deporting 27,290 inhabitants. The Samaritans, therefore, were confident in their God, believing their history went right back and that theirs was the true religion.
One can now understand why the Jews and the Samaritans were so different and yet could have been so similar.
Where are you in the story? With whom do you most resonate? Would you take help from an archenemy and forever be beholden to them? Is there any sympathy for the Priest and the Levite? Read yourself into the story and understand the characters and how they interplay. The lawyer was asking honest questions to which Jesus the Rabbi responded appropriately but the challenge He gives remains. Who is our neighbour? If it is the person who showed mercy, then how do we go and do likewise? Good questions that demand individual answers. Amen.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon