West Bank settlers Rabbi David Zlatin and son Josh

West Bank settlers Rabbi David Zlatin and son Josh

Next week I plan to join the Continuing Education group as they journey into the region known as the Northern West Bank. This is a Palestinian “Area A” (meaning it is off-limits to Israelis), so tourists and pilgrimage groups only occasionally go there. But the Institute has friendly relations with local authorities, so it will be my chance to see an important part of the Holy Land that tourists and pilgrims seldom see, that being biblical Samaria.

Samaria is home to several sites familiar to Bible readers, for example Shechem and Jacob’s Well, Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerazim, Beth-el and Ai. Abraham journeyed south from Haran (eastern Turkey) to Hebron and Beersheva, traveling along the Samarian and Judean ridges, stopping at Shechem to build an altar to the Lord. Jacob, fleeing the wrath of his brother Esau, camped overnight at Beth-el and had his well-known dream about angels descending and ascending a ladder into heaven. Jeroboam, rebelling against Solomon’s son Rehoboam and the Kingdom of Judah, established his first northern Kingdom of Israel capital in Shechem.

Come New Testament times, Jews commuting from Galilee to Jerusalem would routinely circumnavigate the Samaritan highlands. But there was that memorable occasion when Jesus and his disciples traveled through them–thereby encountering the Samaritan “Woman at [Jacob’s] Well.”

Jacob, by the way, is an interesting case study for explaining Jews and Jewishness, and even national Israel as it is known today. One of our lecturers, a transplanted Canadian who teaches now at Hebrew University, answered my question about why it was–given that God twice (Gen. 32, where Jacob wrestles with an angel, and again in Gen. 35) assigned Jacob (“the one who supplants”) the new name Israel (“the one who struggles with God”)–that Genesis quickly reverts back to using the name Jacob.

It was because, Eddy Breuer explained, even though Israel accepted his new identity in God, he could never quite shake off the old one. Today Israel’s faith may be described as a relentless wrestling with God, while its nature continues to be that of one who “supplants” or displaces. (Which in part explains the Palestinian problem.)

You and I are something like that. In Jesus Christ we are “new creatures,” redeemed, reclaimed, transformed. In Him we have our new name. Still we are hounded and beset from behind, from an old nature that we will not, this side of the resurrection, be able to shake off. And thus we remember God’s warning to Cain: “. . . sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7 ESV). Only in Christ is such rule finally accomplished.

From Jerusalem, Shabbat Shalom!   Steve