I’m reading Ezra and am wondering if you have any insight for me. Ezra 4:1 states that “the enemies of the Jews” wanted to join in the work of building up the temple, but are refused. I can’t but wonder if it was the refusal that made them become enemies in the first place. I see nothing in the text suggesting that their request wasn’t honest. Surely the Jewish response is very hostile. The writers seem to have made the decision that they are enemies before they actually are. Shouldn’t we as the people of God always be welcoming to those who wants to join us (Mark 9:40)? Maybe the rebuilding of the temple wouldn’t have been delayed if they had let the Samaritans join in the work? What’s your take on this?—J.L.

 Ezra doesn’t give us much background to the animosity between Samaritans and Jews. For that we need to read 2 Kings 17:24-41. There we learn that they did indeed worship Yahweh, but not only him. Their religion included other gods as well. (That is not true of modern Samaritans—at least from what I’ve gathered through my various visits to Samaria.)

There is a parallel at Elephantine, a Jewish settlement in Egypt. (Actually, Elephantine is an island in the Nile.) This community was “Jewish,” even building their own temple to YHW (their version of YHWH), but like the Samaritans of Ezra’s time­—with whom they were contemporaneous­—were also syncretistic. The Elephantine Passover does not seem to have a fixed date, nor is there evidence that any sort of Sabbath was observed.

Had Ezra permitted these heterodox Samaritans to link up with the Jews, the results would have been disastrous, perhaps dissolving the Jewish nation entirely.

However, you refer to Mark 9:40. As I have explained elsewhere (i.e., in the series Friend or Foe?), genuine believers in other Christian groups are not to be feared. Yet if they have rejected the historic Christian faith, we must proceed with caution.