In a previous post, we saw that the one who showed mercy towards us is our neighbour based on the parable of the good Samaritan. But that is just part of the answer. In this post we will explore more about who our neighbour really is based on Hebrew and how the Pharisee was able to answer even though none were neighbours to each other in the parable.
Neighbor as per Law
If everyone is our neighbour as most Christians believe, the Pharisee would have answered the priest, the Levi or even the inn-keeper as the neighbour. But rather he pointed out that the Samaritan as the neighbour. Even though we know that the one who showed mercy is the neighbour, how did the Pharisee find this information and where in the law does it say.
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor (H7453 רֵעַ rea`) as yourself: I [am] the LORD.Lev 19:18
To understand why the Samaritan is the neighbour for the wounded man, we must understand the Hebrew term of ‘neighbour’ itself. The Hebrew word ‘H7453‘ which got translated into neighbour does not mean someone living next to us but rather ‘associate’.
According to English dictionary the noun ‘associcate’ could mean:
- A person united with another or others in an act, enterprise, or business; a partner.
- Somebody with whom one works, coworker, colleague.
- A companion; a comrade.
- One that habitually accompanies or is associated with another; an attendant circumstance.
In the above list, someone dwelling near is not one of them.
Speak now in the hearing of the people, and let every man ask from his neighbor [H7453 רֵעַ rea`] and every woman from her neighbor, articles of silver and articles of gold.”Exod 11:2
From the plagues (e.g., Exod 9:26, Exod 10:23), we know that the children of Israel were living in Goshen. Egyptians were not living among the children of Israel. Now, read the above verse and ask yourself: Is God asking the children of Israel to ask articles of silver and gold from fellow Israelite neighbours?
Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. And the LORD had given the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them [what they requested.] Thus, they plundered the Egyptians.Exod 12:35-36
God instructed the children of Israel to ask their ‘associates’ who were Egyptians and not neighbors who dwell near them.
Who is the Associate?
Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.“So he went to [him] and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.Luke 10:31-34
Neither the priest, nor the Levi had any business with the wounded man. They just saw and passed by. But the Samaritan, associated with the wounded man by taking care of him. Hence, when Jesus Christ asked, ‘Who is the associate to the wounded man?’, the Pharisee was able to answer without doubt that it was the one who showed mercy. Without this Hebrew terminology, it is impossible to know how the Pharisee answered correctly since none were neighbour to anyone in the story.
The Hebrew word which got translated into neighbour in English does not mean someone living next to us but rather ‘associate’. A neighbour can be associated with us in some work but just because someone is dwelling near us does not make them a neighbour.