Israel’s Provinces and Administration

The Old Testament records show how the land of Palestine was apportioned to the tribes of Israel, Josh. 13-17. The subsequent, chequered history of God’s earthly nation brought about many changes. During the apostolic era the country was divided into three provinces, “Judaea and Galilee and Samaria”, Acts 9. 31, with Phoenicia lying to the north, Decapolis to the east, Idumaea to the south, and the sea on the west. A geographical and historical study of these regions enriches one’s appraisal of many Biblical passages and confirms the authenticity of the narrative by the accuracy of local detail.

Judaea. At first this title was restricted to the district, around Jerusalem, associated with the tribe of Judah. In the New Testament, however, the name is used more broadly to refer to the whole of the southern half of Palestine. It included the Mediterranean sea-board from Joppa to Gaza. The eastern boundary was marked by the Jordan delta and the Dead Sea. The rough terrain of rocky gorges descending from the central plateau to the river Jordan is called “the wilderness of Judah" in Judges 1. 16 and the heading of Psalm 63. John the Baptist knew this region well, Mark 1.4; Luke 1. 80; cf. Isa. 40. 3.

For some time Idumaea was linked politically with Judaea. This extensive tract of barren country, south west of the Dead Sea, was originally the home of the primitive Horites. To some extent these cave dwellers were destroyed, and to some extent they were absorbed, by the Bedouin descendants of Esau after whom the land came to be known as Edom. Initially, it was a fertile area, fulfilling Genesis 27. 39. Under the Edomites, however, the land did not prosper. The rock excavations at Petra stand as a symbol of the haughty character of these people. From generation to generation the Edomites have hated the Jews, Num. 20. 21; Ezek. 35. 5; Obad. 10.

In 47 B.C. Julius Caesar appointed Antipater II procurator of Judaea. Antipater made his son Herod governor of Galilee, and Phasael governor in Jerusalem. When their father was poisoned in 43 B.C., Herod and Phasael enacted cruel revenge. Three years later, when the Parthians captured Jerusalem and slew Phasael, Herod fled to Rome where he was appointed King of the Jews. His rule was established when he retook Jerusalem in 37 B.C. Being of Edomite stock, Herod the Great was despised by the Judaeans, even though he adopted their religion. The Pharisees directed the reproach “hah0-Jew" at him. He married (as well as nine others) a Jewess whose father was Simon, the high priest. He modernized the temple, and carried out extensive building programmes, partly for his own pleasure and partly for Israel’s benefit. He obtained, from Augustus and succeeding Caesars, certain privileges for Jews throughout the Empire, and freed the Judaeans of all tyranny but his own.

When Herod died, shortly after the slaughter of the inno-cents, his third will was substantially carried out. By this Archelaus, Matt. 2. 22, became ethnarch of Judaea, Samaria and Idumaea. Herod Archelaus lacked his father’s capabilities, and his government led to his exile in 6 a.d. Because of their background and their connivance with the Roman overlords, most members of the Herodian family were hated by the Jews. An earlier Jewish request for direct Roman rule, to avoid Herodian administration, was now granted, and a governor, seated at Caesarea in Samaria, was appointed. The fifth such procurator was Pilate who held office for ten years before being replaced in 36 a.d. Pilate seemed to enjoy tormenting the troublesome Jews, who frequently complained about him to higher authorities.

In 41 a.d. the Emperor Claudius placed Judaea and Samaria under Herod’s grandson, Agrippa I. Herod Agrippa made himself popular at Rome and in Jerusalem. Even the Pharisees were kindly disposed towards him, particularly when he grati-fied them by putting to death some of the leading Christians, Acts 12. 1-3. At Caesarea, in 44 a.d., while parading as a demi-god before a servile multitude, he was smitten by a terrible disease and died five days later, Acts 12. 20-23. At this time Agrippa’s son-later to become Herod Agrippa II, Acts 25. 13; 26. 1-32-was only seventeen, so Claudius restored Judaea to direct Roman rule.

Felix became procurator of Judaea in 52 a.d. when an earlier commission was extended to cover the whole of Palestine. He, like those before him, moved in a society where adaptability, flattery, immorality and ruthlessness were the price of position; see Acts 24. 26. He had to contend with a rising spirit of Messianism in Judaea. His general ineptitude is well exampled by his third marriage. The bride he chose was Drusilla, Acts 24. 24, who was a Jewess and sister of Agrippa II. In seducing her from her former husband, a heathen king who had em-braced Judaism, Felix fanned the flames of rebellion among the Jews. There was nothing but turbulence throughout his administration. (The prosecuting attorney’s reference to peace, Acts 24. 2, at Paul’s trial, has a strong note of irony!)

Festus replaced Felix about 60 A.D., Acts 24. 27. Shortly afterwards, Agrippa II with his sister Bernice, Acts 25. 13, made a courtesy call on the new governor who conferred with them about the apostle Paul’s case. Although perhaps less harsh, Festus employed methods typical of his contemporaries. Many Jewish patriots were executed, which only fostered the spirit of revolt that terminated in the open insurrection of 66 a.d. Some few years before that, however, Festus died in office.

The treatment our Lord received in Judaea, from His birth in Bethlehem to His crucifixion at Jerusalem, revealed the hatred of man for the things of God. The sons of Jacob (repre-sented by the chief priests), and Esau (represented by Herod Antipas) were united on that one unique occasion when they joined Pontius Pilate in the condemnation of “the Holy One and the Just”, Luke 23. 12-25, Acts 3. 14. The ancient cry, “Crucify him’, still rings along the terraced Judaean slopes.

Galilee and Peraea. Precipitation, caused by the nearby Lebanon heights, helps to make Galilee the best watered province in Israel. A fertile limestone land with outcrops of volcanic rock, it has many springs and streams. This territory must have presented a pleasant sight to the tribes of Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun and part of Issachar, to whom it was allotted.

With its northern boundary stretching away to Syria and its southern extremity in the Carmel Highlands, Galilee com-prises an area of roughly sixty miles by thirty. The central mountains give way eastwards to the gentle slopes that descend to the inland lakes of Gennesareth and Huleh. Here was the scene of much of the Lord’s earthly life. The shape of the Sea of Galilee – also called Gennesareth and Tiberius – has reminded some of a harp (cf. the Hebrew name, Chinnerith); and “the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth”, as the Saviour walked along its shores, must have been akin to the music of heaven. Here, in His Galilean ministry, Jesus explained the harmony of the Godhead in the work of man’s redemption, e.g. Matt. 13; John 6. The Lord Jesus Christ “through the eternal Spirit offered himself … to God”. At Nazareth He identified Himself with Isaiah’s statement: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel”, Luke 4. 18.

Basically, the word “Galilee" means “ring" or “circuit”. It is possible that the appellation was once employed to refer to the region about a ring of towns in northern Palestine. The title first appears in Joshua 20. 7; 21. 32.

Galilee was devastated more than once, 1 Kings 15. 20-29; 2 Kings 13. 7. After Assyrian domination, during which a large percentage of the population was removed, the land was recovered by Jeroboam, 2 Kings 14. 25. Members of many races settled there and only as the threat of Egyptian and Roman invaders became unbearable did a truly Jewish patriotism develop. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d., Galilee, with its many synagogues, became the centre of Rabbinical life.

This northern area of Palestine was scorned by the Judaeans, partly because of its connections with Samaria, partly because of its distance from the metropolis and partly because of the impurity of the local Aramaic dialect, Matt. 26.73; Mark 14.70.

The country of Peraea (beyond Jordan) was politically joined to Galilee when Herod the Great bequeathed the revenues of these two districts to his son Antipas, Luke 3. 1. The Lord referred to Herod Antipas as “that fox”. He was in Jerusalem for a visit when Jesus was brought before Pilate. As soon as the Judaean governor learnt that Jesus was of Galilee, he sent him to be judged by the visiting Galilean tetrarch. Antipas treated the Saviour with contempt, and encouraged his military bodyguard to do likewise, 23. 6-11.

Samaria. This province lay between Galilee and Judaea, John 4. 3-4. It stretched from the coastal Plain of Sharon eastward to the Jordan valley. The country is easily accessible, the slopes from the central “massif"- the outgoings of Mount Ephraim, Josh. 17. 18-being indefensible and sterile. The one conspicuous pass lies between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim and gives Shechem its prominence. The open terrain explains both the frequent mention of the chariot in the annals of the northern kingdom of Israel, and the ease with which paganism “gained ground".

The early history of this region centres upon the city that Qmri built as the Israelite capital, 1 Kings 16. 24. The king of Syria successfully attacked the newly established city and compelled Ahab to grant favourable trading facilities, 20. 34. Ahab built a Baal temple and an ivory palace at Samaria, 16. 32, 33. He restored Israelite strength both to the city and the area. Jehoram attempted a feeble reform but retained the calf-worship, 2 Kings 3. 2. The city was besieged time and again. After three years of siege it fell to the Assyrians in 721 B.C. Many of the inhabitants were then deported, and people, drawn from other places, were brought in, 17. 24. Alexander, the Greek leader, conquered Samaria after a siege in 331 B.C., and then, three centuries later, this part of Palestine also came under Roman control.

Herod the Great rebuilt the city of Samaria and constructed a Mediterranean seaport twenty-five miles away. This new town was named Caesarea in honour of Caesar Augustus; it was founded as a Romany colony. A colony, in this sense, consisted of a group of citizens transported en masse from Rome to a distant part of the Empire. Other colonies were at Philippi, Troas and the Pisidian Antioch. (The fact that Philippi was such a colony adds force to Paul’s declaration in Acts 16. 37). These colonial communities increased the imperial domination over the foreign subjects and served to represent and reproduce Roman life in alien lands. By this means the Romans attempted to latinize much of their empire.

Although the Samaritans were intensely disliked by the Jews, Jesus, in His parables, portrayed them as kind, consider-ate and grateful people. The woman from Sychar, John 4.9-10, and the outcast leper, Luke 17. 16, were among many Samari-tans who felt the warmth of the heart of the Saviour.

Most of the Lord’s disciples were Galileans; many of those who believed on Him were Samaritans, John 4. 41, but most of His enemies were Judaeans. Yet He never fostered segrega-tionalism, but included every province in His itineraries and spoke of the twelve tribes of Israel as one unit. This they will one day become, in the land promised, so long ago, to their father, Abraham.


The Sabbath was a cherished tradition held by the Pharisees; it kept men in bondage more than the other commandments. It had been given by God in creation and in law, yet it was the one com-mandment that had to be approached with wise spiritual discrimina-tion. The Lord Jesus demonstrated this wisdom, giving many reasons for necessary work on the Sabbath day.

Luke 6. 1, plucking corn and rubbing it in their hands. (1) David went into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, Matt. 12. 4; Mark 2. 26; Luke 6. 4; need. (2) The priests profaned the Sabbath, Matt. 12. 5, referring to standard and special sacrifices offered on the Sabbath; obedience. (3) “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice"3 Matt. 12. 7; Hos. 6. 6. Ritual means nothing if the heart is not right, and is altered if mercy is needed; heart transcends mind. (4) The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath, Matt. 12. 8; Mark 2. 28; Luke 6. 5; subjection to divine authority.

Luke 6. 6, the man with the withered hand. (5) A sheep lifted out of a pit, a man being better than a sheep, Matt. 12. 11, 12; compassion. (6) Lawful to do good and to save life, Mark 3.4; Luke 6. 9; preserva-tion of life.

Luke 13. 11, the woman bowed eighteen years. (7) An ox or ass loosed and led to watering, Luke 13. 15; necessities of life.

Luke 14. 1-6, the man with the dropsy. (8) An ass or an ox fallen in a pit and pulled out, v. 5; salvation.

John 5. 1-17, infirm man thirty-eight years. (9) “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”, v. 17. God’s initial Sabbath was disturbed by sin, and He has worked ever since; no rest in service. (10) Circum-cision was practised on the Sabbath, John 7. 22-23; see Leviticus 12. 3; obedience to commands of God.

John 9. 14, blind man healed on the Sabbath. No further explanation was given; “your sin remaineth”, v. 41.



Your Basket

Your Basket Is Empty