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Thursday, July 27, 2017

How the Bible wants us to treat aliens, foreigners and strangers.

Matthew 7:12 Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets. (The Golden Rule)

The Israelites were warned that they should eliminate non-Israelites from the Promised Land. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 31:3-6) However, this was not an absolute command. Most likely, those warnings were really against the false gods of these non-Israelites. Rahab, from Jericho, and Ruth, from Moab, were ancestors of David (and of Christ). They were both non-Israelite followers of God. Uriah the Hittite, Bathshebas first husband, who lived in Jerusalem, and was part of Davids army, had Canaanite ancestry, and he seems to have also been a follower of God (2 Samuel 11). David placed the Ark into the care of Obed-Edom, the Gittite (2 Samuel 6:10-12). Some bible scholars believe that he was descended from the Philistines from Gath, where Goliath came from, but others believe that Gittite has another meaning in this case. David purchased the land, which ultimately became the site of Solomons temple from Ornan, a Jebusite, who may have been a non-Israelite (1 Chronicles 21:18-30, 2 Chronicles 3:1, Some Bible translations call him Araunah).

The passages below give further evidence that non-Israelites were allowed to live in the Promised Land. 

Exodus 22:21 You shall not wrong an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 23:9 You shall not oppress an alien, for you know the heart of an alien, since you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:10 You shall not glean your vineyard, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the foreigner. I am Yahweh your God. (This command is repeated in other parts of the Bible.)

Leviticus 19:33 If a stranger lives as a foreigner with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.

Deuteronomy 10:19 Therefore love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Peter reminds the church of his day that they, too, are, in a sense, foreigners: 1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I beg you as foreigners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 having good behavior among the nations, so in that of which they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they see, glorify God in the day of visitation. 

The Bible also says, in reference to a specific refugee crisis:
Isaiah 16:3 Give counsel! Execute justice! Make your shade like the night in the middle of the noonday! Hide the outcasts! Don’t betray the fugitive! 4a Let my outcasts dwell with you! As for Moab, be a hiding place for him from the face of the destroyer. (This was in spite of the fact that the Moabites hadnt always been good to Israel. See Josh 24:9, Judg 3:12-30, 1 Sam 12:9.)

Ezekiel 47:21 “So you shall divide this land to yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. 22 It will happen, that you shall divide it by lot for an inheritance to you and to the aliens who live among you, who will father children among you. Then they shall be to you as the native-born among the children of Israel. They shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. 23 It shall happen, that in whatever tribe the stranger lives, there you shall give him his inheritance,” says the Lord Yahweh.

Hebrews 13:1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers*, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you are also in the body.
*The NIV Study Bible thinks strangers may mean “Christians that you don’t know.” The two commentaries I consulted did not say this. There are Christian refugees, that we dont know, in our time.

Unfortunately, a recent poll found that only 12% of Christians say that they get their views on immigration from the Bible. 

Notes: 1) Refugees may become immigrants, but not all immigrants, legal or illegal, are refugees. The concept of border security probably was seldom considered in Bible times. In the verses above, “alien,” “foreigner,” and “stranger” seem to mean “non-Israelite.” Some of these would have been refugees.

2) Scripture quotations from the World English Bible, public domain. This post, on January 13, 2018, is a modified version of the original, which was posted July 27, 2017.

3) The United States is not equivalent to ancient Israel.

4) At least in Old Testament times, it seems that God would not have expected non-Israelites who came into the country for the purpose of subverting worship of Him, or to murder Israelites, to be treated as generously as the verses above indicate.

Thanks for reading.

Update, June 21, 2018:

Jeff Sessions, currently the US Attorney General, recently claimed that separating immigrant children from their parents is obeying the Bible, which says that we are to obey the law and the government. Well, usually, but Sessions has left out a lot of what the Bible says.

Update, December 23, 2018:

Job 31 gives a list of good things Job has done, and bad things that he has not done, as he justifies himself. One of the good things is in verse 32: the foreigner has not lodged in the street, but I have opened my doors to the traveler ...

And we shouldnt forget that Jesus, Joseph and Mary were refugees in Egypt, fleeing a threat of violence.  

Update, February 26, 2020:

2 Chronicles 30 describes the revival during the reign of Hezekiah, many generations after the time of Ruth, or David. It includes this statement:  
30:25 All the assembly of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the assembly who came out of Israel, and the foreigners who came out of the land of Israel, and who lived in Judah, rejoiced. 

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