Immigration And The Bible


border_mexico_usaSome people may think that immigration is a problem of contemporary times and that the Bible has nothing to say about the matter, but that’s not so. Scripture gives us principles we can follow in all kinds of situations though the details differ from those described in the pages of Holy Writ. When it comes to immigration, though, the people who lived in Bible times dealt with immigration much as we know it today.

True, a national identity wasn’t as defined as it has become. No one carried passports and there were no border crossings, no visas to procure, no inspections or laws about what you could and could not bring with you into the new country where you planned to settle down. Still, people left one city or people group and migrated to another.

Abraham, for example, left Ur of the Chaldeans and traveled to Haran where they settled for a time. God then directed Abram, as he was called at the time, to go to the land of Canaan:

Now the LORD said to Abram,
Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

Abraham lived a fairly nomadic life, but eventually his descendants more or less settled down—until a famine spurred them to seek a place where they could find food and water. Consequently, when his grandson, Jacob and all 75 of his clan made their way to Egypt during the seven year famine, the trip was not unheard of.

Staying for four hundred years—now that was the anomaly.

Of course, Moses himself was an immigrant even before he led the Israelite exodus. He had fled Egypt where he’d been born and raised, and lived in the land of Midian.

But even after the people of Israel escaped from Egypt and returned to their homeland, drove out the inhabitants, and settled in to build a national existence, people still immigrated.

Ruth, for instance, came from the country of Moab with her mother-in-law Naomi. Why? Because Naomi, her husband, and two sons had gone to Moab during another famine. One of the sons married Ruth, but died some years later. So Ruth immigrated to Israel.

She, a “foreigner,” ended up marrying Boaz, then gave birth to Obed, who was King David’s grandfather.

David himself did some immigrating. While he was on the run from King Saul, he spent time with the Moabites, more than once with the Philistines, and perhaps with others.

The question isn’t, did people immigrate in Bible times as much as it is, what did God say about immigrants?

In Abraham’s case, He directed him to migrate. Circumstances played a big part in others leaving home and going elsewhere, but regardless of the reasons for leaving, for going, God identified those who were separated from their homeland in order to follow Him just like He did orphans and widows, the poor and the needy. They were vulnerable and therefore God expected His people to protect them and care for them.

In fact when Ezekiel prophesied regarding God’s judgment of His people, the ill treatment of immigrants—sojourners—is one of Israel’s sins:

The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:29-30; emphasis added)

Sojourners, then, were not to be oppressed.

But the Law spelled out in Leviticus indicates there was more than just not mistreating them:

‘Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. (Lev. 25:35; emphasis added)

Putting aside the point of this passage, which was to instruct how a poor person was to be treated, it’s clear that the sojourner was to be taken care of, at least until they were in a place to take care of themselves (see Lev. 25:47).

One last point: Scripture seems to make a distinction between the sojourner and the stranger who was living as an alien among them. This latter individual was not to be granted access to the temple. On the other hand sojourners were expected to keep the Sabbath and had access to the cities of refuge just like the people of Israel.

What can we conclude about immigration today, based on what the Bible says?
1. Sometimes immigration is necessary; sometimes it’s God directed.
2. Immigrants who want to leave their culture and be included with the people of God are welcome.
3. Immigrants are to obey the laws of the land.
4. The citizens of the land to which immigrants come, are not to oppress them
5. The citizens of the land to which immigrants come, should do what they can to help them with their transition.

Of course the US is not synonymous with “the people of God.” But I think we can extrapolate from the second principle that people who want to make their home in a new country, are welcome. They demonstrate their intention by learning and living according to the values of the country to which they’ve come. That’s what Ruth did.

We could wait a long time for our US Congress to reach an agreement on immigration policy. I personally think Christians who love God’s word should not wait. We should take it upon ourselves to follow God’s direction. We should be welcoming to those who have come to the US legally due to circumstances that necessitated their leaving home. We should help them to learn our laws and culture. We should do what we can to help them while they’re trying to get on their feet. We should do all we can to see that they aren’t oppressed.

In short, Christians shouldn’t ignore immigrants or assume the worst about a person who is new to our country. We should actually thank God for the opportunity to be a missionary without leaving home!

Published in: on January 25, 2017 at 6:03 pm  Comments (4)  
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Pro-Life Doesn’t End With Birth


Painting_Lhermitte-Les_Glaneuses-1898When abortion advocates first started down the road to change society’s view on the subject, they framed the issue by identifying themselves as Pro-Choice and “the other side” as Anti-Abortion. Some in the media still use the latter designation, but those in opposition to killing the least, most helpless, voiceless people—the unborn—prefer to be known as Pro-Life.

But yesterday I read an article that poignantly reminded us that Pro-Life ought not end with ensuring a baby’s birth. God’s heart, as He says over and over in the Bible, is for orphans and widows and strangers. In the Mosaic Law, He made provision for those people so that they wouldn’t be tossed aside. The principle was this: in that agrarian society those who worked their field were not to meticulously harvest every last grain or olive or grape. They should reap their field, but not go over it a second time so that whatever they missed, the widows, the orphans, the strangers could harvest for themselves—an undertaking called gleaning.

So before the people of Israel arrived in the Promised Land, God had in place a plan to provide for the people some today call throw-away people.

Unfortunately, God’s people don’t always reflect God’s heart. The article I read detailed an encounter a mom had in the grocery store. Mind you, she’s a foster mom as well as a mom to her own sons. She had her hands full. Her husband, who was with her, saw someone he knew, so got caught up talking. The mom decided to proceed to the check out. Here’s how things went:

The 7 month old I was holding got hungry and started clawing at my shirt trying to nurse. The 1.5 year old tried to grab candy that I wouldn’t let her have and starting wailing. (No, she is not spoiled. Sometimes, 1.5 year olds cry loudly. I promise that sometimes, regardless of how awesome a parent you are, they just do.) The 2.5 year old was trying to help his 6 & 8-year-old brothers put the groceries on the belt, and of course, he dropped the container of blueberries, which spilled all over the floor. To top it all off, I had WIC [The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children] coupons for our foster daughter, and I grabbed the wrong cheese (I swear it was labeled WIC approved!), so the cashier had to call someone to come figure it all out.

OK, pretty much chaos. She apologized to the people in line behind her, but one couple responded in a judgmental way:

The man looked at the woman and said in a voice much too loud, “Some people should stop having kids.”

Yeah, he didn’t know she was a foster mom. Now here’s the kicker. When she got to the parking lot and began loading groceries, she saw the couple get into a car with a Pro-Life bumper sticker on it. Now it’s possible that they bought the car used and the bumper sticker was already in place. Nevertheless, the point is clear: life begins with birth, so those of us advocating for the unborn ought not stop caring when they successfully come into the world.

As I was reading in Deuteronomy this morning about the gleaning laws, it struck me that God included “the aliens” in with the widows and orphans. It seems a little odd at first. But people didn’t buy and sell land back then the way we do today. Especially the Jews. They divvied up the land by drawing lots, and they were to retain those parcels in perpetuity. Should they sell, they actually would be leasing the land because at the Jubilee—every fifty years—the land would revert to the family that had received the parcel when they first arrived.

People from other countries, as I recall, were not part of this process. So they weren’t land owners. The best they could do would be to hire out as a worker for someone else. Or glean someone else’s land.

If God’s people are to have God’s heart, it seems to me we should have as much concern for the orphans—the foster care kids—as we do the unborn. But we should also care for the “aliens.”

This seems especially important at a time when we seem to be flooded with “aliens,” including a host of illegal aliens. And now, potentially, aliens from a strange land that may harbor enemies who wish us harm. I’m referring, of course, to the Syrian refugees our government is making arrangements to bring to America.

Some US citizens, including some Christians, complain. Why don’t they go to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or United Arab Emirates? I’ve asked the same question. After all, we have our own immigration issues to sort out. Why bring in more people when we haven’t figured out how we’re to handle the influx of immigrants we already have?

But I wonder if these questions reflect the heart of God. I suspect not because here’s what God actually said in Scripture:

He [the LORD God] executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 26:18-19)

Later Moses instructed the priests in a rite to remind the people of God’s commands when they arrived in the land. First the priest would tell the people what God had said, then the people would respond. The first on the list were familiar, don’t make any idols, honor your father and your mother, but then tucked in behind Don’t mislead a blind person, is the command involving aliens:

‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ (Deut. 27:19)

If we look into the New Testament, we see Jesus commanding others to love their neighbors. And then the lawyer who had prompted Jesus’s statement asked a question designed to let him wiggle off the hook: who is my neighbor? Jesus responded by telling a story about a stranger. He didn’t cast the stranger as the one in need of help, however. He made him the hero of the story. The guy who acted like a neighbor was the hated stranger who put his prejudices aside to help someone in need.

That’s God’s heart. He cares about people. He makes it clear in Paul’s letters that those who follow Him are equal in His eyes.

So here’s the thing I realized this morning. In some of these places in the Middle East, it’s been next to impossible to preach the gospel. But as Syrian refugees stream into the West, they have the chance of hearing about Jesus, perhaps for the first time. We might not be able to go to the mission field, but God is bringing the mission field to us.

What a great opportunity for all of us who are Pro-Life!

Published in: on September 24, 2015 at 6:23 pm  Comments (8)  
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