Strangers:A Review of Immigration in the Bible
Since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, there have been immigrants. In their case, God directed that Adam and Eve travel outside the land of their creation and into an unwelcoming land. Then as sin grew, Cain killed Abel and was expelled into the wilderness to wander. Noah and his family also sojourned upon the waters as God directed them and had to restart humanity. As you can see, the history of humanity is basically the story of immigration.
As the Patriarchal Dispensation continued, Abraham began his relationship with God by way of a command to become an immigrant. “By faith he (Abram/Abraham) went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise” Heb 11:9. And, of course, his son and grandson were sojourners as well. Joseph, though not by choice, became a stranger in Egypt. Then, his entire family (by choice) became sojourners/foreigners there with him.
After the time of their sojourning, when their oppression was fully ripe (Ex 3:7) and the sin of the Canaanites was full expressed (Gen 15:16), God used Moses to lead them out, again as immigrants, and into the Promised Land, beginning the Mosaic Dispensation. In their wandering and after, God consistently reminds them of their status as immigrants/strangers saying, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” Ex 23:9. This same sentiment is stated over 200 times in the Old and New Testament, usually nested in verses that characterize immigrants/sojourners/strangers/foreigners as those who are typically poor and oppressed along with the poor, orphan/fatherless, prisoner, and widow.
This is seen clearly as humanity begins entry into the Christian Dispensation as Jesus teaches in Matthew 25:31-46:
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,f you did it to me.’
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The word “stranger” in the Greek is “xenos”, the word from which we get our term “xenophobia”, a term that means the fear of foreigners/strangers. Clearly, Jesus is speaking in the same terms of one who is an immigrant/stranger/foreigner/sojourner as expressed throughout the Bible.
Based on this review of immigrants in the Word, how are we as Christians to care for those who are immigrants in our land? There seems to be a prevailing attitude of fear and unwelcoming toward those who are strangers in our country, but the Biblical account appears to call for another attitude entirely. Job said: “I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger.” Job 29:16. Moses penned in every book of the Pentateuch, multiple exhortations to care for those from outside the Israelite community. The remainder of the Old Testament is full of admonitions to help the foreigner. Jesus also pulls no punches in His command to take care of those who are poor, immigrants, and in prison in Matthew 25.
As Christians, we must also remember the spiritual side of immigration. The fact is, we are ALL immigrants as far as God sees us. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Rom 5:8. We were strangers, wandering in the wilderness of sin, completely hopeless, but God saw us and had compassion on us. He gave us and continues to give us everything. As a result, we are called to spiritually and physically remember God’s words through Moses “You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners” Ex 23:9 as well as the words of Jesus when He says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” Luke 12:48b.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Lev 19:33-34.