The Bible and Immigration

Exodus 22

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2017

We have been studying case law in Exodus 21-22.  We have been in it for a long time.  When you first read the section, it reads like a bunch of obscure laws from three thousand years ago that have absolutely no relevance to us today.  What we have found instead are all kinds of things from these chapters that apply very much to our life today.

We looked at what the Bible teaches about slavery in this section.  We looked at what the Bible teaches about capital punishment.  We looked at what the Bible teaches about self defense.  We looked at what the Bible teaches about the occult.  Last week, we looked at what it teaches about social justice.  Today, we look at what it teaches about immigration. There is one verse in this chapter that deals with foreigners.

Immigration has become a recent topic in the news.  Some of President Trump’s first executive orders were about immigration.  This is a topic that has been in the news every day this week. The Bible has a lot to say about current events.  These three thousand case laws are still relevant to what is going on in our own country today.  They are inspired by God. The What God says even in the OT is relevant to life today.

The German theologian Karl Barth, who I very rarely quote, once said, “We must read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”  That is like saying read the Bible on one hand and watch FOX news on the other.  We should know what God’s Word teaches.  We should also keep informed about current events. Much of the Bible is prophecy.

We are going to do something today that we do not normally do and that is to talk about politics in church.  Normally, it is not a good idea to preach politics from the pulpit. This is a topic that divides Christians.  What we want to do today is always a good idea.

It is always good to look at thing from a biblical perspective, including current events. Instead of giving our own opinion and what we think about the issue or what our political party says, we want to look at what God says about the issue. It is a radical concept.

Questions about Immigration

1) What should be our attitude toward immigrants?

What is the biblical view of immigration?  What is the Christian view of immigration?  Many people in this country have an anti-immigrant bias.  Many do not like them.  They come to this country.  They can’t speak the language.  They commit crimes.  They steal our jobs.  They drive down our wages.

What is God’s attitude toward immigrants.  Deuteronomy 10:18 says that God “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and LOVES the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (NIV).

We should love what God loves.  in fact we are commanded to do this. Jesus divided the whole law up into two commands: love God and love your neighbor.  Who is your neighbor?  This phrase comes right out of the Book of Leviticus.  Leviticus 19:17-18 says,

Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF, I am the Lord. (NIV)

There is clearly refers to fellow Israelites but, at the end of the chapter, God says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated AS YOUR NATIVE-BORN. LOVE THEM AS YOURSELF, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34 NIV)

That is interesting.  The command to love your neighbor as yourself is applied to foreigners.  It is not limited to foreigners but it applies to foreigners.  God does not just say THAT we are to love them.  He tells us HOW we are to love them

God  says that we are to love them in two ways.  We are to love them like our own people. They were to love foreigners like native born Jews. They were  to love them the same way.  We are not to love our own people more.  He also says that we are to love them as we love ourselves.

We are to show them the same care and concern that we show to ourselves.  We treat ourselves well and should treat foreigners the same way.  We should not insult or denigrate them.  We should not look down on them, and criticize them.  We do not do that to ourselves.  This is a radical statement (loving foreigners as we love ourself and as we love our own people).

We are not only to love foreigners, we are to love foreigners that we can’t stand.  We are to love foreigners that we hate.  That is what the parable of the Good Samaritan is all about.  It is about a Samaritan who takes care of a poor Jew who was attacked and beaten almost to death.  The Good Samaritan got involved when no one else did and did so at risk to himself.

The Jews and Samaritans hated each other but this Samaritan did not see him as Jew but as a human being.  He looked at his need, not his race.  He treated him with compassion, not criticism.  He showed hospitality to him. We are to do the same thing.

We should show compassion to people, including foreigners, even if it means that they cannot pay us back.  We should show hospitality to them. The word hospitality in Greek is φιλόξενος.  It is a compound word.  It is a combination of two words (φιλος and  ξενος).  Literally, it means “love of strangers.”  It does not just mean tolerating them as a necessary evil and allowing them in the country.  It means LOVING them.

One way we are to do this is financially.  We saw this last week.  Every Jew was told not to harvest their entire field.  Leviticus 19:9-10 says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. LEAVE THEM FOR THE POOR AND THE FOREIGNER. I am the Lord your God.” (NIV)

Exodus 22:21 says, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (NIV).  God does not just give them a command.  He gives them a reason for the command.  Statistically about one third of abused people go on to abuse others.[1] The majority become abusers but many do. It is the sin nature at work.  God says not to do that. Don’t treat others the way you were treated.  Instead, treat them the way you would want to be treated.

Jesus came up with the Golden Rule.  This was an early version of the Golden Rule. It is found in Exodus 22.  The Egyptians mistreated the Jews.  They were foreigners in Egypt for hundreds of years and were mistreated terribly.  They were enslaved and it was a harsh form of slavery.  They knew what it was like to be abused.  Now God tells them to make sure they do not do the same thing to other foreigners.

2) Are illegal immigrants what Exodus calls “foreigners?” (“stranger”-KJV; “sojourner”-ESV; “an alien”-ISV))

Exodus 22 speaks of social justice for four different groups of people: widows, orphans, the poor and foreigners.  Are illegal aliens the same thing as foreigners?  Worded another way, if we are to treat foreigners as native born citizens, does this mean that we are to treat illegal immigrants as native born citizens?  Does that mean that we should grant citizenship to all illegal immigrants?

Is amnesty what Exodus is talking about?  We have laws about citizenship but if people sneak into the country illegally and we just grant them citizenship for making it over here, that does not seem fair.  It is not fair to all the people who became legal immigrants.  It just gives you an incentive to break the law.

Most people think of one kind of foreigner but the Bible mentions two different kinds.  The word used in Exodus 22:21 is ger.   It does refer to someone that left their own country and sought refuge in another country.  The HCSB translates it “foreign resident.”They are foreigners but they were not illegals. This Hebrew word specifically refers to foreigners who had legal standing in the community.  They had privileges and rights, some similar to native born citizens.

“Everyone who is native-born must do these things in this way when they present a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner (ger) or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, they must do exactly as you do. The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner (ger) shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Numbers 15:13-16 NIV)

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover meal: No foreigner (toe-shav) may eat it. Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it. “It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it.

“A foreigner (ger) residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Exodus 12:43-48 NIV)

“Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner (ger) residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15 NIV)

Reading all of these passages, we see three different groups of people in view.  There were native or natural born citizens.   There were foreigners who had legal standing in the community.  They became permanent residents.  They obeyed the laws of Israel and had some legal protections.  Then, there were other foreigners who were just passing through the country and did not have the same rights.

3) Is an open door immigration policy biblical?

We should love immigrants.  The Jews were immigrants.  Abraham was an immigrant.  Abraham was an immigrant.  He left his land in Ur of the Chaldees and traveled a long way to get to Canaan.  When he got to Canaan, there were people living in the country and he was a foreigner.  He was an outsider. The USA is a nation of immigrants.

In fact, Christians are describes as strangers and sojourners in this world. We are called foreigners and aliens (e.g., I Peter 2:11).  We may live in America but Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  We should welcome immigrants.  That does not mean necessarily that we have an open door policy and let anyone into the country.  We need to make several points here.

First, God establishes borders for countries.  Borders are biblical.  Deuteronomy 32:8 says, “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel” (NIV).  Acts 17:26 says, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (NIV)

Second, nations have the right to defend their borders.  They have the right to protect themselves, like we do as individuals.  One of the most important jobs of any government is to protect its citizens.  That is one of the main jobs of the state. Donald Trump talks about building a wall around the US-Mexico border and many think this is terrible.

Critics often say that instead of building walls, we should be building bridges.  They do not like the idea of a country with walls around it.  The US is not the only country that has had a wall to protect its borders.  Most countries in bible times had walls around them to protect themselves from invaders.

In fact, the Book of Revelation says that in heaven the city of the New Jerusalem will have a big wall around it with twelve gates (Revelation 21:12) and that wall will be guarded by angels.  There will not be an open door policy in the New Jerusalem.

Three, nations have the right to decide who can be in the country.  In Exodus 23, certain people were kept out of the land as well.  “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out” (23:23).

That is strange.  There was no open door policy to let these groups in.  These pagan groups were not allowed in the land.  “Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you” (23:33 NIV).

We do not have to let just anyone into our country. We do not let just anyone into our house.  God does not let just anyone into heaven. He uses extreme vetting.  The Bible says that many will try to enter and be denied entrance.  Only those whose names are in the Book of Life can enter.  Your name has to be written in a book to get it.  You have to have the proper documentation.  No one will enter illegally.

Jesus told a parable about this.  It is called the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Mathew 22:1-14).  Weddings are times a great celebration.  They are a lot of fun.  They are a big party.  There is entertainment.  There is music.  There is dancing.  There is great food. There is some really good wine.  The kingdom of God is like a party.  People can’t walk in off of the street and crash the wedding, just because they are hungry.  You have to be invited to the wedding.  You have to RSVP.

Jesus told a parable about a wedding dinner for a prince, the king’s son. He gave out invitations to the big dinner.  Some came and some did not but not all who came to the event got in.  Some were excluded. There is also a dress code at weddings.  Most weddings you dress up.  They are formal affairs.  You don’t wear your swimming trunks. This was a royal wedding and there was special attire for this wedding.  You had to wear a wedding robe.  There was no open door policy to this wedding, just like there is not an open door policy to weddings today.

4) Should churches offer sanctuary to illegal immigrants?

Should the church get involved?  You may have heard of SANCTUARY CITIES (e.g., San Francisco, Denver).  You may have heard about SANCTUARY STATES (California, Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut)   Now, people are talking about SANCTUARY CHURCHES. That has been in the news recently.

Some churches are doing this.  Liberal activists are using the church to offer sanctuary to illegal’s who face deportation.[2]  There are eleven million illegal aliens in the US.  Are sanctuary churches biblical?  No. We are a nation of immigrants but we are also a nation of laws.  If our laws are unjust, we can work to change them.

Paul said in Romans 13 when we resist the government, we are resisting God and we should be afraid.  The Bible does not teach that it is okay to break the law.  We should not encourage others to break the law and we should not do so ourselves.  The whole concept of sanctuary cities comes out of the Bible.  It is based on the concept of cities of refuge that people could flee to for safety.

There is only one problem.  The only ones who could flee to those cities were people who killed someone accidentally.  If someone killed someone intentionally and deliberately, they could not flee to one of these cities.  In fact, God says in the Book of Exodus that murders were to be taken from the altar and executed (21:14).  That does not fit the situation of illegal aliens.  They did not just stumble across the border accidentally.  They came in deliberately and intentionally.

Church is not supposed to be a place where people are shielded from justice.  Church was not meant to be a place where you can go to and be safe after you break the law or commit a crime. There is no comparison between people who commit an accidental killing and people who come to the country illegally.  They break the law intentionally and deliberately.



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