In the wake of Obama’s executive orders on Immigration and all of the outcry and fallout from it, I wondered exactly what the Bible instructs us on the issue of immigration. The issue is even more critical now in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis. I know many Christians who are urging the government not to allow Syrian refugees into the country.
But, if Christians are to be instructed by the Word of God, what would that instruction be? I took the time to study it, and the answer surprised me in its clarity.
I did a simple word search in the New American Standard (NASB) version of the Bible. There were 36 times that words in the Old and New Testaments were translated as “stranger” (non-citizen, immigrant). The word was often accompanied by the word, “sojourner”. Determining the Biblical view of dealing with strangers among us was simple and easy, and the picture that appears is perfectly clear and consistent. It could not be more obvious.
The Israelites were instructed in the Old Testament not to wrong or oppress the strangers in the land; they were reminded that they were once strangers in Egypt. (Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; Zech. 7:10) Strangers were listed with orphans and widows as people to whom compassion is due. (Jer. 22:3) They were instructed to leave fallen fruit for the needy and the strangers. (Lev. 19:10) A portion of the required tithes were to be given to the priests, orphans & widows… and strangers. (Deut. 26:12)
Strangers were consistently listed with widows, orphans and even with priests as people to whom compassion should be shown. In fact, men who killed orphans, widows and strangers were considered evil. (Ps. 94:6)
Strangers sojourning among the Israelites were equal under the law to the natives. (Exodus 12:49; 23:12) The same standards applied to both natives and strangers. (Lev. 24:22) Even cities of refuge were for natives and strangers alike. (Josh. 20:9) Strangers were to be treated as natives, and Israelites were instructed to love strangers as themselves. (Lev. 19:34)
Does that ring a bell? Jesus told the disciples to love each other. (John 13:34-35 & 15:12) He also told them that we are to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), even if they are Samaritans (different than us). (Luke 10:25-37) He even went further, and instructed us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus was not really introducing anything new when he said we need love our neighbors, even our enemies. He was drawing from the Old Testament. It was there in the fabric of the Old Testament, and (most significantly) the idea of loving our neighbors was introduced originally in the context of strangers sojourning among them.
Strangers sojourning in the nation of Israel were even allowed to celebrate the Passover with the Israelites, providing they agreed to become circumcised. At that point, they were considered “like a native”. (Exodus 12:48) The Passover, of course, is celebrated to remember God passing over the houses of the Israelites as God brought plagues on the Egyptians to compel Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt where they had been forced into servitude and oppressed.
The entire fabric of the Bible reveals that people of God should have a close affinity with strangers, immigrants. The people of God have always considered themselves strangers in the earth. (Ps. 119:19; Jer. 14:8) Abraham was a stranger and a sojourner in the Promised Land (Gen. 23:4); Moses was a sojourner in Midian (Ex. 2:22); and the Israelites lived temporarily in Egypt and in the wilderness.
The same theme is continued in the New Testament. Peter calls believers “aliens and strangers” in this world. (1 Pet. 2:11) Jesus tells us we need to be born again to see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3) We need to be born of the spirit. At that point, we become strangers in this world, just passing through.
Most importantly, Jesus provides us clear instruction on the issue of immigration in the famous parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus says The Father will bless those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, healed the sick and invited in and clothed the strangers. (Matt. 25:31-36) More pointedly, Jesus said, “[W]hatever you did for the least of these [including strangers], you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40)
There is something in the way that we treat other people, including the strangers among us, that is directly connected to our relationship with God. “The one who loves his brother abides in the Light…. [and] the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 1:10-11)
We may be blinded on the immigration issue. In fact, I would go as far as to say that we are blinded on the issue of immigration if we are not in favor of a compassionate response to the immigration problem in the US. If we want to be considered a Christian nation, we will welcome and love the immigrants who come to us. I do not see that we have any other choice if we want to follow the instruction of the Bible and to follow Jesus on this subject.
Regardless of the way our government or other people we know think about the subject, Christians, of all people, should be in favor of loving our foreign brothers and sisters and doing for them as we would want them to do for us.
For a lawyer’s take on the executive orders announced by President Obama, read this: http://gji.org/blog/view-from-a-lawyer-on-obamas-immigration-action/