Kingdom Life: The Alien

July 16, 2012 — 4 Comments

KingdomLife2

Kingdom Life: The Alien

Preface. The Bible was not written to 21st century Americans. Don’t get me wrong; it was written for us, just not to us. The Scriptures had their own initial audience, their own culture, their own language, etc. If we truly want a high view of Scripture, we must ask not only, “What does the Bible say?” but also “What did it say to those to whom it was written?”

Sometimes, understanding the context changes everything. Other times, the context affects little. The rest of this post will examine what the Scriptures says about foreigners and aliens (immigrants, not extra-terrestrials). It turns out that the context is fairly important in that discussion, so lets lay some groundwork.

Aliens in Israel. The first thing to note is that travel in Biblical times was exceedingly dangerous. There were no modern roads, modern lights, hotels, police, etc. People did not normally emigrate except in great times of peril. Most examples of emigration in Scripture were due to famine or war. Those displaced by such events faced grave peril in lands of unfamiliar tongues. They were usually poor. They were usually uneducated.

God’s Vision for Israel. Everyone knows that God chose the nation of Israel. Indeed, Israel is commonly referred to as “The Chosen People”. But what exactly did their being “chosen” actually mean?

Three key texts illustrate God’s purpose in choosing Israel.

1. Genesis 12:1-3

"I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;  and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

God chose and blessed Abraham, not only for Abraham’s sake, but for the sake all peoples. Abraham was to be a conduit of blessing for the whole world.


2. Exodus 19:4-6

"Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."

Here again, we see that God blessed one nation in order to bless every nation. They were to be ‘a kingdom of priests’ mediating God’s presence and blessing to the world—that is what priests do.


3. Ezekiel 5:5

[The LORD said,] “this is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.”

Meditate on this verse for a moment… It was no accident that Jerusalem was established right smack in the middle of the known world. God didn’t choose a people on some remote island; He didn’t choose a people in a far corner of the Earth. God’s primary goal for Israel could not have been her internal purity and faithfulness, or He certainly would have planted her somewhere else–somewhere less exposed. God planted Israel in Pagan Central, on the trade routes between every major world empire. But Why?

We have already seen the answer! Israel was to be a kingdom of priests. They were to be a catalyst for good. They were to be a conduit of blessing to the whole world.

Emigration in the OT. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that God’s law is full of instructions about being kind to foreigners. Let me offer a blended quote:

God said, “Israel, do not harm foreigners in your land. Treat them as natives among you. Love them as yourselvesLev19:33 Don’t oppress themEx22:21 because I will judge those who thrust aside the foreigners and hired workers.Mal3:5 Cursed is everyone who denies them justice!Deut27:19 Show them kindness and mercyZech7:9 and give them an inheritance of land, treating them as nativesEzek47:22 because I love them.Duet10:18

But Israel disobeyed. Israel oppressed foreigners. Israel perverted justice and took advantage of them. So God spoke to Judah through Jeremiah and said (my paraphrase), “Get your act together or I’m going to send you into exile. Stop oppressing the foreigners, the fatherless, and the widows, or I will make you like them–I will make you foreigners in a land you do not know.”Jer7:4-10

But Judah did not repent, so God sent her into exile.

Emigration Today. Now we can ask, how does American immigration compare with immigration in Israel? What Biblical principles apply to our situation?

Like Israel, we receives many immigrants. The most notable difference in our case is that a large portion of our immigrants are highly educated and wealthy. We receive many doctors and scientists from other nations. For example, 68% of Ghanaian doctors have moved to America or other wealthy nations. As a result, America has 10 times more doctors per capita than Ghana. America receives highly educated immigrants from over the world.

We do have poor immigrants as well, however, as Israel did, but most of them are here illegally. The reason for this is that poor and destitute workers have a much more difficult time receiving citizenship in America. Our system is biased toward the wealthy and educated.

God’s Law forbid that Israel should oppress foreigners, especially the weak and defenseless, but that is exactly what we are doing as a nation. We marginalize the poor and uneducated foreigners, forcing them into ghettos where we deny them justice. They cannot work legally, so many of them work at less than minimum wage. They do not receive equitable health care, nor can they go to the police, for fear of deportation. It should be no surprise, then, that crime spreads among immigrants; crime always thrives where the rule of law is denied.

Conclusion. God called Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation—to be a conduit of blessing to every nation. In the New Testament, this exact same call was applied to the Church.1Pet2:9 Now all believers are called to be conduits of blessing to the nations,Rev1:6 just as Israel was called to do. We ought to love immigrants, treating them as natives, just as Israel was required to do. Any law that oppresses aliens is an unjust law. God’s law pulls rank over the laws of men. Judah was delivered into exile because they oppressed immigrants. Now, America is not Israel. We are not a chosen nation ruled by God. Nevertheless, Israel’s exile at least demonstrates the seriousness with which God considers this issue. God is passionate about the foreigners among us. His Church within America is responsible to extend his love and care to the aliens He sends to our land.

Aliensquote

We are members of a New Kingdom—a heavenly one. Indeed, we ourselves will soon be invited into a new Country. God will invite us, aliens and strangers though we rightfully are, into his kingdom–his new Earth. He will not relegate us to ghettos; He will not turn us away. We ought to emulate him now, giving justice to the foreigners among us,

Because redemption affects everything.Red_Icon_Small_clear

Gerin St. Claire

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I know that nothing good lives in me--that is, in my sinful nature. Yet I am being transformed into his likeness. It is by grace I have been saved.

4 responses to Kingdom Life: The Alien

  1. Victor Labrada July 17, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    Great post. http://www.undocumented.tv is a great resource for discussing these issues as well.

  2. Joseph McDaniels July 17, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    I’m glad to see that this is becoming more of a relevant issue in the minds of Christians. It’s an important issue with which we have to take great care, for it has many nuances.

    One of these which has come to my attention recently, is the difference between the “alien” and the “foreigner”. James K. Hoffemeir (TEDS) in his book “The Immigration Crisis” – which I’m in the middle of – discusses the difference between the word ‘ger’ and the words ‘nekhar’ and ‘zar’, translated ‘alien’ and ‘foreigner’, ‘stranger’, respectively. Hoffmeier argues that the two sets of terms are distinct, and should not be confused with one another. In the OT law that was cited in this article, the term used is ‘ger’ which denotes a person who is a permanent, settled resident in Israel who is beholden to the law and has access to the social benefits of the society. However, the other two terms are not used when referring to the protections, benefits or responsibilities cited in your post above. The terms ‘nekhar’ and ‘zar’ often translate ‘foreigner’ (they are roughly synonymous, says Hoffmeier) and often refer to someone who is staying in the land temporarily, like a businessman, merchant or mercenary. These terms are also used for invading armies. None of the scriptures cited above include ‘nekhar’ or ‘zar’. So the question then becomes, does immigration here in the United States parallel that of OT Israel in the manner you describe if the laws and protections were afforded only to those in good standing with Israel’s legal system? In other words, do the protections afforded the ‘ger’ in Israel apply to undocumented Americans and immigrants? If not, what then should inform our treatment of them, and how should those principles be reflected in our immigration laws?

  3. Good distinction Joseph! I’d love to hear other peoples thoughts here.

    The NET translated ‘ger’ as a ‘resident foreigner’ and I think that captures it well. It was used of anyone who permanently settled in a new area. It was used, for example, of Moses while he was a resident alien in Midian.(Ex2:22) That definition would seem to apply to most illegal immigrants in America.

    The trouble is that the Bible had no concept of illegal immigration, because there weren’t ‘nation states’ in the modern sense; there were no laws against immigration. I do think, however, that the ‘ger’ laws (together with the texts about Israel’s mission) demonstrate conclusively that God is passionate about protecting the weak and destitute–the aliens who came to Israel were accepted as ‘ger’s and protected.

    • Joseph McDaniels July 31, 2012 at 3:15 PM

      Gerin,

      While it’s true that there were not nation-states as we conceive of them today, that does not mean that there were not distinct geographical boundaries to territories that were governed by kings or other political structures. Just look at the book of Joshua where God lays out the borders of Israel with incredible detail. Other nations had distinct boundaries as well. And there were controls on immigration, too. Egyptians had fortress-type buildings at strategic points along the border with present-day Palestine which regulated the number of … basically guest workers that were allowed in per day. Hoffemeier lays out a lot of this in his book. I would recommend it.

      Joseph