Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 012

Leviticus 18:24-29

‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any ger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
What Does It Say?

The first half of Leviticus 18 deals with sins of a sexual nature, and the list is a doozy. After warning the Israelites not to be like the Egyptians of Canaanites, the Lord unloads the following  prohibitions:

1). No sex with those who are "near of kin."
2). No sex with your step-mom ("father's wife")
3). No sex with half-sisters (your father or mother's daughters)
4). No sex with your grandchildren (your son's daughter or daughter's daughter)
5). No sex with your aunt (father's sister or mother's sister)
6). No sex with your uncle or your uncle's wife (your father's brother or his wife)
7). No sex with your daughter-in-law
8). No sex with your sister-in-law (brother's wife)
9). No sex with a mother/daughter pair
10). No sex with a grandmother/granddaughter pair
11). No sex with a woman's sister while the woman is still alive.
12). No sex while a woman is menstruating
13). No adultery
14). No sacrificing your children/grandchildren (descendants) to Molech
15). No profaning the name of God
16). No gay sex (specifically, lying with a male as with a woman).
17). No beastiality
18). Also, no beastiality for women.

I'll just leave this here.
Now, there's plenty to unpack in that list (for example, homosexual sex is the only one of the above acts described as "an abomination," meaning it's worse than incest), not the least of which being that most of the above are wildly popular fetishes in our day. But there's two things that should stick out in our mind here:

1). This is all stuff that the Canaanites were doing on the regular. This should make us feel better about them getting wiped out.
2). All of this stuff is horrible enough in God's eyes that it justifies a genocide.

God says that these things are bad enough to cause the land, the earth itself to vomit a people out of it. And God implies that allowing resident aliens to engage in this behavior will bring the natives under the same judgement. These actions defile the land itself, whether performed by ger or natives.

So we see a further restriction of ger's "freedom of conscience." The ger are not free to perform their sexual abominations (or religious abominations, vis-a-vis child sacrifice) in the midst of God's people. This is not presented only as a violation of Divine Commandments, but as a violation of the natural order.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 011

Leviticus 17:8-16

“Also you shall say to them: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the ger who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from among his people. 
‘And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the ger who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’ Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any ger who dwells among you eat blood.’ 
“Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the ger who dwell among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust; for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.’ 
“And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a ger, he shall both wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Then he shall be clean. But if he does not wash them or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt.”

What Does It Say?

Leviticus 17 is mostly given over to laws concerning the shedding of animal blood. The earlier part of the chapter deals with God's command that all animals killed be brought to the tabernacle as a sacrifice. This is specifically mentioned as a means to prevent demon worship in verse 7.

I'm going to read into the text a bit, but the logic seems to be that you have to keep track of all the animals killed. If people are out killing animals however and whenever they want, it's a lot easier to offer sacrifice to a false god. But if everyone has to bring the dead animals to the tabernacle, it's harder to offer an animal as a burnt offering to Moloch or whoever.

This commandment (and all the further prohibitions dealing with animal blood) are extended to any ger living in the camp. And it's interesting that this law deals specifically with the camp and the tabernacle, meaning that it's a law that's specifically already in effect during the 40 years of wandering. This would imply that there are already ger living in the camp who are not native-born Israelis (certainly Moses' wife would be one).

Also of interest here is that these laws would prevent ger living among the Israelites from worshiping their gods with sacrifices. So whatever religious freedom would theoretically exist in Israel would not extend to animal sacrifice or consuming animal blood. It also does not exempt ger from cleanliness laws, such as the need to be ritually purified after touching the carcasses of animals that died of natural causes (verse 15-16).

These verses also seem to imply that circumcised ger still count as ger. After all, no uncircumcised male would be permitted to offer sacrifices to God at the tabernacle. So the fact that both the natives and ger are required to bring their sacrifices to the temple implies that ger with access to the tabernacle are still considered ger.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 010

Leviticus 16:29-31
“This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a ger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever."
What Does It Say?

Leviticus 16 deals with regulations for the Day of Atonement, perhaps the most sacred day in the Israeli religious calendar. This was the one day that the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the temple, in order to make sacrifice on behalf of the nation.

This day, the 10th day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar, was also a sabbath day regardless of what day of the week it fell. Unlike the other sabbath days, on the Day of Atonement the Israelis are commanded to "afflict [their] souls" in sorrow for the sins the High Priest is purifying them from.

It is also in this passage where we first see religious obligations being explicitly put on foreign nationals dwelling in the land. While Passover was extended to any ger who was willing to have their whole household circumcised and the Sabbaths were extended to all who were part of an Israeli household, observance of the Day of Atonement is required for every person in the land.

Unlike the Passover, it is not limited to the circumcised. It is required of any person who is in Israel. The verb translated as "dwells among" is guwr and includes the sense of temporary living conditions (Elijah guwr with the widow in 1 Kings 17, for example). So a ger who is guwr-ing in the area is a temporary resident.

So regardless what else the Bible says about foreign nationals, requiring respect for local religious festivals from non-believers is on the table.

Next: Leviticus 17

Monday, May 28, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 009

Exodus 23:10-13

“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant (amah) and the ger may be refreshed.
“And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth."

What Does It Say?

Our next mention of ger is in the same chapter, this time in a list of Sabbath regulations. This Sabbath passage also gives a reason for resting, in this case, to give all of your property and workers a chance to be refreshed. The idea of the Sabbath is also extended to allowing your fields to lie fallow every seventh year, something which the Israelites evidently did not follow and which God brought judgement on them for (2 Chron. 36:20-21).

This passage shows us that there is concern for the ethical treatment of amah and ger in the Law. The Sabbath is not supposed to be about self-denial in the way that a fast is. We're supposed to stress out over a million details on what is and isn't allowed, and we're not supposed to lay motionless in the dark for 24 hours. It's a chance to be refreshed, and to give all those we are responsible for a chance to be refreshed and reinvigotated.

This is nothing groundbreaking in our understanding of ger, but it shows that their existence in Israel is assumed in the law before the children of Israel have even entered the promised land.

Next: Leviticus 16

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 008

Exodus 23:1-9
“You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute.
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.
“You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute. Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.
“Also you shall not oppress a ger, for you know the heart of a ger, because you were ger in the land of Egypt.

What Does It Say?

Exodus 23 also has list of miscellaneous commandments, but they are something of a mirror to Exodus 22. While Exodus 22 deals with not oppressing the poor, Exodus 23 instructs us not to oppress others on behalf of the poor.

There are two passages here the deal with this explicitly; "You shall not show partiality (hadar) to a poor man in his dispute" and  "You shall not pervert (natah) the judgment of your poor in his dispute." This ties in with the idea of being an honest witness and not perverting justice in the earlier verses.

The verb hadar means "to honor," so the idea is not to show undue consideration for the poor when rendering judgement. Don't show them favorable treatment due to their poverty, judge rightly. Natah means "to stretch," so the idea is not to stretch the case (we might say 'stretch the truth' or 'stretch the law') in order to render a favorable judgement for a poor man.
No. Just, no

There are many Bible verses that instruct us not to oppress the poor; indeed, there are many that instruct us to actively help them. And while it is a good thing to give of your own wealth to help the poor, some people try to make the Bible into a Marxist text, where the rich are always villains and the poor are always noble.

But we are forbidden to pervert justice in favor of the poor. We are not to rob the rich to help the poor. We are not to lie about the rich to help the poor. While in this world justice is often tipped in favor of the rich and powerful, in the West we're just as likely to unjustly punish the rich (or even the financially stable) just for being rich (or financially stable).

Justice is Justice, and it is the right of the poor, the rich, and everyone in between. It is owed to us as  individuals, not as social groups. And while that doesn't relate directly to ger, it does inform our treatment of them: do not to tip justice in favor of ger just because some of them are poor or vulnerable.

The verse dealing with the ger here is almost identical to the Exodus 22 passage, but it goes further. Exodus 22 is a bit "tit for tat" - don't oppress the ger because you were ger in Egypt. Exodus 23 takes it a step further: don't oppress the ger because you know the heart of the ger. You can sympathize, you know what it's like, you know that feel.

Ancient Israelis, comforting a ger in their midst.

In the Bible, God tends to repeat the stuff that's most important. That's part of the reason why we get four Gospels instead of one. So the fact that we get a second appearance of an almost identical commandment reinforces the importance of not oppressing the ger. Just don't do it. Even if we aren't supposed to oppress people in favor of the ger, treating them fairly shows our heart. It's a matter of our identity as people who know what it's like to be strangers in a strange land.

I'm going to preview some New Testament stuff here, but in a spiritual sense, the Church is the New Israel. We too know what it's like to be ger, strangers and wanderers in a world that hates us. We know the heart of the ger, and this should guide us in our treatment of ger.

Next: Exodus 23:10-13

Monday, May 21, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 007

Exodus 22:21-27

“You shall neither mistreat a ger nor oppress him, for you were ger in the land of Egypt.

“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

“If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious.

What Does It Say?

Today's ger passage comes in a list of miscellaneous laws that govern how the Israelites were to treat the weak and at-risk. Unlike many Old Testament commandments, these come with explicit reasons for why God gives them as laws. I've included the commandments on widows, orphans, and debtors so you can see the logic at work in those similar situations.

God says that the Israelites are not to mistreat or oppress ger, for they themselves know what it is like to be mistreated and oppressed ger. The word used here for 'mistreat,' yanah, can also be used to mean 'destroy' and has a sense of physical violence (although it is in some places translated as 'oppress', eg. Lev 25:14). The word translated as 'oppress,' lachats, can also mean to literally press (Num 22:25).

So we can understand this to mean that we are not to commit oppressive violence against outsiders. The picture is that of what Egypt did to Israel - to enslave, oppress, and physically harm (for example, by killing all the firstborn males).

Along with slavery and genocide, the
Egyptians were also known for their
offensive Halloween costumes
This passage shows us that ger are considered a protected class in Israel, presumably because they are so vulnerable. The lives of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and their descendants are full of examples of their vulnerability as foreigners living in someone else's country.

Even under the old law, we are not supposed to take advantage of foreigners or treat them with oppressive violence of the sort Egypt treated the Israelis with.

Now, we might take a second to remember God is talking about actual violence and exploitation here. There is no concept of microaggressions or stare-rape here. If it's not on the same level as what the Egyptians did to the Israelis (enslaving and attempting to genocide an ethnic minority), then it's outside of the scope of the passage.

I'll leave the question of whether or not the modern state of Israel is violating this command in their treatment of the Palestinians as an exercise for the reader.

Next: Exodus 23

Friday, May 18, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 006

Exodus 20:8-11
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant (ebed), nor your female servant (amah), nor your cattle, nor your stranger (ger) who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."

What Does It Say?

This passage is of course from the Ten Commandments and is the only commandment that deals with foreigners. In short, all who were in the land and attached to an Israeli household were required to keep the Sabbath. This extends not only to ebed (the kinda-sorta slaves) and any foreign nationals staying with an Israeli family, but also to any animals owned by the Israeli household.

Also, bear in mind that the "your"s in this passage are inferred - that is to say, they are added to the text to make it more readable in English. So what we read as:
"you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your ebed, nor your amah, nor your cattle, nor your ger who is within your gates"

Originally reads:
"son, daughter, ebed, amah, cattle, ger gate"
And if you're wondering why I left out "you" from the original, it's because the Hebrew word for "you" (את at, but it depends on gender/number) doesn't appear in the text. It's implies by the context, but Hebrew doesn't require an explicit subject here.

All of that is to say, the text would be ambiguous as to if this is your stranger or not. In my (still limited) opinion, it could refer to any ger in your gates (as we might say, under your roof), whether they are a member of your household. This sheds an interesting light on Jewish customs like the Shabbas Goy, the non-Jew hired to do simple tasks Jews are forbidden to do on the Sabbath.

Now, if you ask three Rabbis what type of work Shabbas Goy are allowed to do you'll get five answers, but in my conversations with observant Jews, Shabbas Goy are used for simple tasks like turning on light switches and so on.

At any rate, we meet our old friends ebed and ger in this passage, but we also find amah. Amah is basically a female version of ebed, a female kinda-sorta slave. For example, Sarah's slave Hagar is called amah in Genesis 21. There is, however, an idea that Israeli women can become amah, for example Exodus 21:7.

Again we see that non-Israelis who are part of an Israeli household are required to live by aspects of the Law, like previous passages requiring circumcision for ebed. This again leans against religious plurality as being sanctioned in Scripture.