Monday, May 21, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 008

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

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