Monday, May 7, 2018

Strangers In The Land: What the Bible Says About Immigration (Ger 001)

What does the Bible say about immigration? About immigrants? How should Christians approach the issue?

How some people see Deuteronomy 32:8
Frankly, I don't know. Now, I do know what most Christian "leaders" say we should do. Usually, it's some variant on "blah blah blah Mary and Joseph were refugees, blah blah blah Jesus hates borders." It's a position founded on nothing more than half-remembered Bible verses twisted to support Globalism.

Of course, I also know what many Alt-Right Christians say. It's usually some variant on "blah blah blah God created nations blah blah blah black people have the mark of Cain."

As with most Bible debates, both sides are cherry picking verses and flinging them at each other like they were playing Rock, Paper, Scissors. "John 3:16 beats 1 Peter 1:2, but Romans 9:13 beats John 3:16! Yahtzee!" There's no systematic examination of everything the Bible has to say. So just like our study of the plēroō passages, we're going to do a deep dive and look at every single verse about foreigners and what they have to say.

We're also going to do things a little different this time. In the plēroō study I had already read all the relevant passages and thought through the whole issue before I started writing. This time, you're going to see how the sausage gets made as I make new theories and refine them as we move forward.

The first word we're going to go through is the Hebrew Ger. Here's what Strong's has to say about it:

גֵּר gêr, gare; or (fully) geyr (gare); from H1481; properly, a guest; by implication, a foreigner:—alien, sojourner, stranger.
Now just because that's how Strong's defines it doesn't mean we'll be blindly following that definition. We'll compare it with the texts to make sure it holds up.

The first passage where Ger shows up is in Genesis 15:

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” 
But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” 
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 
And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” 
And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” 
So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 
Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers [ger] in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."
Egyptians celebrating diversity.
Our look at ger starts with a gloomy passage. Abram (later Abraham) is shown a vision of his descendant's future "and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him." Horror and great darkness are generally not what you want to see when God shows you your family's future!

So our first usage of ger definitely has a negative context - not just for the host country, but for the immigrants as well. The Jews, as strangers in a land that is not theirs, will be afflicted slaves subject to the will of a people who bear them no love.

God gives no indication here that being a stranger in another people's land is a good thing. Abram desires his own land. He asks how he can know that he will inherit his own land, not how he can move to Egypt and serve the Egyptians.

Now the situation with Egypt and Israel has some historically unique things that don't apply in all situations. But we do get a sense that being a stranger is difficult and leaves you vulnerable. I think there are many contemporary immigrants who have been taken advantage of in various ways.

When you are a stranger in the land, you have very little protection from the dominant culture. You don't know the language or the law in the same way a native does. And there will always be someone willing to take advantage of that.

So we start with a cautionary tale - being an immigrant, a stranger, is not an easy thing and not something to be desired for its own sake. It can be a "horror and great darkness."

Next: Genesis 23

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