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


  1. Just started reading this series. I'm curious what you have to say. Regarding that cartoon and Deut. 32:8, by the way, I'm at least somewhat in tune with the alt-right, and I'm not aware of any who say that nations never change and new nations never emerge. What I've heard said regarding the Bible, and what I agree with, is that the Bible says that God divided the nations (which corresponds more to what we would call "ethnic groups" than nation-states), that the Bible talks about them being in existence all the way through to the end in Revelations, and therefore anyone who deliberately intends to end national (ethnic) distinctions should be viewed with profound suspicion.

    I'm very curious what you will say when you get to Deuteronomy 28. But I suppose I shall have to wait for that.

    1. What you've described is a fair summary of a common Alt-Right Christian perspective.

      Deuteronomy 32 is fairly down the pipe for me since it's not a ger passage, but it's worth taking a peek at. Here's verses 7-9:

      “Remember the days of old,
      Consider the years of many generations.
      Ask your father, and he will show you;
      Your elders, and they will tell you:
      When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations,
      When He separated the sons of Adam,
      He set the boundaries of the peoples
      According to the number of the children of Israel.
      For the Lord’s portion is His people;
      Jacob is the place of His inheritance."

      Deuteronomy 32 is about the borders of the tribes of Israel, not the division of nations after Babel. How did God set the boundaries? Not according to the number of nations, but "according to the number of the children of Israel." And if you push on downwards to verse 10 and beyond, it's clear that it's Jacob (the Israelites) that is in view.

      You've got a better chance arguing from Acts 17:26-28:

      "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’"

      Now the idea that the times and borders of the various nations/ethnic groups are divinely appointed is 100% biblical. It is after all God that exterminates the wicked Canaanites from the land for their sins, sets the borders of Israel, and then drives the Israelites out of the land for the exact same sins.

      But as those same examples show, the existence of any given ethnic group is not permanent. They rise up and are exterminated in accordance with the times God has set.

      So is intentionally mixing ethnic groups treated as a sin in the Bible? Unless the result is drawing people into the worship of false gods, no.

      However, it's worth remembering that foreigners inheriting your land and fortune is treated as a curse in the Bible, so intentionally overwhelming your country with foreigners is like intentionally breeding a plague of locusts: not an explicitly listed sin, but why the hell would you do it?

      So to sum up, nations/ethnic groups are not static categories, and anyone who tries to end the existence of your ethnic group is trying to bring a curse upon you. React accordingly.

    2. Oh, when I was talking about God dividing the nations I was referring to way back in Genesis with the Tower of Babel. Even if you don't read Genesis literally (not a huge problem with that), it still says that the divisions of humanity into races and language groups is the work of God, and to invert Jesus' words, what God has divided, let no man join together. (In this case, as a moral injunction, I would make that against the erasure of national distinctions via globalism, not individual choice of mates.)

    3. In that case, I think we have to acknowledge that "the nations" have changed significantly since Babel, with various groups splitting off from others and other groups being destroyed entirely. So if the idea is that the nations established at Babel will remain unchanged until the end of time, then it's just false on its face. Even in Genesis, we see groups splitting off into new nations after Babel, not the least of which is Israel.

      Now, if you just mean that various nations and languages will continue to exist until the end, that's much more likely. Depending on which interpretation of the End Times you want to go with, it does seem likely that there will be an Anti-Christ One World Government in the end. Of course, it also means that when the nations are brought under one formal government, it will be a very bad thing indeed.

      At the same time, we know from Daniel that Christ is the Rock that will smash the nations of men and set up the Kingdom with no end. But that won't be a formal, visible political entity until He physically returns to rule.

      As with all things in the Bible, we need to apply wisdom. I've seen nothing in the Old or New Testament that would completely disallow people moving between nations. At the same time, the One World, One Government, One Religion movement is openly Anti-Christ, so we don't need to resort to deep theological strategem to condemn it.

    4. Noticed you said this: In this case, as a moral injunction, I would make that against the erasure of national distinctions via globalism, not individual choice of mates.

      That clears up where you're coming from. Yes, Satan wants to put all humans under his thumb, and one of his stratagems is to put us under an Anti-Christ world government. Breaking down the individuality of cultures is laying the groundwork for that.

      I am, as always, spergy about details here.