As we discussed last time, Exodus 12 gives us a variety of different types of non-Israelis. In this post, we're going to speculate on what this variety tells us about what the Bible says about immigration. Let's start by briefly reviewing the different Hebrew words used:
Ben - roughly, "outsider." In Exodus 12, it refers to 'those outside of Israel', but in other passages it can refer to those who are outside of a particular tribe. Basically, anyone who is not part of a given group is ben to those inside the group. Does not refer exclusively to those outside an ethnicity.
Ebed - a purchased human being whose role is between a servant and a slave. Considered part of a household and must be circumcised. Assumed to be non-Israeli.
Sakiyr - a hired servant who is paid wages. Not considered part of a household and does not have to be circumcised. Assumed to be non-Israeli.
Towshab - a temporary non-native resident. Not part of a household, not circumcised. Most sakiyr would also be towshab.
Ger - non-native residents. Ger who want to be circumcised can be circumcised and celebrate the Passover. Ger who do this will be under "one law" with the native-born.
This passage shows us the differences between the various types of non-Israelis in ancient Israel and is an important Rosetta stone for unlocking the meaning of future texts.
Exodus here assumes that there will be some number of non-Israelis living in the land. It assumes that some of them will be slaves and some will be workers paid a wage. It assumes some will be temporary residents who will return to their homelands and some point and that some will be long term residents. It assumes that some will adopt the religion and customs of the Jews and that some will not.
So we already so indications of the direction that the Bible is going to go on issues like immigration, migrant labor, freedom of religion (for non-natives working and living temporarily in the land), and naturalization. These ideas are here in seed form; we'll have to wait to see how they develop in the rest of Scripture.
Interestingly, there's nothing here that implies migrant laborers are bad or unacceptable. In fact, it's assumed that some number of them will be present in the new nation. Of course, it also assumes some level of human trafficking and that any slaves purchased will be forcibly circumcised and by extension forced to abide by Jewish religious law.
It implies that some ger will become fully naturalized citizens ("one law"), although it's a bit ambiguous at this point. We should wait and see how other verses treat the ger and if there's any evidence that circumcised ger are treated as second class citizens or otherwise unequal from ethnic Israelis.
One thing that it does not say is if towshab are allowed to practice their own religions (pray, make sacrifices, own idols) while living in Israel. I would assume the answer is 'no,' but I'm going to wait until we see a verse that specifically says that.
Next: Exodus 18
Next: Exodus 18