Hoorah for Bible Study
In the midst of the current discussion on immigration, I’ve been somewhat surprised by the various attempts to appeal to Scripture to support the different positions. Of course, Jeff Sessions citing Romans 13 (obey the government) as defense of the child separation policy was parried by MSNBC, CNN, Colbert, and other media outlets/personalities responding with other passages. I am heartened by the sudden interest in Bible study.
I’ve also seen Christians citing Leviticus 19:33-34, “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” There’ve been plenty of meme-ifications of this (and other similar texts). Ironically, the same people who tell us Leviticus is outdated in its views on homosexuality, suddenly want it to be authoritative in how we treat “strangers/immigrants.” So, kids, pay close attention. It’s like playing tag with that one kid in elementary school who always wanted to change where and what “base” was based on his proximity to it.
One Law For Citizen & Stranger
Let’s consider this text then, shall we? Indeed, the mandate here (cf. Exo 22:21) is that a stranger sojourning in the land of Israel was to be treated fairly. Likely, what is in view here is a prohibition of enslaving or otherwise exploiting the strangers in the land. The Lord reemphasizes the “love thy neighbor” command, which means we ought to view all mankind charitably and with equal fairness. There is no room for ethnic hatred or prejudice in the Levitical law, and the Israelites were forbidden from mistreating strangers.
However, they were also prohibited from allowing the strangers’ cultural standards and ultimately their false gods to in any way influence Israelite culture, laws, and religion. If we look forward a couple of chapters there is another law in regards to immigrants, “Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God (Lev. 24:22).”
Now, the context for this ordinance is interesting. A young man whose mother was an Israelite, and whose father was an Egyptian had blasphemed the LORD (Lev. 24:11), and the elders petitioned Moses to ask what the Lord’s will was on this matter. The verdict returned that the young man should be stoned for His blasphemy (Lev. 24:14). Which led to the clarifying statement of Lev. 24:22, a stranger, immigrant, or half-Jew living in Israel was bound to obey Israel’s laws, and acknowledge Israel’s God. This meant that a stranger would not be allowed to break the Sabbath (Lev. 25:6), if he wanted to observe Passover he would need to fulfill certain legal requirements *cough cough* circumcision (Num 9:14 & Ex. 12:48), and as we see in Lev. 24 a stranger could be sentenced to death for blasphemy and by implication any other capital crimes described in the Mosaic law.
What this cashes out to is that the Lord loves equal weights and measures (Pro. 20:23). A stranger coming into national Israel is to be shown neighborly love, and will be held responsible to follow Israelite law. Further, it should be noted that this also presumes a clear distinction between citizen and stranger. This is not a bad thing, just like a father should be clear on which children are his, and which aren’t. I’m responsible to feed and clothe my children, but I’m not responsible to feed and clothe yours. This isn’t cold-hearted. It makes it clear where my focus needs to be. That said, a God-fearing man will also look with compassion on the naked, and clothe them, on the hungry and feed them. This is on top of his first obligations. I shouldn’t starve my children in order to check some social justice box. But I should labor to have abundance, in order to be a defender of the poor and weak, and to relieve the suffering of the hungry and destitute.
Immigration into Israel meant that the stranger would need to abide by God’s law which was given to Moses. It meant he would need to acknowledge that he was bound to obey Israel’s laws, but also acknowledge the One True God which the Mosaic Law presumes, “I am the LORD thy God (Ex. 20:2).” If he wanted to participate in the religious ceremonies and enjoy the cultural blessings of Israel he would need to be circumcised, along with his whole household.
But, but, but, the New Testament
Now…a common objection, after spending so much time in Leviticus, is, “But, now in the New Testament age, we aren’t under law, but under grace.” We must not forget that Old Testament law was not abrogated with the coming of Christ, it was fulfilled. Further, it was made plain that law keeping would never be the means of earning salvation. God’s Law, however, was in itself a grace which restrained the wickedness of man and preserved the righteous. Grace has a backbone. Grace doesn’t coddle us, it covers us.
We should keep it quite clear that earthly government (civil laws, family rules, business protocols) all are still perfectly acceptable so long as we acknowledge that these do not earn us favor with God. However, we should model our earthly laws after the law of God revealed to Israel. On top of it all, we must remember that mercy triumphs over judgement.
Say you find that I’ve broken into your house, and, when confronted, I request that you house and feed me. You need a lot of information to make such a decision, and that decision takes time; you’ll need to know you’ll be permanently supporting me, why I am in need of housing and food in the first place, will I pay rent, do I have a criminal history. While you’re tracking all that info down, do you mind if I help myself to your fridge? Now, what does mercy look like in that scenario? What does mercy to your spouse and children look like in that situation?
False gods Give False Laws
Remember, a stranger in the land is bound to the laws––and ultimately the God––of that nation. We must further remember that the sword of justice is given into the hand of the magistrate, but the ministry of grace, mercy, and peace to the church. Because we have come to worship the demos and the almighty State, we think that it is the government’s duty to show mercy and charity. Sorry cupcake…that’s not the government’s calling.
Part of the confusion we currently have at the border is as a result of worshipping false gods. If we would return to the true and only God we would acknowledge that immigrants would be obliged to submit to a government which itself acknowledged the Lord Jesus Christ as above all earthly powers. Of course, we should never mistreat strangers, but we must also remember that Leviticus requires us to punish strangers/immigrants who break the righteous laws of our nation. This isn’t hard-hearted, this is mercy and justice in action. Again, three cheers for Bible Study…thanks Jeff Sessions.