Thursday, August 4, 2011
Christians and Immigration Part Two - The Old Testament (pt.2)
Christians and Immigration - Introduction
Christians and Immigration Part One - The Old Testament (pt.1)
In the introductory post we briefly examined some of the cultural issues and points regarding immigration today. The second post examined briefly the many migration accounts recorded in the pages of the Old Testament as well as the point that all of humanity bears the image of God and thus are endowed with a certain dignity and respect that is demanded of others. In this third post we will continue to look at the Old Testament to see if anything else in it can be brought to bear on the issue of immigration. We will specifically look at the Old Testament Law in this post. Again, I am relying on the work of M. Daniel Carroll R., "Christians at the the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible."
In the ancient world hospitality played a vital role. M. Daniel Carroll R. points this out when he writes: "The cultures of the ancient Near East responded to these needs [of travelers] with shared conventions of hospitality toward the stranger. There were protocols and expectations for the host to be openhanded and for the visitors not to abuse their welcome" (p.92). We see this played out in the pages of the Old Testament as well. One example is found regarding Abraham in Genesis 18. In this account three strangers appear before Abraham's tent and he offers them refreshment before they continue on their journey. Another example involves the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17. Elijah stays at the house of a poor widow in the region of Zarephath and she provides food for him. Some other examples can be found in Genesis 24, Exodus 2, Judges 19, and 2 Kings 4. All of these accounts point out the same truth: hospitality to the stranger is considered a virtue. Hospitality to the stranger can be viewed as a sign of integrity (Job 31:32). Hospitality to the stranger can also be a sign of true faith in God (Isa. 58:6-7). Also, we cannot neglect Psalm 23. In this Psalm one witnesses the custom of hospitality. M. Daniel Carroll R. summarizes the importance of this when he says: "It is no wonder, then, that this same charitable spirit and material sharing are expected to characterize the people of God.Whatever might have been the common cultural impulse to be hospitable to the stranger in ancient times is here given a more profound motivation. To be hospitable is to imitate God" (p. 94, emphasis added).
What are the implications this for our discussion? In the US this is an important issue. It is nothing new for someone to state that our culture is very individualistic in nature. This will affect how one views and carries out hospitality in our culture. In our culture of busyness, familial needs and concerns, workaholism, etc., we must be able to leave margins so that we can slow down enough to open our home and life to another, even if that person is of another culture. M. Daniel Carroll R. puts it succinctly when he writes: "To cling to a chosen lifestyle and schedule, define parameters of a neighborhood, and monopolize time just for oneself and one's family to the exclusion of the stranger--any stranger--might be rebellion against God and an ignoring of something dear to him" (p. 94). This is a challenge for both individual Christians and Christian communities.
There are also implications for the recipient as well. The recipients are to conduct themselves in such a manner that they do not abuse the hospitality shown them from another, whether it is a person or a culture.
Hospitality has a "two-way," or reciprocal, aspect to it for both the host and the recipient.
The Alien, Sojourner, Stranger and the OT Law
The Hebrew word ger appears often in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible). This word has been translated as "alien," "sojourner," and "stranger." Sojourner, or immigrants, had many challenges upon entering into a new culture or land. This meant that in most cases they left behind their network of kinship. This means that often the sojourner was without the help that an extended family could offer. In light of this the sojourner would be reliant upon the host culture for "work, provision, and protection" (p. 103). One such OT Law shows how the Israelites were instructed by God to provide for the sojourner or alien. According to Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19-22, whenever an Israelite was gleaning their harvest they were to leave the edges of the field unharvested. The untouched harvest was specifically left to provide food for those who had none, particularly the alien. We see this playing out firsthand in the book of Ruth. Naomi send Ruth to glean among the fields of Boaz. This is an example of this OT Law. Also, according to Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12-13, "sojourners were to receive a portion of the special tithe that was collected every three years for the poor" (p. 103). Furthermore, the OT prophets speak out against those who do not take responsibility and treat the sojourner or alien with care. To do so was to ultimately demonstrate broken faith with God (Jer. 22:3; Ezek. 22:7, 29; Mal. 3:5; Ps. 94:6). "True religion was inseparable from an ethic of charity toward the disadvantaged (Jer. 7:4-8; Zech. 7:8-10)" (p. 104). One final point must not be overlooked. Throughout the OT God calls Israel to remember, specifically, they are called to remember that they, too, were at one time foreigners and aliens in another land (Deut. 24:19-22; Exod. 20:2).
What are the implications of this for our discussion? For the sojurner, they must recognize that they are also subject to the laws of the host culture (Lev. 24:22). The special care that God provides for them in His word does not mean that one can do as they please. Just as there is responsibility placed upon the host culture, there is responsibility placed upon the sojourner to act in accordance with the laws of the host culture. For the host culture it is clear that the caring for the foreigner is also binding today. There is a direct connection between one's faith and how that person or community treats and reaches out to the sojourners among them. The Bible does not provide a blueprint or tell one how to exactly do this, but it is clear that all who profess faith in God are to at least be ready to reach out to the stranger among us.
Again, this post merely scratches the surface of this topic as revealed in the pages of the Old Testament. I would encourage anyone interested to dig further on your own and see for yourself the depth of this topic in the pages of the Old Testament. In our next post we will look at the New Testament and what it brings to bear on this discussion.