The Aliens Among You

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The same law applies to the nativeborn and to the alien living among you. (Exod 12:49 NIV)

Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. (Exod 22:21-23 NIV)

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your nativeborn. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:33-34 NIV)

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, (NIV Eph 2:19)

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (1 Pet 2:11 NIV)

It’s always handy to have someone to blame. When things go wrong or people feel dissatisfied, the natural (fleshly) desire is to blame something or, more likely, someone. That is, someone else. This is not a new human trait, but a very old one indeed, going back to the episode in the Garden when each person asked by God said “it’s not my fault, he/she/it/you caused this to happen.” Of course, God didn’t buy the denials, the blame shifting, and he still doesn’t. In the Eden story God was very fair, he held each participant accountable for their own failure.

Assigning blame has always been not only an individual activity, but a group activity. Groups like to blame their problems on others just as much as individuals do. And it’s always easiest and most comfortable for a group to place blame on someone who’s obviously not in the group. From the outset when God set down laws for his people, he said that this was not to be, that he wouldn’t tolerate it. Among the first laws God delivered to his people through Moses were the Passover laws in Exodus 12, and in that first set of regulations God set forth the principle that the alien or nonIsraelite among them would be under the same law as the Israelite. This principle was repeated many times in the law of Moses. No foreigner could be required to accept the religion of Israel – that was voluntary – but with very few specific exceptions the laws of Israel applied equally to the native Israelite and the alien in the land. God affirmed to Israel that he was the God of all mankind, that he loved every person equally, and that they also were to love the aliens as he did (Deut. 10:17-19).

In two ways God told his people that they should identify with foreigners who were among them. The first way is that they themselves had been foreigners in Egypt, and had been treated badly (Exodus 23:9). They must not treat others as they had been treated in the past. The second way God instructed his people to identify with foreigners was by telling them they were temporary inhabitants of the land he brought them to, they were aliens in the land and only God truly owned it (Leviticus 25:23). Both of these ideas are communicated to Christians in the New Testament as well. In a passage encouraging harmony between people of different origins Paul reminds us that we were formerly aliens and foreigners in relation to God (Ephesians 2:11-12, 19), outsiders and excluded. Since God has accepted us, and extended citizenship to us, we should accept others as well. And, we are only temporary residents here, aliens and strangers in this world as the Israelites were aliens and tenants in the land (1 Peter 2:11). So the ways that God told Israel to identify with the foreigner are still in place for the people of God. We too should understand what it is to be a foreigner, an outsider, and we too should love the alien, as God does.

In the law of Moses God recognized that aliens among the people could be easily victimized, easily become the targets of animus or greed and be exploited. Because of this he not only required Israel to apply the law equally and fairly to aliens as well as Israelites, and commanded the Israelites to love the aliens, but he also made special provisions for the aliens among them. The law of gleaners’ rights was specifically put in place to benefit the poor and the alien (Leviticus 19:10, Deuteronomy 24:19). Aliens were put in the same category as the fatherless and widows, and along with them, and the Levites, were to receive the benefit of the tithe collected by Israel from its abundance (Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 26:12). And employers were specifically prohibited from taking “advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns” (Deuteronomy 24:14). The Israelite cities of refuge, which guaranteed a fair trial in cases of accidental killings, were for the benefit of both Israelite and alien (Joshua 20:9).

These laws of God were not always followed, of course. In the latter days of the kingdom of Judah, when the Bablyonian captivity was in progress, a significant reason for the downfall of Judah and Jerusalem was that they had oppressed the poor and the alien, and mistreated the fatherless and the widow, denying them justice (Ezekiel 22:7, 29). God not only disapproves of hostility toward aliens, he brings nations into judgment for it.

On the other hand, it is clear that there is a blessing for individuals who reach out to the poor, the fatherless, the widows, and the aliens. The same is true for nations who do so. When David’s kingdom reached its pinnacle of success his most loyal and heroic officers and officials included not only Israelites but also Hittites, Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, Ishmaelites, and others. These “mighty men” gave David’s “kingship strong support to extend it over the whole land, as the LORD had promised” (1 Chronicles 11:10). David’s success depended in part on his willingness to accept and utilize foreigners in his army and in his government. In our own era the success and strength of the U.S.A. has likewise been in large part connected to its willingness to accept and utilize foreigners among its workers, its researchers, and its leaders. God’s attitude toward the alien has not changed, we are still enjoined to love them, as he does, and to treat them as we want to be treated ourselves, being aliens in this world.

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