Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sojourners?

The sermon at the church where I attended today was an examination of Exodus 22:16 through Exodus 23:19, with particular attention paid to the concept of "social justice", which happens to be the heading for the passage beginning at 22:16, as applied by the publishers of the English Standard Version.

The Pastor prefaced his remarks with a good warning regarding the baggage associated with the term "social justice" and the danger of using it as an uninspired heading for the verses it attempted to summarize. We should let the Bible tell us what justice is, he said. I agree.

He then read the entire passage in a slow, deliberate, and reverential manner. His sermon categorized the verses as being related to justice in either a vertical way (with respect to God) or horizontally (with respect to one-another), with particular attention paid to the weak or vulnerable. Most of the remaining time was given to the exegesis of each of the verses in the passage, without omitting any of them. Furthermore, the text was treated as authoritative.

This is something that is rare in my experience: an extended reading of the Old Testament followed by an exegetical sermon which promotes the authority and applicability of the text, without transforming it to a modern personalized and spiritualized message. It was very refreshing.

However, the pastor did make an excursion of sorts in his discussion of two of the passages, Exodus 22:21 and 23:9, as related to the current event of the contested travel ban issued by President Trump in his first week in office.
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt." (22:21)
"You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt." (23:9)
He recommended a book, The Immigration Crisis, by James K. Hoffmeier, and referred to it regarding the various categories and distinctions of the inhabitants of the land of Israel: citizens, foreigners, and sojourners. Sojourners, the subject of the two verses, were legal and permanent residents who had adopted the laws, customs, and religious beliefs and practices of Israel.

Strangely, even after citing the book, no real mention of the book's contents or conclusions were mentioned. In fact, the two passages above were treated in a way that left me with the impression that they were directly applicable to the current situation of immigration and refugees that dominate international attention.

The Pastor did say that it is important to note that Scripture does not say how many strangers or sojourners a nation is to allow and that Christians should make allowances for differences of opinion on the subject, and he did highlight the distinction between foreigners (visitors) and sojourners, but otherwise the two verses regarding sojourners were not closely examined in their original context, nor was there much analysis of their applicability in the current crisis.

Hoffmeier, however is more clear on the matter. In an article summarizing some of his book's observations he says the following.
"From the foregoing texts we can conclude that in the ancient biblical world, countries had borders that were protected and respected, and that foreigners who wanted to reside in another country had to obtain some sort of permission in order to be considered an alien with certain rights and privileges. The delineation between the “alien” or “stranger” (ger) and the foreigner (nekhar or zar) in biblical law is stark indeed. The ger in Israelite society, for instance, could receive social benefits such as the right to glean in the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22) and they could receive resources from the tithes (Deuteronomy 26:12-13). In legal matters, “there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the LORD. One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you” (Numbers 15:15-16). In the area of employment, the ger and citizen were to be paid alike (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). In all these cases, no such provision is extended to the nekhar or zar. In a sense, the ger were not just aliens to whom social and legal protections were offered, but were also considered converts, and thus could participate in the religious life of the community, e.g. celebrate Passover (Exodus 12:13) and observe Yom Kippur, the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:29-30). They were, moreover, expected to keep dietary and holiness laws (Leviticus 17:8-9 & 10-12). It is well known that within Israelite society, money was not to be lent with interest, but one could loan at interest to a foreigner (nekhar). These passages from the Law make plain that aliens or strangers received all the benefits and protection of a citizen, whereas the foreigner (nekhar) did not. It is wrong, therefore, to confuse these two categories of foreigners and then to use passages regarding the ger as if they were relevant to illegal immigrants of today." (Emphases mine.)
There are other observations that, I think, should be made regarding the text concerning sojourners in Exodus, in light of the rest of the Law.

  • Israel was a people apart from all other nations, devoted to the one true God.
  • Israel had very definite boundaries.
  • There was to be no mixing with the nations, no intermarriage with pagans, and no cultural "exchanges".
  • As the laws prohibiting all forms of idolatry make clear, no sojourners would be permitted to worship any god but the one true God. (E.g. 22:20) There was to be no religious toleration. Period.
  • Sojourners were few in number.
  • Sojourners were not to be permitted to create cultural enclaves.
  • Sojourners were not permitted to practice their imported national laws.
  • Sojourners were not permitted to subvert the culture and worship of Israel.
  • There was no category in Israel that is equivalent to an "illegal alien."
  • Unless fully incorporated into a specific tribe and family via marriage, a sojourner was without inheritance in the land of Israel.
  • Certainly, mass-immigration, or, statistically significant numbers of sojourners, would not have been permitted.
  • Certainly, mass-illegal-immigration would have been seen as equivalent to invasion.
  • The law regarding sojourners was to remind Israel that the sojourner had accepted the Law, people, and God of Israel as their own. They were not foreigners any longer. Simply treating them with compassion was not the only point of the verses.
  • Undoubtedly, visiting foreigners were also not to be mistreated and oppressed, but such common charity was covered elsewhere in the law.

Christians, too, should deal with all people with charity and compassion, whether they are foreigners, citizens, or sojourners as long as they are respecters of the laws of God and man. There are limits to charity and compassion.


The United States is not Israel and the massive numbers of immigrants, legal or otherwise, do not resemble the sojourners within ancient Israel in any meaningful way. Therefore, I conclude that Exodus 22:21 and 23:9 are not applicable in a direct way to our current immigration crisis.

However, I do believe that the concept of sojourner is applicable and that a nation that wants to preserve itself as a nation, especially if that nation is a Christian one (II Corinthians 6:14 - 7:1), should model its immigration policy after that of ancient Israel.

Immigrants should be relatively few. Immigrants should not be permitted to import their foreign gods or cultures. Immigrants should not be permitted to form enclaves that are resistant to the native culture or that undermine the native culture. Immigrants should fully embrace the law, culture, and worship of their new nation.

There is a lot of secular Progressivism and neo-Babelism today that masquerades as compassionate Christianity. Today's sermon was certainly not that, however it left open the door for very easy misinterpretation.

If the Church wants to be shaping the nation's future, rather than continuing to be swept along by events and continually reacting defensively and fearfully to them, it will have to deal with the issue of mass-immigration in a more thoroughly and comprehensively Biblical way.


UPDATE: I have since read The Immigrant Crisis. It is a easy read, being essentially an extended version of the article to which I link above. There is nothing essentially new or different in the book, compared with the article, but it is much more comprehensive and is worth reading, nonetheless. Aside from a comment or two near the end, when the author strays from exegesis into commentary, I can recommend it.