Recently, a poster on my blog critiqued my use of an Old Testament quotation from the Old Testament about strangers and aliens and my using the quote on the subject of immigrants in the USA. It was a reasonable critique that I would like to answer. The quote I used was “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God,” (Leviticus 19:33-34, NKJV). The poster said:
“… this is not the Holy Land, we are not a theocracy, and that particular chapter has a whole lot of other commands you likely wouldn’t demand us follow, and thus you’re picking and choosing scripture… it’s also misleading. The word you’re looking for is ‘sojourner,’ or ‘guwr.’ These are those who seek hospitality, those who abide with and assemble with. Legal immigrants, in another word. The word in the previous verse (that you really should’ve quoted, for context,) explains what it means. ‘You shall not vex him.’ The word there is ‘yanah’- to oppress, repress, treat violently, do wrong, etc. The phrase often is used in conjunction to ‘the sword’ or ‘desolation,’ to give an idea for how strong a phrase we’re dealing with, here.”
I have met this type of argument before. Oddly enough, the people who usually use the phrasing, “… that particular chapter has a whole lot of other commands you likely wouldn’t demand us to follow, and thus you’re picking and choosing scripture …” are those who are arguing that I cannot make a conservative point from the Old Testament unless I subject myself to every law in the Old Testament. Normally, conservatives do not make that argument precisely because they both wish to continue to use the Old Testament for various moral points and because the normal theological argument is that there are both continuities and discontinuities between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The theme of the stranger and alien is one of the continuities, one that goes straight through from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.
The whole theme of strangers and aliens is built right into the theology of Saint Paul, the records of Saint Luke, the poetry of Saint John, and the wise advice of Saint Peter. Who is more of a stranger than the one of whom it is said, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” Saint Luke records that the Holy Family lived as a refugee family in Egypt for several years while waiting for Herod to die. They lived there long enough that Saint Luke is able to say of Jesus that, “… out of Egypt I called my Son,” quoting an Old Testament phrase that actually applied to the nation of Israel. This is a particularly important phrase because it connects the Old Covenant call to treat the stranger well, “… for you were strangers in the land of Egypt …” to Jesus himself. In other words, the Old Testament phrase I quoted is directly connected to Jesus himself. Jesus was a stranger in the land of Egypt.
Jesus also spoke of the stranger, and as a stranger. He talks over and over of His Father sending him from somewhere else. He answers Pilate by saying that his kingdom is not of this world. You cannot be more of a stranger and alien than those claims. But, earlier in his ministry Jesus has already called us again to the Old Covenant call to treat the stranger well. In Matthew 25, Jesus specifically says that how we treat strangers will be considered at the Final Judgment as part of what it means to receive Our Lord (yes, among other expectations, of course). “I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me … When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? … Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
But, it is Saint Paul that seals the identification of alien and stranger. Hebrews 13 says, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The word for hospitality is philoxenos, “lover of strangers (or foreigners, note that xenophobia is the opposite of philoxenos).” But, Saint Paul goes much farther than that in Ephesians:
“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. … Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God … .”
Saint Paul gives us the same identification as any alien and stranger who would have been encountered by an Israelite of the Old Covenant. We had no hope. We had no place in Israel. We had no right to the covenant. And, to make a very specific point to those who get hung up on “illegal” aliens, we were also lawbreakers, nay enemies of the Covenant (see the Book of Romans). Yet, in spite of being lawbreakers we were brought in. In spite of being enemies, we were given citizenship, freely and without stinting. I find it rather odd to argue that what was physical in the Old Covenant, and is physical in Matthew 25, but is spiritual in Ephesians is reduced to the purely spiritual by today’s American Evangelical. In fact it is not! Jesus said that the Final Judgment would involve the practical treatment of aliens and strangers and criminals, not simply the spiritualized “once saved always saved.” Hebrews tells us to give hospitality to strangers. It seems odd to argue that none of this has any application to our national immigration policy or how we treat those who have been among us for many years!
Saint Peter echoes, confirms, and applies Saint Paul when he says in 1 Peter:
“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
We are still strangers and aliens. We are to behave as strangers and aliens. Saint Augustine spoke of the difference between the City of God and the City of Man. We are to behave as those of the City of God. In a practical way, Saint Peter says that being strangers and aliens ourselves, we ought to conduct ourselves honorably. Most certainly, I will argue that our national policy needs to reflect that in our treatment of the alien and stranger among us. Are they lawbreakers? So were we. Were we forgiven? So can they be. Let us not spiritualize this into merely walking the sawdust trail. Jesus, the New Covenant, and the Old Covenant make it clear that the here-on-this-Earth treatment of the stranger and alien matters and that this is not merely a spiritual concept but a lifestyle concept. Note: it is a spiritual concept, but it is not merely a spiritual concept.
So, let me again quote—fully in context and expanded in the New Testament—, “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God,” (Leviticus 19:33-34, NKJV).” You were strangers to Israel and now have been brought in. You are still strangers and sojourners in this world. Now, help shape our national policy to reflect that Old Covenant policy, lest we be guilty of arguing that the Old Testament stranger and alien was better off than the USA stranger and alien.