Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Sojourners. Permission was given by moderator to repost.
When one reads the Old Testament Law, one is struck by the amount of attention given to those from the outside–Hebrew ger, the sojourner (or alien or stranger, depending on the English translation). Peoples have been migrating since the beginning of history, so at one level, it is natural that Old Testament laws would deal with that phenomenon. The same is true today: Nations around the world have laws in place to deal with those who enter their territory to live.
Interestingly, however, there is almost nothing concerning sojourners in the other ancient law codes that have been preserved. This might simply be an accident of history–that is, maybe there were such laws, but they simply have not been found yet.
But perhaps there is more at work here. It might be that this is one of the indicators that the Old Testament Law was unique in the ancient world. There are some parallel ethical concerns in Old Testament legislation and other law codes–like concern for the poor and widows–but not on this point.
I suggest that this difference is crucial. In the Old Testament, the Law is given by the Lord himself. It is not legislation propagated by a great and wise king with divine support, which is the pattern elsewhere. No, this is God’s Law. Accordingly, the Law must reflect something of the heart and demands of the God of Israel. To grasp the spirit of the Law is to understand something very important about God.
One of the things that the Old Testament teaches is that God loves the vulnerable: the widows and orphans, the poor… and the sojourner. Is not this love for those in need at the very core of the thread of grace that runs throughout the entire Bible? It should not be surprising, then, to find laws for the sojourner in the Law.
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 reflects this truth. It says: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” (NIV). Note that this love finds concrete expression: “giving them food and clothing.” This is not an empty emotion with no action or commitment–it responds to the real necessities of these vulnerable people.
What do we learn from this? We learn that God loves the sojourners because they are needy, and therefore made provision for them in the Law. To love the outsider is to love the ones that the Lord loves. What kind of laws can this country formulate to echo the heart of God?
M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is distinguished professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and the national spokesperson on immigration for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He is the author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Baker Academic, 2008). A second edition will appear this December. He obtained his ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and his PhD from the University of Sheffield. Read his blog here.
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