Guest Blog by Jacob Rodriguez
Miscommunication is the source of much conflict in personal relationships. When a couple comes together for marriage, one of the first pieces of advice offered to them is usually that they should maintain clear lines of communication between each other in their new life together. Oftentimes one may say to the other, “I did not understand what you were saying; you weren’t clear enough.”
In the story of Israel, God was very clear of what He required of His people. The gods of the surrounding nations were not so gracious. Unlike the false gods of the other nations, God graciously revealed the Law on Sinai and told Israel what He required of them if they were to maintain the covenant that was sealed by blood (Exod 24:8).
Nowhere is God’s communication clearer than in Deuteronomy. At a key juncture in this book, Moses asks the Israelites a question, “And now oh Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you?” (v. 10:12). Moses answers this question with the following commands:
1) Fear the LORD your God
2) Walk in all His ways
3) Love Him
4) Serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul
5) Keep the LORD’s commandments and regulations
These five statements summarize all that God asked of Israel. This is the Old Testament “call to discipleship” for Israel. This five-point summary is very general, and no specific examples are given. How then do we fear God? What are His ways in which we must walk?
Moses does not quite explain this yet, but He goes into a long description of who God is. If Israel is to know how to live, then she must know who her God is. Moses describes God as a strong and mighty God, but also as a God who has concern for the most vulnerable. The God who owns “the highest heavens and all the earth” (v.14), the “God of gods and Lord of lords, the mighty and awesome God” (v. 17) is also concerned about justice for the orphan, widow, and the immigrant (v. 18).
In verse 19, Moses finally gives a specific example of how Israel must walk in the LORD’s ways: “you shall love the immigrant.” Notice that this is the most specific command that Moses mentions in the whole passage of Deuteronomy 10:12-22, so it is very important for Israel to follow. In the context, it is clear that Israel is to love the immigrant because God himself loves the immigrant, giving him food and clothing. If Israel is to walk in the LORD’s ways, then she must love the immigrant. There’s no room for ifs, buts, or maybes.
The second half of verse 19 gives us the main reason why Israel must love the immigrant: they themselves were immigrants in Egypt. God’s undeserved mercy was graciously extended to Israel; therefore they must extend that same mercy to others. In short, they are to love the immigrant because God first loved them as immigrants.
But what relevance does this Old Testament Law have for the Church today? The Old Testament Law is basically a framework that teaches us to love God and love our neighbor (Matt 22:37-40). When Christ came, he did not abolish this framework, but he fulfilled it (Matt 5:17). Jesus then commissioned his Church to maintain this law of love for God and neighbor. Furthermore, God’s character never changes. He still loves the immigrant, and if we are to represent Him to the world, we too must love the immigrant.
Some may argue that the category of “immigrant” in Deuteronomy 10 does not apply to the undocumented immigrants in the United States today. One scholar, for example, argues that the Hebrew word for an immigrant, ger, only applied to legal residents within Israel’s borders, and that Romans 13:1-7 commands us to obey our government. Regarding the word ger, it is often stated along with the widow, the fatherless, and the poor. This shows that the word ger focuses more on the vulnerability of the immigrants than on whether or not they were “legal” immigrants. Today undocumented immigrants are vulnerable to multiple abuses by employers and vigilantes alike, and they live in constant fear of deportation—a reality that can permanently tear their families apart. Such vulnerability places them among those to whom the Church must extend love and compassion. Regarding Romans 13, it is important to read the whole chapter, for verses 8 through 10 speak of a law even higher than the civil law, that is, the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
Thus, while we are called to uphold our country’s law—and, I would argue, this means that we should not condone the act of illegal immigration—we are also called to love our neighbors as ourselves. In the case of undocumented immigrants this means welcoming them into our churches, breaking bread with them, and advocating a compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform that would provide the means for them to obtain legal status.
Amidst the convoluted issues involved in the immigration crisis in America, God has communicated clearly to us in Scripture: we are to love our neighbor and care for the immigrant. God’s love for us is undeserved. Our love for neighbor should show that same radical grace, to both the documented and the undocumented—even if our society says they don’t deserve it.
Jacob Rodriguez is a candidate for an MA in Biblical Exegesis from Wheaton College, and holds a BA in Ancient Languages from Wheaton College. He has lived in a low-income neighborhood in Chicagoland, ministering to refugees and immigrants from over twenty countries of origin. He is preparing to depart for Ethiopia this summer, where he will be teaching at a theological seminary..
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