President Obama’s executive order has made the issue of immigration front-page news, once again. And once again, a contentious issue has people taking to social media, blogs, and coffee shops to express their (strong) opinions on the matter. A few weeks ago we were arguing about mid-term elections and Net neutrality, this week it’s immigration reform and Bill Cosby. Now to be sure, immigration is a complicated political issue that deserves rigorous and thoughtful dialogue (and action). But that’s not what I am concerned with here.
Because, I’m convinced that immigration is also a complicated spiritual issue that deserves rigorous and thoughtful dialogue (and action). I’m convinced that the way we view, talk about, and treat immigrants, as individuals and as a nation, has spiritual consequences. And I get that idea from the Bible.
Today, I’m not going to weigh in with my opinion of the President’s executive order or immigration reform. Instead, I just want to contribute to the conversation by sharing what the Bible says about immigrants.
So, what does the Bible say about immigrants? Quite a bit actually. Take a look:
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Exodus 22:21
“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” Exodus 23:9
“Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:10
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.” Leviticus 19:33
“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:34
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 23:22
“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.” Leviticus 25:35
“Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 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 foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:16-19
“At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” Deuteronomy 14:28-29
“Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns.” Deuteronomy 24:14
“Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of a widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.
When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back and get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.” Deuteronomy 24:17-22
“When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. Then say to the LORD your God: ‘I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them.” Deuteronomy 26:12-13
“’Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.’ Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” Deuteronomy 27:19
[During Solomon’s prayer of blessing of the Temple] “As for the foreigner who not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name – for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm – when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” 1 Kings 8:41-43/2 Chronicles 6:32-33
“How long, LORD, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?
They pour out arrogant words;
all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, LORD;
the oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the foreigner;
They murder the fatherless.” Psalm 94:3-6
“The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” Psalm 146:9
“If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I have your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.” Jeremiah 7:5-8
“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:3
“See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.” Ezekiel 22:6-7
“The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.” Ezekiel 22:29
“’You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe a foreigner resides, there you are to give them their inheritance,’ declares the Sovereign LORD.” Ezekiel 47:21-23
“And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against one another.’” Zechariah 7:8-10
“’So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Malachi 3:5
Of course, this isn’t EVERYTHING the Bible says about immigrants (I encourage you to go to biblegateway.com, search the word: “Foreigner” and see what else you can find). But it does reflect a significant thread of Biblical teaching: God cares about the foreigner and we should, too.
The question still remains, “How should we apply these verses in today’s world?” But as we think about the issue of immigration, these verses need to be part of our consideration.
So what do you make of these verses? Some questions to consider:
1. Which of these passages stand out to you?
2. Why do you think God expresses such concern for foreigners (along with widows, orphans, and the poor)?
3. What questions do these verses cause you to ask?
4. What was your emotional response as you read these verses?
5. In what ways do these verses challenge you to re-shape your thought on immigration or undocumented immigrants?
6. If you were going to preach a sermon on these verses, what would you say? How would you “apply” these verses to today?