What the Bible Says About Immigrants

Posted on October 19, 2018


By David Ettinger

A Crucial Topic
The topic of immigration is near the top of the list of concerns for just about every Western nation. This heated issue has fueled passions on both sides, and has left believers seeking answers. We know the Bible has much to say about immigrants, and indeed liberal churches and even unbelievers have tapped into its pages to defend their pro-immigration claims.

immigrationHowever, those who defend immigration without any obligation or onus on the foreigner seeking to relocate conveniently omit other Bible passages which speak clearly on this topic. What is the “let-anyone-in” crowd omitting? Let’s take a look.

Kindness and Compassion Mandated
In the Old Testament, where the vast majority of citizenship teaching is found, immigrants are referred to as “strangers,” “Gentiles,” “aliens,” and “sojourners.” These terms basically refer to non-Israelites, of which there were many residing among God’s chosen people.

The main reason for this is that those growing up in pagan cultures were all too familiar with the abhorrent practices of their people. Those with deep convictions were disturbed and grieved by these practices. However, in their dealings with the Israelites, they saw how different the Hebrew culture was, and this because of the compassionate, kind, and gracious God the Hebrews worshipped. Some of these pagans, therefore, sought residency among the Hebrews, and God welcomed them.

But God knew that not all Israelites would be as welcoming. Therefore, He laid down the law regarding this matter. Here are the three most essential decrees binding upon the Hebrews:

  • “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).
  • “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 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 19:33-34).

egyptNotice the emphasis on Israel’s status as “foreigners,” or immigrants. The Hebrews were not the original inhabitants of Israel; God gave it to them. And note, too, how God did not simply want the Hebrews to not oppress immigrants, but to love them and treat them as their own. Most Westerners – especially Americans – see the logic here and concur. For the most part, Western cultures have practiced these ancient commandments.

But Let’s Not Forget …
However, these edicts placed upon the Israelites did not mean immigrants living in Israel could do whatever they pleased. Immigrants were to abide by the laws of Israel – the Mosaic Law – and participate fully as members of Israeli society. In fact, there are more instances of these scriptures than the former.

In Exodus 12:49, God explains the Passover restrictions the Israelites were to observe. He then adds: “The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you” (italic added). Exodus 20:10 tells us that immigrants must keep the Sabbath. Deuteronomy Chapter 16 commands immigrants to observe the Jewish feasts of Weeks (v. 11) and Tabernacles (v. 14). We learn from Leviticus 16:29 that immigrants were to observe the Day of Atonement.

The same applied to the daily sacrificial system. Leviticus 17:8-9 says: “Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to sacrifice it to the Lord must be cut off from the people of Israel” (emphasis added). Numbers 15:14-16 (italic added) packs a particularly powerful punch:

For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, they must do exactly as you do. The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.

welcome matAs you can see, immigrants were most certainly welcomed into the family of Israel, and God was pleased to have them; in fact, He encouraged it. However, He was clear that they were to abide by His laws and precepts. Though not born Israelites, if they wanted to live among the Israelites, they were to live as Israelites.

The Same Today
God’s laws on immigration are perfect as they hold both the immigrant and the host nation accountable for their actions. Liberal Christians who quote the “compassionate” verses of the Bible to support the entry into their respective countries of immigrants are only half-right. When they disregard the other side of the ledger ­– the responsibility of the immigrant – they are wrong and should be held accountable.

May God grant believers compassionate hearts and discerning minds in these difficult and complicated days.