The current border crisis brings the immigration debate to the forefront once again. had conservations about DACA, border security, and immigration in general with several Christian friends who hold different positions on this contentious issue. One thing I’ve noticed from those on the evangelical left, or at least those who favor amnesty for illegal immigrants, that they believe scripture supports their particular position. The Bible does have much to say in the Old Testament about how the Israelites were to treat sojourners (foreign settlers) in their midst.
There is no denying that God expected His people to treat sojourners with dignity and respect. Here are some of the verses that speak to that.
God’s compassion for the sojourners.
- “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” (Exodus 22:21, ESV).
- “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9, ESV).
- “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19, ESV).
- “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge…. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this,” (Deuteronomy 24:17, 20-22, ESV).
- “And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you,” (Deuteronomy 26:11, ESV).
- “And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God,” (Leviticus 19:10, ESV).
- “The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin,” (Psalms 146:9, ESV).
- “In whatever tribe the sojourner resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance, declares the Lord God,” (Ezekiel 47:23, ESV).
- “do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart,” (Zechariah 7:10, ESV).
These commands were remarkable during a time when native inhabitants often mistreated sojourners. God placed expectations on the Israelites for their treatment of sojourners. He also had expectations for sojourners as well that you don’t see cited by those who favor amnesty for illegal immigration.
God’s expectations for sojourners.
They were under the same law as the Israelites.
- “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,” (Genesis 17:12, ESV).
- “but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates,” (Exodus 20:10, ESV).
- “but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you,” (Deuteronomy 5:14, ESV).
- “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there,” (Deuteronomy 16:11, ESV).
- “Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law,” (Deuteronomy 31:12, ESV).
- “And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native,” (Numbers 9:14, ESV).
- “But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people,” (Numbers 15:30, ESV).
- “And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean,” (Leviticus 17:15, ESV).
- “You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God,” (Leviticus 24:22, ESV).
- Foreigners had to be circumcised in order to enter the temple, “in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple, when you offer to me my food, the fat and the blood. You have broken my covenant, in addition to all your abominations,” (Ezekiel 44:7, ESV).
Also, God was very clear that a foreigner was not to be King over His people, “you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother,” (Deuteronomy 17:15, ESV).
Respect for authority and the rule of law.
A key aspect that is missing from those who advocate for illegal immigrants – that Christians are to obey our governing authorities and have respect for the rule of law.
The passage we are likely most familiar with is from Romans:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed,” (Romans 13:1-7, ESV).
The only time we are to disobey the law is when it causes us to violate our conscience – meaning it causes us to sin or disobey God’s law. Even when we disobey the law for good reasons we need to be ready to face the consequences.
We see in 1 Peter that doing good in the subjection of governing authorities is God’s will.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God,” (1 Peter 2:13-16, ESV).
Implications for the immigration debate.
So what does this mean for us? For starters, the United States is not Israel, but there are principles that can be applied.
- God does not command open borders, nor does He require closed borders. Nowhere in scripture do we see anything about border security or lack thereof. It should be noted, however, that while nations at that time did not have secure borders; cities did have walls and gates. Nations at the time of Israel’s exodus also were nervous about Israel’s mass migration.
- We are to treat immigrants with kindness and respect – period. There are some who have an anti-immigrant attitude to those who are even here legally, and I don’t believe that reflects the heart of God. We are to treat even those who are here illegally with dignity.
- We should also care about the conditions in which those who are picked up by the Border Patrol are held. We should expect that detainees are treated humanely and are not in overcrowded conditions.
- In ancient Israel, sojourners were expected to assimilate. That’s good advice for those who come to the United States legally (and I think most do try to do this).
- Immigrants are to respect the laws of the land. Christians who are here in the United States illegally are in violation of the law. We are called to obey our governing authorities. We are not allowed to pick and choose what laws we will follow. Also, often those who are here illegally are not paying taxes, another violation of the law. If they have false documents, that too is a violation of the law. They need to repent and come clean. It’s certainly hard to do, but it is the right thing to do. I certainly understand they have come here to try to make a better life for themselves, but that is no excuse to break the law.
- Christians shouldn’t knowingly hire illegal immigrants as that is a violation of the law. Also, Christians who employ legal migrant workers need to pay them a fair wage and offer safe working conditions. We should show compassion and mercy when and where we can in ways that do not violate the law.
- Respect for the rule of law does not mean you can’t work to change the law that you view as unjust – which is why I support Congress passing a law allowing childhood arrivals (with parameters), but I didn’t support President Obama’s executive order allowing it as it bypassed Congress. Also, respect for the rule of law doesn’t mean one has to support deportation as the only consequence of illegal immigration, but it does mean you need to advocate for a change in the law, not try to aid those trying to avoid it. Also, support for sanctuary cities, etc. promotes lawlessness, something Christians shouldn’t support.