(The Featured Image advertises the upcoming Reaching the Nations Next Door Conference in the Nashville area in August).
“For You Were Sojourners In the Land of Egypt”
Acts 17:16-31 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21
“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
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” – Leviticus 19:34
“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 10:19
Context: Current situation in the world, the U.S., and with the Church
The current context in America socially and politically has become difficult for immigrants and refugees and those who minister to them. Amid shouts of “Build a wall!” and calls to limit immigration as well as fears of terrorism and foreigners taking jobs from Americans, the discussion around immigrants and refugees has sometimes taken a dark turn. Rising nativist sentiment can easily slip into xenophobic anger as immigrants and refugees begin to be blamed for problems plaguing the average American. On the heels of racial division and unrest exposed in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric among some has helped to create a toxic environment of fear and anger toward those perceived as “other.” Instead of giving in to this growing sentiment and playing along with people’s fears and reactions, Southern Baptists have an incredible opportunity to speak with gospel witness into this environment and “tell a better story.”
Over and over again in Scripture we see the commands to welcome the stranger, treat the immigrant/sojourner well, love him as yourself, and apply to him the same laws and protections that you have for your own native born. The Hebrew people are told that when foreign people in need come to them with a desire to live among them and contribute, then they are to be welcomed and cared for. This is a recurring command is one of the most prominent of the Torah. America is not Israel, but the church is to be salt and light in every culture and witness to the Biblical ideal of justice, mercy, and humility before God (Micah 6:8).
But, something else emerges here that is noteworthy. The commands to care for the sojourner are often accompanied with the reminder, “for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” In reminding Israel their former slavery and oppression in Egypt, he was also reminding them of their deliverance. The Apostle Paul does the same thing when he talks about the types of people who will not inherit the Kingdom of God and then he says, “and such were some of you. but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). When we sing “Amazing Grace,” we tap into this same idea: “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”
“For you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” The message here is that how you treat those who are where you once were is directly proportional to how you have come to understand what God did for you. In Deuteronomy 26:5-13 when the treatment of the sojourner is tied directly to the tithe and worship, we see clearly that the Hebrew who does not treat the sojourner well fails to understand God’s grace and kindness toward him.
The Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says,
“It is no coincidence that Judaism was born in two journeys away from the two greatest civilizations of the ancient world: Abraham’s from Mesopotamia, Moses’ and the Israelites’ from Pharaonic Egypt …To be a Jew is to be a stranger. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is why Abraham is commanded to leave land, home and father’s house; why, long before Joseph was born, Abraham was already told that his descendants would be “strangers in a land not their own”; why Moses had to suffer personal exile before assuming leadership of the people; why the Israelites underwent persecution before inheriting their own land; and why the Torah is so insistent that this experience – the retelling of the story on Pesach [Passover], along with the never-forgotten taste of the bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of slavery – should become a permanent part of their collective memory.”
When we love, minister to, and advocate for the immigrant/refugee/sojourner, we are not just doing good works. We are not being political in a partisan sense. We are actually witnessing to the reality of the Kingdom of God, our own salvation in Christ, the nature of the church, the final destination of nations around the Throne of God, and God’s own character. In a world that seeks to protect, promote, and defend its own way of life over and above others, loving the immigrant is a significant way to give prophetic witness to the reality of the gospel and God’s character. America is not Israel, but the Church is the embassy of Heaven and through ministering to and advocating for immigrants who come to us from different cultures and lands, we are able to tell a better story in this culture – the gospel story.
What if the current context of controversy and fear is exactly what God has allowed for Southern Baptists to love and minister to immigrants/refugees in ways that will cause us to shine like stars in a world full of fear and anger? What if the sojourner among us has been sent by God to draw out the love and mercy of the church so the world can see the heart of God and the sojourner himself can experience His kindness? Worth considering.