Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 8, 2008

Immigration and Alien Nations

Cross-posted from a simple desire (see blogroll at right), a separate Mennonite blog in which I participate: 

But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we must not touch them. This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that wrath may not come upon us, because of the oath…” (Joshua 9:3-27)

Here’s another Joshua verse about “aliens” in the midst of the chosen people. Though it may be a stretch, I think it has some implications for the worldwide political climate of today.

Let’s keep in mind how long the Israelites were aliens, refugees in Egypt, and under what kinds of conditions. I’m no historian, nor a biblical scholar, but I’ll give it a shot in a hundred words or less. At first, I believe when Jacob’s son Joseph was a bigwig at Pharaoh’s palace, his brothers and their clans showed up looking for food and refuge. Thus they were probably welcomed by the Egyptians. But then that whole assimilation versus separateness question may have come up, and the Hebrews chose separateness. In succeeding generations, where now the Hebrews had no one to represent their interests in the government, they became increasingly ghettoized. Finally, that alienation turned to outright oppression, as the Hebrews were enslaved and forced to work for the kingdom. Thus Yahweh had to call on this fellow Moses, again from within the palace walls, to deliver His people from bondage. For years, His people had tried to remain faithful while in an alien land, and were no longer being allowed to do so by Pharaoh. Here we should recall Pharaoh’s refusal to let them go to the wilderness for a religious observance, saying instead these lazy Hebrews had to stay in town and make bricks, this time with no straw being supplied. Well, that refusal to let them worship was the last straw for Yahweh, and that’s when He finally chose to begin empowering Moses to force the exodus.

Fast-forward to the end of the exodus, and Yahweh is still all about having compassion for the poor “aliens” – in this case the Canaanites, Hittites, etc. who did not and perhaps could not go anywhere else when the Israelites moved in. It would have been hippocritical for God and these Israelites to have no mercy on them, caught in the middle as they were, just as the Israelites had been in Egypt.

That may have made the establishment and following of The Law much more essential, as well. For how else would future generations of Abraham’s children look and act any differently than their foreign neighbors, if not for the following of that elaborate system of moral and cultural rules that Moses helped establish?

Fast forward again, to the 21st century. In Africa, tribes, religious sects and economic classes are set against each other in Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and so on. In Palestine, same deal. In Europe, the welcome mat for foreign immigration (especially from poorer countries) is being rolled up, and there is a growth in right-leaning, sometimes racist sentiment among the “inhabitants of the land”. And in the U.S., some of us want to build a big ol’ wall.

Though it may not be generous and godly, it’s understandable: those with some semblance of order, freedom, prosperity and homogeneity want to maintain it, just like the Law helped the Hebrews do once they arrived in the Promised Land. Humans everywhere, in every generation, worry that there won’t be enough to go around (enough food, enough jobs, enough freedom, etc.). And if we who inhabit the land really think of it as a promise fulfilled, it makes sense to want to defend it.

But the promise of God to Abraham, to make and keep the Hebrews as His people, is the operative promise we need to look at here. Not the land itself. God promised deliverance through Moses, and of course this “new nation” will need to set down roots somewhere. But God most likely did not have a bone to pick with the rank-and-file Hittites who inhabited that country.

The bottom line is this: citizenship for His people is not about borders, or food, or money. It’s not even about freedom in the political sense, or else why would He have let His people endure such harsh treatment in Egypt for so long. No, citizenship in the true Kingdom of God is about faithfulness, nothing else. God’s faithfulness to us, and ours to Him.

Woody Guthrie once wrote and sang “This Land Is Your Land”, mostly as a populist response to the nationalism, wrongheaded theology and excessive pride that Irving Berlin put into the song “God Bless America”. But the lesson of Joshua and the Israelites is that even Woody was wrong. This land is not our land. It is God’s. And whichever people formerly lived here, or now take refuge here, matter to Him. He says “let them live, so that wrath may not come upon (you)”. Whether that’s the wrath of God, or the wrath of the oppressed when they decide enough’s enough, we would do well to heed the same advice Israel’s leaders gave to their own people.


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