When my grandmother was a little girl, the picture above was likely one of her first views of the United States of America. Edna Lewis was an immigrant from Wales, England. My family tree farther back also includes immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and the Netherlands. But the only immigrant in my family that I actually knew was my Welsh grandmother. Over the years, I love saying that I am one-quarter Welsh.
The reality is that with the exception of Americans of indigenous descent, all the rest of us have a heritage of immigration. Our ancestors were foreigners. Sadly, immigration, which has a rich history in the United States (again with the exception of the awful atrocities committed against indigenous peoples, an unmitigated wrong which has not been righted), has in recent decades become a topic of intense hatred and disagreement. The United States isn’t the only country wrestling with immigration. So how should Christians think about immigration? What is God’s heart for the foreigner?
When you read the story of Israel, and the Mosaic Law code, you observe God repeatedly trying to give Israel a vision for something larger than themselves, a vision to reach the world. We began to learn about that in the previous post here, but now we investigate some biblical passages that will show us more about God’s heart.
First of all, two of the tribes of Israel were half-African. Egyptian, to be technical.
In Genesis 41:45, we read that one of Israel’s sons, Joseph, the dreamer, married an Egyptian woman. Later in the chapter, verses 50-52, we read that Joseph’s wife, Asenath, bore him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Fast-forward to Genesis 48, where we read that Joseph’s father, Jacob, also named Israel, is on his death bed. Joseph takes Manasseh and Ephraim to visit him, and in verses 5-20, Israel/Jacob makes Manasseh and Ephraim tribes of Israel. There is no tribe of Joseph, even though Joseph was one of Israel’s twelve sons. Instead there are what are sometimes referred to as the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons whose mother is Egyptian. From it’s inception, then, the nation of Israel was multi-cultural.
The second piece of evidence of God’s heart for Israel to bless whole world comes 400 years later when the nation of Israel left slavery in Egypt, we read in Exodus 12:38 that “many other people went with them.” This is a phrase that refers to people of other ethnicities. God’s heart for the nations meant Israel included diversity.
Third, God’s heart for the nations would go well beyond those already within the nation, as we can read God’s heart for what is often referred to as the alien, the foreigner, the immigrant, or the stranger among you. Though the word “alien” is understood in a pejorative sense in our day, in the Hebrew Bible it is only referring to non-Israelite people who came to reside among the nation of Israel, as so often happens. As God brought Israel into the Promised Land of Canaan, how should they think about non-Israelites? In keeping with the idea that through Israel’s family, all nations will be blessed, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that God frequently tells the Jews to embrace non-Jews. Look at just a few passages from the Mosaic Law:
Exodus 22:21, “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:33-34, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
Numbers 15:15-16, “The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.’”
Deuteronomy 10:18-19, “The Lord defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.”
God loves all people and wants all people to enter into the blessing and rest of his Kingdom. God wants all people to experience his shalom, which is a word often translated by our English word, “peace,” but it refers to so much more. It is peace, but it is wholeness and healing, and everything that blessing entails. God wants this for all people.
But Israel didn’t want that blessing for all people. They were exceedingly poor at sharing God, at being the blessing to the whole world that their original covenant proclaimed. As we continue forward in the history of the nation, they became apostate, turned away from God and that led to their demise. In Jeremiah 4:1-4, we read a prophetic word that God gave his people, speaking about this very topic.
At the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the nation of Israel had long before split in two, north and south. The Kingdom of Israel to the north fell first, to the Assyrians. Some godly kings like King Josiah, who might have been alive when this prophecy was first uttered by Jeremiah, led the southern Kingdom of Judea well, but the populace in general did not embrace the Lord and his covenant mission to be a blessing to the whole world. Instead they turned away from God, and sought blessing from the false gods of the powerful nations around them. So God reaches out to them through his prophet:
“If you will return, O Israel, return to me,” declares the Lord. “If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory.”
Do you see the connection between the attitude and actions of Israel and the blessing of the world? If Israel will return to abiding by the covenant, the ways of God, following God’s heart, then the nations will be blessed.
But neither the Northern Kingdom of Israel nor the Southern Kingdom of Judea accepted God’s offer, and they were both defeated. But God was not defeated. He is so passionate about all the peoples of the world, every ethnicity, that he sent his son to make it possible for all peoples to enter into his blessing. God himself, in the person of Christ, took on humanity, was born, lived, died, and rose again so that all people could be in relationship with God.
In the next post we’ll learn more about how Jesus is the hope of the world.