People moving between tribes, lands, and countries is no new phenomenon. Indeed, since the world began, people have moved around. After the establishment of property boundaries, classification became necessary. Words like “migrant” and “refugee” are used interchangeably in today’s media. Older words like “alien,” “nomad,” or “gypsy” were used to convey negative presuppositions. Even older words like “stranger” and “foreigner” are descriptors applied in the Bible. There is one word, however, that has special significance for developing a biblical worldview. That word is “sojourner.” To be fair, a sojourner of the Bible and an immigrant of today might not necessarily be one in the same. Nevertheless, we must let the Bible inform our perspective on immigration and not political or social agendas.
God was very much concerned for the welfare of the sojourner. This welfare is not what we might think of today. The reason for God’s concern is because His own people were themselves sojourners at some point during their history (Abraham in Canaan, Hebrews in Egypt, Israelites in Babylon). God cared for His children during these times, He expects His children to care for others as well.
The Old Testament reveals two sets of laws regarding sojourners, strangers, or aliens (English translations use these interchangeably). Sojourners had certain restrictions upon them. Chiefly, they weren’t allowed to participate in the Passover meal. If they did, they were to become circumcised and assimilated into Israelite culture. (Exodus 12:43-45, 48) Sojourners were also not exempt from God’s commands for purity. (Leviticus 18:24-26) If a sojourner was a slave to a priest of Aaron, that sojourner was not allowed to participate in the eating of the sacrifices. (Leviticus 22:2, 10) One law that’s not so much a restriction but more carries adverse results is that sojourners and their children may become slaves of Israelites and may be treated differently. (Leviticus 25:44-46) All of this shows that sojourners, who we might call refugees or immigrants, were restricted from participating in some of the rites, rituals, and duties of the Israelites.
However, the Old Testament also has a second set of laws that consider the benefits due to sojourners. One of these benefits is preserved in the Ten Commandments: participation in the Sabbath day of rest. (Exodus 20:10, Deuteronomy 5:14) This means, while a sojourner may be a permanent slave to an Israelite, he could not be used to do work on the Sabbath. Similarly, a sojourner slave or hired hand was still due whatever wages or promises were owed him. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15) God also states clearly that the Israelites were not to have separate laws governing the sojourner among them. Rather, even the sojourner was to abide by and benefit from the laws instituted by God Himself. (Numbers 15:14-16, 25-26) This included the use of the cities of refuge. If a sojourner unintentionally kills a person, he is given the same right to flee to safety until a trial can be arranged. (Numbers 35:14-15) It becomes abundantly clear, that in God’s eyes, the sojourner is to be treated with respect, even though he may not receive the ultimate benefit of redemption.
Today’s sojourners should not be treated any differently than a natural born citizen. Today’s sojourners should make an effort to assimilate, but that is not a requirement. Now, there is a distinction in that God has granted the magistrate the powers to govern as they will. Godly magistrates will, of course, receive God’s rewards, and ungodly governors will receive God’s punishment. Nevertheless, each government is given authority over its people and its land, which means governments can establish whatever immigration laws they see fit; each being rewarded or punished by God accordingly. The Church, however, has not been given that authority. Rather, the Church has the charge to bear one another’s’ burdens. (See Galatians 6:1-10 and Ezekiel 22:23-31) If all lives truly matter, if the Church is biblically pro-life, than the life, livelihood, and personhood of immigrants matter. The Church’s doors should be wide open for all to benefit from the love and mercy of God.
Lastly, Christians should be especially quick to help fellow believers transition from migration to assimilation. Remember, Reader, our citizenship, our loyalty, does not lie with state or flag, but with Christ our King. And any and all who are fellow citizens of heaven, regardless of language or look, should be immediate objects of our affection and care; going above and beyond to support a brother or sister in the Christ.