Friday, May 21, 2010

The Gospel in the OT Alien & Sojourner Laws

So two posts below I quote several OT passages dealing with how Israelites were expected to treat aliens and sojourners.

These really are a remarkable set of laws, particularly for that time (or even for this time).

So a couple of observations.

First, modern Christians tend to treat the hospitality statutes as sort of second-order laws. They're not the ten commandments, they're not talking about lying or sex or murder. Conservative Christians tend to view their invocation with skepticism, because they're usually invoked by this-worldly liberals. (I guess my attitude is that if Balaam could be rebuked by his ass, then conservatives can be corrected by liberals, no matter what their intention.)

But I want to pick up on the centerpiece of the hospitality laws, because in point of fact, I think we scarcely see the gospel presented more clearly than in those laws.

Who is the alien and the sojourner before God? Fallen humanity is.

In Leviticus 25:23 God tells Israel, "The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me."

Sinners are outcast before God. Yet like the prodigal son's father, rather than despising us, God has mercy on us.

Hence, the centrality of the hospitality laws in OT Israel: She was the alien in Egypt. God welcomed her into the holy land, even though they were also aliens before him. Israel was to show forth God's love by welcoming aliens as God had welcomed them. They could not reject the alien without rejecting the very basis by which they were welcomed into a relationship with God in the promised land.

To be sure, the U.S. is not OT Israel, and the OT laws are not binding on modern nations as they were on Israel. The hospitality laws are fulfilled first in the church. (And there's enough to convict us there -- given the social, economic, and racial stratification of most churches these days.)

Nonetheless, I cannot help but believe that whatever kind of claim a nation can have to being a "Christian" nation, that a significant part of that claim must be tied to how and whether it welcomes aliens into its midst.

The U.S. has been blessed richly by God -- so much that it boggles the mind. Most of these blessings have come upon the descendants of immigrants to the U.S. And now many Americans want to shut the door; they want keep God's blessing to ourselves and not share them. As the world thinks, we're scared that if we have to share our blessings that we'll lose them. So we seek to hold on ever the more tightly to what God has given us.

In doing so we do not understand the divine inversion -- that to keep the blessing we need to give it away. The open hand is never empty, but the closed hand loses what it grasps.

We need to work to open the borders, first, of our churches -- making sure that everyone, everyone, feels welcomed there. And, secondly, if the U.S. is to have any pretense to being a Christian nation, then our borders must be open as well.


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