One Law and the Stranger
And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I amthe LORD your God.
~~ Leviticus 19:33-34
Humanists and liberals have a strange way in which they regard the Bible. Normally they can be heard saying that the Bible condones murder, slavery, and mistreatment of women, but every so often they stumble upon a verse that really suits their fancy. When such an occurrence manifests itself the very self same crowd which had only yesterday been decrying the horrible effects of religion can now be found quoting Scripture as though they were the most ardent of Puritans. Of course proper exegesis and interpretation of the Bible cannot be expected of the newfound zealot. Aiding Biblical studies was never the intent anyway, it was all about wagging the finger in the face of Christians. Christians who, we are endlessly assured, are mean, backward, bigoted, prejudiced, and oh yeah lest we forget, probably racist too.
A recurring favorite amongst such modernists is God’s command not to vex the stranger. Leviticus 19:33-34 is cited above and the same command can be found several times recurring in Biblical law. Showing kindness and equity unto non-Israelites was a display of God’s sovereignty over all the people who dwell upon the earth. In a day when most gods were strictly associated with the tribe who worshiped them, for Moses to give instruction as to the treatment of foreigners meant that God watched over those outside of Israel as well as His “special people.” He was not a God of limited territory or people. The wisdom of this law manifested itself in that the spirit of law-keeping was to be taken to heart by the Israelites, and that would manifest itself in a dutiful respect for all men. The law is not a façade to be kept up toward only our closest kin and dearest friends, and then dropped when we are alone or away from our regular acquaintances. Rather we are to bear out its precepts as a witness to all men.
So in treating upon this law, and demonstrating just how the modernists don’t grasp it so well, we must remember that it means exactly what it says and it, like the rest of God’s ordinances, will stand just as long as heaven and earth do (Matt 5:17-20).
Now to the meat of the argument.
The underlying premise of the humanist will be the unrestricted brotherhood of all men. His goal is destroying that pesky human distinction which is always obstructing the ushering in of future communism’s utopia wherein all men can join arms and hold all things in common. But aha! A solution has been found. Those Christians, those very Christians who have so annoyingly stood against social and civil equalitarianism, have been sitting on a doctrine that explodes all their resistance! What joy, what bliss!
Not so fast.
In laying down a defense of man’s rights before other men the Scripture gives several lines which must not be crossed: Thou shalt not murder means just what it says. And the foreigner in a Christian land can bank on the fact that God demands his life be protected. The same goes for all of the Decalogue. The foreigner may not be swindled, his possessions may not be coveted, and yes, he must observe the Sabbath and refrain from swearing by false gods.
However, the Bible does not stop here. Lo, found in the pages of Scripture is what appears to the modern mind to be legal discrimination. In Deuteronomy 23 rules are laid out for marriage between Israelites and foreigners. Some surrounding tribes may intermarry with the children of Jacob upon the third generation, and some peoples may never be allowed to intermarry. Back in Exodus 21 it is told us that a Hebrew servant is to serve no longer than six years, but then in Deuteronomy 20 we see that foreigners taken as servants during war may be counted as tributaries with no time limit upon their subjection. This rule is later applied to the Gibeonites by Joshua and subsequent history reveals that the servitude of the Gibeonites was absolutely one of perpetuity.
By this point the liberal is getting a little angry, “The Bible is inconsistent with itself!”
But the wheels are really coming off now. Deuteronomy 17 requires that the king be a native Israelite, no foreigner may hold the office. In Exodus 18, where Moses first institutes a formalized civil governance structure, the language in verse 25 of choosing men “out of Israel,” or from the congregation, implies that this restriction on foreigners held to lesser magistrates as well. Deuteronomy 23 salts the cause by instructing that an Israelite is to charge no usury on loans to his brethren (vs 19) but that usury may be exacted of a foreigner (vs 20). And to top it all off, foreigners could not permanently hold land within Israel since all property would revert to its granted trustees on the Jubilee year.
Let’s survey where we stand at this point. If we had been led awry by the modernist reading of the Bible’s prescription for one law, are we now left wondering what it means? One law is one law right? How can all these allowable legal distinctions between the foreigner and the native be reconciled with Leviticus 19:34 et al.
The answer is that God’s law distinguishes between the essential law-keeping which all men owe toward every other man and the rights and privileges bestowed by particular place or station. I’ll have 19th century Presbyterian minister John B. Adger explain further:
The Scriptures then did not originate the idea that all men, simply from the fact of being men, have a natural right to an equal amount of property, or an equal share of personal liberty. There are rights unquestionably, which belong to man as such, and which can not be wrested from him without the destruction of his intellectual and moral constitution. Without them he could not be a man. But there are other rights which accrue in the progress of society, and which appertain not to man as such, but to man in particular providential circumstances and relations. These rights are as natural as others, because society and civilization, which develop them, are natural; but they cannot be separated from the circumstances and relations which determine them; and hence, men in other circumstances and other relations can lay no claims to them.
What does Rev Adger mean by accrued rights which hinge upon and are inseparable from particular circumstances? He means those benefits and privileges which come from belonging to some particular group. A group which may be more or less inclusive.
As example let’s say that the town of Great Waterton constructs an irrigation network that makes the cropland surrounding it fertile even through drought and heat. Let’s say the community goes in together for this project and then, upon completion all the citizens and their descendants have rights to use and enjoy the benefits of this undertaking. But the work they have done and the benefits they have gained only apply to them. Have they sinned? If new residents move into the town have they the right to demand immediate access to the privileges accrued by others? The answer to both questions is no.
Nations are a lot like Great Waterton in this respect. Our ancestors did certain things for themselves and their posterity, accruing rights and privileges for us today. Rights and privileges which do not necessarily include others. When the men of England formulated the Magna Carta they gained for themselves legal protections which did not apply to France or Germany. Their work bore fruit for themselves. When the United States was originally constituted, voting rights were highly restricted. Was that sinful? Where in Scripture is man guaranteed to the right to vote? Where is man guaranteed the right to access Great Waterton’s irrigation system?
The fact is, man is not guaranteed these things.
What man is guaranteed is that he lives in a world totally under the law of God. And God demands that we do not steal, murder, commit adultery, bear false witness, etc… . What man is not guaranteed is a stake in the labors and rewards of others. And let us be guaranteed that if in our study of Scripture we allow superficial and modern sentiments to color our vision, we will be left defenseless against the wiles of this world. A world which is hell-bent on leveling all men off to the lowest common denominator. But don’t be afraid to say no. Our first duty lies to our own house (1 Tim. 5:8). God demands we treat all men ethically. God does not demand we become communists.
– Robert Hoyle