The Most Unpopular Teaching in the Bible

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A group of migrants, mostly women and children, turn themselves into the McAllen Border Patrol after illegally crossing the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas on Wednesday. Illustrates IMMIG-BORDER (category i), by Nick Miroff and Joshua Partlow © 2014, The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, June 12, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Nick Partlow)

What do you suppose is the most unpopular teaching in the Bible? Depending on your theological tradition some might suggest that “repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins” is the most unpopular teaching. Another might say Jesus’s teaching on divorce is the most unpopular teaching in the Bible.  Someone else might say that a couple verses on women by Paul are the most unpopular teaching in the Bible.  But I want to suggest there is a thread in Scripture that seems to be unpopular with believers from nearly all backgrounds in more “conservative” churches and more “progressive” churches.  I nominate the Bible’s extensive teaching regarding aliens to be one of, if not the, most unpopular teaching in the Bible.Being an alien is one of the defining characteristics, an identity mark, of the people of God in Scripture.  It begins with Abram who was an alien in Canaan and then Israel who was a wanderer and alien in Egypt.  The Bible refers to this notion multiple ways but in this piece I will focus solely on the word “alien.” Being aliens ourselves, God’s people are called to be especially attentive to others who are aliens.  The word “alien” occurs 73x in the New International Version of the Bible.  Because we so frequently miss this theme I have decided to simply quote Scripture to impress upon us how prominent this is according to the Holy Spirit.

God’s People as Aliens

“the land where you are now an alien …” (Gen 17.8)

“swear to me that you will not deal falsely with me or my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have resided as an alien” (Gen 21.23; cf. 23.4 & 28.4)

“I have been an alien residing in a foreign land” (Ex 2.22, cf. 18.3)

“Then Israel came to Egypt;
Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham …” (Ps 105.23)

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth …” (Hebrews 11.13ff)

“I urge you as aliens and exiles …” (1 Peter 2.11f)

Relationship to “Fellow” Aliens

“There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you” (Ex 12.49)

“[the Sabbath is for] .. you, your son or daughter, your livestock or the alien resident in your towns shall do no work” (Ex 20.10; see Deut 5.14f)

“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22.21)

“You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23.9)

“[Day of Atonement applies to all] you shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you” (Lev 16.29)

“[Sacrifice rules apply to both Israelite and alien] anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among you who offer a burnt offering …” (Lev 17.8; cf. 22.17-18)

“[Prohibition of blood for both Israelite and alien] … or of the aliens who reside among you eats any blood, I will set my face against that person …” (Lev 17.10, see verses 11-15)

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Lev 19.9-10)

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides among you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Lev 19.33-34)

“You shall have the same law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the LORD your God” (Lev 24.22)

“If any of you fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall help them as you would an alien” (Lev 25.35)

“Any alien residing among you who wishes to keep the Passover to the LORD shall do so according to the statute … you shall have one statute for the resident alien and the native” (Numbers 9.14, see 15.14-15, 29-30)

“Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between on person and another, whether citizen or resident alien’ (Deut 1.16)

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the aliens, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt …” (Deut 10.17-19)

“You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land.” (Deut 23.7)

“You shall not withhold the wages of the poor or needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they may cry out to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt” (Deut 24.14-15)

“You shall not deprive an alien or orphan justice, you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge” (Deut 24.17, see vv. 19-21)

“[Israelites come to worship confessing Yahweh’s grace to their ancestors who were “aliens” Deut 26.1-11, after the first fruits are offered] you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house. When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so they may eat their fill within your towns” (Deut 26.11-12, see vv 13-15)

“Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.’ All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” (Deut 27.19)

“These were the cities [of refuge] designated for all the Israelites, and for the aliens residing among them …” (Joshua 20.9)

“O LORD, you God of vengeance, you God of vengeance shine forth! … [For] They crush your people,
O LORD, and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the alien, they murder the orphan” (Psalm 94.1-6)

“Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the aliens;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin”
(Psalm 146.5-9)

“For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another,
if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place …
I will dwell with you in this place” (Jeremiah 7.5-7)

“Thus says the LORD: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses … But if you do not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation” (Jeremiah 22.3-5)

“The princes of Israel in you, everyone in power, have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the alien residing within your borders suffers extortion; the orphan and the widow are wronged in you … It’s princes within it [the land of Judah] are like roarinig lions tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasures and precious things; they have made many widows within it … The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted the alien without redress” (Ezekiel 22.6-7, 25, 29f)

[In the restoration of all things God promises the aliens an INHERITANCE …] you shall allot it [the land] as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe aliens reside, there you shall assign them their inheritance, says the LORD God” (Ezekiel 47.21-23)

“The word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying: Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (Zechariah 7.8-10)

All These Alien Passages are the Foundation for the Word of Jesus

We have not touched all the texts that relate to this unpopular teaching in Scripture.  We have only highlighted some of the ones that use the word “alien.”  Scripture talks about this theme in many other ways and even devotes entire books to the theme, the book of Ruth for example where the word “alien” does not occur but Ruth and Naomi are displaced aliens from Moab.  This theme climaxes in the words of Jesus as he describes the scene on the Day of the Lord.  The words of Jesus have the entire sweep of Story of God before him and behind him as he utters these words.  He identifies himself with the alien,

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a alien/stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me …” (Matthew 25.34-36)

One of the most distinctive characteristics of Israel, God’s people, the church, is to care for the poor, to support the widows and orphans, and to stand in the gap for the aliens.  Redeemed refugees, that is us, make good neighbors to other aliens.  It may be one of the most unpopular teachings in the Bible but it is also the one that proclaims the reality of grace the loudest.

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