Refugees and the Bible

Q. What does the Bible say about how we should treat refugees?

A. In view of real and fake refugees requiring wisdom to discern how we should relate to each, neither the open door policy welcoming all, nor the closed-door barring anyone from entry, seem appropriate. The word “refugee” appears only 6 times in the NASB, but as narrative, not prescriptive. However, there are equivalent terms such as aliens, strangers etc. that yield principles governing the way to relate to them. Since there are too many verses I will not list all of them, only the key ideas.

Alien – a person who sojourns among the native people:
Lev 19:34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.
• Lev 23:22 When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God. (Also Lev 19:10; Deut 24:19-21)
• Num 15:16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you. (Also Ex 12:49; Lev 24:22; Num 15:29)
• Deut 10:18-19 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Stranger
Ex 22:21 You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Also Ex 23:9; Lev 19:33)
• Ps 146:9 The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked.
• Zech 7:10 and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
• Mt 25:35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
• Heb 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Also 1 Tim 5:10)

Real refugees are those forced to leave their homeland due to war, natural disaster, or persecution. They sojourn in foreign lands in search of security, where they are aliens and strangers. Natives should love them as themselves, give alms to them because they are needy, and treat them as they would other natives. They should not wrong or oppress refugees, but show hospitality to them by inviting them in, because the LORD protects them.

Fake refugees, however, are to be prosecuted just as any native law-breaker, because there is one law for the native and the alien. Ideally they should be screened before entry and kept out of the country. If any slipped through the security net, they need to be caught before they cause damage, and punished according to the law of the land.

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Accepting Refugees (2 of 2)

(Continued from yesterday)

4. God expects us to love refugees as ourselves. We are to treat them like our fellow countrymen. Positively, we are to leave part of our surplus for them. Negatively, we are not to wrong or oppress them:
Ex 22:21 You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (See also Ex 23:9)
• Lev 19:10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. (See also Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21)
• Lev 19:33-34 When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. (See also Deut 14:28-29; 26:12)
• Lev 24:22 There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God.
• Num 15:16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
• Deut 10:19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Treating refugees the same way you treat natives presupposes we take them in, otherwise how can there be one law for all.

But what about the danger of bringing in wolves under sheep’s clothing? The danger is always there, but that does not mean we close our hearts and stand by and do nothing. There were spies and assassins in biblical times (“spy” and “spies” each appear 16 times in the NASB), but that did not stop God from including the above commands in the Bible. Yes the government has a duty to keep citizens safe and secure. What it needs to do is to make sure its security measures screen out terrorist suspects before they enter the country, while admitting genuine refugees so they can make a fresh start and have an opportunity to hear the gospel in their new home.

Churches in particular need to do their part in resettling this new wave of “boat people“. Because I believe in the end Mt 25:40 applies, “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Accepting Refugees (1 of 2)

Q. Our new prime minister wants to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees before year-end, and more later. Wouldn’t that jeopardize our national security in light of the terrorism in Paris? Shouldn’t the safety of the citizens be the primary concern?

A. This is a hot topic debated in political, social and religious circles. On the one hand, some see the plight of the refugees on national news and want to accept as many as possible on humanitarian grounds. On the other hand, some want to sound the alarm for fear of bringing in terrorists under the guise of refugees. What should the Christian stand be? While our feelings and government policy are important considerations, I believe the deciding criteria is what does the Bible say.

Although those who use the KJV claim that you don’t find the word “refugees” in the Bible, actually you do when you use newer versions like the NASB (5 times) or the NIV (2 times). Furthermore, you need to look up synonyms like “aliens” or “strangers”, which together present a more comprehensive picture.

Some, however, swing to the other extreme by including all aliens and strangers as “refugees”. Not every displaced person is a refugee, a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. Those who emigrate voluntarily in search of a better life are not refugees. And while most refugees are poor and helpless, not all poor and helpless are refugees. Now, what does the Bible say about how we should treat them?

There are at least four principles. The first three summarize how God deals with refugees, and the fourth what we should do on our part:
1. God loves refugees. He provides for them and protects them:
Deut 10:18 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
• Ps 146:9 The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, …

2. God blesses those who care for refugees:
Deut 24:19-21 When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

3. He will judge and curse those who wrong refugees:
Deut 27:19 Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ …
• Mal 3:5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.

(To be continued)