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.

Muslim Refugees?

Q. I had a brief discussion with a Christian lady. She thinks we Christians have to help Muslims as they need our help. I told her about the European countries which received and helped them, and were repaid with violence and welfare abuse by the Muslims. They want to take over the countries which let them in, and do not assimilate. They want to convert people to Islam, change the place into an Islamic state, and impose Sharia law. They resort to violence, riots, and terrorism. They abuse the welfare system, and drain the countries’ resources. I quoted Deut 7:2-5 and Mt 10:16 to her. Why did God want all Canaanites killed? If I apply Deut 7:2-5, would God want us to embrace these Muslims to love them, because God is love? I feel if I apply Mt 10:16 to refugees, we are to have love but also wisdom.

A. First, I think we need to make a distinction between real refugees forced to leave their country to escape war, natural disaster or persecution, and those coming under a pretense to perpetrate terrorism, create havoc, and cause disruption to overthrow and destroy. I don’t have statistics to prove it, but I expect the former to be in the majority, and the latter to be in the minority. Unfortunately, it’s the minority extremists that cause most of the problems and give a bad name to the whole. You’ve probably met people who claim all Christians are bigots and cause all the problems in the world, such as the crusades, the Inquisition, inciting hatred against LGBTQ etc. That’s not true, but the label that Christians are self-righteous snobs sticks, and you wished people knew better.

Like you, I deplore the fake refugees’ abuses of the system which showed them kindness. But I would not apply Deut 7:2-5 to Muslim refugees, because that’s misapplying Scripture. First, let’s examine the text:

Deut 7:1-5 “When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you,
• 2 and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.
• 3 Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.
• 4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.
• 5 But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.

From what you wrote, you are equating:
• Present day Muslim refugees = the seven nations living in the Promised land in OT times, and
• Current “Christian” nations= the ancient Israelites who utterly destroyed the nations to take over the land.

While there are similarities e.g. they will turn your sons (i.e. radicalizing youths) away from following Me (Yahweh) to serve other gods (Allah), there are also differences e.g. they are migrants, NOT nations greater and stronger than you (i.e. the European countries to which they escaped). In fact, the radical refugees see the analogy as:
• Present day Muslim refugees = the ancient Israelites in the minority, and
• Current “Christian” nations = the nations whom they are to utterly destroy to take over the land.
They would be wrong of course, but you can see how by misapplying Scripture you can twist it to justify any wrong action.

What we need, as you rightly pointed out, is both love and wisdom:
Mt 10:16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. (NASB)
We need to be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves, with no self-serving agenda (AMP). Our love need to abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment (Php 1:9). Only then can we discern who are the real refugees that need our help, and screen out the extremists that need to be blocked from harming our people.

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)