LEVITICUS 19:33-34: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You will regard the alien who resides with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” CSB
OBSERVATION: Does the Bible have anything to say about immigration? Today in our nation this is one of the most debated topics in the news. Is it immoral to build a wall? Should we simply allow caravans of people to stream over our border without any due process? Does the Bible support open or closed borders?
It is easy to cherry pick Scripture to support both views. The verses above could be used to support open borders. It seems to suggest that we should simply welcome all people into our land, remembering that we too were once aliens from a foreign land. After all, isn’t this the loving and Christian thing to do?
There is a foundational principle in the interpretation of Scripture. If we abide by it we will avoid all sorts of false turns and misguided understanding. This principle is context. When we pull one or two verses from a complete chapter and book of the Bible, we can make it say anything we want it to say. However, when we look at the verse or verses in context the true meaning comes into focus.
The context of these verses in the book of Leviticus is the holiness code for the nation of Israel. If you read the entire chapter you will see it deals with some pretty edgy topics of human behavior and sexuality, as well as social and religious norms. It is in the context of these words that we need to understand the two verses we are observing.
- “The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Leviticus 19:1-2 CSB
In this chapter the nation of Israel is warned against the practices of the nations around them. They are called to live pure lives, follow God’s commandments, honor their parents, observe the Sabbath, and remember the poor. It is in this context that the verses about aliens or foreigners is given. It is not a call for open borders, but for borders that allow the foreigner, who wants to observe God’s law, to live among them, and to be treated equally.
God warned Israel against associating with those who did not respect God’s law, and who would endeavor to erode their culture. When Jerusalem was built and rebuilt, it was surrounded by walls to keep those who dishonored the Lord and His commandments out of the city. Yet, the doors were always open to welcome those who professed their faith in Yahweh, and who desired to openly assimilate into the Jewish culture.
This principle supports the very platform of legal immigration. Legal immigration has been the hallmark of our nation. Our nation was built by legal immigrants who left their homeland to make America their new home. They did not come to create small enclaves of their former nations. They came to be Americans, to learn and support the culture and laws of America. They were not asked to forget their heritage. However, they were asked to give their first allegiance to their new nation.
Illegal immigration runs counter to these values. It runs counter to common sense. While voices cry foul when ever immigration laws are supported, or a wall is suggested, they lock their doors at night, turn on their alarms, and call the police at the first sign of danger. They would not allow someone into their home who would not respect the culture and values of their families. And yet, they want to allow thousands and thousands to stream over our border without due process, or without knowing their real intent.
My great grandfather came to America from Germany in the 1800’s. He came legally. He came with hopes and dreams to find opportunity in this new land. And all of his 12 sons and daughters, including my grandfather, and my father, although German, were first and foremost Americans. My father served in World War II defending our freedoms. It was the freedom to live in safety, to cherish our liberty, and to explore all the opportunities this wonderful country had to offer.
We build walls around our homes to protect us. We build walls on the freeways to mitigate sound and protect homes that could be endangered because of an accident. We build walls around our theme parks, baseball stadiums, even our White House. We lock our doors, turn on our alarms, and take every precaution to be safe. It is not because we hate people. It is because we understand that not everyone has our best interests at heart. Laws and walls are not evil, they are common sense expressions of love.
I believe the Bible supports walls and legal immigration. Nehemiah wept over Jerusalem because her walls were torn down. And when he led the tattered nation of Israel’s exiles, now returned to their homeland, to rebuild the wall, he was met with great hostility. The wall was not built to keep people out, it was built to protect the people that were within. Each day the gates were opened, and those who were coming in peace and to benefit Israel, were welcomed in. This is legal immigration.
I hold no anger toward those who do not agree with this assessment. However, I would warn them. If you are going to use Scripture to support your view of open borders, please check the context. As a student of Scripture all my life, I know of nowhere in the Bible that supports the type of open border policy that is being purported today.
However, I am also aware that those who support legal immigration and a wall must not wall up their hearts. They must heed God’s call to welcome the foreigner who truly wants to be a productive part of society. One who is willing to get in line, observe the rule of law, and assimilate into the culture they are entering.
There can be great errors on both sides. Lord, give us open and compassionate hearts as we debate this issue. Help us to have eyes to see and ears to hear.
In Jesus Name!