But, About the Foreigner...
As my brother, Joel McCall, wrote last week, ELI is making major adjustments to serve our national partners in Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. It is humbling and thrilling to work with these retired pastors, missionaries, and professors who want to "finish well” by training pastors around the world who are unable to go to seminary.
One of my ELI responsibilities is to create the same work among the immigrant communities in the U.S. Just as we were making progress setting this up around the country, COVID hit. But we are making adjustments to expand and strengthen this work. Pray for us.
As we all know, our daily effort is to keep our hearts as close to God as possible. The Scripture makes clear that God's heart is for the foreigner. A study of both Old and New Testaments shows that the Lord lays responsibility on his people to protect and care for sojourners in our midst. This serves as a tremendous testimony of his greatness and mercy. Let’s briefly review some of these principles.
Major Bible figures were foreigners and dwelt with the difficulties of living in a land not their own. Abraham was a sojourner not just in Canaan but also in Egypt where he was subject to the laws and culture there. Think also of Joseph, and later Jacob and his entire family, moving to Egypt and eventually into slavery there. Also consider Daniel, Ezekiel, and the survivors of Israel and Judah taken into exile. All these were forced to deal with different customs and laws.
In the Old Testament, God frequently brings the Exodus to the Hebrew mind when he warns them not to ignore the foreigner in their midst. Indeed, there are some surprising benefits for strangers living among the Israelites. Did you know that the Hebrews could not make foreigners work on Sabbath (Exodus 20:10) or that foreigners could offer sacrifices in the Tabernacle (Numbers 22:17-25)? God makes clear to the Hebrews that he would forgive foreigners just as he forgives Israel (Numbers 15:26).
One of the more surprising proclamations of God was that foreigners were provided with serious protections from injustice. They were allowed to seek protection in the cities of refuge. The Lord established these appointed cities to protect people who committed unintentional killings. They could run to a city of refuge to be protected from revenge killings (Numbers 35:15). For God to provide this protection to a foreigner who has killed a Hebrew is a stunning statement of his love and willingness to protect the foreigner. He wanted the Hebrews to understand his heart for the sojourner.
Another example is that sojourners are often included with the same protections provided to widows and orphans. This is very revealing about God’s heart that he would equate foreigners with Jewish widows and orphans in their protections from injustice and neglect. See Deut 16:11-14 and 24:17 as examples of this.
And there are many more laws like these. God warns Israel to love the sojourner and not oppress them. Exodus 22:21—You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. This is repeated in Exodus 23:9. Also, sojourners were allowed to glean Jewish fields just like the Jewish poor (Lev 19:10; 23:22). Statements like these are found throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
King Solomon included foreigners in his dedication prayer to open the first Temple. He cried to God that when they come and pray there he would hear and do all that they asked (I Kings 8:41-43). Jesus continued this message as he overthrew the tables of the money-changers saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). Jesus taught God’s heart for the non-Hebrew through dealings with the Roman centurion in Matthew 8 and the Canaanite (Syrophoenician) woman in Matthew 15. Also, notice his repeated trips to “the other side” of the Sea of Galilee where the Gentiles lived, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and on and on.
Why all these references? It is because in these we see clearly God’s heart for the foreigner and his desire for Israel to understand this. Why? Because he wants to use his people to show his love and that he is the only source of redemption. It is no different today. He has been reaping, is reaping, and will continue to reap souls from all nations, and we are called to be his instruments.
Just as we see with the Jewish sojourners of the Old Testament, this can be a hard existence. It is true of Nashville’s immigrants as well. And there are many. Nashville has people from all continents, including 40,000 Kurdish refugees desperately fleeing from war. This is the largest Kurdish population in the world outside the Middle East. Many immigrant husbands and wives work two jobs each to make ends meet. And on top of that, COVID has hit them hard. Our sovereign God brought them here… to us. We must be faithful in showing the grace, mercy, glory, and greatness of this loving God.
Pray for ELI’s ministry to the foreigners in our midst. There are brothers and sisters in Christ among them. And surely more in the future. ELI is committed to strengthening their elders to be strong in the Word and faithful in shepherding the people God has placed here.