Refugees and Immigrants in Scripture

The holy scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam contain many writings related to refugees and immigrants. They are worth considering in our day and age.

The Gospel of Matthew tells how Jesus began life as a refugee when his parents took him to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15).

Abraham, spiritual forefather of the three major monotheistic religions, emigrated from Haran to Canaan. In a story told both in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Qur’an, one day three strangers appeared at Abraham’s tent. He offered them shelter, food, and drink. They turned out to be angels in disguise. They told Abraham that his wife Sarah, childless in old age, would bare a son (Genesis 18:1-15; Qur’an 4.36-37; 11:70-73).

Two of the strangers went next to Sodom to the home of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Lot took them in, fed them, and protected them from men of Sodom, who wanted to gang rape them. The angels warned Lot to flee Sodom before the Lord destroyed the city with fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:1-23; Qur’an 11.76-81).

The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament summarizes this experience in a single verse: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

Although the Hebrew people generally prospered in Canaan, on occasion Abraham and Isaac had to temporarily relocate their families because of drought and famine (Genesis 12:10-20; 26:1-6). Jacob’s family followed Joseph to Egypt (Genesis 42:1-46:7) where they stayed for 430 years (Exodus 12:40).

Then Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt in a mass migration that took forty years to reach what they considered to be the Promised Land. Several times along the way Moses had to remind his people, “Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, for you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Also translated “sojourner”, “stranger”, “foreigner”, “resident alien”. He also instructed them, “Any immigrant who lives among you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens” (Leviticus 19:34).

Thereafter the Israelites were told to care for widows, orphans, the poor, and immigrants. For instance, allow them to glean for grain, to pick up fallen grapes and olives (Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 24:20-21). The prophet Zechariah warned the people, “Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor” (Zechariah 7:10).

Jesus picked up this message in his Allegory of the Last Judgment. When the nations appear before the Son of Man for judgment, the place of honor goes to those who have served “the least of these”. They include those who have welcomed strangers along with those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, and visited prisoners (Matthew 25: 31-46).

The Qur’an advises, “Be kind to parents, and the near kinsman, and to orphans, and to the needy, and to the neighbor who is of kin, and to the neighbor who is a stranger, and to the companion at your side, and to the traveler” (Qur’an 4.36).

People in the United States, Europe, and other places that are receiving an inflow of refugees and immigrants should ponder and apply these religious teachings.

For more quotations see Biblical References to Immigrants and Refugees.

Howard W. Hallman lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now, available from Amazon.

 

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