Know Your Bible: The Stranger
How to immigrate to Israel

Build a wall.

This was President Donald Trump’s plan to solve the problem of a massive influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico into the United States. Mr. Trump’s conservative supporters praised the immigration policy for protecting American interests while opposing liberals deemed it xenophobic and racist.

The immigration question, however, is not new for America. Over the years, America has seen massive influxes of immigrants from England, Ireland, Germany, Russia and Italy—to name a few. So it has often been a hot topic of political debate in America.

But what is God’s stance?

God knew immigration would be a pressing issue not just for end-time Israel, but also for ancient Israel—and gave Israel ample instruction on this topic. So, grab your Bible, and let’s examine the many scriptures showing God’s answer to the immigration question.

The Stranger

The word “immigrant” doesn’t appear in the King James Version of the Bible. The word used for foreigners is the stranger. For example, Abraham—originally from Mesopotamia—called himself a “stranger” when he was in Canaan (Genesis 23:3-4).

1. Were there strangers—foreigners—in Israel in Joshua’s day? Joshua 8:33, 35. What about in David’s day? 1 Chronicles 22:2. How many strangers were living in Israel during Solomon’s reign? 2 Chronicles 2:17.

These foreigners living in Israel made up a significant enough portion of the national population to receive a mention here. There were so many that Solomon put them to work on the temple (verse 18).

2. Did God command that Moabites and Ammonites be temporarily banned from entering Israel? Deuteronomy 23:3. What about Edomites and Egyptians? Verse 7-8.

If God didn’t want foreigners in Israel at all, He could have easily made a law prohibiting any foreigner from entering Israel. But no such law exists—rather, God had to specify certain cases where He didn’t want foreigners coming in. That means, in general, foreigners were allowed in Israel.

That does not mean, however, that Israel was to have open borders where just anyone could waltz in. On the contrary, God had specific laws strangers needed to follow if they wanted to live in Israel.

‘One Law’

Strangers were not Israelites. They weren’t sanctified and married to God at Mt. Sinai like Israel was. They were limited when it came to approaching the tabernacle (Numbers 1:51; 3:10, 38; 16:40; 18:4, 7). Unlike the rest of Israel, they were allowed to eat naturally dead animals (Deuteronomy 14:21). Israelites could charge foreigners interest on a loan, something they couldn’t do to fellow Israelites (Deuteronomy 15:3; 23:20). A stranger couldn’t eat the priest’s meat even if he was staying with a priest (Leviticus 22:10). They couldn’t be king (Deuteronomy 17:15).

But other than these few important exceptions, God intended for any foreigners in Israel to follow the same laws the rest of Israel had to follow. If they were going to live in Israel, they had to live like an Israelite.

1. Were strangers commanded to keep the same law Israelites had to keep? Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:15-16. Would everyone in Israel be subject to the same punishments for lawbreaking, regardless of where they were born? Verses 29-30. Every seven years, during the Feast of Tabernacles, the law was read to all Israel. Were strangers also required to hear this instruction? Deuteronomy 31:12.

In The Former Prophets—How to Become a King, Gerald Flurry writes, “God commanded that there be one law for everybody … Any foreigner who chose to live among the Israelites was to keep the same law—and practice the same religion and worship the same God—as the Israelites did. That is the only way a nation can ever work!”

2. Were strangers required to rest on the Sabbath with the Israelites? Exodus 20:10; 23:12.

Imagine if, when Israelites woke up Sabbath morning, there were foreigners next door hard at work! Obviously, everyone in Israel had to keep the Fourth Commandment.

3. What about the holy days? Exodus 12:19, 48-49; Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 9:14; Deuteronomy 16:11, 14.

In the case of the Passover, a foreign male wouldn’t be allowed to partake of this ceremony until he was circumcised like the rest of Israel’s men. On Atonement, they had to fast. During the Feast, they had to rejoice.

4. Were foreigners able to give offerings to God? Leviticus 17:8; 22:18; Numbers 15:14.

Notice though: They had to do it the right way—”as you do, so shall he do.” If a stranger presented an offering in a wrong way, he would be punished just like any other Israelite (Leviticus 17:9).

5. Were foreigners banned from certain practices such as child sacrifice, eating blood and idolatry—just like Israel? Leviticus 17:10-13; 20:2; Ezekiel 14:7-8.

Many of these practices would have been acceptable or even required in other pagan nations. But not in Israel.

In Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote: “This nation Israel was God’s nation … God intended to keep them physically separate from other nations—both nationally (racially) and religiously.”

God couldn’t tolerate pagan religions in ancient Israel—they were meant to stay separate. If a foreigner wanted to immigrate to Israel, he would have to leave his pagan gods behind and start worshiping God. In fact, if a stranger blasphemed against God, he would be put to death—just like any other Israelite (Leviticus 24:16).

6. What important principle did Jesus Christ teach about the stability of a country? Matthew 12:25.

Many politicians today praise “multiculturalism,” which is many cultures competing to coexist in one place. This only creates division, which as Christ taught, brings desolation!

Mr. Flurry writes, “[I]n the modern nations of Israel, we allow millions and millions of people to come in while still clinging to their own languages, customs, religions and practices. In America—the modern descendants of Manasseh—we host even those who are hostile to the Constitution, the law of the land …. But the lawless radical left says it is the only ‘loving’ thing to do … Those people don’t know God—and they don’t understand the devil! Their way will never work out. This is breaking God’s law—and it is destroying our nations! It always leads to disaster.”

For the majority of America’s history, immigrants, upon arrival, had to learn to be American, and they wanted to be. America became a “melting pot” built of many nationalities, but all conforming to one unified American culture.

President Theodore Roosevelt (who openly welcomed immigration to America) said, “Either a man is an American and nothing else, or he is not an American at all.” He said there was no room in America for “hyphenated Americans,” warning: “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation al all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities … each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American republic ….”

Today, American politicians praise cultural diversity while allowing illegal immigrants to saunter across the border—and the country is paying the price. God’s immigration law, however, protected Israel from facing these kinds of problems.

7. Were strangers in Israel to be viewed the same as a home-born Israelite? Leviticus 19:34.

In the eyes of the law, a stranger living in Israel was equal to a home-born Israelite. The law would apply to them just like anyone else. It also meant that home-born Israelites were to treat them with the same love they would have for their fellow Israelite neighbors.

How to Treat Strangers

Keep in mind, those who immigrated to Israel probably would be coming from less-than-ideal conditions at home. Upon arriving in Israel, a stranger probably wouldn’t have had much money, food or clothes—nowhere to farm, nowhere to live.

1. How does God treat strangers? Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 146:9.

The Bible shows God preserves the stranger by providing him with things like food and clothing. God’s law, then, dictates that humans who receive strangers also treat them with love and kindness.

2. Were Israelites specifically commanded to love the stranger? Deuteronomy 10:19. Were they told not to vex or oppress them? Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33; Deuteronomy 24:14.

In many of these scriptures, God reminded Israel that they were once strangers in a foreign land too.

In the article “How to Love Your Neighbor Even More,” Joel Hilliker writes: “The foundation of this law is godly compassion and empathy. God reminded the Israelites, You were strangers in Egypt. You know how hard it is to live in a strange land. Remember how awful it felt to be mistreated and abused! So don’t be guilty of mistreatment and abuse. Be careful to not make a stranger’s life any harder than it already is!

3. Did strangers in Israel have a right to fair judgment? Deuteronomy 1:16; 24:17; also see Zechariah 7:9-10. What does the Bible say about someone who perverts the judgment of a stranger? Deuteronomy 27:19.

God is no respecter of persons (see Deuteronomy 10:17)—a stranger in Israel had the right to receive the same judgment any other Israelite would receive.

4. Did strangers in Israel have a right to glean in Israel’s fields? Leviticus 19:10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21.

If an Israelite harvester started dropping sheaves of wheat behind them (which probably indicated a surplus), they weren’t to go back and pick up the sheaves. Those were left for the poor to pick up for themselves. Harvesters also weren’t to reap the corners of the field—that too was to be given away.

In Israel, farmland was given by family inheritance. This meant that a stranger, who had no family inheritance, could never permanently own land in Israel (even if he bought it, the land would be returned to the original family in the jubilee). So, by giving strangers the right to glean, God was ensuring that strangers would always have a reliable source of food!

5. Did foreigners have a right to protection in a city of refuge? Numbers 35:15; Joshua 20:9.

In ancient Israel, if someone killed another by accident (not malicious murder), he would be allowed to flee to one of the six cities of refuge where he wouldn’t be subject to the death penalty. This was a right guaranteed to every home-born Israelite, but also to any foreigner.

6. Could strangers in Israel receive assistance through third tithe? Deuteronomy 14:29; 26:12-13.

In addition to Levites, fatherless and widows, God allowed foreigners in Israel to receive third tithe benefits—not just to hold them over, but so that they could“be filled.”

7. Was Israel meant to set an example to other nations? Deuteronomy 4:5-8.

Our The Ten Commandments booklet says, “God purposed to use ancient Israel—our ancestors—as a model to teach all the nations of the world about the benefits and blessings of knowing and obeying the true God. The people of ancient Israel were to set an example in obeying His laws—the Ten Commandments—given for all mankind! Obedience would ensure that Israel would dominate the world in power, wealth and influence. It would be the nation for all other nations to look up to. Israel’s blessings would confirm for every man that there is only one right way to live—the way of God’s law. All nations willing to follow Israel’s good example would have received the same blessings.”

It makes sense, then, that God’s law would accommodate those who, motivated by Israel’s positive example, wanted to leave their previous way of life to become a part of Israel.

Mr. Hilliker’s article also states, “God wanted Israel to set the example among all the nations. So when outsiders came into the land, God wanted them to see that there was something different, something special! The people were honest, friendly, hospitable; they made outsiders feel welcome and loved.”

The stranger moving to Israel could expect a plethora of benefits they probably wouldn’t have had in their home nation. Israel would have been an attractive destination for any immigrating foreigner.

Becoming Israel

“God commanded one law for everyone, both Israelite and stranger,” Mr. Flurry writes, “Ultimately, everybody is going to become Israel. That is the way salvation works” (emphasis mine).

When a stranger forsook their old way of life and moved to Israel to keep God’s laws, it was similar to what God intends for all mankind to eventually do!

1. What does God promise the sons of the stranger that join themselves to Him? Isaiah 56:6-7.

At his temple dedication, Solomon specifically asked God to hear the prayers of strangers and foreigners who came to Israel to pray (1 Kings 8:41-43). As Isaiah 56 shows, if they join themselves to God by keeping His law, God promises strangers they can have contact with Him through His house of prayer. God wants that kind of family relationship not just with physical Israel, but with all mankind!

2. In the World Tomorrow, will God even call certain Gentile nations “my people” or “the work of my hands”? Isaiah 19:24-25.

3. When someone is converted, even if a Gentile biologically, do they become Israel—sons of Abraham? Galatians 3:28-29.

In The United States and Britain in Prophecy, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “… scattered individuals may become Abraham’s children by spiritual begettal through Christ (Galatians 3:29).”

When someone joins God’s Church, they become a part of spiritual Israel, no matter their physical or ethnic background. While the vast majority of Gentiles in the World Tomorrow will not have the same reward of those in the Church today, God intends for all mankind, Gentiles included, to have the same spiritual begettal—to ultimately be born into God’s family.

In America Under Attack, Mr. Flurry writes, “Spiritual Israel is meant to help lead the entire world to God. And God’s ultimate purpose is to offer all people who have ever lived the opportunity to be a part of His eternal spiritual Family. … So what is ‘the name of Israel from under heaven’? It is God’s master plan to re-create Himself in mankind. … Every human being who has ever lived on Earth—under heaven—will get an opportunity to receive the name of spiritual Israel—just as you see in the Church of God today … All people will be able to receive God’s Holy Spirit and a change to be born into God’s Kingdom, or Family, forever.”

So, when it came to a physical nation, it made complete sense that if strangers wanted to live in Israel like an Israelite, they could. After all, God intends for all mankind to receive the name and inheritance of spiritual Israel.

That is the incredible beauty behind God’s ethical, fair, just and inspiring immigration laws.