Immigration and the Bible

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I am a proponent of immigration, but only of the kind that follows the rules. I’m not just speaking of the rules of the country. Those are important rules too, although those rules seem to be too porous for proper enforcement. Rather, I am talking about an ancient law that is surprisingly wise in its intent and application.

The books of Exodus through Deuteronomy are very much a codification of the basic law of an ancient nation. They contain hundreds of civil laws and judgments that clearly pertain to an ancient culture, but quite often would be impractical to apply literally to a 21st century culture.

For example, there is an interesting tidbit from the civil code found in the book of Deuteronomy: “You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement.” (Deuteronomy 23:12-13 NASB)

Can you imagine in our world everyone carrying a spade around in order to dig our own latrines as we need them? I think not, but nevertheless the law contains a principle that is still very applicable 3,500 years later, and that is the need for proper sanitation. Our society applies the principle of the law even though we might not keep the law in the letter.

In the same way, the hundreds of laws and judgments that cram the Torah have an ancient wisdom of their own, the principles of which we ignore at our peril. The requirement for two witnesses in a court of law, the discharging of debts through bankruptcy proceedings, environmental regulations, health and cleanliness laws, and dozens of other concepts that have found their way into our society have their roots in the ancient texts that have come down to us through our religious forbears.

The texts even address the subject of immigration, and we as a nation of immigrants would do well to pay heed to them, for they outline the rights and responsibilities of both the immigrant and the host nation.

The foreigner in the land was to be under that same law as the native born (Exodus 12:49). They were to get time off work for the Sabbath (20:10, 23:12) and the high days (Exodus 12:19, Leviticus 16:29, Deuteronomy 16:11, 14), indicating that they weren’t to be treated like slaves, for slaves never get a day off. It would follow from this that immigrants should be paid the same as native born for the work they do (which, by the way, would eliminate one of the primary motivations for illegal immigration, that being the desire for underpaid labor). However, they were not allowed to eat the Passover, for some things are reserved to citizens alone (Exodus 12:43).

They were not to be oppressed, but were to be treated fairly (Exodus 22:21 23:9). They were to be afforded the dignity due any child of God (Leviticus 19:33-34), and if they were poor they were to be allowed to glean the fields for food just as poor Israelites were (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22).

The foreigner was expected to keep the law of the land (Leviticus 18:26). Criminal behavior would be tried and punished under the same laws as a native Israelite (Leviticus 24:16, 22).

It is surprising how humanitarian the laws were toward foreigners in the land, especially in light of the exclusivist attitude among the Jews of the Holy Land in Jesus’ day.

Having said that, it is evident that the foreigner was expected to respect the laws and customs of their host nation even if they ultimately wished not to be accepted into the congregation of Israel. This means there was a sort of social contract. “You will respect our laws and traditions, and we will treat you with fairness and respect.”

Immigration may be a hot issue, especially the illegal kind, but the principle of mutual respect would take some of the fire out of the debate.

Lenny C.


Lenny Cacchio

Lenny Cacchio resides in Lee's Summit, MO, a suburb of Kansas City, with his wife Diane, who are the parent of two daughters, Jennifer and Michelle. They attend with of the Church of God Kansas City. Lenny is the author of two books, Morning Coffee Companion and The Gospel According to Moses: The Feast Days of Leviticus 23. You may visit his blog at:

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Image Credits: Joel Montes de Oca