Foreigners among foreigners: Israel’s journey out of Egypt

I’m blogging my way through the first several books of the Old Testament, sometimes known as the “historical books” or the Covenant History. Today’s installment is the second from Exodus, covering the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt and one of the more distinctive features of the covenant law they’re given… 


God has led his people out of Egypt, but he’s got some unfinished business with Pharaoh. Shortly after the Hebrews’ escape, he tells them to turn back. God baits Pharaoh into going after his former slaves. By downing Pharaoh’s army in the sea, God asserts his supremacy over the watery abyss so widely feared in the ancient Near East.

After dealing with the Egyptian army, God closes the waters behind the Hebrews. There’s no going back to Egypt.

Emigration, immigration, or all of the above?

There’s something surprising about the people who leave Egypt. They’re not all Hebrews. According to the text, “many other people went up with them.”

From the beginning, there were “foreigners” in Israel’s midst. Which might explain why the Torah repeatedly addresses how they are to be treated.

The first of many regulations concerning foreigners comes right on the heels of the exodus. Foreign households are to be included in the Passover — as long as their males are willing to be circumcised.

In addition, foreigners are not to be deprived of justice. They are not to be mistreated or oppressed. They are to enjoy the benefits of a Sabbath rest, just like their Hebrew neighbors.

The Hebrews are told to remember what it felt like to be foreigners living in a foreign land. They’re forbidden to treat others how they were treated in Egypt.

Even in the embryonic stages of Israel’s existence, we get a glimpse of how God wants to use them to bless “all nations.”

The Torah’s mandated compassion toward foreigners should be kept in mind when we come to the conquest passages later in the story. They might also be worth meditating on before we as Christians speak into the modern-day immigration debate.

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