The Christian And Xenophobia: Biblical Injunctions Concerning The Treatment Of Foreigners Amongst Us

Xenophobia, hatred and racism words written with blocks on red background

Xenophobia is defined by the Offline English-Urdu Dictionary as the morbid fear and hatred of foreigners. The fear and maltreatment of foreigners is rising proportionately with the rise of nationalistic movements the world over. As more and more anti-immigration elements within nations attack the foreigners in their midst and agitate for the closure of their national borders to the strangers at their gates, there’s an urgent need to understand the Christian’s obligation to foreigners living with us. How does the Bible expect Christians to deal with foreigners in their midst? How does God view the maltreatment of people in a foreign land? We shall examine the Scriptures to answer these questions.

Abraham, the father of faith and friend of God, left the promised land twice to sojourn in foreign lands, during periods of famine and food scarcity. He went first to Egypt (at the beginning of his call), and later sojourned in Gerar (just before the birth of Isaac). On both occasions, Abraham harboured great fear of being maltreated by the citizens of the places he was visiting. On both occasions, he had to lie to disguise his relationship with his wife, for fear of the men of the land killing him and taking over his beautiful wife, Sarah. We thus see that migrating to foreign lands for better economic opportunities (among other reasons) has been part of man’s pursuit of happiness and fulfilment from time immemorial. We also see that the sojourner in a foreign land has always been an endangered species. The story hasn’t changed much in our time. If anything, migration for better opportunities and personal safety (fleeing from political and religious persecution) and the apprehension of immigrants due to xenophobic attacks have only multiplied!

Genesis 12:10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

Genesis 12:11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.

Genesis 12:12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ’This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live.

Genesis 12:13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

Genesis 12:14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman.

Genesis 12:15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.

Genesis 12:16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

Genesis 12:17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.

Genesis 12:18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?

Genesis 12:19 Why did you say, ’She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!”

Genesis 12:20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

Genesis 20:1 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar,

Genesis 20:2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

Genesis 20:3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

Genesis 20:4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?

Genesis 20:5 Did he not say to me, ’She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ’He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

Genesis 20:6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her.

Genesis 20:7 Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”

Genesis 20:8 Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid.

Genesis 20:9 Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.”

Genesis 20:10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”

Genesis 20:11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ’There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’

Genesis 20:12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.

Genesis 20:13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ’This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

Genesis 20:14 Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him.

Genesis 20:15 And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”

Genesis 20:16 To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”

Genesis 20:17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again,

Genesis 20:18 for the LORD had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

However, the most significant sojourn in foreign lands for God’s people was the migration of Jacob and his entire family (70 persons in all) from Canaan to Egypt, as a result of a prolonged and severe famine in Palestine. Again, survival and the search for better opportunities drove this migration. Jacob himself was reluctant to leave the promised land for any reason; however, God appeared to him and encouraged him to do so, on account of the severity of the famine afflicting the land of Canaan. This shows that God might be behind some migration of his people to foreign lands. After all, the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. The Lord can direct the relocation of any of his people to any parts of the world, to serve his purpose.

Israel’s sojourn in Egypt lasted for about 430 years, and ended up with maltreatment of the Jews who were turned into slaves and severely dehumanised by the Egyptians. Though the Jews contributed in no small way to the building and development of the Egyptian economy and their society as a whole (remember it was Joseph that preserved Egypt from the catastrophic effect of the global famine), envy, jealousy and misguided fear of dominance and displacement led the Egyptians to forget the good works of the Jews and turn on them in vicious xenophobic attacks. Eventually, God delivered the Jews from their captivity in Egypt, and returned them back to the promised land of Canaan that he had earlier given to their ancestors. However, the bitter experience of slavery in Egypt affected Israel’s perception and treatment of foreigners in a profound way, and was to define the nation’s immigration policies for generations to come.

Genesis 46:1 So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

Genesis 46:2 And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!” “Here I am,” he replied.

Genesis 46:3 “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.

Genesis 46:4 I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”

Genesis 46:5 Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him.

Genesis 46:6 So Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan.

Genesis 46:7 Jacob brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters —all his offspring.

Exodus 1:5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.

Exodus 1:6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died,

Exodus 1:7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Exodus 1:8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.

Exodus 1:9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us.

Exodus 1:10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

Exodus 1:11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.

Exodus 1:12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites

Exodus 1:13 and worked them ruthlessly.

Exodus 1:14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

Exodus 1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah,

Exodus 1:16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”

Exodus 1:17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.

Exodus 1:18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

Exodus 1:19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

Exodus 1:20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.

Exodus 1:21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

Exodus 1:22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Exodus 12:40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years.

Exodus 12:41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt.

Israel’s experience as maltreated slaves in Egypt formed the basis of God’s laws for them with respect to the treatment of foreigners in their midst. Because they had suffered severely in the hands of their slavemasters in their land of sojourn, the Israelites were expected to know what it felt like to be maltreated and persecuted in a strange land. They had experienced xenophobia first hand, and they were expected to be better positioned to deal more kindly with foreigners in their midst.

The Mosaic Law took care to defend and protect the lot of foreigners among the Jews. Under the law, foreigners were to be treated with love, respect, dignity and empathy. Foreigners were not to be discriminated against. One law was to be applicable to both citizens and foreigners. The foreigners were to be specially protected and defended from harassment and exploitation, and their material needs were to be catered for as one of the underprivileged and disadvantaged in society. Foreigners in need were to be taken care of from the tithes of the people, alongside the priests, Levites, widows and orphans! As we can see, a social safety net existed even then for the poor, and it covered foreigners in need too, in addition to the underprivileged natives.

Exodus 23:9 “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Exodus 23:12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.

Leviticus 19:10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 24:22 You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.’”

Deuteronomy 26:12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.

Deuteronomy 26:13 Then say to the LORD your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them.

Deuteronomy 26:14 I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the LORD my God; I have done everything you commanded me.

Deuteronomy 26:15 Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Jeremiah 22:3 This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Furthermore, under the Mosaic Law, foreigners in Israel were given a path to citizenship, if they wanted to become Jewish citizens. All they needed to do was convert to the Jewish religion, get circumcised and keep the Jewish laws. They would then become proselytes, and enjoy all the religious rights and privileges of the native-born Jews. Such proselytes could then partake in all Jewish religious celebrations, including the Passover! Following this pathway to citizenship, some Gentile converts to Judaism rose to become prominent citizens in the land of Israel. Ruth, the Moabite, thus became one of the ancestors of King David and of our Lord Jesus, through her marriage to Boaz, after she renounced her gods and her people to take up Jehovah as her God, and Israel as her adopted country.

Exodus 12:48 “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it.

Exodus 12:49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.”

Isaiah 56:3 Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.”

Isaiah 56:4 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant —

Isaiah 56:5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.

Isaiah 56:6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant —

Isaiah 56:7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Ruth 1:16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.

Ruth 1:17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

Ruth 1:18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

Ruth 4:9 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon.

Ruth 4:10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”

Ruth 4:11 Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.

Ruth 4:12 Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”

Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.

Ruth 4:14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!

Ruth 4:15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

Ruth 4:16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.

Ruth 4:17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

In the New Testament, the need to deal kindly with foreigners is brought even closer to the believer- we ourselves are foreigners and pilgrims on earth, whatever our country of origin! Our new identity in Christ makes us citizens of heaven, and whatever earthly citizenship we have is secondary to our heavenly one. So, basically, the believer is a stranger himself and should treat other strangers with compassion and empathy, because he has the heart of a stranger! Scripture also enjoins us to be careful to entertain foreigners well, because some angels have come down to men in the form of strangers! Thus, treating foreigners right is not only the right thing to do, it’s also key to not missing a divine visitation!

The believer’s heavenly citizenship is the main driving force of his life. Yes, we’re citizens of our countries of birth and we should be good and model citizens in being responsible and obedient to the laws of the land. We should perform our civic duties and support the governments in place to maintain law and order. However, we should not be carried away by nationalistic sentiments and forget our heavenly citizenship, which overrides the earthly one. When the chips are down, if we have to choose between our heavenly citizenship and the earthly one, there should be no hesitation as to where our loyalty should be! If we have to choose between the government of heaven and the government of our countries, we shouldn’t think twice before choosing to obey God rather than men! At all times, we should judge the policies of our various countries by heaven’s policies and laws. We’re heaven’s ambassadors on earth, and we should represent heaven well and not get carried away by nationalistic fights and lose focus of our mission, which is to win and disciple all men and women for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

1 Peter 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.

1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Hebrews 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

Hebrews 11:14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.

Hebrews 11:15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.

Hebrews 11:16 Instead, they were longing for a better country —a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:

2 Corinthians 5:19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

In conclusion, the fear of strangers and hostility towards them is a base human instinct that stems from fear of the unknown, self-centredness, hatred and intolerance. Envy and jealousy are also often at play, especially if foreigners are perceived to be doing better than the indigenes. These negative instincts towards foreigners are all works of the flesh that are natural to the unregenerated. However, the believer in Christ is expected to respond differently to foreigners, being strangers and pilgrims ourselves here on earth. The Christian is to show love to all, but particularly to the foreigner and stranger, for some angels have come down to men in the form of strangers. People usually leave their home country to migrate to other places for economic, political and religious reasons. Being in a foreign land and far away from one’s familiar environment is enough circumstance on its own to induce anxiety and distress. To add to it hatred and the risks of violent attacks from one’s supposed hosts makes the experience even more harrowing. If we recognise that we’re all strangers on earth, we’d take more care to love and protect the stranger within our gates from molestation, exploitation and all other forms of abuse. If we understand that we could be in their shoes one day, we’d learn to treat them as we’d have them treat us if our positions were reversed. Israel suffered intense xenophobic attacks in Egypt, and that motivated the laws God gave them to protect and defend the cause of the strangers in their midst. May we learn to love our neighbours as ourselves, and to do unto others as we’d have them do unto us. Love is God’s cure for xenophobia, and the Christian is the ideal person to lead the fight against xenophobia, because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Thank you so much for visiting this blog. We appreciate you and the precious time you spared to read through this lengthy post. If you were blessed by this message, kindly like, drop a comment and share with others (with due acknowledgement of the source). You can also follow us to have subsequent posts sent directly to you through your email. God bless you abundantly in Jesus name! Amen!

Published by Dr. Ndubuisi Emmanuel Ojo

Dr Ojo is a Biblical scholar and teacher who believes firmly in the original Apostolic faith as the only authentic version of Christianity, and the only legitimate basis for Christian doctrine and conduct.

2 thoughts on “The Christian And Xenophobia: Biblical Injunctions Concerning The Treatment Of Foreigners Amongst Us

  1. Superbly stated, Dr. Ojo! This was a well documented and logical examination of the Biblical standard for how we should treat foreigners in our midst. After all, we (as Christians) are sojourners in this fallen world. That’s the main take away for me. Here’s my bumper sticker summary of this post: Everyone matters if anyone matters at all.

    I shall be clicking the “follow” button, doctor. Blessings to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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