An Ethos of Hospitality Chapter 3 of Christians at the Border


Daniel McGregor

In Chapter two of Daniel Carroll’s book, “Christians at the Border” there is a detailed discussion of how the image of God impacts our understanding of the immigration debate. Chapter three takes a decidedly legal turn.  The question at hand: What laws were established in Israel towards those who were strangers and sojourners in the land? What do these laws imply by extension to the laws of the current American concerns about immigration?

At first, Carroll discusses the four Hebrew words that are variously used in the Old Testament to represent the idea of immigrant or refugee. Carroll acknowledges that there is no dynamic equivalent to the above terms in the Old Testament. “The picture offered by word studies is not altogether clear, so tidy definitions are simply not possible” (Page 101).  One such word used, on the one hand in the Hebrew can simply denote foreigner as Ruth describes herself in Ruth 2:10.  On the other hand, this same term can be used to cast foreigners in a negative light.

  The Hebrew word most often used in the Old Testament, “appears especially in the legal material of the Pentateuch . . . . This word has been translated into English as “Alien,” “Residential alien,” “stranger,” or “sojourner” (page 100). Carroll notes how the law sets the sojourners in a much broader context of care for Israel’s codes and laws concerning the widow, orphan and the poor. “The law recognizes their potentially precarious situation and responds by including them with others who, too, would have been at risk: videos and orphans, other hired workers, servants and the poor” (page 103). Thus, the care for the immigrant was meant to be a natural and by implication normal part of Israel’s life. When Israel failed to live up to these expectations the prophets were quick to condemn them for it.

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. Jeremiah 22:3

However, the law also made demands of the sojourner and resident alien.  It seems to be a general hallmark of our American culture to consider conformity to a standard or norm of behavior in a negative light.  Thus assimilation and the paradigm of the great American melting pot has in recent decades been received poorly.  However, as Carroll points out some expectations of conformity and assimilation were expected of the resident alien in the Old Testament.  The alien was to conform to many of the dietary regulations, feasts and sexual morals of the people of Israel.  They were subject to the same criminal law as Israel and were expected to know the law just as every other Israelite.

It is worth point out that in Carroll’s experience, and indeed the author of this post’s experience, Hispanic immigrants are indeed eager to find there place in the larger community of the United States. The argument that seems to be implied of a radical takeover of our countries values and way of living seems to be the grossest of all straw men arguments. There is no expectation from Carroll that Hispanic immigrants remain a people unto themselves, distinct from the larger warp and woof of the country. The Old Testament seems to indicate that resident aliens were to find their place in the society alongside Israelites.  There is no doubt Hispanic immigrants will find in a myriad of ways their own place in the larger society. 

The general answer that Carroll argues for can be summarized as an ethos of hospitality. In treating the stranger with respect and graciousness the Israelites were demonstrating God’s nature to the sojourner, fulfilling Israel’s purpose to be a witness to the nations. Hospitality, a willingness to engage the stranger and foreigner in their midst, drew these people to God and anticipated a day when Christ would remove the dividing lines through the cross. The church, following Israel’s lead, needs to welcome the immigrant in order that we might draw the stranger to the cross of Christ.