In this book we shall carefully examine the relevant biblical texts that bear on the issue of immigration and aliens. The narratives and laws of the Bible did not take place in a cultural and historical vacuum. Consequently, we will need to look at other ancient texts from the world of the Bible to understand what was going on during the days of Abraham, Moses, and David that shaped the teaching of Scripture. In my view this contextual approach is essential for establishing the setting of biblical stories and laws, thus providing the basis for understanding them.

Migrations of peoples did not begin with the Americas in the early seventeenth century. They have been a part of human history since God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and they settled east of Eden (Gen. 3:22-24). When Cain murdered his brother Abel, he went in search of a new home, fearing that someone would avenge the death of Abel. So he immigrated to the land of Nod ("wandering"), where he built himself a new home (Gen. 4:14-17). From the early pages of Genesis onward, there are reports of families, clans, and tribes migrating to foreign lands. For example, the people who built the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1ff.) had emigrated from the east and settled in the land of Shinar, present-day Iraq. Centuries later, Abraham and his family migrated from the same region to the land of Canaan (Gen. 11:31-12:9), and this is where the story of ancient Israel's ancestors begins.

What can we learn from these stories? What do the biblical laws dealing with immigration say regarding the alien that could help us today? On the one hand they protect the immigrant, while on the other hand they safeguard the nation receiving the new aliens.

In the following chapters we shall look at the biblical stories and laws, while at the same time we must consider their cultural, social, and legal settings in order to glean information about how ancient peoples dealt with the age-old quandary of immigration and aliens. The intended result is that readers will have a handle for opening the Bible and using it in a responsible way when considering the policies toward and treatment of aliens and illegal immigrants in America. Of course, the issues treated here will be germane to citizens of any nation who have to face these issues and are looking for some direction on one of the most complex ethical dilemmas of our time.

Warning! When I began thinking about this issue, I thought an easy answer would emerge—a single verse or teaching, a silver bullet to solve the problem once and for all. Well, it is not that easy. I was pleased to discover that the Bible goes further than I had expected to address some of the issues we face regarding immigration. It is also clear that Scripture can critique misguided positions that some people have taken. Furthermore, it clarified some questions I had not expected it to address, such as what constituted an alien and the circumstances under which one could settle in a different country. The passages we will consider have something to say to the judicial system, to religious and political leaders, to employers, and to immigrants, legal and illegal. These do not offer a simple answer to our thorny problems, but they do provide some helpful guidelines that can inform the debate and perhaps move the national discourse in a constructive direction.

Applying the Bible to Present-Day Laws and Issues

How do we apply biblical law to current issues? How do we apply the ancient Hebrew prophets' call for justice in Israel to contemporary western societies? These questions must be thoughtfully considered because the hermeneutical issues are thorny. Four common approaches will be considered here.

One way of applying biblical law to modern issues and laws is to look for literal correlations between the two. While this way of viewing the Bible is common among very conservative readers of Scripture, this approach is seriously flawed. I think most readers of the Old Testament law, Christians or Jews, will agree that the Sinai legislation of Exodus 20-Deuteronomy 34 constituted the legal code for Israel and not for the U.S.A, Canada, the European Union, or any other country, although Christians will affirm with the apostle Paul that the Hebrew Scriptures were "written down for our instruction" (1 Cor. 10:11, ESV) and that God's word "remains forever" (Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25), while at the same time concurring with the distinguished theologian Gerhard von Rad that Scripture is "the particular word relevant to a particular hour in history."5 Consequently we must be very careful about literally applying ancient Israelite law to the present without fully understanding the setting and context of the passage in question.