This post is the last section of a paper titled “God: The Defender of the Oppressed.” This paper was written by Stephanie Franco, one of my students in the course “OT 458 Old Testament Theology: The God of the Old Testament.” This course was taught at Northern Baptist Seminary in the Spring quarter 2014.
God and the Aliens
“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:34).
Israel’s self-identity was tied to the knowledge that the nation’s ancestors, starting with Abraham and Sarah and continuing through to the exodus from Egypt, were sojourners, immigrants, and aliens, explains Charles Van Engen. Israel’s history was used by the Lord to “participate in God’s mission to the nations” according to Van Engen. For example, Abraham’s missionary call required him to depart from his homeland and become a pilgrim in another land; there he would become a great nation and indeed a blessing to every nation (Genesis 12:1–3).
Another agent of Yahweh’s mission for the world was Joseph. Forced to live as a stranger and indeed as a slave in Egypt, he endured false accusations, prison, and loneliness. Yet the Lord used him to save his family, the Egyptians, and the surrounding nations from the effects of a great famine (Genesis 50:20).
Additionally, Daniel, an exiled prisoner, was sent by God to provide counsel to the kings of Babylon and Persia. Unfortunately, during periods when Israel refused to fulfill its role to be a missionary to the world, Yahweh used foreign nations to judge his people, hoping that they would return to him.
Finally, the story of Ruth represents how the Lord can use a Moabite widow to heal a daughter of Israel, Naomi, of her bitterness (Ruth 1:20). Boaz, the righteous Israelite, follows the commands of God by welcoming Ruth to the community, protecting her from abuse, and allowing her to glean from his vineyard (Ruth 2:8–9).
Van Engen states, “It is precisely because Ruth is a stranger, a widow, and an alien, that God was able to use her in the environment of the faithfulness, compassion, and love of Boaz to bring about the healing of Naomi’s bitterness.”
Yahweh commanded the Israelites to love those strangers who entered their land more than thirty times in the Hebrew Bible. He tells them not to oppress or exploit aliens in their midst, but to embrace them as their own family members. This is because the Israelites were once strangers in the land of Egypt: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).
Even when dealing with a legal proceeding, the Lord instructed his people to treat foreigners with justice and impartiality, emphasizing their common past experience: “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
R. K. Harrison suggests that the Israelites’ love for strangers in their land demonstrates their gratitude toward God for liberating them from slavery and restoring their right to be free individuals.
Finally Jesus Christ himself may be counted among the aliens and strangers of the Bible. As Miguel Díaz notes, Jesus’ earthly ministry among humankind was often met with suspicion and rejection. Even after his resurrection, he was called a “stranger in Jerusalem” by two of his followers who were walking to Emmaus and prevented from recognizing him (Luke 24:16, 18).
Díaz argues that “aliens” in new lands offer a powerful reminder of God’s own death and rejection (Acts 4:11), and he holds that persons from different cultures and experiences should not be marginalized by the church or community. Indeed, the Lord often “conceals and reveals” himself in the distinct differences of humanity, meaning that Christians should be eager to love strangers and those who are different from themselves.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim release
to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
Luke 4:18 (cf. Isaiah 61.1–2a)
Elliot Wright holds that “[t]he modern church should pay close attention to the way Jesus identified himself with the poor, the oppressed and those of no social status. He brought dignity, hope and a feeling of worth to those most dejected and unacceptable.”
In this cruel world, superheroes are often the epitome of individuals who greatly desire to see justice served and who are driven to destroy agents of injustice with their supernatural abilities. They often mask their true identities, not necessarily to confuse their enemies, but to identify with those who are in need of their help.
Similarly, God is the world’s ultimate superhero who has the power to speak things into existence and part the seas. Yet, he entered his creation as a human being, clothed in humility, to the point of being a slave, in order to defeat humanity’s greatest enemy, death (Philippians 2:5–8; 1 Corinthians 15:55).
Jesus, that superhero, was rejected by the elite people of his day (Isaiah 53:3). His followers, both during his earthly ministry and throughout church history, are often comprised of the underdogs of human society (1 Corinthians 1:26–28; 4:10) who struggle to survive in an unjust world. God has not forgotten the oppressed and will not ignore their cry.
The world can be cruel, but safety is found in the name of Yahweh: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10). Victims of oppression can identify with Jesus just as he can empathize with them; most importantly they can call on him to defend them because he has done it before: indeed, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 has been and still remains the hope of the oppressed.
Studies on God as the Defender of the Oppressed
M. Div. Student
Northern Baptist Seminary
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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1. Charles Van Engen, “Biblical Perspectives on the Role of Immigrants in God’s Mission,” Journal of Latin American Theology 3 (2008): 22.
2. Ibid., 23.
3. Ibid., 22. Like Abraham, Christians are described in 1 Peter as “aliens and exiles” (2:11, cf. Genesis 23:4 LXX). As noted by Karen Jobes, they are “citizens first of God’s holy nation” and “stand in a long tradition of people who were chosen by God and called to be aliens and strangers in the places where they lived.” See Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 168.
4. Van Engen, “Biblical Perspectives,” 27.
6. Ibid., 29.
7. Ibid., 31.
8. Ibid., 32.
9. Miguel H. Díaz, “On Loving Strangers: Encountering the Mystery of God in the Face of Migrants,” Word & World 29 (2009): 236.
10. Carol Meyers, Exodus, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 201.
11. R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 202.
12. Díaz, “On Loving Strangers,” 236.
13. Ibid., 239.
15. Elliot Wright, Go Free (New York: Friendship Press, 1973), 55.