Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 008


Exodus 23:1-9
“You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute.
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.
“You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute. Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.
“Also you shall not oppress a ger, for you know the heart of a ger, because you were ger in the land of Egypt.


What Does It Say?

Exodus 23 also has list of miscellaneous commandments, but they are something of a mirror to Exodus 22. While Exodus 22 deals with not oppressing the poor, Exodus 23 instructs us not to oppress others on behalf of the poor.

There are two passages here the deal with this explicitly; "You shall not show partiality (hadar) to a poor man in his dispute" and  "You shall not pervert (natah) the judgment of your poor in his dispute." This ties in with the idea of being an honest witness and not perverting justice in the earlier verses.

The verb hadar means "to honor," so the idea is not to show undue consideration for the poor when rendering judgement. Don't show them favorable treatment due to their poverty, judge rightly. Natah means "to stretch," so the idea is not to stretch the case (we might say 'stretch the truth' or 'stretch the law') in order to render a favorable judgement for a poor man.
No. Just, no

There are many Bible verses that instruct us not to oppress the poor; indeed, there are many that instruct us to actively help them. And while it is a good thing to give of your own wealth to help the poor, some people try to make the Bible into a Marxist text, where the rich are always villains and the poor are always noble.

But we are forbidden to pervert justice in favor of the poor. We are not to rob the rich to help the poor. We are not to lie about the rich to help the poor. While in this world justice is often tipped in favor of the rich and powerful, in the West we're just as likely to unjustly punish the rich (or even the financially stable) just for being rich (or financially stable).

Justice is Justice, and it is the right of the poor, the rich, and everyone in between. It is owed to us as  individuals, not as social groups. And while that doesn't relate directly to ger, it does inform our treatment of them: do not to tip justice in favor of ger just because some of them are poor or vulnerable.

The verse dealing with the ger here is almost identical to the Exodus 22 passage, but it goes further. Exodus 22 is a bit "tit for tat" - don't oppress the ger because you were ger in Egypt. Exodus 23 takes it a step further: don't oppress the ger because you know the heart of the ger. You can sympathize, you know what it's like, you know that feel.

Ancient Israelis, comforting a ger in their midst.

In the Bible, God tends to repeat the stuff that's most important. That's part of the reason why we get four Gospels instead of one. So the fact that we get a second appearance of an almost identical commandment reinforces the importance of not oppressing the ger. Just don't do it. Even if we aren't supposed to oppress people in favor of the ger, treating them fairly shows our heart. It's a matter of our identity as people who know what it's like to be strangers in a strange land.

I'm going to preview some New Testament stuff here, but in a spiritual sense, the Church is the New Israel. We too know what it's like to be ger, strangers and wanderers in a world that hates us. We know the heart of the ger, and this should guide us in our treatment of ger.

Next: Exodus 23:10-13

Monday, May 21, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 007

Exodus 22:21-27

“You shall neither mistreat a ger nor oppress him, for you were ger in the land of Egypt.

“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

“If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious.


What Does It Say?

Today's ger passage comes in a list of miscellaneous laws that govern how the Israelites were to treat the weak and at-risk. Unlike many Old Testament commandments, these come with explicit reasons for why God gives them as laws. I've included the commandments on widows, orphans, and debtors so you can see the logic at work in those similar situations.

God says that the Israelites are not to mistreat or oppress ger, for they themselves know what it is like to be mistreated and oppressed ger. The word used here for 'mistreat,' yanah, can also be used to mean 'destroy' and has a sense of physical violence (although it is in some places translated as 'oppress', eg. Lev 25:14). The word translated as 'oppress,' lachats, can also mean to literally press (Num 22:25).

So we can understand this to mean that we are not to commit oppressive violence against outsiders. The picture is that of what Egypt did to Israel - to enslave, oppress, and physically harm (for example, by killing all the firstborn males).

Along with slavery and genocide, the
Egyptians were also known for their
offensive Halloween costumes
This passage shows us that ger are considered a protected class in Israel, presumably because they are so vulnerable. The lives of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and their descendants are full of examples of their vulnerability as foreigners living in someone else's country.

Even under the old law, we are not supposed to take advantage of foreigners or treat them with oppressive violence of the sort Egypt treated the Israelis with.

Now, we might take a second to remember God is talking about actual violence and exploitation here. There is no concept of microaggressions or stare-rape here. If it's not on the same level as what the Egyptians did to the Israelis (enslaving and attempting to genocide an ethnic minority), then it's outside of the scope of the passage.

I'll leave the question of whether or not the modern state of Israel is violating this command in their treatment of the Palestinians as an exercise for the reader.

Next: Exodus 23

Friday, May 18, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 006

Exodus 20:8-11
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant (ebed), nor your female servant (amah), nor your cattle, nor your stranger (ger) who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."

What Does It Say?

This passage is of course from the Ten Commandments and is the only commandment that deals with foreigners. In short, all who were in the land and attached to an Israeli household were required to keep the Sabbath. This extends not only to ebed (the kinda-sorta slaves) and any foreign nationals staying with an Israeli family, but also to any animals owned by the Israeli household.

Also, bear in mind that the "your"s in this passage are inferred - that is to say, they are added to the text to make it more readable in English. So what we read as:
"you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your ebed, nor your amah, nor your cattle, nor your ger who is within your gates"

Originally reads:
"son, daughter, ebed, amah, cattle, ger gate"
And if you're wondering why I left out "you" from the original, it's because the Hebrew word for "you" (את at, but it depends on gender/number) doesn't appear in the text. It's implies by the context, but Hebrew doesn't require an explicit subject here.

All of that is to say, the text would be ambiguous as to if this is your stranger or not. In my (still limited) opinion, it could refer to any ger in your gates (as we might say, under your roof), whether they are a member of your household. This sheds an interesting light on Jewish customs like the Shabbas Goy, the non-Jew hired to do simple tasks Jews are forbidden to do on the Sabbath.

Now, if you ask three Rabbis what type of work Shabbas Goy are allowed to do you'll get five answers, but in my conversations with observant Jews, Shabbas Goy are used for simple tasks like turning on light switches and so on.

At any rate, we meet our old friends ebed and ger in this passage, but we also find amah. Amah is basically a female version of ebed, a female kinda-sorta slave. For example, Sarah's slave Hagar is called amah in Genesis 21. There is, however, an idea that Israeli women can become amah, for example Exodus 21:7.

Again we see that non-Israelis who are part of an Israeli household are required to live by aspects of the Law, like previous passages requiring circumcision for ebed. This again leans against religious plurality as being sanctioned in Scripture. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 006

Exodus 18:1-6

And Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people—that the Lordhad brought Israel out of Egypt. Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her back, with her two sons, of whom the name of one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land”) 4 and the name of the other was Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”); and Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of God. Now he had said to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.”

What Does It Say?

This passage takes place after Moses and the Israelites has left Egypt, passed through the Red Sea, and started on their journey to Canaan. On the way, Moses' father-in-law (who we already met in Ger 003) comes out to meet them and give Moses back his wife and kids.

Now Gershom's name is the only place where ger appears in this passage, but I decided to include it in our study for two reasons:

1). Sheer bloody-mindedness. We're doing every passage with ger, not 99% of passages with ger.

2). With all of the prohibitions against marrying pagans in the Old Testament, I wanted to show that there is no blanket prohibition on marrying non-Israelis. Exodus 18 doesn't say why Zipporah had returned to her father (most scholars speculate Moses sent her back due to the danger from Pharaoh, but the text never explicitly says why), but it does show us that all involved believed her place and her children's place was with their father.

It's important to remember this, along with other instances of inter-ethnic marriage, because there are passages that very violently condemn marrying foreign women. The difference is that the latter passages are condemning marrying foreign women because they bring their foreign gods with them. There are no passages in the Bible condemning marriage with converted non-Israelis. At least, there aren't any as far as I know, and if they do exist, we'll get to them eventually

Next: Exodus 20

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 005

Exodus 12 Analysis

As we discussed last time, Exodus 12 gives us a variety of different types of non-Israelis. In this post, we're going to speculate on what this variety tells us about what the Bible says about immigration. Let's start by briefly reviewing the different Hebrew words used:

Ben - roughly, "outsider." In Exodus 12, it refers to 'those outside of Israel', but in other passages it can refer to those who are outside of a particular tribe. Basically, anyone who is not part of a given group is ben to those inside the group. Does not refer exclusively to those outside an ethnicity.

Ebed - a purchased human being whose role is between a servant and a slave. Considered part of a household and must be circumcised. Assumed to be non-Israeli.

Sakiyr - a hired servant who is paid wages. Not considered part of a household and does not have to be circumcised. Assumed to be non-Israeli.

Towshab - a temporary non-native resident. Not part of a household, not circumcised. Most sakiyr would also be towshab.

Ger - non-native residents. Ger who want to be circumcised can be circumcised and celebrate the Passover. Ger who do this will be under "one law" with the native-born.
This passage shows us the differences between the various types of non-Israelis in ancient Israel and is an important Rosetta stone for unlocking the meaning of future texts.

Exodus here assumes that there will be some number of non-Israelis living in the land. It assumes that some of them will be slaves and some will be workers paid a wage. It assumes some will be temporary residents who will return to their homelands and some point and that some will be long term residents. It assumes that some will adopt the religion and customs of the Jews and that some will not.

So we already so indications of the direction that the Bible is going to go on issues like immigration, migrant labor, freedom of religion (for non-natives working and living temporarily in the land), and naturalization. These ideas are here in seed form; we'll have to wait to see how they develop in the rest of Scripture.

Interestingly, there's nothing here that implies migrant laborers are bad or unacceptable. In fact, it's assumed that some number of them will be present in the new nation. Of course, it also assumes some level of human trafficking and that any slaves purchased will be forcibly circumcised and by extension forced to abide by Jewish religious law.

It implies that some ger will become fully naturalized citizens ("one law"), although it's a bit ambiguous at this point. We should wait and see how other verses treat the ger and if there's any evidence that circumcised ger are treated as second class citizens or otherwise unequal from ethnic Israelis.

One thing that it does not say is if towshab are allowed to practice their own religions (pray, make sacrifices, own idols) while living in Israel. I would assume the answer is 'no,' but I'm going to wait until we see a verse that specifically says that.

Next: Exodus 18

Monday, May 14, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 004

Exodus 12

[Sections relating to ger are in bold]

Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire—its head with its legs and its entrails. You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.

‘For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you. So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger [ger] or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.’”

[omitted]

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: No foreigner [ben] shall eat it. But every man’s servant [ebed] who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it. A sojourner [towshab] and a hired servant [sakiyr] shall not eat it. In one house it shall be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house, nor shall you break one of its bones. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger [ger] dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger [ger] who dwells among you.”

Thus all the children of Israel did; as the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. And it came to pass, on that very same day, that the Lord brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt according to their armies.


What Does It Say?

This passage deals with what we might call the founding of the nation of Israel. This is where the family that went down to Egypt that has grown into a new, unique people of its own. And these people are given their first law; the law of the Passover. While God will institute many other laws on Mt. Sinai, Passover precedes that revelation. It is the turning point between what we might call the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant. 

And wile this passage focuses on the Israeli people and how they should celebrate the Passover, it also differentiates between different classes of foreign people; those who do not belong to the ethnic Israeli nation and yet live among them.

The Ben

If this word reminds you of the Hebrew word for "son," you're exactly right. The two words are homonyms (spelled and pronounced identically), although context shows they are two distinct words.

While we don't have time to break down every usage of the word ben in the Old Testament, it appears to be best translated as "stranger" or "outsider" since it does not refer exclusively to non-natives. For example, Israelites who are not sons of Aaron (ie, priests) are referred to as ben  in Numbers 16:40. 

So in order to understand who the ben outsiders are in a given text, we need to know who the 'insiders' are. In Numbers 16, the 'insiders' are the priests, who are qualified to make sacrifices. In Exodus 12, it seems to refer to the uncircumcised residents of the land. We could extrapolate that it refers to non-Israelis who are not permanent residents but are just 'passing through.' 

The Ebed

This is the word translated here as 'servant', but since it refers to a human being who is "bought," it also shares similarities to what we would call a 'slave.' It's clear from the context that it refers to non-Israeli slaves, since they must be circumcised before they can partake in the Passover.

This is slightly different from the modern idea of slaves, since they were considered to be part of the household and had certain legal protections. And since they were part of the household, it was necessary for them to be circumcised.

The Sakiyr

This word specifically refers to "hired servants" or those who take wages. This is closer to our modern idea of a servant or an employee, ie, someone who receives money in exchange for their labor. Presumably, it also refers to a foreign employee, since they are forbidden to take part in the Passover.

Since these sakiyr are not Israeli and, unlike the ebed are not part of the household (being free to come and go), there is no need for them to be circumcised. Since they are generally not circumcised, they are generally forbidden from eating the Passover meal. This coming and going may be why they are closely linked with towshab.

The Towshab

We said before in Ger 002 that towshab seems to refer to non-native temporary residents. That rings true in Exodus 12 as well. As temporary, non-native residents, they would almost certainly not be circumcised and, just as importantly, would not be considered part of any Israeli household.

As mentioned, most sakiyr are probably also going to be towshab, that is, people who are in Israeli to work, not to live for the rest of their lives. This is why the two words are mentioned so closely together in the text; they're not the same thing, but they overlap and reinforce each other.

The Ger

Last we have the ger, or the non-native residents. Ger who desire to celebrate the Passover may do so, provided that they and all males of their household are circumcised and, in essence, become Hebrews. 


Now, there's a lot going on here, so I'd like to put off analysis until next time.

Next: Exodus 12 Analyisis

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 003

Exodus 2:16-22

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.

When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?”

And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.”

So he said to his daughters, “And where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.”

Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses. And she bore him a son. He called his name Gershom [or Gereshom, ger shom, "stranger there"], for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.”


What Does It Say?

Today's passage takes place in the time of Moses, in the time God prophesied about to Abraham in the previous passage. In the book of Exodus, it follows immediately after the incident where Moses murders an Egyptian who was abusing a Hebrew slave.

Having committed murder, Moses flees out of Pharoah's jurisdiction into the land of Midian, where he meets his first wife. In a classic "meet cute" moment, he helps the daughters of the "priest of Midian" deal with some shepherds who don't know how to share. The text leaves out the details of how Moses drove off the shepherds, but considering his history of violence and shortcomings in public speaking (Exodus 4:10), I'm going to guess he didn't debate the shepherds.

At any rate, Moses' conflict resolution skills earn him the favor of a pagan priest and a free wife. Unlike Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, he does not marry someone of his own ethnicity, of his own people, but a foreign woman. He is a ger to her, someone who "was content to live with the man," that is to say, content to live with a people not his own. And so he names their first son "Stranger Here," confessing that he is a stranger despite living in the land and marrying one of its inhabitants.

Even worse, there is every reason to believe that his wife was a pagan polytheist when they met (and perhaps when they married). Her father was a Midianite priest, and it's hard to believe she had heard of the Jews and converted to the worship of their God before meeting Moses.

This is kind of a big deal. Later in the wanderings of Moses and the Israelites, Moses will sanction the execution of Hebrew men who marry Moabite women and worship their gods (see Numbers 25). And it's not like the taboo against marrying foreign women started at Mt. Sinai - Abraham and Issac in particular go to great lengths to find a woman 'of their country and family' for their sons to marry (see Genesis 24 for example).

And yet, Moses is never taken to task in Scripture for marrying an almost certainly pagan foreigner. In fact, Zipporah is shown in a positive light as she is the one who ultimately circumcises their son (Exodus 4). It's a bizarre relationship that starts with a murder and ends with foreskin-tossing (seriously, Exodus 4:25).

So while it's hard to draw universally valid moral principles from Moses' marriage, we can perhaps get an idea of what the Bible says about ger. Being ger is difficult, painful, and alienating. Even though Moses is "content to live with the man" and content to marry a foreign pagan, he never loses his sense of being a foreigner. Even if he is loved, he is different, strange, foreign. And so he names his son "Stranger There" in memorial to his alienation from his surroundings.

Next: Exodus 12