The Sinai

How to Treat Foreigners

FOREIGNERS
FOREIGNERS

The story of the Exodus from Egypt through the Sinai teaches the principles of empathy, justice, protection and integration when relating with foreigners.  

Moses knew what is was like to be a Foreigner

Moses himself must have felt a foreigner in the palace among the Egyptians, in the desert among the Bedouin, and among the Israelites. He was a Hebrew growing up among the Egyptians. Later he was an Egyptian living among the Bedouin in the Sinai. He was a unique mix of all three cultures when living among the Israelites in later life. Moses even named his firstborn son ‘Gershom’ meaning a foreigner in a foreign land. 

As Israel was saved from bondage in Egypt, they were accompanied by a mixed multitude of people from many nations. [1] At the foot of Mount Sinai these diverse tribes and nations were taught by the Word of the LORD how they were to live together in harmony.

Empathy

The books of Moses called ‘the Torah’, exhorts the children of Israel to never forget that they themselves were subjected to harsh labour under Pharaoh’s rule in Egypt. The imperative to treat foreigners with compassion and fairness is rooted in the Israelites’ own experiences of oppression and displacement. Their foundational experience of being foreigners who suffered oppression in another land is to serve the Israelites as a powerful reminder that they are no different or better than the foreigners living among them. They are not to treat foreigners as Pharaoh did, but with the compassion and justice of Yahweh [2].

Not to Oppress the Foreigner

The LORD spoke to Moses and the Israelites from Mount Sinai, 

“do not oppress a foreigner” or “mistreat them” [3]. 

This injunction reflects the fundamental principle of justice and equality. It affirms the inherent dignity and worth of all individuals, regardless of their nationality or social status. It serves as a moral compass guiding the Israelites’ conduct towards foreigners, demanding that they recognise and overcome the temptation to exploit or discriminate against those who differ from themselves.

Full Legal Protection for Foreigners 

The law given in the Sinai commands that foreigners be granted equal access to justice. 

“You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born”[4]

Legally, the Torah mandates equal protection under the law for both native-born Israelites and foreigners. It states, 

“You shall have one law for the stranger and the native alike”[5].

This principle of legal equality comes from the Torah’s commitment to impartiality and justice. It affirms that foreigners are to have the same rights and privileges as members of the Israelite community.

“You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns”[6].

Vulnerable workers and foreigners are mentioned specifically to ensure they are not exploited. 

Wherever the law of God is taught faithfully, favouritism or discrimination cannot be tolerated within social interactions and the law courts. 

Integration of Foreigners

The law given in the Sinai emphasises the inclusion of foreigners within the religious community of Israel. People from all nations are invited to participate in the life and ways of the one true God. The law declares, 

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt”[7].

The law given at Mount Sinai provides a comprehensive ethical framework for the treatment of foreigners, emphasising principles of empathy, justice, and integration. To help the people of God to identify with and have compassion on foreigners living in their midst, they are to never forget what it felt like to live as foreigners in Egypt. 

The law given from Mount Sinai challenges all the nations of the world to build just and free societies through working for the common good. This involves making every effort to transcend tribalism and self-interest, to embrace foreigners as equals under just laws.

Reflection

n what ways are your family and community tempted to violate these principles? 

  • ”Do not oppress a foreigner or mistreat them.”
  • ”Have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born.”
  • ”You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns.”

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References

  • [1] Exodus 12:23.
  • [2] Yahweh is the unique name for the person who revealed himself and spoke to Moses from the burning bush at Mount Sinai (Exodus 3:14,15). Yahweh is used 6,824 times as the personal name for God in the Torah, Prophets and Psalms of the Old Testament. English translations of the Bible translate Yahweh as LORD.
  • [3] Exodus 22:21, 23:9.
  • [4] Exodus 22:21, 23:9.
  • [5] Leviticus 24:22.
  • [6] Deuteronomy 24:14.
  • [7] Deuteronomy 10:17-19.

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