Israel's Experience and Immigration Today
Immigrants, refugees and asylees – these groups are one of the world’s greatest challenges today and the Bible provides profound resources for a theology of compassion and justice. M. Daniel Carroll R.’s newest book, the The Bible and Borders, sketches for all readers of the Bible an accessible approach to the major biblical themes and modern solutions.
For Christians to discuss current immigration and deportations without considering the Bible’s wide ranging texts is a failure to let our story shape our life. Carroll points us in the right direction.
Some may not be convinced. Here is his wise starting point:
First,these biblical passages demonstrate how central migrations are to much of the Old Testament. This awareness should alert us to how universal this phenomenon is, and ir can impact our understanding of what these texts portray and teach us. Second, these accounts depict how migrant people responded to circumstances. atthat time. These responses are similar to what Hispanic (and all) immigrants go through today. The text, in other words, can make readers more sensitive to the immigrant population and the challenges they face.
I agree, so let’s move on, and we can but dip into his chapter since it covers so much ground.
He examines hunger, forced exile, and life as foreigners – all these illustrate migrations and the experience of life beyong migration/immigration.
Abraham was a sojourner (Gen 17:18; 20:1; 21:34; 23:4), so too Isaac (35:27), Jacob (28:4) and his sons (47:4). God tells Abraham that he will be a “stranger” for 400 years (15:13). So much is this the case that a common expression is that “my father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut 26:5).
We could go on but the famine led the children of Israel to Egypt (Gen 12:10-20). That Nile River made Egypt a breadbasket. Carroll suggests Abram’s lie about Sarai may have hunger as a motivation, and he would not be alone in that surmise.
Isaac acts because of famine (Gen 26:1, 6).
So too Jacob (41:57-42:6).
Under Joseph the whole family escapes famine (47:10-13).
I will use his example of Daniel here. Taken from homeland to Babylon: Dan 1:1, 3-4. He was to be nurtured into the ways of Babylon because he was talented.
Powerless people, accommodating people, faithful people. That’s the big idea complex in Daniel. They lost everything, including their names.
They are powerless so they use food as their form of resistance.
We find lots of this theme in the deportations of the Northern and Southern kingdoms to Assyria and Babylon and then under Persia the return of the Judeans.
Summary: during famine and under force Israelites over and over experienced migration, deportation and, in effect, immigration while they fought to sustain their identity as God’s people.
Life as Foreigners
Here is where the parallel with today becomes far more consistent.
In Egypt reduced to slavery, Israel finds creative ways to live and assimilate, survive, resist and all surrounded by prayers to their God for redemption and liberation.
It was not the same for all for the longer one lived in a foreign country the more the assimilation. So we look at suggestive patterns in Judean experience in Babylon”
According to this perspective, successive generations of those in exile evaluated their circumstances differently and held dissimi-lar theological views. For example, a passage like Psalm 137 would reflect the visceral feelings of adults who went through the forced removal to Babylon after the conflicts of 597 and 586. The letter of Jeremiah 29, on the other hand, is said to be directed at what now wouJd be called the 1.5 generation-that is, adolescents who accompanied their parents on that journey but now were thinking of ways to flourish in their new land. This interpretation of exilic realities raises several interesting issues: How might those of the 597 displacement have interacted with those who arrived later-that is, the ones who lived through the horrors of a devastating war and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586? By that time, those who had come earlier and under very different circumstances may have already adjusted to the Babylonian context to some degree.Could they understand their countrymen’s trauma? How did the children and later descendants of each group engage one another? Did Jewish views on the exile and God shift over time? These are questions that we may never be able to answer. Attempts to connect passages with specific groups can be subjective, but these sorts of issues are common to migration in history.
What then can we learn?
The Bible’s realism is our reality: famine, war, conflict, deportations.
It’s realism about life in exile is ours too, as is the return to the homeland not unlike modern hope and reality.
They are vulnerable people, talented people, accommodating and surviving people. I have often learned of life like this from taxi drivers who in their homeland were engineers and doctors and professors but who, for various reasons, have escaped and come to the USA because of its freedom. I often have learned of the adaptibility as well as restrictions on such persons.
Theology is explored in all directions by these people in Bible times. Why is this happening? How can we sustain our hope? What theology do we need to cope and flourish?
Mission occurs as well. While there the exiled people – the immigrants – became a missional presence of their God. Think of Daniel. Joseph blessed Egypt.
Also, we might learn to see ourselves as exiles in a strange land in our world today as Christians. This is how Peter depicts his readers and it is how Hauerwas and Willimon have sketched our life today in their wonderful book Resident Aliens.
Assimilation is but one strategy for the immigrant, but expect such persons among us to want to preserve their culture and not simply learn our language and ways of life. We are a country that has historically welcomed others, and we as Christians are to be the vanguard because, like Israel, our people too were wandering Arameans.
Jesus Creed is a part of CT's
Blog Forum. Support the work of CT.
Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.