4.2.6 Strangers / Foreigners: Invited Guests
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 2.6
Strangers/Foreigners: Invited Guests
Our previous two chapters (on Gentiles, and then on Samaritans) explored the symbolic ramifications what it means to be “other-than-Israel.” That is, since Israel is God’s metaphor for His own family, those not “in the family” are by definition outside of it, even estranged from it. Bear in mind that we are speaking only in conceptual, symbolic terms—things meant to teach us about Yahweh’s plan of redemption and how all the puzzle pieces fit together. So though being a gentile or Samaritan represents, in abstract terms, the state of being separated from God (as opposed to being “in His family”), the reality is that anyone, of any nationality, can become a child of God.
These previous symbols were based largely on the idea of nations being separate from (or other than) Israel. The Dictionary of Bible Themes notes: “Foreigners played a major role in the life of Israel. They surrounded her, and lived within her borders. In order to fulfil her mission as the bearer of God’s law, Israel had to distinguish herself from foreign nations and individuals, especially with regard to their religious beliefs. [Well, it looked like religion, anyway.] A clear distinction is made between foreign nations and foreign individuals, who are to be allowed to live freely among Israelites within the land.” [Italics mine.] Though blessing or cursing is usually national in scope, God doesn’t “save” nations per se. Rather, Yahweh’s ultimate interest is in individual souls, One on one. And that will be the focus of our present study: individual strangers or foreigners.
The point of view for symbolic purposes is still Israel’s, of course. That is, the question is: “strangers from what?” And since Israel is metaphorical of “God’s Family,” the real question is, “Are we strangers from God, alienated from His grace?” And on an individual basis, our starting point is always, “Yes, we’re foreigners now, but we are invited to be His guests, His family, His children.” That principle will become abundantly clear as we proceed.
A variety of Hebrew and Greek words are used in scripture to describe the state of being a stranger or foreigner. They approach the subject from different angles, but they all end up at pretty much the same place: “someone who doesn’t quite belong.” And they are translated more-or-less interchangeably, as stranger, foreigner, alien, or sojourner.
(1) The most often used Hebrew word (with 92 occurrences) for a stranger is Ger, a noun meaning an alien, foreigner, sojourner (temporary dweller), a stranger, or guest. (It’s derived from the root verb guwr: to abide.)
(2) Zuwr is a root verb meaning to be strange, be estranged, to be another (i.e., not the same), a strange woman (harlot), a foreigner, or (by extension) a loathsome person. This word occurs 77 times in scripture.
(3) Nekar is a noun meaning that which is foreign, unknown, alien, or strange. (It often shows up in the expression ben nekar: son of a foreigner.) It’s taken from the root verb nakar, meaning “to regard or recognize.” (36 occurrences.)
(4) A related word is the adjective nokri, meaning foreign, alien, foreign woman (harlot), strange, outlandish, or different. (46 occurrences.)
(5) Arach is a Hebrew verb meaning to wander, journey, go, travel, or be a wayfarer. (5 occurrences.)
(6) In Greek, most of the expressions for “being a stranger” use the adjective xenos, meaning new, novel, foreign, a guest, stranger, or alien. (14 occurrences.)
(7) Finally, paroikos is an adjective describing being a stranger, foreigner, alien, temporary dweller, or sojourner (one without the rights of citizenship). It literally means “living near.” (4 occurrences)
What does it mean to be a stranger?
Let us begin with the bottom line, and work our way backwards. Yahshua told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18) The word translated “condemned” here doesn’t actually mean condemned, at least not in any direct sense. The Greek verb krino means to judge, decide, or make a choice—to separate. Typically, it refers to making a determination of right or wrong (innocence or guilt), based upon a legal standard. Of course, by God’s perfect standard, we are condemned, unless we are indemnified by the grace provided by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. So if one is not covered by the blood of Yahshua, he is alienated from his Creator—he is by definition a stranger, a foreigner in regard to the kingdom of heaven.
The prophet Jeremiah knew what that felt like, for he was an eyewitness to the Babylonian invasion: “Remember, O Yahweh, what has come upon us. Look, and behold our reproach! Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens, and our houses to foreigners. We have become orphans and waifs, our mothers are like widows.” (Lamentations 5:1-3) Because of the sin of Judah, the tables were being turned—just as Yahweh had warned Israel back in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Foreigners had overrun the Land—and the people were being transformed into foreigners themselves as they were exiled to a strange land.
Why this was happening was no big secret. But the shocking result of Judah’s sin was that Yahweh, for all practical purposes, became a stranger in His own Land. So Jeremiah writes, “O Yahweh, though our iniquities testify against us, do it [that is, do something, help us, act on our behalf] for Your name’s sake. For our backslidings are many, we have sinned against You. O the Hope of Israel, his Savior in time of trouble, why should You be like a stranger in the land, and like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? Why should You be like a man astonished, like a mighty one who cannot save? Yet You, O Yahweh, are in our midst, and we are called by Your name. Do not leave us!” (Jeremiah 14:7-9) The point (for our present purpose) is that a stranger, regardless of how intrinsically strong or able he might be, has no legal authority or influence in the land in which he is an alien. Even a head of state can visit a foreign land, make speeches, shake hands, and propose alliances, but he cannot make binding policy there, for he is a foreigner. Yahweh was in Judah’s midst, but the people were treating Him like a stranger. And since the “law of the land” (His law, ironically enough) was free will, He couldn’t force them to honor Him without violating His own principle.
In the Torah, God had singled out a few neighboring nations for special instruction: “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.” The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Their territory was south and east of the Dead Sea, outside but adjoining the Land of Promise. “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land.” Yes, for four hundred and thirty years—four hundred of which they spent as slaves. It’s fascinating that Yahweh directed Israel not to hold a grudge against either nation, despite their rocky histories. They were instead to love their neighbors—on a national scale and as individuals: “The children of the third generation born to them may enter the assembly of Yahweh.” (Deuteronomy 23:7-8) Egypt taught Israel what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land—and not in a good way. This precept has to be the Bible’s most poignant example of “answering evil with good.”
Egypt, remarkably enough, is predicted to be specially blessed by Yahweh during Christ’s Millennial kingdom (see Isaiah 19:25), presumably because of their repentance during the Tribulation. Alas, Edom will not fare so well. The prophet Obadiah explains: “For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. In the day that you stood on the other side—in the day that strangers carried captive his forces, when foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem—even you were as one of them. But you should not have gazed [i.e., gloated] on the day of your brother in the day of his captivity, nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress.” (Obadiah 1:10-12) The jealousy and resentment of Esau over Jacob never quite went away. It simmered and stewed in the collective heart of the nation of Edom until they were consumed by their own irrational hatred.
The thing to notice here is that although strangers are under God’s protection when they’re disadvantaged, they cease being so when they become an invading force. In other words, it isn’t because of their “alien-ness” per se that God wants to protect them, but rather because of their vulnerability. Yahweh is all about mercy and justice—not diversity and rebellion. This principle (as we shall see) looms large in our dealings with “strangers” and “refugees” today. Edom gloated when Judah was taken captive by Babylon—and they even aided the invaders. In the following centuries their territory (now called Idumea) increased and encroached west into Judah’s land. In fact, the King Herod who ruled Judea under Roman suzerainty at the birth of Christ was in fact an Idumean—an Edomite.
Strangers are not citizens. Therefore, the wicked feel free to take advantage of them. That was certainly the case when Israel sojourned in Egypt. They arrived as economic exiles, few in number though honored because of the service of Joseph. But as the years passed, Joseph was forgotten and a new Pharaoh enslaved the growing family—simply because they were foreigners, simply because he could. This pattern of the strong abusing the weak is common, if not ubiquitous, among fallen men.
So the Psalmist cries out to God, “Yahweh, how long will the wicked triumph? They utter speech, and speak insolent things. All the workers of iniquity boast in themselves. They break in pieces Your people, O Yahweh, and afflict Your heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless. Yet they say, ‘Yahweh does not see, nor does the God of Jacob understand.’” Or, more likely these days, they fail to comprehend that Yahweh even exists. That’s the worst kind of mistake you can make. Only a fool believes there is no God. “Understand, you senseless among the people, and you fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see? He who instructs the nations, shall He not correct; He who teaches man knowledge? Yahweh knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile.” (Psalm 94:3-11) Oppressing the weak, poor, and disenfranchised, just because you think you can get away with it, is the most unwise of strategies. We have been amply warned that Yahweh takes a personal interest in the welfare of the helpless. It’s what you would expect from a God who is Love personified.
If you’ll recall from our list of Biblical words translated “stranger” or “foreigner,” several of them (zuwr, nokri) are sometimes used to describe “women who are strange to you,” that is, harlots. A common symbolic theme in the Bible is that adultery is a euphemism for idolatry. The idea is that Yahweh is Israel’s “husband,” or that Christ’s “bride” is the church. Unfaithfulness to one’s spouse, then, is a picture of rebellion against God—of giving to another the devotion that rightfully belongs exclusively to Him. That’s what Solomon is talking about in this proverb: “Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times, and always be enraptured with her love. For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, and be embraced in the arms of a seductress?” (Proverbs 5:15-20) That’s pretty clear, for all its esoteric poetry. (It’s pretty ironic, too, considering all the trouble Solomon’s wives got him into in his old age. He should have listened to his own advice.) Be absolutely faithful—to both your spouse and your God.
Yahweh doesn’t mince words as he accuses Jerusalem of blatant adultery against Him. The “strangers” here are the false gods of the pagan world that the Jews so eagerly pursued. “‘How degenerate is your heart!’ says the Lord Yahweh, ‘seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot. You erected your shrine at the head of every road, and built your high place in every street. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned payment. You are an adulterous wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband. Men make payment to all harlots, but you made your payments to all your lovers, and hired them to come to you from all around for your harlotry. You are the opposite of other women in your harlotry, because no one solicited you to be a harlot. In that you gave payment but no payment was given you, therefore you are the opposite.’” (Ezekiel 16:30-34) We might paraphrase this, “You’re not only an immoral slut, Jerusalem, you’re also stupid. Unlike prostitutes, who at least get paid for being unfaithful, you can’t even give it away. You have to pay strangers—gigolos—to take part in your evil deeds.” Israel was practically begging Yahweh to divorce her.
Taken together, these examples of “what it means to be a stranger” demonstrate that being one is neither an intrinsically good nor a bad thing. It simply describes the condition of being separated, alienated in some way from something or someone. The salient question, then, becomes, “separated from what?” If we are set apart from an evil world—and joined instead to the service and fellowship of Yahweh—then being a stranger can be a very good thing—akin to holiness. “Hear my prayer, O Yahweh, and give ear to my cry. Do not be silent at my tears, for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner, as all my fathers were. Remove Your gaze from me, that I may regain strength, before I go away and am no more.” (Psalm 39:12-13) It may be a scary thing to walk through this world with a holy and awesome God at our side. But it is suicide to walk apart from Him—a stranger to His ways by virtue of our affiliation with the world. It is tantamount to being alienated from truth, light, love, and in the end, life itself.
Peter points out that if we are in Christ, we are, by definition, in the former group—strangers to the earth. And that necessitates certain strategies when carrying out the Great Commission. We must operate as one who is in the world but not of it: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:11-12) We cannot be equally at home in both realms: we must either be strangers from the world, or be estranged from God.
Expect to be unwelcome where you are a foreigner. It goes with the territory. Yahshua warned us what it would be like to be strangers in the world: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) It is less than pointless to try to try to keep one foot in God’s world and one in Satan’s. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (I John 2:15-17) The choice is ours. We can’t be a citizen of heaven and of hell at the same time.
Treat strangers well.
If there is one all-pervasive truth about the disadvantaged, it is surely this: “Yahweh watches over the strangers. He relieves the fatherless and widow. But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.” (Psalm 146:9) He repeats this theme over and over again in Scripture—so often, it’s impossible to miss (unless you ignore the Bible altogether, of course). Though strangers were not God’s “chosen people,” they were nevertheless to be treated fairly: “Judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him.” (Deuteronomy 1:16)
Not surprisingly, the principle stands out in the Torah. In fact, welfare for strangers is built into the Ten Commandments, the foundational microcosm of the Law. The fourth of the series reads: “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 Yahweh your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11; cf. Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
On the surface, this would prevent Israelites from taking the Sabbath off themselves while requiring the foreigners and sojourners dwelling among them to work as if they were slaves. That, of course, is sort of what the Egyptians had done to them for four hundred years. Although the Egyptians had no specific “Sabbath Law” that we know of, they surely set different, more onerous work requirements for their slaves than they did for themselves. That’s why we hear the reminder about their foreign servitude so often invoked in God’s instructions about treating strangers well. For example: “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21) Or, “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) Or, “If a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
The repeated reference to Egypt begs us to consider what it symbolizes. Not only is Egypt where Israel spent four centuries as foreigners in a strange land, it is also a reminder of their oppressed state while they were there: they were in captivity, involuntary servitude, slavery. Egypt, then, is a transparent metaphor for the bondage in the world into which we were all born—that of sin. God is telling us (through Israel) not to mistreat sinners, for we were once sinners ourselves, lost and without hope. Therefore, we should not oppress those who are living under the bondage of sin, even if they’ve been there so long they’ve grown used to it—to the point that (like the Israelites of old) they can’t even imagine what it would be like to be free. Nor should our goal be to punish those who keep them in chains for their own perceived advantage. That’s God’s job: vengeance is His. No, our purpose should be to introduce those still held in the bondage of sin to the One who can free them—Yahshua, Yahweh’s Salvation. And our secondary job should be to do what Moses did: warn those who hold the chain to “Let God’s people go.” Enslaving others can have dire consequences.
The reason stated in scripture for the Sabbath Law was so that “burnout” might be avoided. If everyone worked seven days a week in pursuit of the almighty shekel, not only would life be unnecessarily harsh and unpleasant, but productivity wouldn’t improve anyway, because the human body needs time now and then to recharge our batteries, so to speak. So God tells Israel, “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12) Left unarticulated here (in so many words) was the principle of trusting Yahweh to meet our needs. Note the balance God imposed: yes, work is good and necessary, but not constant, unrelenting, backbreaking toil. Working six days out of seven was plenty. Anything more than that was tantamount to trusting yourself (instead of God) for provision. In other words, it’s a subtle form of idolatry.
We should consider as well what the Sabbath means in the prophetic context. I am persuaded that God’s chronological plan for fallen man is revealed in the Sabbath principle. That is, from the fall of Adam forward, our race is to have only six thousand-year “days” in which to “work,” followed by one final Millennium (the Sabbath) of “rest” under Christ’s personal rule. Bear in mind that Yahshua defined “the work of God” as simply believing in the One whom He sent—Himself. Such belief (that is, freely choosing to trust Christ as one’s Savior) will be logistically impossible when He reigns over the whole Earth with a scepter of iron. Think about it: if disbelief is impossible, then acceptance is meaningless.
In our present context, this is irrefutable evidence that Yahweh’s salvation is meant for—and available to—everyone, regardless of ethnicity, privilege, social or economic status, or even level of maturity. The “stranger” living in Israel’s midst is analogous to God-fearing gentiles—the church, for all intents and purposes. And the Millennial Sabbath, as we have seen, predicts our rest in Christ. We are on notice: we cannot attain this rest through our own efforts, but only through our trust in the efficacy of His atoning sacrifice. Good works are good, of course, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient to attain reconciliation with God. That is a gift, to be received with thanksgiving.
Treating strangers or foreigners with kindness is a corollary to the Law of Love, in which we are commanded to “love our neighbors as we do ourselves.” So the Torah instructs us concerning disadvantaged souls who live within Israel: the poor, needy, unfortunate, Levites, or aliens—people with no inheritance with which to support themselves. It is to be assumed that these people are friends of the nation and its God, not adversaries (for whom there is a whole different set of rules). Moses writes, “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to Yahweh, and it be sin to you.” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)
In the matter of mercy or justice, ethnicity or economic status was not to be a factor. You were not to oppress the disenfranchised simply because you thought you could “get away with it.” Whatever degree of temporal power one has been granted is to be wielded in the fear of God—knowing that whatever sort of crop you sow, you can also expect to reap. In my professional life, I found myself on both sides of this equation. At different times, I was both an employee and an employer; a client and a vendor. I had bills to pay and payroll to meet, but there were also invoices due to me for services rendered. Although it happened rarely (thank God) there were a few times when a client “let the sun go down on my wages,” withholding payment beyond what was customary in order to try to gain some nebulous perceived advantage. My response (being a Christian) was (1) to cry out to God in distress, and (2) make absolutely sure my own commitments to those further down the “food chain” from me were promptly and honorably met. I can tell you from personal experience, conducting business (or just living your life) God’s way is a whole lot more fun.
This is one of those precepts God repeats over and over again, presumably so we can’t possibly miss what He wants us to do. “You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and Yahweh your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.” (Deuteronomy 24:17-18) What does it mean to “take a widow’s garment as a pledge”? It’s taking as collateral something which is absolutely necessary one’s life or welfare—as a self-centered guarantee that you’ll get paid back. The modern equivalent might be sequestering a workman’s tools until his debt is paid; or the perverse practice of making high-interest temporary loans using the title to the borrower’s car as collateral: if he defaults, the car (upon which he depends) is yours. God’s law is not just a suggestion: “Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.” (Deuteronomy 27:19)
In America, we’re quite familiar with the welfare system—set up with best of intentions by well-meaning politicians to provide a “safety net” for people who have fallen on hard times—including the “strangers” of our present context. In theory, it works reasonably well. But in practice, because our social engineers ignore Yahweh’s precepts concerning welfare, many less-than-honorable recipients turn the whole thing into a career path, learning how to “game the system” so they can get the maximum amount of benefit with the minimum amount of responsibility. Our welfare system is supposed to help you over a rough patch, just until you can get on your feet again. But it has become for many the doorway to an inescapable cycle of poverty, perpetrated by politicians (known as “poverty pimps”) who convince their constituents that their continued free ride depends on keeping them in power. Welfare in America has become a drug—one far easier to start than to quit.
Yahweh is on record as being vitally interested in mercy and justice for the poor, the stranger, the disadvantaged, and the downtrodden. What, then, did His “welfare system” look like? Let’s just say that it did not involve sitting on the sofa with a six-pack and a bag of Cheetos watching TV while you waited for the welfare check to arrive.
The instruction is addressed to the landowner. God says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10) And again: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners [Hebrew peah: side or edge] of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 23:22) And again: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 24:15-16)
Bear in mind that in the original plan for their repatriation into Canaan, every Israelite family was to be given an “inheritance”—a plot of land which, when diligently worked, could be expected to generate bountiful harvests or healthy flocks and herds (a.k.a. wealth). The idea was that the patriarch and his children would work the land, planting, pruning, and harvesting, etc. A tenth of the increase was to be set aside for the Levites, who (as you’ll recall) were given no inheritance of land. (That is, what would have been theirs was divided among the other tribes.) And out of this tithe, the Levites were to provide a tithe of the tithe for their cousins the priests, as well as looking after the poor and the stranger. No one was to starve to death in Israel, no matter how poor they were.
But there was also an “alternative revenue stream” for the poor, described above: the landowner was not to harvest everything he could from his farm, vineyard, or orchard. In fact, he was commanded by God to be a little sloppy, to purposely leave part of his crop unharvested—to “not sweat the small stuff” as we’d put it in our vernacular. Just give it a quick once-over, and leave the rest to be gathered by those who were in need. The reason given for pursuing this counterintuitive policy was that “Yahweh is your God.” That is, He cares about the disadvantaged, so do what He says.
Note that the landowner wasn’t supposed to harvest his crop and deliver it to the poor. No, they had to go out into the fields and work for it, just like the farmer did. If you could work, you were expected to do so. (If you couldn’t work, your needs would be taken care of by the Levites.) Herein lies the basic functional difference between God’s welfare system and the way ours typically works: the able bodied poor were expected to work for their “welfare payments,” even though they had no resources (call it “capital”) of their own. The disenfranchised did not have the right to a free ride. But they did have the right to benefit from their own labor—even if they owned no property. The crops that grew, after all, were life—a gift from God.
If every Israelite family was to receive an inheritance in the Land, how could someone become poor? (1) God mentions “widows and orphans” frequently in these passages. The reality was that a bronze-age woman typically didn’t really have the upper body strength needed to run a farm by herself—hitching up the ox, plowing the field, and bundling the sheaves—all while tending to the young children and baking the family’s bread. So if her husband died, especially if young, she and the kids were in trouble, unless there was a solid support network in place—something the Torah went out of its way to provide. (2) The Land could be overtaken by drought or blight or locust plagues, causing widespread poverty. This would not happen as long as Israel honored Yahweh with a whole heart, but history reveals that they were far from consistent in their devotion to God. So we read of situations like the family of Elimelech and Naomi in the Book of Ruth, encountering a famine in the Land, selling (actually leasing, under Torah rules) their property, and moving away.
And (3) the case germane to our present subject: strangers, foreigners, aliens who have come to sojourn among the Israelites. They might have been driven there by famine or war in other lands, or drawn by Yahweh’s reputation. The Torah makes it clear that as long as they honored Yahweh and obeyed His instructions, they could live and work and worship in Israel—even though they had no land of their own. Israelites could hire them as herdsmen or field hands if they had the need, but even if they remained unemployed, these strangers were allowed the same gleaning privileges as disadvantaged Israelites.
Once again: “When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that Yahweh your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this thing.” (Deuteronomy 24:19-22) God’s message is clear: “If you honor Me, there will be plenty for everyone. There will be no need to ‘run lean and mean.’ Efficiency is overrated. Generosity of spirit is to be My people’s national mindset.”
As a general rule, I have found this to be true in a variety of situations—business, personal, religious—you name it. Part of it is the overflowing bounty of Yahweh, but I’m the first to admit, another part is a natural proclivity for simplicity of lifestyle among those who honor God. It is as Yahshua said: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
As I mentioned previously, however, there is a vast and palpable difference between an individual “stranger in need” and an invading army of foreigners. The former presents an opportunity to worship Yahweh through loving our fellow man; the latter is a curse upon the land, invariably sent to warn us of our own creeping apostasy. In Israel’s case, their conquest of Canaan ran out of steam after the first couple of generations of re-occupation. They began compromising with the spiritually bankrupt local pagans—instead of driving them out, as they’d been instructed to do. So the “strangers” they encountered were not destitute or needy individuals. They were, rather, an assault force. One example: “Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of Yahweh. So Yahweh delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains. So it was, whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. Then they would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey.” (Judges 6:1-4) Butterflies and cockroaches are both insects; that doesn’t mean we have to welcome them equally.
This train of thought has obvious ramifications in the modern world—especially in Europe and North America. I’m speaking, of course, of the recent influx of Muslims from such Islamic hellholes as Syria, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Conservatives would love to restrict immigration from these admittedly dangerous breeding grounds for Islamic terrorism, while liberals call such restriction “racist,” “xenophobic” (from a Biblical Greek word for “stranger,” you’ll notice), and Islamophobic. Most of Europe is already awash in Muslim immigrants—a process that began after World War II, when they (having lost a large segment of the young male workforce fighting a war with losers but no real winners) began allowing large numbers of Middle Eastern Muslims to immigrate to fill the need for unskilled labor.
In more recent times, these immigrants are typically marketed as “refugees,” since they come from places where—because of the curse of Islam—war and poverty are endemic. The problem (obvious to any thinking person) is that it is the intention and practice of these refugees to bring with them the very thing that caused their misery and dystopia in the first place: Islam. Popular leftist propaganda notwithstanding, Islam is not a “peaceful religion,” and it never was. It’s scriptures demand the subjugation and eventual death of every non-Muslim on the face of the earth, and Muslims who are reluctant to kill, rape, maim, and enslave the people they encounter (or at least finance the ones willing to wield the scimitar of oppression) are considered the worst of sinners—hypocrites (their word, not mine) destined for the hottest fires of Allah’s hell.
Historically, the centuries of relative Islamic “peace” coincide with their “dark ages,” when neither the Qur’an, the Hadith, nor the Sunnah were available to the masses. But now that the Islamic scriptures are widely disseminated (thanks in large measure to the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in the 1920s), most Muslims now “know” that they must either kill or enslave their fellow man or face Allah’s wrath in hell—even though it violates their consciences. It must be frustrating to learn that according to the Hadith (the “sayings of the prophet”), the total capacity of paradise is only 70,000 souls—it was overbooked centuries ago.
The point is that Muslims immigrating to new lands generally do not fit the profile of the “stranger” who is protected under Torah Law. They are not seeking refuge from oppression; they are, rather, hoping to grow strong enough to subjugate those who have naively taken them in—like most of Western Europe today. It isn’t just that they aren’t “Judeo-Christians” in culture and belief. It’s that they are required by their political pseudo-religion to dominate and destroy whatever culture they infest. News flash: you can’t co-exist with someone who’s trying to kill you.
To put this in perspective, let us compare today’s Muslim “refugees” to past immigrant waves to America. The Irish and Italians who came in such large numbers during the nineteenth century were largely Roman Catholics. I won’t characterize them as unchristian, but they were definitely out of step with the prevailing Protestant (i.e., English-derived) culture into which they settled. Yet they tried—and succeeded—to assimilate into the American “melting pot.” The same is true of the Buddhist Chinese who arrived during the same general time frame. Eastern Europeans, Scandinavians, Hindus and Sikhs—same story: they all came to build a new life—not destroy the one being enjoyed by the people who had come previously. And by virtue of that fact, we in America’s prevailing Judeo-Christian culture were (and are) instructed by God to show them the mercy and justice due to strangers—even if they are not (yet) Christians.
Who then, by this standard, should be excluded (like the Edomites and Midianite hordes of old)? Shariah observant Muslims are required by their scriptures to enslave and/or murder non-Muslims, so by definition, they are to be considered an invading force, not actual refugees, no matter how hard a time they had of it in their homelands. Islam is a self-inflicting curse, one whose very scriptures demand that its practitioners lie about their evil intentions in order to gain an advantage for Islam—until it’s too late for their hosts to do anything about them. It’s called taqiyya. Another “ethos” that refuses to assimilate is the crime-driven gang culture, whether Hispanic, Black, Asian, or Russian, etc.
I am not saying that we are to hate Muslims, gang members, and the criminal class. They are lost, doomed to destruction, just as we once were. We are commanded to love them as we do ourselves. But this “love” does not entail inviting them to move in next door at our expense, offering up our wives and daughters as targets of crimes that are as predictable as they are heinous. What is the one thing we can do to demonstrate our love to them? Introduce them to Christ. I realize that’s a tall order from a distance—especially when our governments understand neither the problem nor the solution. But you can’t negotiate with cancer. You can’t reason with a rabid dog. You can’t help a drowning man by jumping into the ocean and drowning with him.
Thus Yahweh warned Israel about the inevitable result of turning their back on Him: “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you…. The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower.” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 43) Note the nuance here: it’s not the intrinsic evil of aliens that will harm us, but our own disobedience. People who revere Yahweh need not fear the inroads of strangers seeking asylum on their shores; those who abandon God, on the other hand, can expect to be gradually overtaken.
Those in our midst who are truly disadvantaged, then, are to be treated with generosity and mercy. This is how Yahweh characterized the principle as it related to the tithe: “At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that Yahweh your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) The “stranger” is but one of several classes of individuals who, having fallen on hard times (or having been set apart with no inheritance other than Yahweh Himself), were to be provided for out of the tithes of Israel. “Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
Make no mistake: Yahweh is very serious about the tithe (though, like the rest of the Torah, it is commanded literally only of Israel). The prophet Malachi puts forth the case: “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. ‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:8-10)
If I may boil the tithe down to its essentials, it means, “If God has blessed you (and He has), then you are to bless your fellow man in turn.” Yahweh made this abundantly clear by taking the land inheritance that would normally have gone to the tribe of Levi and distributing it among the other tribes. With the tribe of Joseph split in two (Ephraim and Manasseh) that works out to thirteen shares split twelve ways, or an 8.3% bonus-blessing for each tribe—provided up front. So the tithe (literally, a tenth) of the land’s increase merely returned to the Levites what rightfully belonged to them, plus a tiny contribution (another 1.7%) to take care of the poor, widows, orphans, and needy foreigners living in their midst. In other words, God never intended the tithe to be spent on lavish cathedrals, obscene pastoral salaries, or the other extravagances so often seen in organized religion. The emphasis, rather, was twofold: (1) providing for those whose divine calling had precluded them from earning a living in the ordinary manner, and (2) showing mercy to the strangers in our midst.
There was even a verbal formula the Israelites were to recite when they brought their tithes, to remind them precisely what it was to be used for: “Then you shall set it [the tithe] before Yahweh your God, and worship before Yahweh your God. So you shall rejoice in every good thing which Yahweh your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you. When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year—the year of tithing—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before Yahweh your God: ‘I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me.’” (Deuteronomy 26:10-13)
This was not a tax, nor was the amount onerous and burdensome. In fact, 83% of the tithe was, for all intents and purposes, merely interest on a loan the Levites had made to the other tribes. The actual “gift” for the poor was only 1.7% of a landowner’s increase—that which his land (a gift to him, by the way) had produced. And remember: the human diet consists primarily of living things—either the genetic component of fruit or grain or the flesh of animals. We can’t live on rocks and twigs. Thus everything we eat is (or should be) a reminder that something had to die in order that we might have life. The spiritual parallel is no less obvious for all of its stunning glory: Life had to be sacrificed so we could live—and not just any life, but the First Cause of all life: God Himself.
So the next precept concerning strangers may seem like a puzzle if we don’t consider the symbols God has built into His word. “You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to the alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to Yahweh your God.” (Deuteronomy 14:21) An Israelite could eat meat whenever he wanted (that is, it didn’t have to be formally sacrificed at the altar), but he had to proactively kill the clean animal he intended to eat, being careful to drain the blood, for as God said numerous times, “the life is in the blood.” He was specifically prohibited (for health reasons he didn’t yet understand) from eating an animal that had been killed by a carnivorous predator (like a sheep that had been killed by a wolf, for example). But what if a clean animal had died of disease, injury, or old age? It wasn’t necessarily inedible, but the Israelite was still prohibited from eating it—if for no other reason than it was impossible to ensure that the blood had been properly drained. But he was allowed to sell the carcass or give it away to a gentile stranger living among the Jews.
Why? Follow the symbols. Israel signified “God’s family.” As such, the life that sustained them had to be slain on purpose, for its shed blood is a picture of how Christ’s blood would be intentionally poured out for the atonement of our sins. Strangers or foreigners, on the other hand, are (symbolically) not part of God’s family. They are, rather, symbolic of “invited guests,” as yet clueless to the means and motivation God ordained for the salvation of the world. So for them, eating an animal that had died of old age (for example) would sustain them, though not without risk. The spiritual equivalent, I suppose, might be to learn of the “historical Jesus,” presented not as the Savior, but as an amazing, enigmatic, charismatic individual who lived and died in history, leaving a legacy of love in his wake. One might first encounter this man presented as having had great and positive influence on those around him—someone on the order of a Mahatma Gandhi, Confucius, or Martin Luther King Jr. My point is that it would doubtless be better to hear about the Jesus of history—even if you weren’t told the real story at first—than to die in your sins never having learned of His existence.
One intriguing example: the Islamic Qur’an contains about 90 references, in 71 verses, to al-Masih Isa, son of Miriam (a.k.a. Jesus, son of Mary, a.k.a Yahshua the Messiah), whereas Muhammad is mentioned by name only four times. This fact alone has sent many a curious Muslim on a quest to determine who this oft-mentioned man was. As a result, not a few of them have discovered, quite inadvertently, the Jesus Christ of the Bible—even though the Qur’an flatly denies Yahshua’s mission, relationship to God, mode of death, and especially the resurrection. It’s kind of funny, if you think about it. As Satan put words in Muhammad’s mouth trying to create Allah out of whole cloth, it seems as if he was so obsessed with Yahshua, he felt he had to go the extra mile to explain Him away: Pay no attention to the Man behind the curtain. Satan spends so much time and energy attacking Christ, it begs the question, “Why is he so preoccupied with Him?” To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Methinks the devil doth protest too much.”
So it may seem a bit of a stretch, but I see this phenomenon—the devil’s foot-shuffling obsession with Yahshua—as the reason Yahweh allowed the Israelites to give meat that had died without being purposely slaughtered for food to the strangers dwelling among them. Yes, it comes with a risk: physically, the blood (which is always more toxic than the meat) hasn’t been properly drained—but it’s better than going hungry. Spiritually, the risk is that the one who has learned the imperfect truth of the “historical Jesus” may never realize what lies beyond: the eternal life that Yahshua’s sacrifice provides if only we will place our trust in it, and in Him. But you can’t believe in something you’ve heard of, can you?
So far, all our examples of God’s concern for aliens and strangers have been gleaned from the Torah. But the principle is spread throughout the Bible. “Execute true justice; show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.” (Zechariah 7:9-10) The implication is that showing mercy toward the disadvantaged should be an automatic response—second nature. That is, it would take purposeful planning—contrary to one’s ordinary godly impulses (a.k.a. the conscience)—to oppress the poor or a stranger. Justice should be as natural as breathing.
Those who are unmerciful to strangers find themselves in really bad company. Yahweh says, “‘I will come near you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien—because they do not fear Me,’ says Yahweh of hosts.” (Malachi 3:5) Let’s see: sorcerers get the death penalty. Adulterers, ditto. Perjurers? Those who swear falsely in Yahweh’s name will “not remain unpunished,” according to the Third Commandment. Here we see that the oppression of the poor and alien is in the same “class” of sin—stuff God really hates (if the sheer volume of repetition can be taken as a clue). The root of the injustice is now revealed: those who oppress the stranger do not fear Yahweh—they neither respect nor revere Him, nor are they concerned about encountering the wrath of God for violating His clear Law. Their attitude is, “My own opinion outweighs God’s (if He even exists)—I am free to do whatever gives me a perceived advantage. To hell with the little guy.”
Not surprisingly, kindness toward strangers is a New Testament concept as well, but not for exactly the same reasons. We in the church are, for all intents and purposes, strangers ourselves in the world. So John writes, “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.” (III John 1:5-8) In contemporary terms, this is a clear mandate for the enthusiastic support of missions, both foreign and domestic. If you can’t go, then send. If you can’t personally participate, then support and encourage. The Great Commission can be fulfilled in various ways, but not if we’re ingrown, self-absorbed, and lethargic.
And then there’s the factor that you never really know who the stranger who crosses your path might be. To revisit the bumper sticker, “Love them all, and let God sort it out.” As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:1-2) The Greek word translated (actually, transliterated in this case) “angel” is aggelos. Like the Hebrew malak, it literally means “messenger.” It can denote one of those awesome spirit beings created by Yahweh to do His bidding (who sometimes appear as men), but it may also simply indicate a human being in his role as a messenger or envoy (which is probably what is meant by the mention of the “angels to the seven churches” in Revelation 2 and 3—the men sent by God to minister to them).
But lest we dismiss the idea of showing hospitality God’s spirit messengers (angels) without being aware of it, consider the case of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Genesis 18 and 19 make it perfectly clear that the “men” who visited Abraham were not ordinary human beings. One, in fact, was a theophany, the “Angel of Yahweh,” who stayed behind with Abraham as the other two angels were sent off to extricate Lot prior to the destruction that had been ordained for Sodom (a picture of the rapture, in case you didn’t notice). Knowing what an evil place Sodom was, Lot made sure to “entertain the strangers,” if only to protect them from an appalling fate at the hands of the horrible homosexual horde. “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground. And he said, ‘Here now, my lords, please turn in to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.’ And they said, ‘No, but we will spend the night in the open square.’ But he insisted strongly; so they turned in to him and entered his house. Then he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.” (Genesis 19:1-3)
Angels, of course, can take care of themselves. But Lot didn’t yet know they were angels. All he knew (or thought he knew) was that these two gentlemen would not survive the night in Sodom unless he showed them hospitality and gave them shelter. And he did—even though it meant risking harm to his own family (see vs. 6-9). And notice something else. Although Lot intended to show mercy to the strangers, it was actually they who had come to show mercy to him. As I said, we never really know who God might place in our path—someone who needs our help, or someone who has been sent to meet our need, even if we (like Lot) are unaware that we have a problem.
Another permutation of the “stranger” issue: Jeremiah writes, “Thus says Yahweh: ‘Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place….” There is a tightrope to walk here. As usual, we are admonished to show mercy and kindness to the downtrodden living among us. But “delivering the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor” may take on more geopolitical proportions. I can’t be dogmatic, but this might be considered divine authorization for such national actions as invading Cuba or Venezuela to deliver their people from their cruel Communist overlords, or attacking Iran or Syria in an attempt to deliver their people from the oppressive curse of Islam.
There are (at least) two flaws to the theory, however. (1) The invading nation must be operating in the righteous spirit of Yahweh—and it would appear that there’s no such thing in the world today. America, alas, has not been able to claim that since World War II. (2) You can’t expect any improvement in the lot of the people you’re trying to rescue if you don’t change the nature of their governing culture. Replacing Muslim dictators like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi with “Islamic democracies” is not helpful. As Yahshua pointed out (Matthew 12:43-45), it doesn’t help much to throw out a demon unless it is replaced with the Spirit of God. And such a thing is impossible for human governments (like ours) to achieve through ordinary military means. (For example, look at Germany. We and our allies defeated evil, aggressive German governments twice during the twentieth century, and now, like a dog returning to its vomit, they have invited a new curse into their midst—Islam this time, as if the Nazis weren’t bad enough. It’s as if—having left Martin Luther’s Christianity behind—they now have a death wish.)
It would be easy enough to opine that Yahweh was speaking exclusively about personal kindnesses being shown to strangers. But the consequences (whether good or bad) certainly sound national in scope: “For if you indeed do this thing, then shall enter the gates of this house, riding on horses and in chariots, accompanied by servants and people, kings who sit on the throne of David. But if you will not hear these words, I swear by Myself,’ says Yahweh, ‘that this house shall become a desolation.’” (Jeremiah 22:3-5)
In prophetic terms, the redeemed of the Millennial reign of Christ are thus defined as those who “deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor, do no wrong, and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood.” We who will have experienced the rapture shall return with Yahshua, riding white horses of triumph (see Revelation 19:14). Then our Messiah-King shall indeed sit on the throne of David—ruling the whole world from Jerusalem. The text speaks of “kings”—plural—but when Jeremiah wrote this, the last king of Judah had been hauled off to Babylon in chains. So note that Christ “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” (Revelation 1:6) Whether the deliverance of the oppressed is achieved now or later, be assured that it will happen—when Yahshua the Messiah at last assumes His rightful throne.
I realize that in our present world, such universal deliverance seems like a hopeless task. Believers are (as always) a tiny minority—perhaps five to ten percent of the world’s population of 7.5 billion souls. As we are reminded in Revelation 3:8, we who are living here at the end of the “church age” have but a little strength in this world, though we have kept Christ’s word. And the Holy Spirit dwelling within us “restrains lawlessness” to some extent (see II Thessalonians 2:7). But what will happen when the every living believer on Earth is suddenly removed—when “we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with [the dead in Christ who have risen first] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air?” (I Thessalonians 4:17) Let’s just say that whatever oppression the world experiences today will be eclipsed a thousand times over.
How, then, does God plan to “deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor,” especially after the church has been raptured (literally rendered above as “caught up”)? Note first that the church of the rapture, Philadelphia, was not the final church on Christ’s mailing list in Revelation 2 and 3. It is succeeded by that of Laodicea, which (at the moment) is not really part of the church at all, but rather is so corrupt it makes Yahshua want to puke. But the letter (Revelation 3:14-22) contains a challenge. Yes, you’ve been left behind, but there is still hope for you. Attain the immutable purity provided by Yahshua’s sacrifice, put on His imputed righteousness, and open your eyes to the truth. It is my heartfelt hope and firm conviction that untold multitudes of lost souls—hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions—will respond to this challenge in the wake of the rapture. We are specifically informed that “a great multitude which no one could number” will be martyred for their newfound faith during the Tribulation (see Revelation 7:9-17). The Laodiceans were advised to “buy gold refined in the fire” (among other things), and their martyrdom would certainly fit this description. But although multitudes will die for their newfound faith (or merely in the mayhem of the times) some—we aren’t told how many—will survive until the return of Christ at the end of the Great Tribulation.
Yahshua told us exactly what would happen at that time. Needless to say, this prophecy represents a total paradigm shift from what we see in the world today. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory….” This establishes the time frame. It is at the beginning of Christ’s Millennial kingdom, for He will not reign “in His glory” on Earth until the Tribulation is over. Technically, His return (the “second coming”) will take place at the Day of Atonement, and His reign will commence five days later (after the Battle of Armageddon), on the Feast of Tabernacles—in 2033, unless I’m mistaken about a great many things. (For the chronological data, see The End of the Beginning, Volume 4, elsewhere on this website).
“All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left….” To pin down the timing even further, the prophet Daniel states (in 12:12) that one is “blessed” if he “comes to the 1,335 days.” In context, he seems to be referring to the same “starting gun” referred to in the previous verse, the Abomination of Desolation (which marks the beginning of the Antichrist’s 42-month rule). This in turn is said to take place 1,290 days back (presumably, “back” from the commencement of Christ’s reign). This means that the separation of the sheep from the goats will occupy the first forty-five days of Yahshua’s Millennial reign.
“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’” (Matthew 25:31-36) With one significant exception, this is exactly what we’d expect to see: God has always been vitally concerned with the welfare of “strangers.” Now that the King is physically, gloriously present among the world’s mortal populace, He is seen rewarding those who honor Him—as Isaiah reported: “Behold, the Lord Yahweh shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.” This “work” is the separation of the sheep from the goats, so Isaiah goes on to explain: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” (Isaiah 40:10)
But the blessed “sheep” are confused. They don’t remember seeing this glorious King in their midst during the Great Unpleasantness—and they certainly don’t remember taking care of His needs. “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me….’” There it is—the effective equivalence between loving Yahweh our God with our whole being (Deuteronomy 6:4) and loving our neighbor as we do ourselves (Leviticus 18:19), identified together as the two greatest commandments of the Law by Yahshua in Mark 12:28-31.
Remember who these folks are. They’re not the church of Philadelphia, who were commended for having kept Christ’s word without denying His name, and for having persevered in the face of persecution. Philadelphia was subsequently to be “kept out of the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth,” as Yahshua describes the rapture in Revelation 3:10. No, these “sheep” are the still-mortal survivors of the church of Laodicea—those who accepted Christ’s challenge to acquire “gold tried in the fire,” don the white garments of imputed righteousness, and open their eyes to the truth—in a word, those who repented after the rapture, yet who somehow survived the Tribulation’s terrors. They didn’t have time to study the Bible, discern God’s agenda, and figure out how to comply with it while the world was falling apart around them. They were, rather, operating on conscience alone—reflecting the love and compassion of a God they barely knew. Thus they were quite surprised to discover that their mercy toward other “strangers” they encountered would be seen as tantamount to ministering to the King of all Creation.
Let’s face it: during this most horrendous of times, the “conventional wisdom” will be to “look out for Number One,” to cover your own assets, to survive by being fitter than your fellows. As the old joke goes, when we’re being chased by a hungry bear, I don’t have to be faster than the bear—I just have to be faster than you. So some—perhaps the majority—of Tribulation survivors will be of this “Me-First” school of thought: those whom Yahshua calls “goats.” “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me….’”
The “goats” will be just as surprised as the “sheep” were. They didn’t see the King in need either. Like the others, they had the opportunity to respond to the needs of “the least of these My brethren,” but they chose not to—suppressing their consciences in the interests of saving themselves. The sheep, as a reward for their compassion, were invited to “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” So what will be the fate of the unrighteous goats? “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46) The contrast couldn’t be greater, and the difference between the fates of the two groups is based entirely on what they did when they had the chance. It’s not as if there is no such thing as grace after the rapture—none of us are intrinsically worthy before God, no matter how “good” we are. It’s just that the only way to demonstrate your belated repentance (remember, this all happens after the rapture) is by your works. This shouldn’t come as a shock to us living in the Church Age. Read the book of I John: over and over, he says that the only real evidence of salvation is your love for your fellow man.
Not to nitpick, but who are “the least of these My brethren?” The words are Yahshua’s, so who would He count His brethren? In the broadest sense, they are the whole human race, lost and in need during the darkest chapter of human history. (Actually, we must fine tune this definition—Christ’s “brethren” would include only people who have not as yet received the Mark of the Beast, those not indwelled with Satan’s spirit, those for whom salvation is still possible. They too will need to find shelter, for they are all “outlaws” and enemies of Satan’s Antichrist.) But more specifically perhaps, we should focus on those who—during the Antichrist’s reign of terror—will be specially singled out for oppression. There are three groups we should consider: (1) the neo-Christians of the Church of Repentant Laodicea, (2) the Jews, both within Israel and those still scattered abroad, and (3) the 144,000 Witnesses of Revelation 7 and 14.
The Antichrist will try to hunt down and murder every last Jew and Christian on the face of the earth. The Jews, we are told, will receive divine assistance, sequestering a remnant of them from harm (though Zechariah reports that only a third of them will survive—a miracle at that). The 144,000 will be sealed, so all of them will make it alive into the Kingdom Age. (John’s prophecy sees all 144,000 of them standing on Mount Zion in Revelation 14:1, welcoming the returning Messiah.) However, although sealed by God, they will still be hunted, persecuted, and imprisoned by the Antichrist and his allies. But you can’t persecute somebody you can’t find: they will need assistance, shelter, and provision from the “sheep.”
Alas, the neo-church has received no such guarantees. Their souls have been rendered immortal by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but their mortal bodies will receive no special protection. In fact, Revelation 14:13 reports that the time will come when it will be considered a blessing when one who is “in the Lord” dies. So John reports that they will be murdered by the millions, and their martyred souls will occupy a special place in the heart of God. (See Revelation 7:9-17.) But some of them will survive to repopulate the post-Tribulation earth. Indeed, they are the very definition of the “sheep” who will be welcomed by the returning King—those who risked their own lives by sheltering the other “strangers” the Antichrist was trying to eliminate.
Strangers are invited guests.
When the Messiah commended the Tribulation-survivor “sheep” by noting that “I was a stranger and you took Me in,” He was pointing out something that had been on the heart of God since the very beginning: “strangers” should not be forced to remain outside in the cold. They are, rather, under God’s protection, meant to be invited to become part of the household of God. Just because Israel was chosen by Yahweh to be the messenger and vehicle of salvation, it does not follow that they were intended to be the exclusive recipients of God’s grace. Strangers are to be made welcome—albeit on Yahweh’s terms.
A few symbol-rich examples will demonstrate the point. (1) Noah is called (in II Peter 2) a “preacher of righteousness.” We may infer from this that there was an open invitation to the antediluvian world to repent and join Noah’s family on the ark. Nobody but his immediate family took him up on his offer of salvation. (2) In the same passage, Lot is mentioned as one whose righteous soul was tormented by the lawless deeds of his neighbors in Sodom. In the account of the destruction of Sodom, the would-be angel-rapists are heard complaining of Lot, “This one came in to stay here, and he keeps acting as a judge.” (Genesis 19:9) So Lot too invited (okay, admonished) his neighbors to repent of their evil ways, though as with Noah, not a single soul took him up on his offer—not even his own grown children (v.14). But (3) when Jonah, the reluctant prophet, warned the heathen Ninevites of God’s coming judgment, they did repent—buying the city another century of life.
On the spiritual level, all three of these examples demonstrate what it means to “take in strangers.” Sometimes they’ll listen, and sometimes they won’t. We are not held responsible for other people’s poor choices, but we are required to “take them in,” to give them a chance to respond to God’s truth. As Yahweh told the prophet Ezekiel, “When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life….” This is all the spiritual equivalent of “taking in strangers.” We are to do whatever we can to make the truth available to those currently outside the household of faith—to warn them of the coming judgment and invite them to take shelter in our God.
And if we refuse to “take in strangers” in this way? What then? “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” (Ezekiel 33:2-6) I don’t know about you, but this sort of admonition keeps me hard at work, doing what I can to make God’s Word as clear as possible for my readers. I do see the sword coming; I do see the armies of evil approaching the gates. So I blow the trumpet of alarm in an attempt to awaken my fellow human beings to the lateness of the hour, for I know that soon, the Last Trumpet will sound, and the world will experience a paradigm shift of Biblical proportions.
Until that happens, though, it is up to us to sort out what Yahweh’s symbols are telling us to do, even if we’re not citizens of theocratic Israel, living under the Torah’s literal precepts. If you’ve stuck with me this far, you know that these things are consistently transparent—even obvious—to anyone who’s looking for them. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:6) Conversely, they may seem like opaque, esoteric, and apparently pointless minutiae to folks who don’t particularly want to know God. As always, choice is our prerogative.
So let us return to the Torah to review Yahweh’s instructions concerning strangers—those “guests” within Israel (that is, those who are exposed to God’s word) who are being invited to become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. “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 or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.” (Exodus 12:18-20) Symbol translation: the fourteenth of the month is the full moon—a time of enhanced illumination of the truth. Seven days speak of completion, totality. Leaven (yeast) represents sin or corruption: it needs to be removed from our lives. The principle of “corruption removal” applies equally to God’s family and those who are invited to participate—the strangers. That is, there is only one way to dwell in God’s presence: we must become sinless before God—a condition that can be achieved only through the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah.
“And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to Yahweh, 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 who dwells among you.” (Exodus 12:48-49) Strangers (honest seekers) are to be welcomed, but only on God’s terms—just like the rest of us. The Passover Lamb is Yahshua the Messiah; “keeping the Passover” is therefore the act of applying His blood, shed for us, to the problem of our sin: it is the exclusive mechanism provided for our reconciliation with God. Circumcision is a picture of the complete, permanent, and irreversible cutting off of our sin from ourselves, achieved through a process involving blood and pain—Yahshua’s blood and pain. So by linking circumcision to the celebration of Passover, Yahweh is telling us that Christ’s sacrifice is the only means by which we may be separated from our sins. But note that it’s “when a stranger wants to keep the Passover.” We don’t have the power to “save” people against their will.
“And if a stranger dwells among you, and would keep Yahweh’s Passover, he must do so according to the rite of the Passover and according to its ceremony; you shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger and the native of the land.” (Numbers 9:14) A second “Passover” instruction makes it clear that Jews and gentiles don’t have separate paths to salvation (the Law for Israel vs. grace for “strangers”). There is one law for all, and that law defines grace: the blood of the Passover Lamb—ultimately, Yahshua—must be shed in order to indemnify us from death. Do-it-yourself religion—a.k.a. “doing what seems right in your own eyes”—is a dead-end street.
Again: “You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 24:22) And again: “And if a stranger dwells with you, or whoever is among you throughout your generations, and would present an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to Yahweh, just as you do, so shall he do. One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before Yahweh. One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.” (Numbers 15:14-16)
And yet again: “You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them. But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on Yahweh, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of Yahweh, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.” (Numbers 15:29-31) The point is that a “stranger” was allowed to become a member of the nation of Israel—with all the symbolic baggage that implies: he could become a “member of God’s family,” even without a genetic link to God’s chosen. But, like any biological Israelite, he could also get himself “disinherited,” so to speak—cut off from God’s people—by “despising the word of Yahweh.” There is nothing magical about being a physical descendant of Jacob. But the symbolic ramifications are as universal as they are earth shaking.
Another of the seven “Feasts of Yahweh” is in view here: “Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to Yahweh your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as Yahweh your God blesses you. You shall rejoice before Yahweh your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where Yahweh your God chooses to make His name abide. And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.” (Deuteronomy 16:10-12) The Feast of Weeks, so called because it fell seven weeks to the day after the Feast of Firstfruits (a.k.a the second day of the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles, a.k.a. Christ’s resurrection day) is also known as Pentecost. Anyone familiar with Acts 2 will recognize this Feast as having been fulfilled by the indwelling of the whole fledgling Christian community by the Holy Spirit. Besides being the ultimate cause for rejoicing, note that it is open to everyone—Jew and Greek, rich and poor, male and female, privileged and disadvantaged, homies and strangers.
As long as we’re discussing Israel’s festival calendar in the context of the strangers’ participation, allow me to point out the obvious: each of these seven “Feasts” or convocations prophetically marks one of the seven most significant events in Yahweh’s plan for our redemption and reconciliation. Briefly, (1) Passover: Christ’s death; (2) Unleavened Bread: His entombment, removing our sin (3) Firstfruits: His resurrection, proving His divinity; (4) Weeks/Pentecost: our indwelling by the Holy Spirit—the beginning of the “church age”; (5) Trumpets: the translation and rapture of the church (the conclusion of the church age); (6) the Day of Atonement: Christ’s second coming and the national conversion of Israel’s remnant; and (7) Tabernacles: the Millennial Kingdom age under the direct rule of Yahshua the Messiah. Since the first four were fulfilled on the very days of their Levitical mandates (in 33 AD), we can safely assume that the last three will be as well: the Feast of Trumpets on the first day of the seventh month (Tishri) on the Hebrew calendar (in the autumn, in a year not revealed in scripture), the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of Tishri, and the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth. I am convinced (on logistical grounds) that the last two convocations will be fulfilled five days apart in the same year—2033, unless I am mistaken about many things.
Strangers are not specifically mentioned in reference to the Feast of Trumpets, but that should come as no surprise, since it comprises the closing of the church age, as such. As scripture will reveal in this chapter’s final section, although we were at one time “strangers” in relation to Israel’s God, we Christian believers are now strangers no longer. We have been admitted (since Pentecost) to full citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, where there is “neither Jew nor Greek,” only believers and non-believers. After the Feast of Trumpets, however, God will once again be dealing with Israel as a nation. Yes, the post-rapture “church of repentant Laodicea” will come to faith during this time frame, but during the last seven years of the age, Yahweh’s purpose will be to wrap up Israel’s participation in His plan of redemption, as revealed in the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27.
In the instructions concerning the next-to-last convocation (this one’s not really a “feast”), strangers are once again mentioned. “This [the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippurym] shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before Yahweh. It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.” (Leviticus 16:29-31) Once again, we see that natives and the strangers/aliens/foreigners who live among them are bound by (and benefit from) the same rules.
The key principle setting this day apart from all others is that of “affliction of the soul.” The Hebrew word is anah, correctly rendered to afflict (or humble or abase) oneself. Recognition of one’s unworthiness before God, one’s intrinsic inability to be reconciled to a holy God in one’s own strength, is the first step toward repentance (changing one’s mind) leading to salvation. But anah is one of those Hebrew verbs that carries several different connotations, all of which must be considered in order to get the whole story. It also means to answer, respond, or testify. A third nuance means to sing, shout, rejoice vociferously, or cry out in victory.
The Day of Atonement, then, requires that we (1) humble ourselves before a holy God, (2) respond to His offer of cleansing and atonement (which technically means “covering,” as in the covering of our sin by the blood of Christ), and (3) rejoice in the realization that we are indeed saved, redeemed, and bought back from destruction. The “Sabbath rest” requirement reinforces that idea that we cannot achieve reconciliation with God through our own efforts. And the “forever” notice reminds us that between Adam and the last mortal human born during the Millennium, there has only been one way to restore fellowship with our Creator—and that way is permanent and irrevocable.
This restored fellowship is the central theme of the seventh and final Feast on Yahweh’s calendar—the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot. “You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress. And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates. Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to Yahweh your God in the place which Yahweh chooses, because Yahweh your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice.” (Deuteronomy 16:13-15) As the earmark of the Day of Atonement was “affliction of soul”—the seed of repentance—the fruit of that seed is rejoicing in the presence of Yahweh, the characteristic enterprise of the Feast of Tabernacles. Once again, we see that strangers (among other disenfranchised people) are invited to participate.
The seven-day length of the festival indicates the entirety of Christ’s Millennial reign. Elsewhere, we discover that this is actually an eight-day feast, the eighth day indicating (if I’m reading this correctly) the eternal state that will follow the Kingdom Age. As Moses wrote above, “It is a statute forever.” The first and last days of Sukkot are designated Sabbaths—indicating (as always) that our works have no role in securing our salvation for us. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t to do good works. The Millennial reign is where we will be rewarded for the good things we have done in our mortal lives—“Yahweh your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands.” And that is cause for rejoicing. Sure, our works can’t buy us redemption or reconciliation with God; but they do encourage Him to bless us—something He (like any good father) wants to do.
Another precept referring to strangers within Israel at the Feast of Tabernacles was ordained as Moses was passing the baton of Israel’s leadership to Joshua at the end of his life. He delivered the written Torah to the priests, Levites, and elders for safekeeping, and he commanded that it be read in its entirety to all the people of Israel, including the strangers living among them: “At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before Yahweh your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear Yahweh your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear Yahweh your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 31:10-13) Just as a husband or wife can’t just say “I love you” once and expect the message to resonate forever, Israel—everyone living within its borders—needed to hear Yahweh’s “love letter” (the Torah) repeated to them on a regular basis.
At the “year of release” (a.k.a. the Sabbatical year), every Jew was to release his brother Israelite from any debt he owed, though debts owed by foreigners (“strangers”) were still required to be paid back. (See Deuteronomy 15:1-6.) The distinction, based on the symbols God has used, indicates that an Israelite (signifying a member of Yahweh’s family) was already forgiven of his debt—his trespasses and sins—while a stranger (in his symbolic role as an invited guest) had not (yet) become a full-fledged member of the family. As we will soon see, however, we who dwell in the shadow of the cross—believers in the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice during the church age—have now transitioned from being mere “invited guests,” to having become members of God’s family in our own right. Actually, it’s even better than that: we have become part of the very body of Christ by virtue of having become His “bride.” We are now “one flesh” with God Incarnate.
That’s why it is so significant that this precept (the review of God’s Law at the Feast of Tabernacles during the Year of Release) is mentioned in the context of the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Moses represents the Law, which though perfect, was not designed to reconcile us to God through our performance of its statutes. It was, rather, meant to be a detailed and comprehensive symbolic presentation of the means by which Yahweh would reconcile us to Himself. It all points toward the life and mission of Yahshua the Messiah—which brings us to Joshua, Moses’ successor. Joshua represents the One to which the Law directs us: to Yahshua the Messiah. God made this easy for us: the name is the same. Joshua is Yahshua—alternately rendered in various lexicons as Yahowsha’, Yahusha, Yahuwshuwa’, Yahushua, Yəhowsu‘a, Yâhowshuwa`, Yâhowshu`a, Yehowshu‘a, Yehoshua, Yĕhôšûă‘, Yeshua, Yahoshua, Yeshuwa’, or Y’shua—and known to the world as Jesus. Even Joshua’s father’s name is significant: it was Nun, from a verb meaning “to propagate or increase,” hence to be “perpetual.” Thus Yahshua the Messiah is the “Son” of the Eternal God, the Creator and propagator of all life—Yahweh.
So from a symbolic standpoint, it all gets woven together into a spiritual tapestry of inexpressible beauty: as we prepare to enter the Promised Land (i.e., the life of a believer) the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua signifies the shift from prophecy to fulfillment, from promise to perfection, from shadow to reality, from Law to liberty. What was foretold by the Torah has now been performed, as if on stage, by Yahshua. So as we “enter the Land,” as our debts are forgiven, God directs us to review His Instructions and make the connection between Law and Grace, between Moses and Joshua/Yahshua.
Did we do as we were instructed? Israel began well enough: “And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.” (Joshua 8:34-35) But in more recent times, alas, no. The post-resurrection Jews, under the influence of power-hungry rabbis like Akiba, did everything they could to divorce Israel from the church. And by early in the fourth century, the church returned the favor, declaring all things Jewish to be an anathema. For all intents and purposes, the church under Constantine tried to retain the house (the mission of Christ) while abandoning the foundation upon which it was sitting (the Torah). It’s therefore little wonder that most Christians to this day don’t understand what the function of the Torah was intended to be: it’s not a rule book for an impossibly complex sport nobody plays anymore. It is, rather, a glimpse into the very mind of God, a symbol-rich preview of His plan of redemption for all mankind. Be not deceived: grace has not replaced the law—it has fulfilled it, given it meaning, and brought it to life.
Yahweh, as we have seen, went far out of His way to ensure that strangers or aliens could repent and worship Him in spirit and in truth—just like the family He had set apart from the world for His own purposes, Israel. Examples who come readily to mind: Caleb the Kennezite (an Edomite tribe), Rahab the Jericho harlot, Uriah the Hittite (who was murdered for his wife by King David), and Ruth the Moabitess. Actually, we would be hard pressed to find a topic in the Torah in which strangers are not specifically mentioned—just so Israel would remember to include these God-fearing gentiles in the life of Yahweh’s people.
We have already reviewed their inclusion in the Feasts of Yahweh—indicating that they are meant to be participants in whatever it was that each convocation prophetically signified. Because they had no inheritance in the Land, strangers were often grouped with widows and orphans in God’s admonitions to care for the poor. They were even mentioned as potential recipients of the tithes of Israel. He specifically directed that although they had no standing as legal citizens of Israel, strangers were always to be treated fairly, justly, and compassionately—as long as they honored Yahweh. If they did not, they were to be driven from the Land. Again, this is the very same deal Israel itself had. God shows no partiality. It would appear that except for the symbolic significance with which Yahweh invested each group, He really didn’t make a national or racial distinction between individual Israelites and the aliens living among them. There were only believers and non-believers.
Let us, then, review a few more instances where “strangers” were purposely referred to—side-by-side with Israel—in the Torah. Regarding the offering of sacrifices to God, there was only one authorized venue—the “place where Yahweh makes His name abide,” which was (physically) where the tabernacle (and later the temple) was. “Also you shall say to them: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to offer it to Yahweh, that man shall be cut off from among his people.” (Leviticus 17:8-9) Why? Because the sacrifice itself wasn’t the point, but rather what it meant: every blood sacrifice was a picture of the eventual self-sacrifice of Yahshua—nuanced to highlight various facets of God’s plan. In other words, it wasn’t about what we gave up in our attempt to honor God, but rather about portraying—rehearsing—through our actions what God was doing for us. The tabernacle/temple was a complex symbolic presentation of Yahweh’s plan for our redemption, so offering up a bull, a sheep, or a goat on your own altar said, ever so eloquently, “I can work or buy my way into God’s favor: my efforts are surely good enough.” No, you can’t, and no, they aren’t.
This doesn’t mean that whenever someone wanted to eat meat he had to travel with his four-footed feast to wherever the tabernacle was and formally sacrifice it there. (For that matter, a “burnt offering” wasn’t to be eaten at all, but was to be completely consumed by fire. Peace offerings and others, however, were eaten by the worshiper and shared with the priests.) Yahweh made it clear that you could slaughter a sheep or cow whenever you wanted and have a barbecue, or you could go hunting and bag some wild game—as long as it was specified as “clean.” But even then, there was a semi-symbolic rule to follow: “Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’” (Leviticus 17:10-11)
This precept is repeated several times in scripture—beginning with post-flood Noah. Blood carries nutrients (read: provision) and oxygen (symbolic of the Spirit of God) to every cell in the body. So if it stops circulating or if one loses too much of it, death will result. On the other hand, compared with the meat of the animal it came from, blood is always more toxic. This is true of both clean and unclean animals. Yahweh, of course, didn’t explain any of this. He just said, “Trust Me: don’t eat blood.”
Not to denigrate the physical aspects of this, but the symbolic meaning that God attached to blood—the atonement for sin, bringing spiritual life in its wake—was His primary point. That’s why Yahshua said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56) He wasn’t asking us to disobey the Torah by literally “drinking His blood.” He was asking us to open our eyes to the true meaning of the precept. The life is in the blood—His blood. (Yes, this is a blatant claim to deity—which explains why so many fence-sitters found it “too hard to swallow,” so to speak.) We are to put Christ into our lives: as He lives within us, we live within Him. This is as true for the “stranger” (the invited guest) as it is for the Israelite (symbolic of one who is already a part of the family of God).
The story is the same for sexual sins: they are prohibited for both God’s people and those “strangers” who are invited to join the family. Leviticus 18 presents a lengthy litany of sex-related sins—behaviors that were commonplace in both Egypt and in Canaan at the time—that Yahweh forbade among His people. As with eating blood, there were physical ramifications, health considerations, but the primary issue was symbolic. Sexual reproduction was invented by Yahweh as a picture of humanity’s intended relationship with Him—a bond of companionship, commitment, fruitfulness, and enduring love, not merely sporadic physical pleasure (although that is certainly included).
Half the list describes various permutations of incest. Also prohibited were adultery, sex with a woman during menses, homosexuality (which God called “an abomination”), and bestiality. Something seemingly out of place on the list is the prohibition of Molech worship (v.21), in which one’s children were burned alive in the hopes that this false god would grant prosperity and fertility—a cruel irony if ever there was one. What does this have to do with sexual immorality? You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to recognize the modern equivalent—the practice of abortion as retroactive birth control, something that is perpetrated 45 million times a year in our fallen world. That’s right, folks: one child in four, worldwide, is murdered in the womb before they even have a chance to see the light of day. Today, ninety-three percent of all abortions in America are performed because (if the parents can be taken at their word) the child is deemed “inconvenient” in some way—a burden that might negatively impact the lifestyle or prosperity of the mother and/or the father. Thus I would submit to you that there is no appreciable difference (as far as motivation is concerned) between modern abortion practices and bronze-age Molech worship.
All of these sexual sins are symbolic, one way or another, of idolatry—of giving the reverence and devotion due to Yahweh alone to someone or something else. With adultery, it’s another “deity,” some “god” other than Yahweh. With incest, it’s apparently the worship of something “like God,” but not actually God Himself, making it (if I’m seeing this correctly) a picture of man-made religion—a form of godliness bereft of its power to save. With homosexuality, it would appear to be reverence for one’s own kind—in other words, it’s a euphemism for today’s secular humanism, the worship of man. That would make bestiality a picture of the direct worship of Satan—adoration of the beast. All of these things, then, are examples of sexual relationships between people (or things) other than husbands and their wives. And all of them are symbolic, one way or another, of unfaithfulness to Yahweh—the path of corruption, sterility, illegitimacy, and/or death.
So God concludes the passage: “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled. Therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.” (Leviticus 18:24-29) Once again, we see that strangers dwelling with Israel are included: there is one Law for all. And on a broader level, we can safely extrapolate from this that strangers, immigrants, aliens, and foreigners living in a land other than their place of birth are admonished to respect the culture of their new home—not plot to overthrow it. Three times here, any and all sexual sin is labeled “abomination.”
The practice of Molech worship was mentioned above, counterintuitively included in the context of sexual sins. God designed human sexuality (specifically between a husband and his wife) as the mechanism for bringing about new life in the matrix of a lifetime of love and devotion—an apt metaphor for His own character and modus operandi. Molech worship is the ultimate perversion of God’s plan: a couple is promised that they will be prosperous, fertile, and happy if they sacrifice one of their children by burning him to death on the outstretched arms of a red-hot metal statue of this bull-god (also known as Chemosh and Milcom, etc.). It’s the most horrible example ever invented of “works-based religion.” And it’s so transparently false, I have trouble believing anybody ever fell for it.
As I said, Molech worship is the same mindset that has produced the epidemic of abortion in the world today. We can also see the echoes of Molech worship in the Muslim practice of sending their children out as suicide bombers. (It’s a little known fact that these families get paid—in money and privileges, sometimes quite handsomely—for sending their youth to a pointless and horrible death in the name of Allah.) To give you an idea how much God hates the practice, note that the Valley of Hinnom, south of the old city of Jerusalem, was a venue where Molech worship took place in the bad old days. The Greek transliteration for the place-name is Gehinnom or Gehenna. (Ge is a Greek word for world or land.) The word was used by Yahshua Himself as a euphemism for hell—not sheol mind you, (the grave, the destination of all men) but hell, the place or state of unceasing eternal torment created specifically for Satan, his demons, and the people who willingly align themselves with him. (See Matthew 25:41, 46.)
So Yahweh says it once more: “Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Again, you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death.” As usual, strangers living among God’s people were held to the same standard. Note the consequences: “The people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name….” Stoning was a method of execution used when the whole congregation had been violated or endangered. Since everyone had been sinned against, everyone was to participate in the death of the perpetrator.
And it gets worse: “And if the people of the land should in any way hide their eyes from the man, when he gives some of his descendants to Molech, and they do not kill him, then I will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut him off from his people, and all who prostitute themselves with him to commit harlotry with Molech.” (Leviticus 20:1-5) Not only were the Israelites required to stone to death any Molech worshipers they found among them, they themselves were deemed guilty if they even tolerated this crime in their midst. I realize it’s all symbolic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Look at the history of Israel—who did tolerate (if not practice) this sin among them: Between the conquest under Joshua and the present day, they’ve spent far more time expelled from the Promised Land than settled within it.
So what happens when the whole world runs after Molech (so to speak)? What happens when the vast majority of mankind either worships in the spirit of Molech, or tolerates those who do out of a misplaced sense of political correctness? That’s a pretty good description of the coming Tribulation, during which God has promised to either extract, seal, or sequester His family, and then “cut off from their people” everyone who’s left—those who “defile His sanctuary and profane His holy name.” You don’t get a pass just because you’re a “stranger” to God’s truth. Virtually everyone on earth has been exposed to the Word of God at this late date. That is, everyone is either a member of the family already or is an invited guest. As Yahshua said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:13)
Moving on with our listing of symbolic Torah precepts that “strangers” living among them were required to keep, we encounter the case of voluntary sacrifices. Man’s logic might opine that “since it’s my offering to make (because it isn’t mandatory), I should be able to do it however I want. Beggars can’t be choosers.” But Yahweh says, “Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers in Israel, who offers his sacrifice for any of his vows or for any of his freewill offerings, which they offer to Yahweh as a burnt offering—you shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats. Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable on your behalf.” (Leviticus 22:18-20) If you can’t observe these simple rules, He says, then don’t bother making a sacrifice at all.
Why? Because God isn’t really interested in our sacrifices at all. What He’s “interested in” is our realization that only His sacrifice will redeem us, bring us back into fellowship with Him, and atone for our sins. So when we make the sacrifices specified in the Torah (something no one has been able to do literally since 70 AD, by the way) what we’re actually doing is rehearsing—acting out for public witness—God’s perfect sacrifice: the passion of Yahshua.
What, then, did Yahweh specify of these freewill offerings? All of these things, it turns out, are predictive of what the Son of God did for us. (1) Obviously, they were voluntary, the result of free will, not coercion, because Yahshua laid down His life for us—it was not taken from Him. (2) The sacrificial animals were to be males of the species. Yahshua was God incarnate, deity manifested as a male human being, with all the symbolic significance that implies. (See the chapters on “Fathers” and “Sons” earlier in this volume.) (3) They had to be flawless, free of blemishes or defects—symbolic of the only sinless man who ever lived, Yahshua. (4) They had to be “clean” animals—that is, included on the Levitical “okay-to-eat” list. Yahshua told us we were to “eat His flesh and drink His blood,” a thinly veiled euphemism for assimilating His being into our very souls, becoming one with Him. Spiritually, you are what you eat. (5) Something implied but not spelled out here is that the sacrificial animal had to belong to the worshiper. He couldn’t steal it from his neighbor or catch it in the wild: it had to cost him something. What did the ultimate sacrifice cost Yahweh? “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
The point of including “strangers” in this precept is that no matter who you are or where you’re from, there is only one way to be reconciled to God. That “way” is belief, trust, and confidence in the efficacy of Yahshua’s Self-sacrifice on Calvary’s tree. The Law points forward to it, and grace looks back upon it. Once again, a “stranger dwelling among Israel” is a metaphor for someone who has access to the teachings of the Word of God (of which Israel is the designated custodian), even if he’s not a Jew. He is, then, an invited guest, even though he wasn’t “born into the family.”
Another permutation of the same truth is the ordinance of the Red Heifer. This was an imagery-rich regulation describing God’s invalidation of the curse of death on mankind. I described it in detail in Chapter 15 of The Owner’s Manual, elsewhere on this website. It’s complicated, but basically, a young cow was to be sacrificed and burnt to ash, and the ashes were mixed with water and sprinkled upon whomever had come in contact with death. Everyone involved in the ritual was rendered ritually unclean in the process. So we read, “The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them.” (Numbers 19:10)
In a nation a couple of million strong, death was an everyday occurrence, so the seven-day-long ritual of the Red Heifer would have been in process among them virtually all the time. Since the sacrificed animal, as always, represented Yahshua, the whole thing conspires to inform us that only His sacrifice on our behalf can indemnify us from spiritual death. In the process of taking our sins upon Himself, Christ became defiled—dying the death of a sinner though He was Himself sinless. But rising from the dead by His own will was the evidence that—having been made “unclean until evening” for our sakes—His uncleanness (i.e., contact with death) had been overcome. And when we arise in His likeness, the same will be proved true of us.
For our present purposes, the point is that although “strangers” as well as “children of Israel” are mortal, the cure for death—for all of us—is life in Christ. Everyone, of course, is subject to physical death, but this too is one of God’s symbols, designed to teach us about the reality—the inevitability—of spiritual death if we come to the end of our mortal lives without having been made eternally clean through the death and resurrection of Yahshua. Israel represents those who have already been made clean, but everyone—the “strangers” living among the saved—are invited to partake of the blessings of eternal life.
Same hymn, next verse: six “Cities of Refuge” were to be established in the Land, for the benefit of Israelite and stranger alike. “These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there.” (Numbers 35:15; cf. Joshua 20:9) The idea was that, although murderers received the death penalty, if you killed someone accidentally, you could flee to one of these cities of refuge, where your innocence (or guilt) could be determined through careful inquiry. (For example, suppose you were out chopping firewood, and your ax-head came loose and struck your co-worker.) Meanwhile, the victim’s family would appoint an “avenger of blood” whose job it was to find you and execute you for having slain their kin. At first glance, the system may seem primitive to us, but in the complete absence of any human government, it was a fair, efficient system—a far cry from the morass of loophole-ridden legal quicksand with which we’re used to dealing.
The man-slayer, having been found innocent of intentional murder, was required to live and stay in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, at which time he was pardoned and allowed to go home. This was less like prison (or even house arrest) than it was protective custody. It was not only eminently practical, it was (as we have come to expect) symbolic of something larger, a spiritual truth we might otherwise miss. You see, all of us are “Son-of-Man-slayers,” so to speak. We are all guilty of the undeserved death of Yahshua, whether we meant to be or not. Our sins nailed Him to Calvary’s tree. The city of refuge is thus metaphorical of one’s mortal life: we dare not leave it without having been indemnified from wrath by the death of the “High Priest,” once again, a symbol for Christ (see Hebrews 8:1).
Once again, we see that God’s provision of mercy extends beyond Israel to the “strangers” sojourning among them. The point is that the indemnification against spiritual death afforded by the sacrifice of Christ is intended and available to all people—not just Israelites. Reinforcing this concept is the fact that Yahweh specified that three of the six cities of refuge were to be set up east of the Jordan River. This is where the tribes of Ruben, Gad, and half of Manasseh had opted to settle, even though Yahweh had placed the “official” eastern border of the land at the Jordan River. (See Numbers 34:1-15) This is all a heavy-handed hint that gentiles as well as Jews could be saved—and in exactly the same way.
The laws of the Red Heifer and the Cities of Refuge focus on death as the natural result of sin—and how to overcome it. But while our mortal lives endure, we must admit that quality of life is an issue. All other things being equal, it is better to be well off financially than to be poor; it is better to be free than a slave; and it is better to be healthy than sick. And yet, God allows both good things and bad into our lives at times—if only to teach us how to rely upon Him instead of ourselves. So God allowed slavery (or more properly, indentured servitude) within Israel, but regulated the practice to ensure that the abuses of the surrounding nations—such as those that had been suffered by Israel for four centuries in Egypt—never took place in Israel.
Time and again, as we have seen, Israel was admonished to treat the “widows, orphans, poor, and strangers” among them with mercy, dignity, and respect—the point (one of them) being that more often than not, a gentile alien sojourning within the Promised Land was relatively poor, having no property inheritance of his own which could generate wealth for him. So he could sell his services to an Israelite landowner. (Today, we call this practice “getting a job.”) A stranger could become a “hired servant” or “contract laborer” in exchange for money (used to settle debts or feed one’s family). But whereas an Israelite under similar circumstances would be released at the Jubilee, a stranger so indentured became a permanent possession: “And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have—from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property. And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves.” (Leviticus 25:44-46) The key to this seeming inconsistency is the symbols: Israel represented “God’s family,” whereas strangers were “invited guests,” that is, not (yet) part of the family. God still required that they be treated with kindness and dignity, but because of what the Jubilee signified—the state of salvation—they were not automatically released.
Occasionally, the tables were turned: the stranger, through hard work, thrift, and skill, could become wealthy—and as a result find himself in the role of master, “slave” holder, or employer of those less fortunate. So God addressed this situation as well: “Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself [technically, hires himself out for a period of time] to the stranger or sojourner close to you, or to a member of the stranger’s family, after he is sold he may be redeemed again. One of his brothers may redeem him; or his uncle or his uncle’s son may redeem him; or anyone who is near of kin to him in his family may redeem him; or if he is able he may redeem himself….” We are thus introduced to the concept of redemption—of “buying back” what had been lost: one’s freedom. This temporal redemption is an obvious metaphor for its spiritual counterpart—buying someone back from their bondage to sin. Such “slavery” need not be a permanent condition. But to reverse it, someone of means must be willing to pay his debt.
Note first that the stranger is said to be someone “close to you.” That is, he is someone who is expected to at least be familiar with (and respectful of) God’s law. Second, the redeemer is supposed to be a kinsman, a close relative, of the hired servant. The way God set it up, one didn’t redeem the debt of a total stranger—there had to be a relationship between them. In spiritual terms, this implies that Christ’s sacrifice can’t be used to extricate someone from his sinful condition if he does not desire a relationship with the Living God—even though someone may become a child of God any time he wishes, as long as life endures. This in turn reveals the idea of “universal salvation” to be a hoax. The blood of Christ is the most precious substance in existence; that doesn’t mean it can be used to redeem someone who doesn’t want to be saved from his sin.
What does it cost to buy back someone who has sold himself into slavery? The price is based on the time left between now and the year of release. “Thus he shall reckon with him who bought him: The price of his release shall be according to the number of years, from the year that he was sold to him until the Year of Jubilee; it shall be according to the time of a hired servant for him. If there are still many years remaining, according to them he shall repay the price of his redemption from the money with which he was bought. And if there remain but a few years until the Year of Jubilee, then he shall reckon with him, and according to his years he shall repay him the price of his redemption.” That’s pretty clear in temporal terms: a servant’s “contract” is paid back either in service to his master or a sum of money representing the remainder of his agreement. Since everybody knew when Jubilee would happen (once every fifty years), it was easy to calculate. “He shall be with him as a yearly hired servant, and he shall not rule with rigor over him in your sight. And if he is not redeemed in these years, then he shall be released in the Year of Jubilee—he and his children with him. For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 25:47-55)
Spiritually, however, there’s a rub. For us believers, “Jubilee” represents our freedom in the Kingdom of God—our salvation. (Technically, our bondage to sin is released through what the Jubilee represents, while our debts are forgiven through the Sabbath principle.) All debts (also representing sin) were cancelled at the Sabbath year (which is also covered in Leviticus 25). The Sabbath year predicts the Millennial reign of Yahshua the Messiah. And (although hardly anybody realizes it) God has given us enough information to pinpoint—to the very day—when that will take place. But we are also told (in so many words) that our Redeemer has decided to “pay off” our earthly masters—the strangers to whom we have sold our services—ahead of the Sabbath, before the Kingdom age begins. We just don’t know when. I’m speaking, of course, of the rapture of the church, in which Yahshua has promised to “catch up” those who are “in Him” prior to the period of trial coming upon the whole earth popularly known as the Tribulation. We who count Yahweh as our Father (and His “Son” Yahshua as our brother the King) will be redeemed sometime before God’s wrath falls upon the earth. But we don’t know the Redeemer’s entire schedule: our job is simply to continue serving mankind until He comes for us.
But He also said, “And if he is not redeemed in these years, then he shall be released in the Year of Jubilee.” What are we to make of that? The Kingdom will commence after the Tribulation. Does this imply a post-Tribulation rapture scenario? No, because there will be people—innumerable multitudes, in fact—who will finally recognize their relationship to the Redeemer after Christ has raptured (paid off the contracts, so to speak) of the church.
Basically, they include two groups of indentured servants. First, the church of repentant Laodicea (the last assembly on Christ’s mailing list in Revelation 3), will come to faith only after the rapture, having belatedly “opened the door” to Yahshua: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:18-20)
And second, the nation of Israel, having been miraculously defended, sequestered, and protected from several powerful enemies during the Tribulation, will finally be ready to admit, “As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before Yahweh our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth. Therefore Yahweh has kept the disaster in mind, and brought it upon us; for Yahweh our God is righteous in all the works which He does, though we have not obeyed His voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and made Yourself a name, as it is this day—we have sinned, we have done wickedly!” (Daniel 9:13-15) One disaster Yahweh will have brought upon Israel—and then miraculously delivered them through it—will be the Battle of Magog. The bottom line of their seemingly impossible victory against the Muslim hordes will be: “So the house of Israel shall know that I am Yahweh their God from that day forward.” (Ezekiel 39:22)
So although they will miss the rapture, there is still hope for these two groups. Alas, they’ll have to wait until the coming of the Jubilee and the ultimate Sabbath to be released from their bonds of disbelief, their debt to sin. The good news is that they will be released in the end. The bad news is that the “strangers” who held them in bondage will in the interim completely ignore God’s admonition: “And he shall not rule with rigor over him in your sight.” Multitudes will die during the mayhem of the times. But then again, death is no obstacle for our God.
If I may, this seems like a good place to pause and reflect on a few recent personal insights God has given me concerning the phenomenon of debt. For the past seventeen years, my family has been enjoying the proceeds from my wife’s inheritance—her minority share in a partnership that owned two pieces of commercial real estate, from which we collected rents. This arrangement has been a Godsend, allowing me the time to write the books you’ll find on this website, and several others. (I married well, you must admit—even though it was half a century ago.) Recently, we sold both properties (a hair-raising endeavor in its own right—I’ll spare you the gory details), in effect taking the money out of our left pocket and putting it into our right. Now that the process is complete, we have paid off all of our debts, including our house mortgage. The plan is to give some away, invest some, drastically cut our outgo (especially our taxes—hallelujah) along with our reduced income, and finally be able to literally live as Paul advised: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)
So I ought to be on cloud nine. But as I lay in bed the night after we paid off the house loan, it occurred to me that I didn’t really sense the euphoria I was expecting to. And this led me to an epiphany: we don’t often feel the weight of our debt as we should. I’m not just talking about money, either, but also our debt of sin—that from which our Redeemer “bailed us out” with the most precious substance in the universe, the blood of Christ. Many believers are like Israel in bondage in Egypt: we have grown used to our chains, so much so that we barely notice them anymore. We have learned how to live reasonably well in a fallen world, like Lot living in Sodom—vexed by the corruption we see around us, yet reluctant to leave it behind. It doesn’t really bother us that we owe money—sometimes lots of it—to other people; and worse, we don’t cringe and fall to our knees in horror at our unworthiness when we contemplate our own sins.
In the case of our finances, whether personal or national, we find ourselves in debt to “strangers,” people or institutions who do not honor God—though they know they should operate (at least in general terms) according to His tried and proven principles—honesty, justice, and mercy. In the case of our sin, our debt is owed to Yahweh our Creator—The One of whose standards we have fallen short. This defines us as strangers—that is, estranged from Him. This is the sad state into which we’re born: “condemned already,” as it’s put in John 3:18—judged and found wanting. But (like paying off any debt) all that stands in the way of total liberty is a Redeemer, and our willingness to receive that which He has already provided for us.
I’m not saying that any shortcoming we display after “joining the family of God” will make us strangers from Him once again, any more than buying a tank of gas on your credit card makes you a “debtor” if you pay it off at the end of the month. Remember, there were two stations in the tabernacle courtyard, both of which had to be encountered before one could enter the sanctuary. First came the altar of sacrifice, where sins were atoned; and second, the laver of cleansing was where one’s hands and feet (i.e., works and walk) had to be washed before you could come before God’s presence. Once we have “joined the family of God” by being born anew in His Holy Spirit (John 3:5), we can never be “un-born.” Yes, it is possible to sin our way out of fellowship with our Heavenly Father, but it is not possible to revert to the status of one who never existed.
The symbols of Israel as God’s family and strangers as invited guests may be useful for sorting out Yahweh’s intentions and plan, but they’re not depictions of our destiny: God made it abundantly clear that we’re all together in this—we’re all welcome in His kingdom as participants in His covenant: “All of you stand today before Yahweh your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives—also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water—that you may enter into covenant with Yahweh your God, and into His oath, which Yahweh your God makes with you today, that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 29:10-13) Rich and poor, leaders and followers, men and women, young and old, and strangers as well as native-born Israelites are all eligible to become “a people for Himself.” Moreover, this has been the plan from the very beginning.
The “Covenant” is based on keeping the precepts of the Torah, but this is something no one has ever achieved. Or is it? Yahshua never broke the Law of Moses, but neither did He perform the vast majority of its mitzvot—those that were commanded of the priests and Levites, for example. What He did do, however, is fulfill every nuance of what the Torah symbolized—becoming, one way or another, the very personification of the Law’s requirements. That is why pre-Torah believers like Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Job are counted as being keepers of the Covenant: they believed God, and it was accounted unto them as righteousness. (See Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Psalm 106:31, etc.) And it is why we “strangers” today can be numbered in the same blessed assembly, even though we have never even attempted to perform the precepts of the Law.
Indeed, Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land was contingent, in part, on their treatment of the strangers living among them: “For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.” (Jeremiah 7:5-7) The “second-greatest” commandment—that we are to love our neighbors as we do ourselves—includes in the definition of “neighbors” those about whom we have little natural or logical reason to care. God says, “Love them anyway, for in so doing, you show your love for Me.”
During the Kingdom Age, one’s biological bloodline won’t count for much. Yes, Israel will once again dwell in peace and safety in the Promised Land, but they won’t be alone. Isaiah writes, “For Yahweh will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land. The strangers will be joined with them, and they will cling to the house of Jacob….” To one who hasn’t studied prophecy, this may seem a ludicrous thing to say, but during the thousand-year reign of Christ, Israel will be the world’s only “superpower.” Of course, this cannot happen as long as they remain in a state of disbelief concerning the identity of their Messiah. But the events of the Tribulation will conspire to wake them up—as a nation. It’s a prophetic fait accompli: as the King’s chosen, Israel will no longer serve as the world’s scapegoat.
So what will happen to the “strangers” to whom Israel has been indebted (or at least indentured) for the past couple of millennia, the ones we read above in Leviticus 25? They (the gentile “strangers” who repent and survive the Tribulation) will facilitate Israel’s complete return to their Land, and some will stay there, dwelling in Israel—overlords no more, but now grateful and contrite servants of God and His people. So Isaiah finishes his thought: “Then peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them for servants and maids in the land of Yahweh; they will take them captive whose captives they were, and rule over their oppressors.” (Isaiah 14:1-2) Although the Israelites were indebted to the strangers among them for thousands of years, the tables will turn when they at last recognize their Messiah. It’s not that Israel will become the oppressors for a change—it’s that there will be no oppressors at all under Christ’s benign rule.
Ezekiel explains further: “Thus you shall divide this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the children of Israel; they shall have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,” says the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 47:21-23) There are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, even if we have different jobs to do.
When will this happen? Remember the bottom line of the Leviticus passage: “If he is not redeemed in these years, then he shall be released in the Year of Jubilee—he and his children with him.” The Jubilee will coincide with the second coming of Christ. This is more than mere symbol; it’s future history. The last recorded Jubilee celebrated in Israel took place during the Bar Kochba rebellion, in 133 AD. (Two years later, Emperor Hadrian got the upper hand and scattered Israel to the four winds—a condition that persisted until the mid-twentieth century.) So since Jubilees are spaced at fifty-year intervals, the next one from our perspective will take place in 2033, only a few years off—precisely forty Jubilees since the Passion of Christ. I am convinced that this year will see Yahshua’s return in glory—His second coming on the Day of Atonement, and the commencement of His Millennial reign five days later on the Feast of Tabernacles.
But until that day, take heed of the ominous symbolic potential of what it means to be a stranger. They are not (yet) part of God’s family, but they (we) are invited to become so. The choice is up to us. If we do not proactively choose to walk Yahweh’s path, our destiny will remain unfulfilled—forever. Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth. And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another [zuwr: a stranger]. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27) Strangers who do not choose to be redeemed will not see God. The fact is as straightforward as it is tragic.
We were once strangers, but are no longer.
Strangers (in God’s symbol matrix) are not meant to remain that way forever. A potential transition is implied in the status of being an alien—the hope that he may someday accept the invitation to become God’s friend and family member. As Christ wrote to the pre-repentant church of Laodicea (the people who will come to faith after the rapture), “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:20-21) “Overcoming” is shorthand for hearing Yahshua’s voice, opening the “door” of the heart to Him, and partaking of what He has to offer—His body and blood, the price of atonement. It is the transition from the status of “stranger” to that of “friend.”
This transition (otherwise known as salvation) has been the object of God’s plan from the very beginning. Even Israel—who as we have seen is symbolic of “God’s family”—was once a nation of strangers in the world. Yahweh informed their patriarch Abram what would happen. He left it up to us to figure out why. “Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” (Genesis 15:12-14)
The only reason Yahweh allowed (or is that “engineered”) Israel’s four centuries of bondage and sorrow in Egypt was that He wanted us all to comprehend that this is the state in which we all begin: bondage in the world, slaves to our own sin. But this condition need not be permanent. Indeed, it is meant to change (subject to our own free will), even if God must perform miracles on our behalf to make that happen. This one example, if nothing else, disproves the “prosperity gospel” being glibly preached in some quarters today. Yahweh could easily have made Abraham’s progeny prosperous, safe, and free. But He instead sent them to suffer in Egypt so that we might come to know—in no uncertain terms—His power to save. The lesson: our temporal circumstances in this life are not remotely the whole point.
But if our status (even in symbolic terms) in this life is not the point, what is? Prior to Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, the whole transition from saved to lost, from slavery to freedom, was subtle at best. The writer to the Hebrews points out that such pre-Israelite luminaries as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah—even though they weren’t in bondage—still looked forward to something more, the fulfillment of the promises of Yahweh, even if they didn’t fully understand them. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16) It all points toward a new life in a “heavenly country,” one we can’t experience or even conceive of as long as we’re mortals.
The transition from strangers to family, then, is indicative of attaining a new spiritual status—one that will come to full fruition beyond this mortal life and endure forever. As Job wrote above, “After my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold.” In truth, most of what God told us seems to ultimately refer to the eternal state and how to enter in to it. The Promised Land itself is a perfect example. In the end, it is a picture of the life we enjoy as children of God, beginning as mortals but continuing into eternity. We can’t “own” heaven, because it belongs to Yahweh. So He says, “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me. And in all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land.” (Leviticus 25:23-24) Note that in a sense, even Israel is comprised of “strangers and sojourners.” That is, though as a nation they were chosen by God to be the vehicle of His salvation to the world, they as individuals must make the same transition as the rest of us—from invited guests to members of God’s family. If we can’t graciously receive the gift of eternal life, we have no part in Him.
Moses knew all too well that he was a stranger in this world. When (as a murderer on the run) he ended up fleeing to Midian, Moses felt the full burden of his alienated state. “Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he [Jethro] gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses. And she bore him a son. He called his name Gershom, [“stranger there”] for he said, ‘I have been a stranger in a foreign land.’” (Exodus 2:21-22) I suppose the question could be asked, “Was there any place where Moses wasn’t a stranger?” He was an Israelite, technically a slave, but he had been raised in the palace of the Pharaoh himself. So both worlds felt alien to him. And now, here in Arabia, he didn’t really fit in either—all by God’s design, of course. I think Yahweh wanted him to inwardly yearn for that same “heavenly country” that eluded Enoch, Noah, and Abraham—the place beyond mortality in which righteousness dwells, represented here on earth as the Promised Land.
A “promise” is also known as a covenant. It’s a binding agreement between two people, but the covenant to which David refers in this next passage was unilateral: Yahweh made the promise to Abraham with no strings attached: “Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance,’ when you were few in number, indeed very few, and strangers in it.” (I Chronicles 16:15-19; cf. Psalm 105:8-12) Again, we see that Israel (Abraham’s progeny through Isaac and Jacob) wasn’t always “God’s family,” but began as strangers themselves in the Land of Promise. A transition is implied, from alien to partaker in the covenant—which is again symbolic of the shift from being estranged from Yahweh to being His adopted child. In other words, it’s a picture of salvation, the transition from being “condemned already” (as it’s put in John 3:18) to having eternal life in Christ.
David reinforced the idea that Israel is not exactly entitled to be the “chosen people” of God—at least not in the way they’d imagined it, on the basis of their own merit. Knowing the depth of his own sin, God’s favorite human put things in perspective for his nation as he laid the groundwork for his son Solomon to build the temple. He prayed, “Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You. For we are aliens and pilgrims before You, as were all our fathers. Our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope.” (I Chronicles 29:13-15) One more time: even Israel is a nation of strangers and pilgrims in the sight of Yahweh: as individuals, everyone needs to make his own decision to honor God. Symbols are invaluable teaching tools, but they aren’t destiny.
The entire Tanakh looks forward to one seminal event: the advent of the Messiah—His life, His death, and His resurrection. So we should not be surprised to find that the symbols that conspired to teach us where we stood before God were fulfilled—like so many others—in the passion of Yahshua. Paul points out that if we are in Christ, our entire spiritual position relative to our Creator has shifted. “Remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ….” Yes, we gentiles were once strangers from what Israel symbolized; we were hopelessly alienated from the promises God had made to His people. But in the shadow of Calvary, this is no longer true.
Here Paul contrasts the “Uncircumcision” (those who did not physically bear this sign) with the “Circumcision” (Israel, who alone were commanded by God to do this). Circumcision is a symbol—used throughout scripture—to picture a dichotomy in spiritual status. As symbols go, this one is as transparent as it gets. (I mean, if circumcision—the cutting off of the foreskin of a male infant’s penis on the eighth day of life—isn’t symbolic, then our God must truly have a twisted sense of humor.) But as I wrote above, it’s pretty clear what this means: “Circumcision is a picture of the complete, permanent, and irreversible cutting off of our sin from ourselves, achieved through a process involving blood and pain—Yahshua’s blood and pain.” Thus what was spiritually theoretical in the Old Testament was explained, revealed, and fulfilled in the New. And for “strangers” who come to believe in Christ, His atoning sacrifice is what forever separates us from our sin—making us “circumcised” in Spirit, whether we physically are or not. We were once estranged from God; now, through Christ, we have been “brought near.”
Paul continues: “And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both [that is, Jews and gentiles alike] have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:11-13, 17-19) In other words, anyone can become a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Anyone can be indwelled by the Holy Spirit, giving him (or her) a familial relationship with Yahweh Himself. We need not—we must not—remain strangers from our God.