A previous article I wrote (http://www.kuyperian.com/image-god-recommends/) left many areas for further exploration. One obvious one would be a survey of how Leviticus 19:33-34 has been historically understood. This article does not pretend to do that, but will look at one example from the seventeenth century.
There aren’t many seventeenth century commentaries on Leviticus that are complete and readily available. In 1689, the Anglican Bishop Simon Patrick (1626-1707) produced one of them. We will look at his comments on Leviticus 19:33-34 (p. 389-391), a Bible text which reads:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (ESV)
Simon Patrick sees a “natural law” aspect embedded in the text, where “common Humanity” teaches everyone “to be kind to all manner of Strangers.” And this kindness is “not merely to refrain from oppressing them.”
However, in Patrick’s eyes, the force of the passage is not rooted in “common Humanity” but rather a specific remembrance of a portion of redemptive history. The text was grounded in remembering the time the Israelites were strangers in Egypt and were treated with kindness there even though they were outsiders and didn’t “assimilate.”
Patrick acknowledges that later Jewish interpreters not only understood “neighbour” as equivalent to “Israelite,” but also reasoned that the stranger who deserves affection must also be an Israelite. On the contrary, Patrick insists that this passage is abused if it is be interpreted that way. The passage, on its face value, must apply to strangers regardless of religion and perhaps it is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ later clarification of the term “neighbour.” Patrick does, however, admit that it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that while love and kindness is owed to all strangers regardless of religion, there can be a “strict Friendship” which is reserved for those strangers of the same religion.
So, what was to move the Israelites to have pity on strangers of different religions? “The remembrance of what their condition was in Egypt,” Patrick says. For, “they and the Egyptians were not of the same religion” and yet through the kindness of the Egyptians, the Israelites “found such kind Entertainment there a long time.”
Then Patrick sees a strengthening of the argument in the text. The kindness to the strangers was not contingent on some sort of full assimilation. And that absence of full assimilation is grounded in the fact that Israel didn’t fully assimilate to the Egyptian society. Patrick basically says that even strangers who do not obey the laws of Israel should receive kindness if they are more united to Israel than the people of Israel were united with Egypt. Basically, in Patrick’s mind, the text seems to be arguing from the lesser to the greater. Should not the people of God excel beyond others in offering kindness and hospitality to those who might not assimilate fully?
And then Patrick turns to those who are sluggish to be kind to strangers and says that “[the Lord God has] done so much for you, when you were meer Strangers, that you should not stick to be kind to those who are in the like Condition.”
This identifies precisely what xenophobia rests on–“natives” forgetting that they too, in some sense, were once in “like Condition.” At the very least, all Christians can trace our identity as pilgrims and strangers back to the time when our forefathers (God’s people of old) were the recipients of kindness in Egypt. And we, as Christians, have many more reasons to love strangers, especially when we review the words and activities of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We should also remember that what eventually made Egypt inhospitable for the Israelites was the emergence of xenophobic fears on the part of the Egyptians. The Egyptians became fearful about a “menacing” increase of the Hebrew population. So then, perhaps the Israelites reception of Egyptian kindness is not the only lesson here. Perhaps Egypt’s reversal of their hospitality due to fears should be a cautionary tale for us. “Natives” must beware of irrational letting fear of immigrants propel them into destructive behaviours and policies.
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