Deuteronomy 24:17-22 – Never, Ever Forget That None of Us Are From Here…We Are All Immigrants

Posted: April 7, 2017 in 05-Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 24:17-22

Help for Foreigners & Widows

The Statue of Liberty stands in the New York harbor as a stark reminder of the fact that we are all immigrants in this country. Other than native Americans, none of us can trace our lineage in this country back more than 450 years or so. Most of us can trace our lineage in this country back more than 250 years or so. A large majority of Americans can only trace back 100 or so years. At some point, depending on when your ancestors came to this country, we have to return to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. We are all immigrants.


Why is it then that we all of a sudden have such a hard time with immigrants coming into our country here in the 21st century. Before you quit reading right here and get angry at me, I am not for free and unfettered immigration. I believe that all those who come to our country must be subjected to the same rigors of immigration as were our ancestors. We should have to go through a process to become American citizens and not just come into this country without some process of vetting in place. This is true because no longer does every immigrant want to come here to pursue opportunity. Some wish to enter the country to cause havoc and destruction. I am all for vetting those who come through our immigration points. Allowing unfettered immigration or allowing people into our country through illegal entry is an affront to those who come to our country through the proper channels. It takes usually around 7 years to become a full-fledged American citizen once you apply for citizenship. To allow unvetted entry or to allow illegal entry or to give amnesty to those who have entered illegally is a slap in the face of those who do it the right way.


Somehow though in the last few years, we have forgotten that we are all immigrants. None of us have natural claim or right to be in this country. We invaded it and we conquered it. We act as though we have some inalienable right to live here that has been granted us by our ancestors. To a certain extent that is true. We are citizens, most of us, by birth. However, our living in what we call the United States was accomplished by conquering a land that did not belong to us to begin with. Because of the arrogance of the supremacy of the white man, we invaded this country from day one and we progressively stole each inch of it from the native Americans of this land. We now accept this land as ours and with each successive generation it becomes more and more ours. However, our ownership of it is flawed by its very nature. It was theft. It was imposing our will on others we considered savages and beneath us. Therefore, our arrogance now over immigration is surprising in light of how we obtained our land that started our country. We must find a way to make workable solutions to immigration issues. We cannot ignore the call of those who pay taxes while immigrants pour into our country illegally. We can’t treat them like, wow, they did not know they coming into the country illegally. They’ve got to know there is a price to be paid for illegal entry. If America is worth what we project to the world, then, there is a right way to get in here. But let us not ever forget that (1) we obtained this land not by purchasing it from those whom it really belonged, and (2) we are all immigrants at some point in our family’s past. Maybe the remembrance of these two things will reduce some of the bravado of those who want to cut off all immigration on one side and those on the other that do not want to anger anyone but making it more difficult to come here illegally.


It was that repeated idea in this passage that struck me this morning. In Deuteronomy 24:17-22, the phrase, “always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from your slavery” is repeated twice in five short verses. Under divine supervision of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote this phrase twice. It must, then, be important to the point of the passage. Let’s read it together now:


17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.


19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.


In this passage, we see the continuation of an Old Testament theme in which God tells His people to treat the poor with justice. The powerless and poverty-stricken are often looked upon by some as incompetent or lazy, when, in fact, those facing that situation may be the victims of oppression or circumstance. God says we must do all we can to help those who are needy. His justice does not permit the Israelites to insist on profits or quick payment from those who were less fortunate. Instead, his laws gave the poor every opportunity to better their situation, while providing humane options for those who could not. None of us is completely isolated from poverty. Many of us face needs at one time or another. God wants us to treat each other fairly and do our part to meet one another’s needs.


As well, in this passage, God’s people were instructed to leave some of their harvest behind in the fields so that travelers and the poor could gather it for food. This second gathering, called gleaning, was a way for them to provide food for themselves. Years later, you might remember, Ruth obtained food for herself and Naomi by gleaning behind the reapers in Boaz’s fields (Ruth 2:2). Because this law was still being obeyed years later after it was written, Ruth, a woman in the lineage of our Savior, Jesus Christ, was able to find food.


The instructions are clear that the Israelites were to help the poor and needy. But why did God cloak it all in the repeated phrase of having redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. This phrase is important because it would be easy for the Israelites in the Promised Land years later to develop an arrogance to the poor. They could easily develop the mindset that this is my property, my wealth, my crops and mistreat those that did not have property, wealth or crops. They could develop of mindset that this is mine and it is my inalienable right to do with what I please. They could easily develop and attitude that this is mine not yours. God repetition of this phrase twice in one passage is to remind the Israelites that they wealth that they might gain in the Promised Land was not some inalienable right. It would be a gift from God for it was not too long back in Israel’s history that everyone was poor and enslaved. They had no freedom to pursue their dreams. They had no freedom to use their talents to become wealthy. They had no land to toil to produce crops that they could sell for profit. They all had nothing but what the Egyptians allowed them to have. Therefore, with that collective national memory in mind, God wanted the Israelites to not be arrogant and care for the needy because God gifted them their nation. It was not some inalienable right they had to the land. It was under God’s divine providence that they gained the Promised Land. As a result, the Israelites were to be a thankful and generous people.


When you look at this passage from that perspective, it reminds us that we, now, are in a similar position. We should never be arrogant to think that others should not have the right to come to this country. We are all immigrants from foreign lands. We should never be arrogant to think that we are rightful owners of this land. We stole the land on which we live from native Americans. We may have paid France for a large portion of the United States but it was never their property to begin with. The English, the French and the Spaniards all simply claimed land but had to inalienable right from God to do so. It is from this theft that we inherited our country. Therefore, let us act with compromise over immigration issues. There must be middle ground. We cannot be arrogant enough to close our borders when we are all immigrants on stolen property to begin with.


This passage is also a reminder to us that it is only by grace that we have a right to claim heaven as our home. We do not have a right to heaven. We cannot earn it. We only have access to heaven because of Jesus Christ taking the punishment for our sins. We have no inalienable right to heaven even as long-time Christians. We have no merit on our own even as a mature Christian. We still sin and sin stains us. Sin prevents us from ever being in the presence of God on our own. We are destined for hell on our own merits. We must be perfectly sinless to have a right to go to heaven. Only one person ever did that, Jesus Christ. It is only through the grace of his imputed perfection that we gain access to the presence of God. It is only through Him that we can enter into the Promised Land that is heaven. We have no inalienable right on our own to heaven. We were given a gift through salvation that we do not deserve. As a result, we should be generous and thankful people. We should never be an arrogant people. We were once sinners condemned to hell ourselves. Now we are sinners wrapped in the grace of Jesus Christ. Let us as Christians never forget where we were before Jesus Christ and where we are after we accept Him as our Savior and Lord.


Amen and Amen.

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