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What DoesThe Bible Say About Migration? (II)

(By Ricardo Lopez, P.HD.)

In the Pentateuch, which is the Constitution of the biblical people of God, it can be discovered that migration is the mark of identity that the faithful find reflected in the heart of the Decalogue (Ex 20:8-11) and in the liturgy of surrender of the first fruits (Dt 26:1-11).

Far from abusing or looking with disdain on migrants, the Lord demands in his Law that his faithful recognize migrants and foreigners in his presence. Without this condition, there is no covenant with God nor the possibility of living with well-being. This is clear. But this mark is found in every page of the Bible, not only of the Torah or Pentateuch, but also of the prophetic writings that are rectors of the historical life and hope of Biblical Israel.

The writings of the prophets are a true wealth of experiences around the word they receive from God, because with it they take the pulse of the life of the people. The alliance with God must be verified in the relations of peace and health among citizens, as well as in the legality of the institutions that govern them. In a monarchical nation, the guarantor of institutions was the king, and the temple was the place where the liturgy recorded the order wanted by God. The prophets were guardians of the covenant. Therefore, when a prophet raised his voice to speak in the name of God, he had to listen and discern his message.

Jeremiah is one of the most beloved and perhaps least read prophets. He lived in a time of great hope of reform and renewal, but also of irrepressible national and international turbulence, the second part of the seventh century BC, when the Assyrian empire with its intermittent crisis propitiated the uprising of his vassals, including Judah and Israel.

His words earned Jeremiah persecution, imprisonment and death sentence on behalf of the king and his advisors, because he foresaw national ruin. But do not think that this was a mere matter of national and international policy. No. Jeremiah was punctual in his accusation, in which migrants are also mentioned.

Let’s go to the oracle of chapter 7 of Jeremiah, possibly in the year 609. Let’s look at the first fifteen verses alone. The prophet announces the destruction of the temple, which ensured the protective presence of God. The temple was a guarantee of God’s favor or grace. Jeremiah undermined that belief with the ethics of the covenant.

The prophet of Anathoth, where he was born, receives the order of God to go to the entrance of the temple and denounce the corrupt faith of those who come to the liturgies. They go to the temple to feel safe, not to vitalize the right (mishpat) and the justice that the alliance requires for day-to-day life. They are pious at the expense of others! Jeremiah points out that justice consists in not exploiting the defenseless.

The verb “oppress” used by the oracle (‘shq) has several meanings, which portray this corruption: oppress, act violently against someone, threaten, defraud, extort, be proud or insolent, violate and injure. Has any migrant experienced any of this? And who are the oppressors? Those who pass through the doors of the temple. Who do they oppress? The stranger, the orphan and the widow (7:6). The stranger is the migrant, the poor foreigner who is in that trilogy of people without a voice or vote in that patriarchal society, of corrupt faith. The prophet points out other marks of that corruption.

The faith or security that the faithful acquire in the temple is idolatrous, because it allows them to continue committing all kinds of crimes sanctioned in the Law. From spilling innocent blood to stealing, killing, adulterating, swearing in false, incensing Baal and following the gods that they do not know. Thus, they have turned the temple of God into an abomination (= to’eba): cave of thieves. This is intolerable to the God of the covenant; that is why the dilemma arises: either they become or they will be destroyed.

Let us now take a text from Ezekiel. He was a priest of Jerusalem, who, being left without a temple because of the deportation to Babylon, came to become a prophet of the exiles. From there he raises his voice to denounce the crimes of the capital of the kingdom. I was well informed. He formulates three denunciations in chapter 22 of his book, motivated by the idolatrous behavior of the princes or leaders of the city, although now we can only look at the first one, which occupies verses 1-16.

The princes or leaders are the most precious of a society, they are the pride of the city. Ezekiel points them out. They are indicted because the power they have (their arm), they use violently for their own benefit; they look for their advantage and the life or well-being of the town does not matter to them a bit.

Because of that relaxation of justice in the city, an intolerable state of life is propitiated, contrary to the Law. “In you the father and the mother are despised, in you the oppressor, the orphan and the widow are oppressed (‘shq). humiliates them (or curves, ‘wnu)” (22:7). The phrase unfolds to show how the right of the vulnerable is transgressed: they are exploited to the point that they walk hunched, looking at the ground, not upright, with the dignity of citizens.

The prophet still enunciates other crimes: they do not respect the sacred, they desecrate the Sabbath, there are men who lie in order to shed blood, they feasted in honor of other gods, etc. The prophet goes on to set up a septenary of accusers “in you,” to show the irrepressible violence that has taken over the very houses and families of the faithful (22:8-12).

The crime against foreigners and the defenseless is not the only one, but only one of the many crimes or sins that have been embedded in even the most intimate of homes, and to the detriment of the alliance. Those responsible for justice and to enforce the right of citizenship have disregarded what is most theirs.

Therefore, destiny cannot be other than dispersion. In many other oracles, the dispersion will be the starting point, in search of the meeting in the land of the parents.
In effect, the prophets of the exile, and other later ones, are going to announce the return of those scattered in a foreign land to the soil of the ancestors. At the time, not everyone wanted or could not return to undertake the dream reconstruction of Jerusalem and its cities.

Those who returned found in that ground many strangers with their own and divergent interests. In front of them, different attitudes will be awakened, ranging from intolerance, persecution and extermination, to the assimilation or incorporation of these foreigners to the own people of God. But we must not forget that many Jews had sought refuge in other nations when the Assyrian or Babylonian invasions threatened to devastate everything.

There is, however, a text from Isaiah that I would like to consider, to illustrate the wide range of attitudes reflected before foreigners in the Scriptures. The text in question belongs to the series of oracles of the wrath of Yahweh against the nations that have mistreated his people (Is 13-23).

Among them appears an oracle about the classic enemy of Israel, Egypt (Is 19). The first part is a poetic description of the misfortunes that will hit the power of the south (19:1-15), but the second visualizes the unexpected future in a series of six moments marked with the eschatological phrase of “in that day” (19:16-25).

That extraordinary eschatological day is marked by the conversion of Egypt to Yahweh! But the unexpected does not stop there. The oracle mentions Egypt fourteen times, and the seventh mention changes the name of God to “Yahweh of Egypt” (v. 22).

But we found something else. The foreigners who are the most terrible enemies of the people of God, Egypt and Assyria, form with Israel a trilogy in alliance with God. It is not an alliance of the Sinai type, but of an Abrahamic type.

The three nations are blessed “in the midst of the earth” (v. 24), that is, for the rest of the nations. Conversion looks to be a blessing (Psalm 87:7).

The final statement confirms the point: “Blessed be my people, Egypt, the work of my hands, Assyria, and my inheritance Israel” (v. 25). Where was the immigration status? What does it mean to be a foreigner for the children of God’s people? With these ideas will be take care the New Testament.

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