Distinguishing Words That Differ: The Stranger (Paper 2)

In our previous paper we considered two Hebrew words, zar and nekhar, the usage of which warns of the influence of the dangerous and the different upon God’s people. The call was to watchfulness and separation from a world alienated from God by sin and wicked works, by idolatry and religious departure. Now we shall consider another two Hebrew words translated “stranger’ in the AV in order to define and then to distinguish these, and to derive appropriate lessons for ourselves from them. All four terms when used literally describe one who is distinct from the native, the home-born Israelite, Heb. ezrach, seeesp. Lev. 23. 42. Those described by the two terms to be considered are to be treated favourably by the home-born Israelite.

Term 3; ger (vb. gar); occurrences = 91; translated “alien, sojourner, stranger”; root idea to sojourn, live for a time with those not blood relations.

A tech. term for an immigrant with no inherited rights, yet a protected citizen granted legal rights and accepted as an honoured guest. Of the 16 refs. to esrach where it signifies “home-born” Israelite, in 15 of them it is by ger = sojourner, Exod. 12. 19, 48, 49; Lev. 16. 29; 17. 15; 18. 26; 19. 34; 24. 16, 22; Num. 9. 14; 15. 13f, 29, 30; Josh. 8. 33; Ezek. 47. 22. Consider these to grasp something of the degree of integration enjoyed by the ger. In the ger we have one who chooses to live among God’s people, who becomes circumcised, and pants after God spiritually, in effect a proselyte.

Term 4; loshabh (vb. yashabh); occurrences = 14; translated “foreigner, inhabitant, sojourner, stranger”; root idea – to sit or to dwell (cf. modern moshav) to enjoy temporary tenant rights.

Also an immigrant with no inherited rights, neither enjoying the legal rights of the ger. Like the ger, he is permitted to sojourn (gar) in Israel, Lev. 25. 6, 45, 47b.

In 11 instances toshabh is found with the verb or noun guriger, Gen. 23. 4; Lev. 22. 10; 25. 6, 23, 35, 45, 47 (2); Num. 35. 15; 1 Chron. 29. 15; Ps. 39.12. Association of the term with the hired servant, bondservant, and maid, Exod. 12. 45; Lev. 22. 10; 25. 6, fig. at v. 40, hints at the economic/practical advantage but without reference to legal status. He remained a “foreigner’ spiritually, while dwelling in the land, a non-proselyte.

These strangers (terms 3 and 4) who had chosen to dwell among the native-born, ezrach, enjoyed both protection and privileges unknown to the aliens/foreigners (terms 1 and 2). Perhaps we can distinguish them by using the phrase "Strangers Favoured” to contrast them with those of whom we have been warned "Strangers Danger”. Separation from some persons and things which threaten a life and service well pleasing to God is mandatory, but we are not to be driven to fruitless isolation because of this. We are to serve the best interests, and the spiritual needs of our contemporaries, so as to attract them by the very redeeming love of God mediated through us.

For many reasons the God-appointed boundaries of the peoples were crossed on a semi-permanent or more permanent basis. For some, business drew them from their homeland, e.g. the Midianites, Gen. 37. 28. For others famine prompted their journey, e.g. Abraham to Egypt. Gen. 12. 10; Joseph’s brothers to Egypt, Gen. 47. 4; Elimelech and his family to Moab, Ruth 1. 1; or Elijah to the widow of Zarephath, 1 Kings 17. 20; cf. 2 Kings 8. 1. In these and other instances, practical “necessity" motivated the movements. On other occasions, political instability drove people to seek asylum elsewhere, e.g. David to Philistia, 1 Sam. 27. 1; the Judeans to Egypt, Jer. 44. 14. These and many other human factors have encouraged people to uproot themselves from their homeland, and to plant themselves in another country. However, the call of God provides the loftiest reason for a man to leave his home and kin to become a stranger/sojourner, e.g. Abraham left Ur to come to Canaan – his sojourning, Gen. 17. 8; 20. 1; 21. 23, 34, being a sign of his faith and obedience, Heb. 11. 8f. We may consider the subject of the “stranger/sojourner’ (terms 3 and 4) under the following subdivisions:

1.Israel as Sojourners (gerim, term 3),
Subject of the Lord’s Redemption His Compassion, Their Cry. Israelites were sojourners in Egypt. This was not then homeland. At first they enjoyed the rights of protected citizens when Joseph’s brothers settled in the land of Goshen, Gen. 47. 1-6; Deut. 23.7b, 8. All this changed with the rise of a new Pharaoh, Israel being oppressed as bondmen, Gen. 15. 13; Deut. 26. 5-7; Ps. 105. 23cf; Isa. 52. 4; Acts 7. 6; 13. 17. God saw Israel’s oppression when they were “strangers" in Egypt, Deut. 23. 7b (term 3), and He redeemed delivered those who had become bondmen, Deut. 16. 12; 24. 18, 22; 26. 6-9. Praise God, He has redeemed us!

2.Sojourners in the Land of Israel – Commended to the Loving Response and Care of Israel. Grace was the basis of God’s ways with His own people, for He had redeemed them out of the bondage and oppression of Egypt, Deut. 5. 14f; 24. 17f, 22. They had tasted God’s mercy and pitying grace, and were to follow His example in their concern for the need of treating them justly, Deut. 1. 16; 24. 14, 17. God loved die sojourner; “love ye therefore”, they were to love him. Had they not been strangers in Egypt?, Deut. 10. 18f; 23. 7. The sojourner was to be treated as the home-born; in fact the Israelite was to “love him as thyself according to the law of the neighbour, Lev. 19. 34; 25. 35. God’s people were not to glean nor gather the fallen fruit of the vineyard, neither were they wholly to reap the corners of the field etc, “thou shall leave them … to the stranger”, Lev. 19. 10; 23. 22; Deut. 24. 19ff. Simply because “I am the Lord your (thy) God”, the Israelite was to share with the sojoumer and the needy out of that bounty with which he had been blessed.

Practical care was not only commended, it was commanded, Deut. 26. 12-14. Those who oppressed the stranger did not fear the Lord, Mai. 3. 5. The judge of the earth would deal with those who “slay the widow and the stranger”, Ps. 94. 6.

Surely the Lord’s tender and gracious ways with us demand a reciprocal response, and our love for Him is to be balanced by love for our neighbour in need, cf. Luke 10. 25-37; Matt. 22. 39 Mark 12. 31; Rom. 13. 9f; James 2. 8. Being called for freedom we are to be servants one to another and to love our neighbour as ourselves, Gal. 5. 13-15. Since it is by the mercy of God we have been saved, we are to be ready to every good work, Tit. 3. 1-7, loving even our enemies, Matt. 5. 43-48.

3. Challenge of the Sojourners – Their Privileges and Responsibilities. Israel was the covenant people of God. God’s promise to Abraham had in view, however, the blessing of all the families of the earth, Gen. 12. 3; cf. Isa. 49. 6. In each sojourner dwelling in Israel, there was an individual anticipation of that which is to be enjoyed by whole nations when God’s purpose for the earth materializes.

Perhaps the distinction between the ger (term 3) and the uishabh (term 4) comes out most clearly here. The latter was to share in the yield of the land during its sabbatical year. Lev. 25. 6. However, the ger (term 3) was much more committed to the Lord than the toshabh (term 4), as his own circumcision and that of all his males would indicate, Exod. 12. 48. Because of this, he could “come near’ and keep the passover, v. 48; cf. Num. 9. 14, whereas the toshabh (term 4) could not, Exod. 12. 43.

The sojourner (ger, term 3) shared in the blessings of the feast of weeks, Deut. 16. 11, and the feast of booths, v. 14, (though perhaps only the home-born dwelt in booths, Lev. 23. 42). The sanctuary was open to him for his free-will offerings, Lev. 22. 18; Num. 15. 14ff, along with the prescribed meal offerings and drink offerings. Provision was made for the so journer also should the congregation be involved in an unwitting sin, 15. 26, or should he be guilty personally of such a sin, v. 29f. The cities of refuge were available to provide asylum for him, Num. 35. 15; Josh. 20. 9. The sojourner was included also in the provisions of the day of atonement, Lev. 16. 29. Even the ashes of the red heifer were available to him should he become defiled through contact with the dead, Num. 19. 10. The sabbath rest was as much for the sojoumer as the Israelite, Exod. 20. 10; 23. 12; Deut. 5. 14. What rich grace and privilege he had been brought to share, 26. 11, even entering into the covenant of “the Lord thy God, and into his oath”, 29. l0 cf. He was to hear and leant the law, 31. 12. The third year lithe of increase was shared by him, along with the fatherless, the widow and the Levite, Deut. 14. 28f. The Lord truly loved the sojourner (ger, term 3) as revealed in His bringing nigh one who was a stranger from the covenants of promise. If the Israelite as an Aramean ready to perish could hymn the praise of the Lord who had brought him forth, and brought him in to a bountiful land, how much more could the sojourner magnify that gracious One who had freely given him all things, Deut. 26. 11. For Gentiles who become believers, God’s present grace has far excelled even these amazing blessings for they are “no more strangers and sojourners but fellow citizens with the saints”, Eph. 2. 11-22; Col. 1. 12, 21-23.

Again, for the home-born and the sojourner {ger, term 3) there was one law, Exod. 12. 49; Num. 9. 14 (2); Josh. 8. 33ff, whether civil, Lev. 24. 21ff; moral and religious, 18. 26; 20. 2; 24. 16; or ceremonial, Exod. 12. 19; Lev. 16. 29; 22. 18; Num. 15.14; 19. 10. Commensurate with similar privilege there was equal responsibility. Eating anything leavened at passover was forbidden on penalty of death, Exod. 12. 19, as was sacrificing to the Lord other than at the door of the Tent, Lev. 17. 8f. Israelite and sojourner alike were forbidden to eat blood, w. 10, 12f. The varied legislation of Leviticus 18. 6-26; 24. 16f, 21f was to govern the behaviour of the Israelite and the sojourner alike. Child sacrifice, 20. 2, offences against man and beast, 24. 18ff, and turning from the Lord to idols, Ezek. 14. 7, would bring the death penalty for both alike.

The N.T. too insists that our spiritual privileges bring with them commensurate responsibilities. The grace of God that has appeared teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, cf. Tit. 2. 11-14.

4. The Fathers and the Nation as Sojourners in the Land – Consolation and Hope. The God of Abraham promised the land to him and to his seed forever, Gen. 13. 15. Yet during the lifetime of the patriarchs this promise was never realized, it remained “the land of thy sojournings”, 17. 8 RV. Hence Abraham “sojourned in Gerar”, 20. 1, and in the land of the Philistines, 21. 34. He confessed himself to be “a stranger and a sojourner {terms 3 and 4)" with Heth, 23. 4. He even purchased a burial place in the promised land, for it was still “a strange country’, Heb. 11. 9. Compare Isaac, Gen. 26. 3; cf. 35. 27; 37. 1, and Jacob. 28. 4 RV; 47. 9 RV marg. It remained for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “the land of their sojournings, wherein they sojourned”, Exod. 6. 4 RV. They were honoured guests, protected citizens, having considerable possessions, herds, and servants, yet God’s promise to them was still set as a hope before them. The Lord said “Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance: when they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and sojourners in it”, Ps. 105. 116 RV. These would have accepted as apl the name given to Moses’ son Gershom (from ger, term 3), prompted because his father knew himself as “a sojourner {term 3) in a strange (from term 2) land”, Exod. 2. 22 RV; cf. 18. 3 RV.

So it is with us. The obvious tension between what is yet to be, and the things as they are, promotes hope, cf. Rom. 8. 25, patient endurance, cf. Heb. 6. 13-20, and the confession that we are strangers and pilgrims, 11. 13-16; cf. 1 Pet. 1. 1; 2. 11. Our citizenship is in heaven.

Yet another aspect of life viewed as a sojourning was to affect the nation in the land. Israel was to enjoy all its benefits in the knowledge that the land belonged to God. The nation was to know that they were His honoured guests in it. The Psalmist’s plea was “Hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger (term 3) with thee, and a sojourner (4), as all my fathers were”, 39. 12. Because of that they could look to Him for help and deliverance as they lived in the land. They held in trust from the bountiful hand of their God, 1 Chron. 29. 14f, and this was to regulate their conduct as good stewards for they were all “strangers (term 3) and sojourners (term 4) with me”, Lev. 25. 23.

Then there was the special privilege and blessing of sojourning (term 3 vb.) “in thy tabernacle”. Those who walk aright, whose works are righteous, and whose words are true know both the elation and protection of being God’s guest in His house, Ps. 15. Further, the awareness that he was stranger (term 3) produced in the Psalmist a deeper longing for God’s Word that he might live according to it, 119. 19.

For us too, who are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, and are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, there is the challenge to live with our eyes up to Him. We are to be good stewards of that which He has committed to us, to enter into the privileges and responsibility of fellowship in the assembly, and to be enriched and challenged by His Word.

Returning to the passage in Exodus 12 which prompted these two papers, we see that there is no contradiction in the law of the stranger. Note how the R.V. has distinguished the different terms by translating: “This is the ordinance of the passover: there shall no alien (ben nechar, term 2, i.e. the foreigner who is a temporary resident, with virtually no rights, comparatively unknown and the object of some uncertainty) eat thereof … A sojourner (toshabh, term 4, i.e. a non Israelite [temporary] resident having some citizen rights and protection, being welcome in the country but not spiritually committed to Israel’s God and faith) and an hired servant shall not eat thereof… And when a stranger (ger, term 3, i.e. a most honoured guest having virtually the whole range of citizen privilege, and who has not only chosen to settle among God’s people, but has accepted Israel’s God and faith as his own, with all the privileges and responsibilities bound up with this) shall sojourn (yagur from ger, term 3) with thee, and will keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: but no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. One law shall be to him that is homeborn (ezrack), and unto the stranger (ger, term 3) that sojourneth (yagur, from term 3) among you”, vv. 43, 45, 48f.


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