Racism and the Stranger in Israel

14 Jan

from Goggle Images

Often Biblical critics will ‘cherry-pick’ Scriptures that would enhance their point of view which would accuse Israel (and God by association) of racism.[1] For example, they’ll point to a Scripture like Deuteronomy 23:20 which permits Israel to charge interest on loans to foreigners, while loans to an Israelite was to be interest free. Another Scripture often mentioned is Deuteronomy 23:3 which says: “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter into the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord.” How can one read these Scriptures and not conclude that Israel and God were racists?

No doubt everyone at one time or another will find he has been misunderstood, perhaps even deliberately so. Someone has taken this one’s words and made them mean something that was never intended. Whether the misunderstanding is deliberate or accidental, the point is our words can be used against us, even when we never meant them to be taken as we are accused of saying. This is what has occurred in Scriptures such as those mentioned above. They are taken out of context and made to contradict the plain meaning of related Scriptures found elsewhere in the Bible.

God told Israel that both the stranger (ger – H1616) and the Israelite would be governed by one law (Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:15-16, 29). Indeed, the stranger (H1616) living in the land who embraced the Lord as God was able to partake of the Passover and celebrate with every other Israelite (Exodus 12:48). Every stranger (H1616) living in the land enjoyed the perks that all the Israelites enjoyed, including interest-free loans. Notice:

And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger (H1616), or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase. [Leviticus 25:35-37 KJV – emphasis and parenthesis mine]

What, then, shall we say about Deuteronomy 23:20 which permits charging interest for loans? Well, for one thing this verse speaks of a different kind of stranger (nokriy – H5237). This stranger was a temporary dweller in the land, not a resident. More than likely he was seeking a business loan not help to get out of poverty. The stranger (nokriy – H5237), unlike the stranger (ger – H1616), more than likely retained his religious beliefs and was not permitted to partake of the Passover and celebrate with Israel in her feasts to the Lord (Exodus 12:43).

But, what about the ‘obvious’ difference made concerning the Moabite and the Ammonite in Deuteronomy 23:3? How can this be mistaken? Isn’t the language very clear? Well, yes and no – that is, this Scripture doesn’t stand alone. There are other Scriptures that modify its meaning. For example Ruth was a Moabitess (Ruth 1:22), and she was not only taken into the assembly of Israel, she is the great grandmother of David the king (Ruth 4:21-22; cf. Matthew 1:5-6)! The point is that God takes very seriously how others treat his people. He intends to bless all nations through Israel (ultimately through Abraham), but those who curse his people will find their curses reversed and falling upon themselves (Genesis 12:3; cf. Deuteronomy 23:4). Nevertheless, any stranger (H1616) who wished to embrace the Lord as his or her God was welcome in Israel and treated as one of her own (Leviticus 19:34). How could this be contextually viewed as racism?


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

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Posted by on January 14, 2016 in apologetics


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