by Doug Kennard
Yahweh imposed a Great King treaty upon Israel to be in relationship with Himself because Yahweh rescued them out of Egypt through the Exodus (Exod 19:25; 20:18–21:2; 23:20–33; 34:27; Lev 22:31–33; 23:42–44; 25:38, 55; Deut 1:1–43; 9:1; 10:11). However, the Great King treaty also bound Israel to protect rights of sojourners (Exod 22:20–21), widows and orphans (Exod 22:22–24), and enemies (Exod 23:4–5). Sojourners are temporary residents outside their citizenship living among another people, such as Abraham and illegal aliens. None of these vulnerable of society are to be oppressed or wronged because Israel had been oppressed by Egypt under slavery, and God rescued them. “Enemies” are described as those who are hostile. The issue with these enemies is that Israel was to be generous preventing the perversion of justice toward them. The sojourners and the enemies were likely not Israelites but they are protected by the covenant bound on Israel.
When Israel was convicted by God in covenant lawsuit, Isaiah called them back to this commitment of justice and mercy.
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow” (Isa 1:16-17).
Jesus called His disciples to a high order of social justice to protect the vulnerable, including one’s enemy.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you; in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:43-45).
Jesus’ rationale was that the Father provides sun and rain for the righteous and the unrighteous. Houston has its fair share of sun and rain showcasing God’s generosity here. I suspect that Houston has sufficient unrighteous to challenge people who wish to be known as Christians to get beyond ourselves and to reflect the character of Jesus Christ and the Father toward them.
James reminds Christians that the same need for justice and generosity has not changed but remains at the center of authentic Christianity, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:17).
Yahweh hears and avenges the prayers of the helpless and illegal emigrant. A missional Christian should be an agent of generosity with any sojourners and vulnerable in our society.
Doug Kennard, ThD, is Professor of New Testament at Houston Graduate School of Theology.