Brownson on the Pneumatological Contagion of Holiness

One of the unwavering assumptions of the purity codes in the Old Testament is that holy things and holy persons become unclean and impure by contact with unholy things and unholy persons. Impurity is conceived of as contagious… [HOWEVER], in the reign of God [announced in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ], holiness drives out impurity… Why this change in the “flow of contagion”? The New Testament writers were convinced that the Spirit of God had been poured out on the church in a dramatically new way… The powerful new gift of the Holy Spirit is the underlying reality that gives the church confidence where there was only defensiveness before. It is the Holy Spirit who reverses the flow of contagion, and who makes holiness contagious rather than making impurity contagious.

James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships, p190-191

…for our God is a CONSUMING FIRE

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Will Campbell on Hope and Discipleship

[Jesus] never demanded of the people who wanted to follow him that they must first know this or that, this creed, or that catechism, the nature of the Trinity or the plan of salvation, or subscribe to an Abstract of Principles to the satisfaction of the Sanhedrin. He had not insisted on any systematic belief whatsoever.

He talked of such things as a cup of cold water. Ah, but we must build a global sprinkler system. And while we are appointing committees and electing boards and creating giant agencies to build the global sprinkler system the one near at hand perishes from dehydration as we pass by on the other side.

The inherent danger in creed, in belief over faith, Edith Hamilton said, is that belief is passive. Faith is active and leads to discipleship. Creed, or belief, simply requires recitation. What’s the point in believing a whale swallowed a man unless we understand that it is a story about justice?

The problem with biblical literalism is that it is biblical illiteracy. The words are known but not the tune. The Bible is a book. A book about who God is. It is not a scientific dissertation to be required in Caesar’s academy. But again I wander.

Where, then, is there hope? If not in institutions, in bigness, in belief, certitude or creed, where is it? In freelance acts of discipleship, I believe. Certainly grace abounds and there is hope.

…There is hope, for there the star of Christmas shines again and there the Star of David glows anew. For there is Immanuel: God with us.

Will Campbell, in remarks given to the Associated Baptist Press in 1994.

A tough word for a seminarian to hear, but a good word nonetheless.

My Credo

[At the beginning of last semester, I had to write a personal Credo for my systematics class. The Credo expressed my belief in the Trinity, creation, humanity, the Bible, sin, and grace. Last week, I began the spring semester, which means another systematics class and another Credo. This one expresses my belief in Jesus Christ, salvation, the church, the Holy Spirit, and the “end.” These Credos are like snapshots; they express my faith “right now” (or a few months ago) in 400-600 words. I would probably change some of the things I said in my first Credo after taking my first systematics course and I’ll probably want to change some things in the Credo I wrote for this semester, but that’s the whole point. What would you say in your Credo?]

I believe that God exists as a single, completely unified Trinitarian plurality – Parent, Child, and Spirit. In this Trinity, God is revealed as a community of mutually indwelling persons engaged in an eternal, ongoing act of self-giving love. This God is active, creative, holy, good, just, and full of steadfast love. I believe that God is always on the move with a purpose: the Parent sends the Child to redeem the world; the Child and Parent send the Spirit to empower the Church, which is sent into the world to enter and receive God’s Kingdom.

I believe that God created all that is seen and known along with all that is unseen and unknown. This act of creation was an outpouring of God’s infinite, creative love. It is a good gift in which God is pleased. While it is separate from God, Creation serves as a reflection of its communal Creator as it reveals complex, interdependent relational webs amongst its creatures and their environments which are characterized by trust, care, and nurture.

I believe that human beings are God’s creative masterpieces. They are creatures, but they are set apart from the rest of Creation because they – male and female – are made in God’s own image. God takes delight in these image-bearers and calls them very good. I believe that human beings are created for perfect communion with God, others, and all of Creation. This communion reveals the goodness of God which evokes continual praise and adoration from all God’s creatures.

I believe that sin is any attempt to live life on human terms in opposition to God. Human beings are always prone to sin. This tendency infects every human individual and every human system. Sin causes brokenness and suffering as it corrupts the goodness of all Creation by leading it towards death.

I believe that Scripture is composed of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments found in the Bible. It is inspired by God, but this inspiration does not disrespect the humanity of its authors. It is the authoritative narrative to which every follower of God must be committed. Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it reveals and points to the Word of God.

I believe that grace is God’s unmerited favor secured for all Creation by the perfect life, sacrificial death, and miraculous, embodied resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the Child of God. In Jesus Christ, grace is freely available for all who would receive it. For those who would receive it, it is the present-day power of new creation life that overcomes sin and death. While remaining free, it commands complete surrender and obedience to the work of God.

I believe that Jesus Christ is God: the absolutely unique Trinitarian person who exists as God in eternal, mutual relations with God the Parent and God the Spirit. I believe that Jesus Christ was born into this world as a Jewish baby in a small, Palestinian village during the time of the ancient Roman Empire. Existing simultaneously as both truly God and truly human, Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah of Israel who accomplished God’s work of salvation for all creation.

I believe that salvation is participation in the life of the Triune God for all eternity. This life is the experience of shalom: the peace, justice, reconciliation, healing, forgiveness of sin, and restoration for all creation revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. This reality of salvation can begin in the present by all who would receive the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ whose sacrificial death and victorious resurrection has defeated death and inaugurated a new reign of life.

I believe that the church is the body of Christ in history. The church is a community of all those who have made Jesus Christ their way to truth and life. The church is a public, social, communal embodiment of salvation; an imperfect demonstration of the way of life which only makes sense in light of Jesus’ resurrection. The church is a pilgrim people: citizens of this world who strive to love the world as God has loved it, but whose ultimate citizenship lies in the new creation world which is coming to life even now.

I believe that the Holy Spirit is God: the absolutely unique Trinitarian person who exists as God in eternal, mutual relations with God the Parent and God the Child. The Spirit is the power of God at work in the world bringing about the new creation. The Spirit indwells the church to be a people of shalom. The Spirit gives gifts to empower and build up the church. The Spirit is comforter, guide, and advocate for those who seek the salvation of God.

I believe that the future belongs to God. The sin and suffering of the world will be eternally damned and God’s reign will be experienced for all time by all people, places, and things in a new creation which perfectly reflects the glorious life of love witnessed in its Triune Creator. I live with hope because God is on the way.

Then Jesus said, “Just make it up as you go…”

Well, that isn’t a direct Scriptural quote, but it speaks to a way of life that we in the Church world often refer to as “walking by faith” and not by sight. Using a different metaphor, one could say that the life of faith, of following Jesus as Lord, is about improvising, or “making it up as you go.”

I got started thinking on this today when I read a post by Chris Smith over at the Slow Church blog. Chris is writing a book called Slow Church (that I’m very excited to read!) and one of its chapters develops an analogy between improv and the drama of Scripture. I first heard of this analogy from a book by N.T. Wright called Scripture and the Authority of God (which I would recommend). Wright breaks the Biblical drama down into 5 “acts”:

  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. Israel
  4. Jesus
  5. New Creation

He describes the New Testament, not including the Gospels, as “act 5, scene 1” and suggests that we – you and I right here and now – are living in act 5, still playing out the Biblical drama as we love God and neighbor in our everyday lives. We are the actors in God’s great drama. We have a story to follow and we need to, rather, must honor it, but we have no script to follow. We are like improv actors on the stage; listening for the voice of the Spirit and following where the Wind of God may blow.

This analogy fascinates me. As I finished Chris’ post and browsed the comments, I was super excited to find two other bloggers who have written in-depth on this analogy. I took the time today to read their posts and loved them so much that I thought I would share:

Joe Boyd Blog by Joe Boyd

Theatrical Theology by Wes Vander Lugt

Wes Vander Lugt has a great page for more resources on this topic.

Do you like the analogy? Is faith like improv?

Foreigners in the Old Testatment: An Exegesis of Joshua 10:1-15 [Part 3]

Introduction

1 As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction,doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2 he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. 3 So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it.

6 And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” 7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 8 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” 9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. 10 And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.

12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,

and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”

13  And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,

until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

15 So Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.

In this pericope, Joshua is proven to be a faithful and powerful leader of Israel as he honors the peace treaty he had been tricked into signing with the Gibeonites. Yahweh affirms – and even submits to – his great leadership as he defeats the Amorite kings attacking the city of Gibeon.

Historical Context

The suzerain-vassal treaty was an alliance between two political leaders or groups that spanned a significant power differential. At its core, it was an oath made in the presence of state deities who guaranteed the fulfillment of the treaty with the promise of divine punishment for the offending party.[1] It created a master-servant relationship, where the master was obligated to provide protection. One important implication from this relationship was the vassal’s assumption of the suzerain’s enemies as its own.[2]

For nearly all Ancient Near Eastern societies, wars were “waged in an atmosphere of religion, as though the battlefields were temples.”[3] Before battle, kings were known to visit the temple of the deity for prayer to seek oracles and give sacrifices; doing all they could to gain divine assurance of victory.[4] During battle, a special relationship existed between the deity and the king’s weapons, which were seen as gifts from the deity placed in the king’s hands.[5] National gods were fully present during battle and fought for the king in such a way that the king’s actions were seen as “pale reflections” of the deity’s endeavors.[6]

Literary Context

This account of Israel’s battle to defend the city of Gibeon against the attack of Amorite kings is the third and final great victory after those at the cities of Jericho and Ai, which are “paradigmatic for all victories over the peoples of the land.”[7] In the two previous battles, Joshua is presented as an inconsistent leader. He diligently obeys Yahweh at Jericho and achieves great success. Then he charges headlong into Ai without consulting Yahweh and suffers an embarrassing defeat that leaves him in despair. After removing Achan’s sin, Joshua heeds Yahweh’s battle advice and routs the city of Ai. After this great victory, Joshua holds a covenant renewal ceremony to show his renewed faith and commitment to Yahweh.

However, Joshua stumbles again when he fails to consult Yahweh and is tricked into signing a peace treaty with the Gibeonites – a city of Hivites who were marked for destruction. After signing the treaty, the Gibeonites are attacked by Amorite kings and cry out to Joshua, who leads Israel’s army to complete victory with Yahweh’s assistance. After the battle at Gibeon, Joshua is seen developing new leaders with the same encouraging words Yahweh spoke to him. He completes a swift and comprehensive conquest of the land and follows Yahweh’s commands spoken to Moses.

Structure and Movement

This pericope is a narrative account of Israel’s defeat under Joshua of an alliance of five Amorite kings who had attacked Gibeon – Israel’s new vassal city. The plot is moved forward by the communication of five messages: (1) King Adoni-zedek’s hearing of Joshua’s great victories over Jericho and Ai and Gibeon’s peace treaty with Israel, (2) the king’s message to four allied Amorite kings ordering an attack on Gibeon, (3) the Gibeonites’ plea to Joshua for help, (4) Yahweh’s words of affirmation and assurance of victory to Joshua, and (5) Joshua’s poetic speech to Yahweh. The story is introduced by King Adoni-zedek’s fear of Gibeon and its alliance with Israel. The action escalates as the Amorite alliance gathers and attacks Gibeon. The main conflict arrives with the Gibeonites’ desperate cry to Joshua for help and rescue. The narrative climaxes when Joshua responds with boldness and immediacy and sets out to defend Gibeon with Yahweh’s encouragement and promise of victory.  The action is subdued as the Amorites come to their expected end – utter defeat and destruction at the hands of Israel and Yahweh. However, just as the story comes to an end, the narrator surprises the reader with an incredible detail: Yahweh heard Joshua’s request to the sun and moon and obeyed his direction. The reader is left with a sense of awe as Joshua returns to the Israelite camp at Gilgal.

Detailed Analysis

The pericope begins by introducing a crisis of leadership in the king of Jerusalem’s concern over his own city in light of Joshua’s violence against Jericho, Ai, and their kings. The king becomes “greatly frightened” at the idea of a Gibeon-Israel alliance. He acts out immediately to defend his territory by gathering an alliance of four Amorite kings to his south. According to suzerain-vassal conventions, Gibeon had become an enemy of the Amorites because Israel was their enemy. Two other Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, had already been defeated by Israel. The text condenses the actions of the Amorite kings as they gather, go up, and attack Gibeon in order to bring the reader to the real conflict: will Joshua uphold the peace treaty he had been tricked into signing?

The repeated, desperate appeals of Gibeonites’ create suspense. They exaggerate the extent of the attack by claiming that “all the kings of the Amorites” were attacking them. Joshua is now in the spotlight. Following the conquest narrative up to this point, the reader is not sure how Joshua will respond. The text moves immediately to his response, which comes immediately with no prior consultation of Yahweh. Joshua boldly decides to set out from the Israelite base at Gilgal with “all the fighting force with him, all the mighty warriors.” He does not send a mere expeditionary force; he commits the full military might of the nation in defense of the Gibeonites in order to honor the peace treaty between them.

While some of the tension is resolved with Joshua’s response, even more suspense is directed towards Yahweh’s response to Joshua’s unilateral decision. However, the text quickly resolves this tension by citing Yahweh’s approval. With renewed confidence, Joshua marches through the night to mount a surprise attack. The text goes out of its way to describe the extent of defeat and destruction of the Amorite armies by the Israelites. Yahweh is involved at every location of the battle providing support and resorting to a greater magnitude of lethal force than the Israelites.

An apparent insertion to the original narrative is found in verses 12-14. This insertion serves as a startling surprise as it reveals Joshua’s commands spoken to Yahweh, with all Israel listening, to stop the sun in order to prolong the day. Yahweh’s response to Joshua is so unexpected the narrator must repeat it: the sun was stopped – Yahweh had heard Joshua’s voice and had obeyed him.

Synthesis

In the final great battle recorded in Israel’s conquest narrative, Joshua’s leadership faces a final test after achieving equal measures of success and failure at Jericho and Ai. His leadership had once again failed him during his initial experience with the Gibeonites, which resulted in a binding peace treaty with a people Yahweh had marked for destruction. When Gibeon is threatened, Joshua’s bold and immediate response proves that he is a powerful and decisive leader who commands the armies of Israel to victory with Yahweh at his side. In this battle, Yahweh does not simply fight for Israel; the God of Israel hears Joshua’s voice and follows his lead. When even Yahweh follows this man, how could anyone in Israel ever question his leadership? He moves on from this victory as a faithful and successful leader who completes the conquest and leads Israel into the Promised Land.

Reflection on behalf of Undocumented Immigrants

In this passage, Joshua’s identity as a mighty leader in battle and a faithful servant of Yahweh is thoroughly established. The doubts that had arisen from his past leadership blunders were completely erased. He would forever be known as the last faithful patriarch and worthy successor of the mighty prophet Moses. This victory was a life-altering moment for Joshua – even Yahweh recognized this and chose to follow his lead.

With the gravity of this story in mind, it is important to remember the circumstances that led to this event: Joshua was honoring a treaty he had been tricked into signing. It was illegitimate and it allowed the Gibeonites to “illegally” occupy a piece of the land promised to Israel. In choosing to uphold the obligations of the peace treaty, Joshua ignores the devious nature of the circumstances which led to Israel’s relationship with Gibeon and instead chooses to honor, maintain, and protect the relationship they have established.

A note on the nature of this relationship is pertinent. As stated previously, it was common for the vassal in a suzerain-vassal relationship to be considered as a servant to the suzerain. From a contemporary perspective, the Gibeonites’ status as Israel’s laborers may seem abhorrent, but the text does not hold this view. The Gibeonites were being treated as they and the broader society of the time would have expected. Therefore, Joshua’s actions on the Gibeonites behalf should not be viewed as maintaining an oppressive or tyrannical rule over them.

As the church of the United States considers its posture towards those who illegally inhabit its nation, it would be wise to learn from the example of Joshua. The “illegitimate” residents of the US are under attack from a great alliance of powerful interests. Like Joshua, the church must overlook the “illegality” of immigration and consider how it might honor and protect those who are now making their home in its midst. Joshua’s example calls the church to immediate, bold, and decisive action to protect the lives of undocumented immigrants, especially the most weak and vulnerable among them. As the church moves out on this mission with the full force of its witness, it, like Joshua, will be encouraged to find Yahweh at its side – throwing its enemies into a panic and fighting for shared victory.


[1] Michael L. Barre, “Treaties in the ANE,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 6, ed. Freedman (NYC: Doubleday, 1992), 654.

[2] Barre, 655.

[3] Gwilym H. Jones, “The Concept of Holy War,” in The World of Ancient Israel: Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives, ed. Clements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 299.

[4] Jones, 300.

[5] Jones, 300.

[6] Jones, 300.

[7] L.D. Hawk, “Book of Joshua,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, ed. Arnold et al. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 563.

Foreigners in the Old Testatment: Undocumented Immigrant Farmworkers [Part 2]

With every plate of food or trip to the grocery store, a contemporary issue of extreme injustice towards the other hides just out of sight. The other in this case is the undocumented farmworker that has picked the vegetable or processed the meat that is so readily available for mass consumption and enjoyment. While all undocumented farmworkers face serious issues of injustice, the plight of undocumented women working on farms or in meat processing facilities is much more desperate than men working in those same positions. The level of injustice faced by these women is simply outrageous. In this section, multiple issues of injustice facing undocumented female farmworkers will be presented in further detail. This discussion will be followed by an exploration of five texts drawn from the Old Testament Historical Books that highlights how they address similar issues of injustice towards the other.

In the United States, approximately six out of ten agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants. In addition, approximately 4 million undocumented women are currently living in the US.[1] While most Americans benefit from their labors every day, they remain invisible. As women, they are especially vulnerable due to a lack of formal education and the common need of providing for dependent children.[2] While undocumented workers are protected by many US labor laws, enforcement of these laws is severely weak. If there were enforcement, women would still probably not report many of abuses they suffer out of fear of deportation or losing their job.[3] Their lives and labor are simply disposable goods in service to dehumanizing global economic systems that enrich the few at the expense of the many.[4]

The injustices committed towards undocumented women begin well before they enter the United States. Once they do arrive, they are likely to face many more challenges. Wage theft is a recurring issue. When it occurs, undocumented workers have no one to hear their appeals; complaining to employers usually results in the loss of their jobs.[5] In addition to wage theft, federal minimum wage laws are often circumvented by paying workers based on the amount of food picked or prepared. Other times an employer will simply pay below the federal minimum wage.[6]

The health and safety of undocumented workers is often overlooked and workers routinely put their lives at risk. For vegetable and fruit pickers, highly toxic chemicals used as pesticides and herbicides are the causes of chronic illness and infant deformities.[7] Workers in meat processing facilities fare no better. Machines operate at dangerous speeds that cause debilitating injuries. Workers face humiliation or severe punishments when they cannot keep pace. The conditions inside meat plants are usually very cold and wet and workers become sick after long hours with inadequate clothing.[8]

Finally, undocumented female farmworkers face a constant threat of sexual violence. One study conducted among California grape workers found that at least 80% of women had experienced sexual violence on the job.[9] When attacked, undocumented women have no way to protect themselves. They often do not know their rights or to whom they should report these crimes. Many women are deterred from reporting violent crimes against them because they could be deported. They are seen as the perfect victims and abuse is rampant.[10]

In tracing the theme of the foreigner through the Old Testament text, several accounts in Israel’s story speak to the injustice endured by undocumented female farmworkers. The first is Israel’s dealings with the people of Gibeon in Joshua 10. As Canaanites, these people lived on land that Yahweh had given to the Israelites. According to Yahweh’s command, they were to be destroyed or at least driven out. The Gibeonites were fully aware of their fate and of Yahweh’s liberating action on Israel’s behalf. This knowledge motivated them to trick Joshua and the elders into signing a peace treaty. When the ruse was uncovered, Joshua made them laborers. However, when the city of Gibeon was attacked by other foreign kings, the Gibeonites cried out for help and Joshua came swiftly to their aid – even though their peace treaty was signed in an act of deceit. Moreover, Yahweh had commanded Israel to drive these people out, but Israel rescued the people instead. Israel’s defeat of the Gibeonites’ enemies was no typical military battle – it was miraculous. As in other battles, Yahweh fought for Israel by confusing their enemies and raining down hailstones. However, in this battle, Joshua cried out to Yahweh to stop the sun in order to prolong the daylight. The sun obeyed and Israel routed the foreign kings who had attacked the Gibeonites.

Undocumented women working on farms across the US are much like the Gibeonites. They are driven from their home countries by their fear and their will to escape crushing poverty.[11] This drive is so strong that they are willing to enter the US illegally in the same way that the Gibeonites were willing to deceive Israel. Both undocumented female farmworkers and the Gibeonites illegitimately occupy land that “rightfully belongs” to others. However, there is a shocking difference between the response of Israel, and Yahweh, and that of the US. When undocumented farm workers cry out for stolen wages, babies deformed from chemicals, and constant sexual abuse, who hears their cries? The response of the US government and citizenry is weak at best and non-existent at worst. Israel honored the illegitimate peace treaty with the Gibeonites and, with Yahweh’s miraculous help, rescued them from their enemies. Undocumented farm workers, especially women, are also under attack; they are desperate for US consumers, churches, and political leaders to look beyond their undocumented status and honor their lives and work.

Under Joshua’s leadership, Israel follows Yahweh’s command to designate cities of refuge. These cities protected those who killed another without the intent to kill from being killed out of revenge.  By Yahweh’s command in Numbers 35:9-15, this right of sanctuary was extended to both Israelites and resident or transient foreigners. Yahweh’s concern for protecting the lives of all by breaking cycles of violence calls the people of God to stand up for the rights of undocumented farm workers. While some labor laws do extend to undocumented workers, there is often little enforcement. Female farm workers do not speak out when their rights are continually abused because of the imminent threat of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. They are too desperate and too vulnerable to risk losing their jobs by complaining to their employers.[12] They need a voice that holds US government and law enforcement agencies accountable for the protection of their basic human rights.

The story of injustice against undocumented farm workers finds another connection to the plight of the foreigner in ancient Israel in the list of returned exiles found in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7. The list ends with an account of three families of priests who “sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there.”[13] As a result, these priests were deemed unclean and not allowed to serve. They were also denied their only source of provision – the holy food given as offerings by the people. Undocumented farm workers experience very similar treatment. All too often, their wages are stolen by their employers through a myriad of tricks and schemes. Like these “undocumented” priests, they are cast out from society and deprived of the dignity that comes from earning an honest pay. Interestingly, while the Israelite people rejected these families as priests, they had no difficulty accepting the labor of these families during the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s wall. Undocumented farm workers in the US share a similar fate: while nearly every US citizen relies on the work of undocumented people to fill their plates, few are willing to allow undocumented workers a fair share in the fruit of their labor.

Throughout the Old Testament story, the foreigner is often portrayed in a very negative light. However, one story shatters the negative cast of the foreigner and provides hope for undocumented workers, especially women, who are battered by waves of injustice and hate. Ruth, the Moabite woman who refused to leave her mother-in-law Naomi’s side, is blessed by Israel and in return she becomes a great blessing to the nation. Upon her return with Naomi to Israel, she gleans in the field because she and Naomi have no land of their own. She finds favor in the eyes of Boaz, who protects her from the young men in other fields who might “bother” her – a familiar reality for millions of undocumented women working in the fields today. Ruth is forced to depend on the laws of Israel for her continued survival and Naomi’s redemption. Upon making her case to Boaz, he is faithful to fulfill the role of kinsman redeemer on Ruth and Naomi’s behalf. Like Ruth, the undocumented women laboring on farms across the country simply desire to provide for themselves and their families. Like her, they are willing to give up all they know and endure the treacherous journey to the US – a leap of faith that is fueled by their hope for a better future. Once they arrive, their stories do not usually end in the blessing Ruth experienced. Instead of welcome and hospitality, they find distrust, hatred, and abuse because they have no kinsman redeemer. Where is the Boaz of the church today? Like Ruth, undocumented farm workers can be a blessing – if only the church would take them in and love them as their own.


[1] Mary Bauer and Monica Ramirez, “Injustice on Our Plates” (Report, Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010), 4.

[2] Bauer and Ramirez, 22.

[3] Bauer and Ramirez, 24.

[4] Bauer and Ramirez, 22.

[5] Bauer and Ramirezm 25.

[6] Bauer and Ramirez, 26.

[7] Bauer and Ramirez, 30-31.

[8] Bauer and Ramirez, 33-35.

[9] Bauer and Ramirez, 46.

[10] Bauer and Ramirez, 42.

[11] Bauer and Ramirez, 7.

[12] Bauer and Ramirez, 42.

[13] Ezra 2:62, Neh. 7:64

Foreigners in the Old Testatment: Tracing the Foreigner from Joshua to Esther [Part 1]

Summary of the Foreigner in Joshua, Samuel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther

            In the book of Joshua, foreigners are overwhelmingly portrayed as obstacles to the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to Israel as inhabitants of the land of Canaan. In the first eleven chapters, the text presents multiple battles and wars between Joshua and the inhabitants of the land. These people and their cities were to be utterly destroyed. As a result, the inhabitants of the land were afraid of Israel. Joshua provides a good summary of Israel’s attitude towards the foreigner in 11:20: “For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated.” Joshua exhibits this attitude in chapter 10 when he personally executes five foreign kings before Israel.

The tone of Joshua’s message about the foreigner undergoes a change in the last twelve chapters. As it turns out, the inhabitants were not utterly destroyed and many Israelite tribes have foreigners living among them. In Joshua 11:18-20, Joshua warns Israel about intermarrying the “survivors of these nations left here among you” and calls them “a snare and a trap for [Israel], a scourge on your sides, and thorns in your eyes.” Israel is no longer called to utterly destroy the inhabitants of the land; they are now to drive them out. This task proved difficult due to the Canaanite military advancements, which made the Israelites afraid. While Joshua encourages Israel to drive out the foreigners, their presence in the land seems inevitable as the book comes to a close.

Two stories about foreigners do not conform to the pervasive enemy characterization that is presented throughout the book: Rahab and the Gibeonites. Interestingly, the characters in both of these stories fear the Israelites because they have heard of Yahweh’s mighty acts against the Egyptians and the Amelekites. They also believe that Yahweh has given the land of Canaan to the Israelites. However, these characters choose to respond to the Israelites in very different ways. Rahab lies to her own people in order to deal kindly with the Israelites and she is saved. The Gibeonites lie to the Israelites in order to save their own people. While they do become Israel’s laborers, they are also rescued by Israel from enemy attack. In both cases, the foreigners are not presented as enemies.

Like Joshua, the most common characterization of the foreigner in Samuel is that of Israel’s enemy. The Philistines attack Israel throughout the reigns of King Saul and King David. At most times, the Israelites are very afraid of them. At other times, the Philistines are afraid of Israel and of Yahweh’s presence in the ark. Other foreign kings are presented as ruthless and cruel. King Nahash of the Ammonites gouged out the eyes of his enemies and oppressed Israel. Even though Saul defeats him, Samuel later references his brutality as one of the motivating factors for the people’s desire for a king. The Amelekites are also presented as enemies and the Lord even commands Saul to devote them to destruction for their prior opposition towards Israel. Throughout Samuel, Israel’s enemies are referred to as “sinners” and “uncircumcised” and the Lord hands them over to Israel.

However, foreigner kings in Samuel are not just enemies – they are also political allies. King Achish of Gath, a Philistine city, becomes both a friend and ally of David. David goes to king as he flees from Saul and asks for a homestead. The king grants his request and soon after David is serving as the king’s mercenary. King Achish is not David’s only foreign political ally. He also sought the aid of the king of Moab, a former enemy routed by King Saul, to protect his parents from Saul’s wrath. Upon his defeat of the Jebusites in Jerusalem, David receives tribute from the King Hiram of Tyre – establishing an important alliance that would become very beneficial to the building of the temple in Jerusalem under King Solomon.

Samuel also tells the stories of three foreigners who came to David’s aid as he fled from Absalom. The first is Ittai the Gittite, who was placed in charge of one-third of David’s fighting men – which included several foreigners – after refusing to leave David’s side.  Second is Hushai the Archite. David sends him back to Absalom’s court to serve as his adviser and as a spy for David. Hushai’s counsel to Absalom saves David’s life. Finally, as David crosses the Jordan on his flight from Jerusalem, he is met by a group of three foreigners – Barzillai the Gileadite chief among them – that refresh him and his men with ample provisions. On his way back to Jerusalem after Absalom’s death, he meets again with Barzillai who escorts him across the Jordan. Barzillai is presented as a wealthy, powerful, and kind man.

Samuel also presents the foreigner as more righteous than Israel. The stories of Uriah the Hittite and Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the Hivite, are the best examples of righteous foreigners. Both of these characters were treated unjustly at the hands of King David. Uriah, who was unaware of all that David had done and would do, refused David’s pleas for him to sleep with his wife while the ark of the Lord and his fellow soldiers were still at battle. His refusal and subsequent arranged murder led the prophet Nathan to speak out against the king and call him to repentance. Rizpah, who was very much aware of the king’s injustice, cried out and mourned over the bodies of her sons that were left to rot in disgrace. The king is forced to hear her cries and give her sons an honorable burial. The Lord proves Rizpah’s righteousness by ending Israel’s famine after David buries her sons.

The text begins in Ezra by presenting King Cyrus of Persia as a sort of redeemer for Israel. He is obedient to the stirring of the Lord in his spirit and showers Israel with his blessings. He ends the captivity of Israel and seeks to restore the worship of Yahweh at the temple in Jerusalem. King Artaxerxes, a successor to Cyrus, is shown to be forgetful, slightly gullible, and overly concerned with maintaining his power in his letter of response to those who were opposing the temple construction. King Artaxerxes reappears in Nehemiah as gracious and understanding of Nehemiah’s concern for Jerusalem. He grants Nehemiah’s requests for a royal endorsement in order to guarantee safe passage and building supplies. King Darius is portrayed as a restorer of justice for the Israelites as he re-instates temple construction based on the decree of King Cyrus. Like Cyrus, he lends his full support to the construction of the temple and even asks for sacrifices and prayers to be offered at the temple on his behalf. Overall, the foreign kings of Persia enjoy a highly favorable image in the Ezra-Nehemiah text.

The people of the land, including the foreign governors and officials, foreign women, and foreign merchants, are presented as those who oppose reconstruction and cause the newly returned exiles to turn from God. They are first identified as adversaries, even though they seem eager to help with temple reconstruction since they worship Yahweh as well. However, their opposition is solidified when the leaders of Israel want no company with them and reject their offer to help. As a result, the people of the land go to great lengths to prevent the successful completion of the temple. In Nehemiah, two governors of the land – Sanballat and Tobiah – along with Geshem the Arab, quickly emerge as staunch opponents of wall construction. They make several attempts, some extremely hostile, to stop wall construction. However, the text reveals that Tobiah was well respected among many Israelite leaders, including the priest Eliashib, and due to marriages between his daughters and returned exiles. Both Ezra and Nehemiah express a deep sense of disgust over marriages with foreign women and force the Israelites to break off these marriages. Nehemiah also shows anger against foreign merchants selling on the Sabbath. He characterizes these foreign women and merchants as a pollution that must be removed from Israel’s presence.

A final group of foreigners is seen in the genealogy of Ezra and Nehemiah. Six hundred fifty-two people were allowed to return from exile even though they could not prove their Israelite family heritage. Three families of priests were also held in suspicion after their failure to find sufficient proof of their lineage. These priests were excluded, declared unclean, and prohibited from priestly practice until another priest could consult Urim and Thummim.

In Esther, the text presents the prominent foreign characters very negatively, while two supporting characters are seen in a positive light. King Ahasuerus is a main character and is shown to be exploitative, weak, self-centered, aloof, and easily persuaded by others. While he is shown respect throughout the story, the other characters – both foreign and Israelite – successfully manipulate and control his actions. Haman also figures prominently in the story and is presented as the angry enemy of the Jews, who resents them for their strange laws and wants them cruelly annihilated. He is motivated by jealousy and self-importance and is ultimately shown to be foolish and shameful. The foreign Queen Vashti plays a supporting role in the story as she refuses to be paraded for the king’s guests. Her blatant disobedience of authority strikes fear into the kings officials. Although she is punished by the king, her behavior is never viewed negatively by the text. The king’s eunuch Hathach appears to be friendly to Esther and serves obediently as her communicator with Mordecai. Finally, the text seems to imply that the foreign inhabitants of King Ahasuerus’ kingdom were not very happy with the Israelites. The text records that several thousand people hated the Israelites and were killed by them. Eventually, the foreign inhabitants come to fear the Israelites because of the great power held by Mordecai. The text attributes foreigners in Esther with very few redeeming qualities. The primary message of the text communicates a sense of distrust and hatred of foreigners that results in their destruction by the triumphant Israelites.