SHOULD NATIONS HAVE BORDERS?
By Wes Walker
Why do people who would rather spit on a Bible than read it justify their wrongheaded ideas by appealing to it? “Who would Jesus deport” they ask, rhetorically. They haven’t suddenly “found religion”, they’re just using words they don’t personally believe to shame religious people into silence.
Since they brought it up first, let’s discuss what the Bible actually DOES say..
Let’s start with their emotional appeal to charity. Does the Bible say anything about caring for the poor or respecting a foreigner? Absolutely. But tell me, how does it say to do so? Private citizens helping the poor? Sure. People voluntarily coming together to provide for someone? Great! But big government..? I’m gonna need chapter and verse for that one.
Are all poor, all people, from everywhere your personal responsibility? Or even the Church’s? Nope. Not at all. Emphasis is given to widows and orphans, and even widows were to be cared for by their own relatives, first. (This acknowledges our finite resources with which to help the needy.)
Within the deportation question, and conflict elsewhere, is the question of political borders, and how they might be established or defended.
A complete response — from a biblical perspective — to these issues is beyond the scope of any one column, but I’ll try to introduce some key ideas.
First, there was a time before Israel was a political entity. They were a people, with a shared heritage, shared culture, shared history, shared religious belief, and common goal. They looked together for the promise given Abraham.
It was together that they left Egypt, as a people, before they were ever a nation or political unit. This is important to remember. Before they ever became a biblical monarchy, they were extended family units (not unlike “clans”) each of which was allotted a region of physical Israel, theirs to lay claim to, within a fixed window of time.
A common gripe against the Old Testament is that Israel was just another blood-thirsty greedy nation plundering their neighbors. The word we might hear invoked today would be “colonialist”. But that’s not the picture we see unfolding in Scripture, if we look closely.
It helps to understand that the various land claims were to perpetually belong to a family unit, passed from father to son, with the exception of properties within a walled city. Even when the owner fell on hard times and was forced to sell, law provided for the land to be bought back by the seller, or a relative. Ownership was to periodically revert back to the original family.
God took ownership of the land seriously. In a real sense, it was private individuals, NOT the government, who owned the land.
In a wider sense, a people group corporately owned the land within their nation. While on their way to Canaan, Israel was marched past a number of their future neighbors. Each time, in Deuteronomy 2, they heard the same words [paraphrasing]:
You are going through the land of (x). Do not fight them, I will not give you their land. I gave THEM that land as a possession. Pay for any food you eat, or water you drink from there.
Notice, God has established particular physical boundaries for each of these nations. These were to be respected. Likewise, he marked out the physical boundaries that Israel was to lay claim to.
Timing was important in this conquest. God himself told Abraham it was not yet time to judge the sins of the Amorites (Genesis 15). “Their iniquity [was] not yet complete.”
Divine limitations of conquest were limited not only by start-time and within specified boundaries, they also had a cut-off date. Israel was told that any group left to remain in those boundaries would become “thorns in your sides and would trouble you in the land”. (Numbers 33:55) That period came to an end within the lifetime of Joshua, the original commander of their armies who said (Joshua 23:13, and Judges 2:3) that God would no longer drive these nations out. Essentially: conquest is over, these people shall now remain.
Have you watched the news lately? Nothing has changed.
Are borders static? No. There have been times where God explicitly approves of borders being changed. Nations and empires rise and fall. There are ebbs and flows of political power, and borders change there, too, for various reasons. But the autonomy of any nation within its own borders is biblically-supported.
What about foreigners living within Israel? Were they to be treated with dignity and kindness? In the sense that the same law applied to foreign-born and native-born alike, yes. Absolutely.
Do not forget, however, that Israel was first-and-foremost a people, not a nation-state. To go there, to integrate as part of that people was acceptable. After a specified number of generations, they were even to be accepted as native-born (i.e. Deuteronomy 23:7,8).
To suggest, however, that Israel would ever have willingly thrown open the borders to a swarm of culturally hostile foreigners, grant them asylum, and become financially responsible for their care is ridiculous. That would have been seen as an invasion force, and would have been treated as such.