Scripture: “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.” Deuteronomy 23:15-16 ESV
Observation: Theologian Daniel Block, in his commentary on Deuteronomy, provides a helpful outline of Chapters 21:10-23:14. Most of Moses’ instructions in this passage are a review of the laws outlined in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers with added details and a couple of new provisions. Block categorizes Moses’ presentation according to the righteous treatment of flora and fauna and the observance of relational integrity among Israel. Below is a summary:
- War brides (21:10-14)
- Firstborn (21:15-17, October 18 Daily Focus)
- Rebellious son (21:18-21, October 19 Daily Focus)
- Criminal remains (21:22-23, October 20 Daily Focus)
- Domestic animals (22:1-4)
- Respect for sexual distinctions (22:5)
- Wild animals (22:6-8)
- Household (22:8)
- Farming the land (22:9-11)
- Dress code (22:12)
- Marital fidelity (22:13-21)
- Sexual purity (22:22-30)
- Worship assembly (23:1-8)
- Camp of Israel (23:9-14)
- Foreign fugitives (23:15-16, today’s Daily Focus)
Moses’ brief instruction on the rights of enslaved people refers solely to those who have escaped oppression in a foreign land and now seek asylum. This new law mandates, in effect, the safeguarding of fugitives by not wronging them in any manner and by helping them settle among the people of Israel in a location that suits them best (above verses).
Takeaway: Block contends that this new law builds on the “humanitarian trajectory” expressed toward slaves owned by Israelites in Chapter 15 and the accommodation of non-Israelites in the worship assembly (23:7-8). He adds that verse 16 describes “extraordinary magnanimity” given the refugees seeking asylum may choose where they will reside in their host country, and Israel shall not wrong them. Indeed, the word translated “wrong,” hônâ, comes from the root word yānâ, which refers to any mistreatment, including oppression and exploitation. Thus, Block adds that with this extraordinary extension of civil rights for fugitives, “Moses treats the entire land as terra sancta,” holy ground, for all who reside there (NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy).
So why does Moses address the rights of foreigners seeking asylum? Because a succession of Pharaohs abused God’s people who had sought asylum in Egypt four centuries earlier during a devastating famine. But the Pharaoh overseeing Joseph’s governorship permitted his family to settle in a place that suited them: Goshen. Thus, Israel is to remember how they depended on the good graces of a host country and how they suffered when the later Pharaohs mistreated them.
How does this apply to the church? There are two takeaways. First, Paul provides an example from his letter to Philemon. Paul entreats Philemon, who came to faith under his discipleship, to welcome back his runaway slave, Onesimus, as a brother in Christ and consider granting Philemon his freedom in return for Paul paying for any economic losses. Of course, this story echoes our story. In Christ, who paid our debt in full, we are set free from sin’s bondage and granted permission to settle where it best suits us in his kingdom (i.e., according to our gifts and calling). Thus, as ambassadors of Christ, we pay it forward and help new Christians settle into his kingdom and discover their calling.
Secondly, regarding the politically sensitive issues of refugee asylum and illegal immigrants, as Christians, we must remember that a harsh response is out of character with our gracious God, who showed us mercy when we most needed it. Sure, we must address the illegality of unregistered aliens and insist that they abide by the laws of our land, but, like Israel, we will do well to bring glory to God by extending a hand of friendship in helping them legalize their presence here.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who came not to be served but to serve us and give his life as a ransom for our freedom. Would you please help us to pay it forward and extend a hand of friendship with your grace and love to those who seek asylum from persecution, whether Christian or not, that we might bring you glory? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling