Remember Where You Came From


Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Ex. 23:9

 “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34

As the people of God, the Israelites were to be marked by their love for weak and vulnerable groups like widows, orphans, and foreigners (e.g. Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18.) This last group – called “strangers” in the above texts – are particularly interesting, because of the theological reasoning behind the injunction to love and not mistreat[1] them. For similar spiritual reasons modern believers ought to imitate this merciful instruction towards lost ones who do not as yet know Christ. Put differently, a true Christian cannot afford to forget where he came from. It is only by God’s grace that one is saved from sin and wrath unto a living relationship with the Creator and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Give Me Liberty!

Israel had experienced the hardships of being an oppressed alien minority in Egypt; thus, they could empathize with the foreigners’ plight. As Exodus 23:9 puts it: “…you know the heart of a stranger.” R. Alan Cole explains the Hebrew’s nuanced meaning:

 Love for the resident alien is not based on mere humanitarianism, but on a fellow-feeling which comes from a deep personal experience of God’s saving grace, when in a like situation. The heart of a stranger: the Hebrew is not the usual word for ‘heart’ but nepeš, which can be translated ‘life’ or ‘self’. Here it seems to have more the meaning of ‘desires and longings’. However it be translated, the verse is indicative of deep and true sympathy, alike the Jewish and Christian duty (Rom. 12:15). Perhaps we might translate: ‘you know from experience what a stranger yearns for.’[2]

 Unchained Memory

Ingrained in their collective ancestral memory was the pain of discrimination, disenfranchisement, and injustice. Therefore, the Lord urges them to not replicate the mistakes of their wicked Egyptian taskmasters, but instead commands mercy towards the downtrodden and defenseless. What an advertisement to the Gentiles nations such compassion would be of the unfailing mercy and boundless grace of God! As Bonar writes:

 Their laws must not vex them. Israel must have compassion and consideration, like the great High Priest who was yet to arise. God thus moulded his people into a pitying and kind frame of soul, and undid their selfishness. And thus, too, foreigners were likely to be attracted to inquire regarding Jehovah, when his people were known as merciful, and kind, and sympathizing. Even as now, believers must exhibit kindness and gentleness for the very end of gaining men to Christ.[3]

 Come To The One Who Gives The Good Life

The Lord Jesus describes His coming to give the abundant life to those who repent and trust in Him by faith (John 10:10.) The best drawing card to the gift of eternal life is the changed lives of those who have already been born again (1 Pet. 3:1, 14-17.) The New Testament reminds believers that they were once like every unbeliever in the world: lost and sinful. It is only the grace of God in salvation through Christ and the Holy Spirit that makes them “new creatures in Christ Jesus” (2 Cor. 5:17 KJV.) As Titus 3:3-8 describes their spiritual “before and after” qualities:

 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.

 Earthen Vessels Carrying Indescribable Treasure

Just as the Israelites were reminded of their former bondage and stateless vulnerability, so modern believers must remember the pit from which they were saved. Of themselves, they were and are no better than anyone else. But in Christ they are the recipients of His mercy and grace; accordingly, they are accepted and forgiven in Him (Eph. 1:6-7.) They possess a righteous standing through Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice (Rom. 3:23-26.) In short, everything they are and have is because of the Son of God’s person and work.

Since “Jesus paid it all/all to Him I owe” as a famous hymn says, believers ought to treat their lost friends and neighbors with kindness and understanding. Never forget the pain of alienation from the Creator! Labor by life and lip to win people to the Lord who saved you!

[1] Mistreat = “do him wrong” ASV, RSV, NASB, ESV; “oppress” FWG, NRSV; HCSB; LEB; “molest” JND; “take advantage of” NLT

“to act violently, to oppress. [‘The primary idea is that of heat, kindred to יָוַן, also to יוֹם etc.’]” Wilhelm Gesenius and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003), 352.

oppress, maltreat, sq. acc., especially of ill-treatment of poor and weak, partic. of the גֵּר, the ‘stranger,’ sojourner, by the rich and powerful, Ex 22:20 (JE), Lv 19:33; 25:14, 17 (H), Dt 23:17 Je 22:3 Ez 18:7, 12, 16; 22:7, 29; 45:8; 46:18; of a foreign oppressor only Is 49:26.” Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 413.

“mistreat, take advantage of, i.e., cause the oppression of another weaker person, with a focus that this violates a moral standard (Ex 22:20[EB 21]; Lev 19:33; 25:14, 17; Dt 23:17[EB 16]; Isa 49:26; Jer 22:3; Eze 18:7, 12, 16; 22:7, 29; 45:8; 46:18+), see also domain LN 39.45–39.46.” James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[2] R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 185.

[3] Andrew A. Bonar, A Commentary on the Book of Leviticus, Expository and Practical (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 356–357. [Italics original.]