“God of the Sojourner”
July 24, 2016
The awesome God of all creation loves refugees.
I. The awesome God chose you (Deuteronomy 10:14-16)
II. The awesome God loves the sojourner (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
III. Fear and serve this awesome God (Deuteronomy 10:20-22)
Man, I’ve been waiting to talk about this text and this subject, about God’s heart for the sojourner and our response of compassionate outreach. I found a video that introduces this subject as well as I possibly could. “the world is in crisis. The number of people forcibly displaced by war, conflict or persecution recently reached a record high of sixty million. That includes over fifteen million refugees. All over the world people are migrating in search of a better life for themselves and for their children. The result is huge population shifts. As of last year 14 percent of America’s population was foreign born. It’s estimated that over 42 percent of Sydney Australia’s population is foreign born. Our demographic landscape is changing dramatically, and we can easily allow the multitude of cultural voices, from political parties to media outlets drive the way we feel about the world moving from all nations to all nations.”
“As believers, though, the only outside voice we should care about is God’s. So what does the Bible say about God’s heart for the foreigner. Depending on your Bible translation you’ll see the words aliens, sojourners, foreigners and strangers over 100 times in Scripture. In Deuteronomy alone God commands his people to love the foreigner; use tithes to bless the foreigners; assemble with foreigners to listen to God’s word; invite foreigners to holidays and feasts and take care of the physical needs of foreigners. Why would God issue such commands? Deuteronomy makes it clear. Because the Israelites were once foreigners in Egypt; because the Israelites were slaves and God redeemed them; and ultimately so others could learn to fear the Lord and follow God.”
The first verse mentioned in the video, Deuteronomy 10:19, is at the heart of today’s Scripture passage. Deuteronomy 10:14-22 is a fantastic section exalting our God. It’s a fantastic passage showing God’s heart, and it is a fantastic text calling us to imitate God’s heart. We learn here that the awesome God of all creation loves refugees. So as we walk through the text a few verses at a time, watch for statements of God’s exaltation, statements revealing God’s heart, and statements of response. Deuteronomy 10:14-16 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
The section starts with exaltation of God. How great is our God? To him belong heaven and heaven of heavens. I’ll bet you never noticed that phrase before.
You may recall one of my favorite quotes from J. I. Packer’s Knowing God “if you want to see the greatness of God, compare him to things you consider great.” That’s what Moses is doing. “You see the heavens? The clouds and the sun and the sky? The moon and the planets and the whole starry firmament. That’s all God’s. In fact if you went up into the heavens and found that the heavens had heavens that were even more awesome, all that would be God’s too. This is a great God. Furthermore, the whole earth and everything in it is his. We think we own stuff, a plot of land, a house, a car, a dog, or maybe a hundred acres in the Hill Country, or beachfront property in Malibu. We couldn’t be more wrong. We are not owners, we are stewards. It all belongs to the God who owns us. He created all things, seen and unseen. That’s how great he is.
“Yet,” verse 15, “the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” The awesome God of the universe set his heart in love on fallen sinful creatures. Don’t you love that phrase? He made a choice to love us. It’s not that there was anything compellingly attractive about us. Rather we were a sinful, fallen and rebellious people. Moses has already said, in Deuteronomy 7: “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath he swore to your fathers.” The Apostle Paul puts it succinctly “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He chose to love us and because he is God he was able to rescue us from our slavery, from our sin, fallenness, and rebellion.
And what is our response? Verse 16: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” The physical sign of God’s chosen people was circumcision. But often in the Old Testament God’s people are called to recognize that truly belonging to God is a matter of the heart, not the outward symbol. So later in Deuteronomy God promises “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” God himself circumcises the heart. Yet in Jeremiah the prophet’s call is “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire.” So this is heart surgery that God’ promises to do, but we are called to cooperate with God as he removes the sin from our hearts and make them like his heart. Paul picks up this theme in Romans, saying that “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit.”
I have to pause and ask “Do you know how to get this heart circumcision, inward cleansing from sin?” Do you? I’m amazed how often I’ll ask this question and get a response that’s like ‘by being good.’ No. You can’t do this yourself. Only God can do this. The way you cooperate for the rescue of your soul is by believing that on the cross Jesus conquered sin, your sin, and he conquered death, your death, so you might be heart-cleansed, rescued from fallenness, and joined with him in resurrection to new life. It is by faith, not by outward works. Don’t be stiff-necked in rebellion. Turn to Jesus who alone can save.
But when our hearts are made new, when they are circumcised by Jesus and by grace through faith, then we can begin to love as God loves. And so Moses goes on to tell us that because God loves the sojourner, the refugee, we must love too. Before we read the next little block of text, let’s think a little more about the refugee situation in our world today. The latest data indicates that there are at this moment between 15 and 20 million refugees, displaced from their homes and from their home countries. And it is not just in Iraq and Syria that these displacements have taken place, though those are big ones, but all across Africa and in many places in Europe and even in South America.
For example, a recent upsurge of violence in South Sudan led to an upsurge in the decades long Sudan refugee crisis. One of my favorite relief and development organizations is World Vision. I saw a video this week showing how World Vision is developing an economic infrastructure in these long standing camps.
“When the crisis broke in 2013 I was living in Benitu. My husband called me and told me I need to leave, so I left my home and came to Juba. Oh, at first it was hard. When we ran we didn’t have time to grab anything, we just took what we could and went on foot. After running, we didn’t manage to eat anything for three days. That was too much for us. ‘Doing a cash based program has advantages to the beneficiaries as well as to the organization and the donor. It is a win win situation. For us it is efficient and cost effective. Currently we have over 20,500 beneficiaries in this POC. For us to carry out the distribution we need to be orderly. On the other hand, for the beneficiaries, they need to be able to diversify their basket and get freedom to purchase the commodities they require and need.’ The voucher program is good because now I have many choices. When I go to the trader’s shop I can buy what I want.”
God has a heart for refugees in a foreign land. Verses 17-19: For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Once again, the foundation of this is the exaltation of God. He is God of gods and Lord of lords, great, mighty and awesome. But if there is only one true God, how can God be God of gods? The answer is that God is the true God, over every heavenly being, and over every so-called God and idol, even if that idol may be empowered by demonic forces. These can no more stand against God than a stalk of wheat against a hailstorm. In the same way he is also the master, or Lord of every human master or lord, just as Jesus is king over all kings and Lord over all lords in 1st Timothy and twice in the Book of Revelation.
This sovereign God is great, mighty and awesome. Using Packer’s approach, think of something that you consider great. I often use some aspect of nature, like mountains or ocean vistas or the complexity of the cell or the structure of a leaf. God is so much greater. Something mighty. A hurricane, tornado or the power of a tsunami. God is far more mighty, more mighty than a supernova or black hole. And awesome. This week’s backgrounds are the Milky Way galaxy seen from Arches National park in Utah. God is far more awesome.
This great and awesome God is not partial and takes no bribes. In other words, his justice is fair and impartial. The guilty are pronounced guilty, the innocent, innocent. But his justice goes far beyond the simple judging of people. His heart is for the distressed and the oppressed. Verse 18: “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” Here, in a few words, we get insight into the heart of God revealed from one end of Scripture to the other. He executes justice, he stands up for the cause of the orphan and the widow and loves the sojourner, or the refugee.
We’ll talk specifically about compassionate outreach to widows and orphans in two weeks. Today we want to focus on outreach to the sojourner, which in our world corresponds to the refugee, the people, often women and children, who have been displaced and are trying to survive in another country with no home, no job, and no security. To these, Moses says, God gives food and clothing, material needs. As the first video we saw said, God’s heart for the refugee is reflected all through Scripture. In over 75 verses God teaches that he wants refugees to be treated the same as natives of the land. They are to be under the same laws, make the same offerings, attend feasts with the people of Israel, and receive all the provisions that the Law makes for the needy and oppressed.
One example. I was floored by this verse, Leviticus 25:35. “If your brother, a fellow Israelite, becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a refugee.” Do you see that? God had so established the benevolent treatment of refugee that if your brother gets into trouble, you’re to treat him like that, care for him that well.
So if we have a refugee crisis going on around the world, or if we have questions about accepting refugees into our nation or community, I’m afraid the Biblical answer is perfectly clear. God has set his heart in love on widows, orphans, and refugees, as well as others who are poor or oppressed. That’s just the plain Biblical truth. We may have to apply it with wisdom, as we do every kind of love. But we can’t ignore it or deny it. God loves refugees.
There is one more thread to this word that I want to at least touch on, and that’s that we, God’s people, are all refugees and strangers in this world and in our home and native land. Now in one sense we were refugees but we are no longer. Paul says that at one time we were alienated, citizens of another country. But, he says, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Praise God for our rescue and redemption. But this new citizenship is in heaven. It’s now and not yet. So we’re aliens and strangers here. Peter says “Beloved, I urge you as refugees and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” This world is no longer our home. We don’t buy in to its values, ways and culture. Rather, as the book of Hebrews teaches, we are looking forward to a better country, a heavenly one, prepared by God for us.
In the meantime, as those redeemed from exile we have a special place in our heart for refugees, as God does. Verse 19: Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. Love the refugee, for you were refugees. You know what this was like, and it wasn’t good, so set your heart in love on those who are suffering. You know what this is like, from a human point of view, so have a heart for those who have fled the only home they ever knew.
How do we do this? Well, if there is a refugee close by, one who has come into our community, we have the opportunity to care for them directly, whether by helping in a crisis of material poverty or by addressing the spiritual poverty that is often continuing. I read the beginning of one sermon where the preacher told a story about his wife. “As she was browsing the children’s section of our local library last week, my wife, Stephanie, met a woman from North Africa. Fatimah has a gregarious personality, so they quickly struck up a conversation while our two daughters read books with Fatimah’s son, Mohammed.
When Fatimah was a girl, her country endured a brutal civil war that dragged on for nearly two decades and claimed half a million lives. As a result, her family fled their home and country and came to the United States. Fatimah is a refugee. To the average person at the library that morning, Stephanie and Fatimah couldn’t have seemed more different. They had radically different upbringings, spoke different languages, and dressed and acted differently.
Stephanie is an evangelical Christian. Fatimah is a Sunni Muslim. And yet, because they share a common humanity, they are remarkably similar. They laughed as they talked about raising toddlers, swapped pregnancy and birthing stories, and shared tips on their favorite local parks and restaurants. Towards the end of their conversation, Fatimah shared that she was lonely most days. Stephanie invited her over for lunch and exchanged contact information. And so, because of a bloody, senseless civil war, a Muslim from a remote village in North Africa found herself forging a new friendship with a Christian. By every account, her life seems a tragedy. She’s certainly a victim of great evil. But what is equally clear, for those with eyes to see, is that God is up to something.
That’s a fantastic model. But what if the refugees are still overseas? The obvious answer is to give money, and we kinda cringe at that. It seems cold. But if it is money given to help an organization do crucial needed crisis response and development, it’s really partnering with those on the front lines of the crisis. One of my favorite organizations for this kind of approach is Samaritan’s Purse. I was especially struck by their work last year during the height of the boat migration to the Greek islands and then on to Germany. Here are people on the scene doing stuff that you and I didn’t have any opportunity to do.
“Goodbye. Goodbye. We are going to Germany. We are going to Germany. To be honest, I wanted to leave Syria sooner, but we had hope that all this would end, and that we could stay in our country. We were looking death right in the eye, but if we didn’t take the risk, no one would ever help us. ‘We look at the story of the Good Samaritan, and Jesus tells us to go and do likewise. So we have a choice. Do we turn away, or do we show compassion? The majority of refugees that arrive in Greece or arrive in Europe arrive here, on this island. They just flee for their own safety and they flee for the hope of a better life.’ ‘I’m just fearful that they’re not going to make it, because they’re going to die of hypothermia before they get anywhere safe. So I think it just epitomizes the desperation that we see in this situation that we find ourselves in.” Samaritan’s Purse is there, on the front line of crisis response. And that video is awesome because it shows Samaritan’s Purse meeting those refugees all the way up at several borders to provide for their needs on ‘the human highway.’
The section ends with more exaltation of a God who has this kind of heart. Deuteronomy 10:20-22 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.
Verse 20 reminds us that we serve the Lord and cling to him out of a fear that looks mostly like reverence, but includes awe of his awesomeness and a true fear of his power. Don’t miss the fact that this comes right after verse 19, you shall love the refugee. So if you’re in awe of this God who is exalted in this passage, you will love what he loves, and serve what he serves, hold fast to him and uphold his name in a world that wants to demean and ignore and dismiss him.
Then, verse 21, he becomes our praise. He is our praise. What an awesome phrase. Not just the one we praise, but the essence and substance and completeness of our praise. What this means is that for God’s people, God’s name and God’s works should be the thing that most occupies our thoughts and our words, as well as our prayers. It’s not that we can’t be enthusiastic about sports or hobbies or mobile phone versions of video games, or music or art or science. It’s just that in the mental and emotional ordering of our minds all these things recede to distant second compared to the consuming of our hearts and thoughts by God and by the great and awesome wonders he has done for us.
For the people of Israel this referred to their redemption from Egypt: “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” The Jewish people never forgot that. It was their central story, celebrated yearly in the Passover, where a lamb was slain to symbolize the blood that rescued them from death. But for us there is an even greater redemption, a greater Passover lamb who was slain to rescue us from sin and death, to give us new life. A great and awesome God has done this incomparable thing, the incarnation, life and crucifixion of God the Son and his victorious resurrection to a life that he will share, totally by grace, with the aliens, strangers, refugees and sin-slaves of this world, with you and me.
So as we consider what God has done for us, and as we consider the love God has for refugees, we cannot look at a world in which 60 million people have been driven empty-handed from their homes and not be moved. To sympathy, certainly, but also moved to help. To help the refugee who moves into the house near you, into the neighborhood near you, to reach out in friendship and welcome, But also to reach in to your bank account and give so that the millions who will never come to America but who are right now in their deepest crisis can receive relief and ultimately relationship and good news.
I’ve highlighted two organizations so far who I think do very good work in reaching refugees. World Vision has especially done good work in moving refugees from crisis to restoration and ultimately even toward development of new lives that are more stable. Samaritan’s Purse has done awesome work in crisis response, moving food, water, medical help and shelter to the points of need.
One of those is Athens, Greece where several of our young people have been this summer. Stephanie Eddy and Peter Rask and others with ‘Engage the Crisis’ have been building relationships and sharing Good News in camps where Samaritan’s Purse has been providing the food, water and shelter.
As we close I’d like to highlight a third organization, much smaller but deeply embedded in the heart of this refugee crisis. It’s called the Preemptive Love Coalition, and their mission is to change “the way we engage the world’s most polarizing conflicts by confronting fear with acts of love.” They have been at work within Iraq, meeting refugees on the very day they escape from ISIS and providing them with food, water and shelter. Hannah Gronseth shared one of their videos on Facebook, and it turns out that her sister Melody knows the couple who started this organization. Here’s a brief excerpt from two conversations with people who escaped from the fighting in Fallujah:
“Haji, tell us what happened. What can I say, I’m going to tell you the story of escaping Fallujah. It was a terrible life. It was no life at all. How did you escape? How did you escape? We struggled under a shower of bullets, bombs, rockets, machine guns. ISIS shot at us from a car. They were chasing us by car.’ ‘How many people are in your family?’ ‘There are 12 in my family. With this child here, 13.’ ‘Mostly women and children?’ ‘There are just three men.’ ‘Just two men’. ‘Three, three men,’ ‘How old are they?’ ‘Poor guys. Two of them aren’t quite adults. The other is an old father.’ ‘What is this?’ ‘It’s from window glass. A rocket hit a building, and broken glass cut her throat. God saved her. It was the power of God. Her forehead, her face, her legs. Her whole body was hit by shards of glass. She was covered in blood. We are tired. Thanks to God – and to you – we have been rescued.”
“ ‘What’s your name?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Where is your father?’ ‘My father died.’ ‘Where?’ ‘He died.’ ‘Where did he die?’ ‘In Hadabah.’ ‘Have you had breakfast, lunch, supper? Tell me.’ ”