A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel.
We need to avoid slogans, catch phrases, and spin doctoring. These merely anesthetize us against the truth.
Where we typically err is by beginning with our political or religious views and then reasoning from scripture to affirm our existing views. We are much better followers of Jesus when we let the scriptures speak to us before we adopt a political position. After all, it’s far better to obey God rather than man.
Should we build bridges? Absolutely. I don’t think it’s a biblical metaphor, but the idiom is true enough. I’m all for building bridges. More precisely, the mission of God includes uniting the nations — so that the Kingdom includes all nations, all peoples, all languages, and all ethnicities. Accomplishing this is going to require a lot of bridges. But we aren’t called to unite the world — rather, we are called to invite the world into the Kingdom, where all divisions and distinctions will no longer matter.
We are also called to be peacemakers — but “peacemaker” means that we bring to the world the shalom of God: right relationship among men and with God. If God is left out, there can be no shalom and thus no peace.
Jesus declares that not all that the world terms peace is truly that. Jesus has not come to bring a false peace in which outer quietness rules while storms rage within but rather to cut clean as a sword the division between truth and falsehood, between idolatry and true service of God.
William Klassen, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1992, 5, 208.
On the other hand, secular peace can lead to Christian peace. The Pax Romana helped the early church grow and spread. The ending of war and terrorism in a given nation makes the work of missionaries and church leaders much easier. Then again, if secular peace is won at the cost of religious freedom for Christians, the peace isn’t truly shalom.
In short, even a concept as simple as “peace” isn’t that simple when thought through in Kingdom terms. We can’t just figure, “Peace is good. I’m for peace.” Not all peace is good.
(Matt. 10:34 ESV) 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Jesus is not contradicting himself. Rather, he’s pointing out that the Kingdom will not be benefited by every kind of peace. Sometimes, the Kingdom will create controversy and division.
Walls and immigrants
Should we build walls? Well, yes. Walls are good. They keep people safe from invaders and criminals. Defending a nation’s borders is clearly approved by God.
Should we allow immigrants? Absolutely. The Torah (and the rest of the Bible) clearly encourages God’s people to have sojourners living among them.
The Jews made a key distinction though: not all foreigners were allowed to live among the Jews. Criminals and invaders were barred. The walls were there to keep them out — and in that society, the absence of walls would have meant not only subjugation to invaders, but also the inability to protect their property from thieves and other criminals.
On the other hand, the Torah strongly encouraged the Jews to allow sojourners to live among them — and to treat them much the same as a fellow Jew. There were exceptions, but the general principle was to be as gracious to them as you wish the Egyptians had been to you — that is, to treat the sojourners as near equals. But there were limits.
This was both a natural consequence of the hospitality dictated by that culture but also the desire to be like YHWH.
(Deut. 10:17-19 ESV) 17 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. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
The Israelites were to love the sojourner because God loves sojourners. Abraham had been a sojourner. The Israelites had been sojourners. And so God has a soft-spot in his heart for sojourners — and not just Jews.
We aren’t told how the city elders decided who might live in the land and who would be excluded, but clearly that were required to be open-handed toward the sojourner.
(Exod. 22:21 ESV) 21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
(Lev. 19:33-34 ESV) 33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
Now, the obvious problem presented in the ancient world is that a sojourner might deceive the elders and receive sojourner status unfairly. And it happened —
(Jos. 9:3-6 ESV) 3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4 they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5 with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. 6 And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.”
(Jos. 9:22-26 ESV) 22 Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? 23 Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” 24 They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you– so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” 26 So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them.
Joshua concluded that, although he’d been deceived, honor required that they let the Gibeonites live among the Israelites, even though they were among the people God had designated for destruction.
[to be continued]