The Torah contains many commands regarding sojourners, treating them as a vulnerable class that God especially is concerned to protect. For example,
(Exod. 22:21-24 ESV) 21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”
(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.”
These are very typical passages, reminding the Israelites that they were once sojourners in Egypt and so they should treat sojourners among them fairly. God is concerned with widows, the fatherless, and sojourners because they lack the ability to protect themselves. They do not own land and so cannot support themselves except through trade and labor — requiring that they be treated fairly by others.
The city elders won’t be selected from among their people. Their families and clans don’t have the same standing as citizens.
A sojourner, therefore, is a resident alien, someone who is not a Jew living among the Jews. He may be a traveler passing through or perhaps he lives in Israel permanently based on a treaty, as in the case of the Gibeonites. He may be a tradesman who finds a better competitive environment in Israel than in his home country. Perhaps he has a better way of forging iron tools than the Israelites, or perhaps he wants to be near the trade routes that pass through Israel. Maybe his business depends on stone, clay, crops, or artisans found only in Israel. Maybe he’s a stonemason and there are no construction projects in his homeland. Continue reading