Immigration Nation

Exodus 12:3 “Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.”

The Hebrew word for “congregation” is aydat (Strongs H5712) which comes from the simple root word ayd.   Ayd is translated as “witness”, used in the sense of a witness to a legal transaction like a covenant, or in the famous command “Do not bear false witness.”  Ayd is only two letters in Hebrew: ayin (is a picture of an eye) and dalet (a picture of a door).  For aydat (congregation) there’s a third letter, tav, added to the end (which means ‘a sign’).  It’s appropriate then that the first time aydat (congregation) is used in all of scripture, it’s right here in the instructions for putting a sign on the door to serve as a witness.   

Up until this point, the word Israel was most often used to describe Jacob, after he wrestled all night with YHWH and prevailed.   After Israel’s death, we see the phrase “Son’s of Israel” referring to the 12 heads of the 12 tribes.   “People of Israel” is also used in Exodus several times.   Here, however, we see this new phrase for the very first time.  “The Congregation of Israel”.   It’s implied by the context that this “congregation” will have something more profound in common than simply an ancestral lineage.  Circumcision is the sign of an individual Hebrew Israelite, and from this point on the sign of the Blood of the Lamb will define membership in the wider Congregation of Israel.

Pardon the historical weeds for a second…the Greek translation of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint.  Not too far before Messiah’s arrival, it was written to give the Holy Scriptures a wider audience.   Greek culture valued education and even an appreciation for non-Greek culture, so the Septuagint became an instant best-seller.  The New Testament, also written in Greek for the same reasons, most often quotes directly from the Septuagint when recalling any Old Testament verses.  All that to say this: the Hebrew word aydat was translated into Greek as ecclesia (Strongs G1577), and ecclesia has been translated into English not as “congregation” but as “Church”.   Amazingly, the first time ecclesia is used in the New Testament is when Peter declares his faith in Yeshua as Messiah in Matthew 16:18 and Messiah responds,”…on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”   From those words onward, Messiah is free to reveal his true mission–to shed his blood to redeem his people.  The exact message of Pesach, and on the very same night.

The Greek word ecclesia consistently describes the same set of people: A group of faithful believers who have the Blood of the Lamb as the sign of their redemption.

We can see in this choice of words a key example of translator bias, in this case a bias in the English translation, provably non-existent in the Greek source text.   Wouldn’t we be forced to rethink some bad doctrine if Exodus 12:2 began with, “Tell the Church of Israel…”?   This artificial delineation is a sign of “replacement theology”, the unbiblical belief that “the Church” somehow replaced “Israel” upon the death and resurrection of Messiah.   When Abraham was first chosen, the prime directive of Israel was declared “to be a blessing to the nations“.  While interacting with the world, whenever a non-Israelite (aka a gentile) chose to live amongst Israelites, specifically because they feared YHWH and saw the truth of who He really is, they would no longer be considered “aliens” but become known henceforth as “sojourning strangers”.  

This term “stranger” in Hebrew is ger (Strongs H1616).  This is a different class of people than a gentile or an alien, as they have taken an active step of assimilation.  Exodus 12:49, “There shall be one law for the native and for the ger who sojourns among you.”  It’s expected that a “gentile alien” would ignore the Law of God, but a God-fearer, a ger, has to be law abiding–in many ways it’s this thankful heart leading to obedience that defines a ger.

There is one final step of true integration, which can occur as soon as a ger realizes the value of the open invitation to join Israel for good.  Exodus 12:48, “If a ger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Pesach to the YHWH, then let all his males be circumcised.  He then may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land.”   The Israelite immigration law has always been biblically consistent: First, fear YHWH.  Next, privately bear the sign of Abraham.  Finally, publicly display the sign of Israel.   (Baptism actually is the next step, but that happens on First Fruits, and this is a Pesach study.  Stay tuned, coming soon.)   

There is no need to over-spiritualize these concepts; we can simply look at common-sense immigration laws of any nation.   Say a foreigner is fleeing the land of his birth, either because of distress in his homeland, or he just sees obvious greener pastures.  The first step would be to get a green-card, or a visa, or some sort of documentation to show he is legally authorized to live amongst the existing citizens.  Once documented, this law-abiding fellow is not an illegal-alien, he’s followed the procedure established by the nation, and can now access most of the blessings of a natural-born citizen.  At any time he can go back home with fond memories and likely a full wallet, but the goal would likely be to for that documented and legal resident to want full citizenship.  In most nations, our friendly sojourner simply has to pledge his full and whole-hearted allegiance to the new nation, it’s symbols, it’s founding documents, and it’s leadership.  From that point forward he is no different than any natural born citizen.  (By the way, I’ve never met a single American who doesn’t think the above steps are the correct steps.)

Of course, someone seeing greener pastures abroad could skip every one of these steps and just sneak over the border.  They might not even have the best interests of the nation they broke into.   Perhaps they were fleeing justice, not persecution, in their prior country, or they are only interested in mooching off their host like a parasite.  Regardless of their motives, they are living illegally, showing zero respect for pre-existing laws of that nation.   Laws are designed to keep order, protect it’s citizens, and importantly to allow for an orderly and wise transition from clueless foreigner to enthusiastic citizen.   

Another option, I suppose, would be a borderless society.  A nation could make immigration much easier by weakening all related laws and even defund law enforcement.  Maybe this choice wasn’t done cynically just to pander for new voters, maybe it was truly done out of love for the struggling alien.  Either way, all of the things that the alien was escaping: violence, poverty, and a lack of peace and prosperity, would shortly become the status quo for this foolish nation.  Once that level of lawlessness occurs, there would eventually become no difference between one nation and the next.  Obviously this slippery slope is a genuine fear of most conservative American’s.  What’s less obvious is how this series of unfortunate events has already happened to modern Christianity.  

The Church has forsaken the immigration laws laid out in the Constitution of Israel (the Torah), thus lawlessness has sadly become it’s defining characteristic.  

The other over-reaction would be to build a yuge and beautiful wall.  Severely limit immigration through additional laws and physical borders.   Selfishly focus only on the existing citizens, and keep aliens at a distance, and put harsh restrictions even on those with the proper documents.   This strategy, too, has been tried in the spiritual sense.  In Messiah’s day, Jewish religious leaders had created barriers both physical and spiritual.   

Herod's Temple warning sign

A non-Jew was considered “unclean” (again, not through Divine Law, only through dogma, man-made doctrine).   It was therefore considered illegal for a gentile, God-fearing or not, from eating with a Jew or making physical contact of any kind.  A literal wall was erected in the Temple complex, specifically keeping filthy gentiles from mixing with Holy Jews.  If a gentile went past the wall, they were arrested and executed.  Unless you are familiar with this history, the plot of the Book of Acts, several verses in Paul’s letters, and the overall context of the entire New Testament will be very misleading.   

For example, In Acts 10, Peter sees a vision of snakes, pigs, and dogs coming from the sky.   Many think this means God’s people can now eat snakes, pigs, and puppies (yea?) but Peter’s takeaway was quite different. “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)   The vision was reminding Peter that people themselves are the POINT of Israel, and not to be avoided.  

Paul writes in Ephesians 2, “But now in Yeshua Messiah you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the man-made dogma (G1378) that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.    Pesach, the night of the cross, defines the Commonwealth of Israel.  For the faithful, it did not further separate, it did the opposite.  

Faith in the Blood of the Lamb knocks down the man-made walls.

Can I get an Amen?

Messiah, as you would expect, preached this same unifying immigration policy, but taught it in the form of a parable.

John 10:1-21, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens.  The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  An alien they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of aliens.”  This figure of speech Yeshua used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

“So Yeshua again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door.  If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Messiah makes it clear, there is not Israel on one hand and the Church on the other.  There is one flock, one shepherd, one law, and one door.   Jeremiah 50:6, “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold.”  Messiah said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  (Matthew 15:24)  He also said, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 10:5)  

It would be silly and out-of-context to believe that Yeshua didn’t care about gentiles.  Quite the opposite.  What he is saying is that he is not the shepherd of gentiles.  You may have been lied to and told that you are still a gentile, but if you heard his voice calling, chosen to follow him you are not a gentile any more!   You are not an illegal alien, you are now a legal resident, a ger.  All that’s left to secure the highest blessing, to become a full citizen of the Kingdom, part of the “Congregation of Israel”, is to walk through the door and eat the Pesach.  

Exodus uses immigration language, Messiah used a sheep metaphor, and Paul says the same thing speaking as an arborist.   

Romans 11:11-25 “So I ask, did they [certain faithless Israelites] stumble in order that they might fall?  By no means!  Rather, through their trespass salvation has been offered to the gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.  Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

Now I am speaking to you gentiles: Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.  For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?  If the dough offered as first-fruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches.  If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.  Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true.  They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.  Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And if they do not continue in their unbelief, they will be grafted back in, for God has the power to graft them in again.  For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.  Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved.”

In a way that only Paul could pull off, he turns a perfectly good gardening analogy into a profound Torah lesson–and he did it with the subtlest of allusions to one throw-away line in Genesis.   Here’s how.  Israel (Jacob) is on his death-bed and is about to bless all 12 of his sons (the Sons of Israel), but first he meets his grandchildren for the first time.  They are the sons of Joseph through his wife Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, who we learn in Genesis 41, is the pagan priest of On.  (“Asenath” means “belonging to the goddess Neith.”)  Despite these awful circumstances, Jacob is ecstatic and chooses to adopt these adorable little mini-pagans, and make them ONE with the Sons of Israel.  Referring to Ephraim, Joseph’s youngest boy, Jacob says this in Genesis, 48:19, “his offspring shall become a fullness of gentiles.”   (This is the verse Paul is alluding to in Romans 11:25).  Way back in Genesis, Israel sets the stage for the eternal game plan, and Paul (being a Torah teacher) was no stranger to the big picture.   In Egypt, 400 years before the first Pesach, Israel himself prophesied the plan to rescue not just the existing Sons of Israel, but to assimilate every willing and God-fearing gentile, literally until the end of time.  Messiah came on Pesach to underscore that message, and to prove once and for all that man’s futile attempts at religion cannot thwart the plans of the Almighty.

Whether you identify as a migrant refugee, a lost sheep, a wild branch, or a pagan orphan, whether you literally lived in Egypt in the time of Moses, in the days of Peter, or today, YHWH’s plan remains the same.  You can be ONE with Israel.  That citizenship, rescuing, grafting in, or adoption occurs year after year, right there at the Pesach table.

Amen

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