In support of his immigration policy, President Obama quoted a very important verse from the Old Testament with regard to how to treat others: Exodus 23:9. It is one of my favorites, and I quote it often. The NASB reads: “You shall not oppress a stranger (sojourner), since you yourselves know the feelings (literally ‘soul’) of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The principle of Exodus 23:9 (Leviticus 19:33, & Deuteronomy 24:17; 27:19) is a bedrock principle of the New Testament as well. Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31).
But many conservatives were upset with the President’s use of the verse. They were so upset that they declared that the Bible is off-limits; he isn’t allowed to quote from it! But is that how God’s people should respond? Surely we can do better than telling people to not quote the Bible! Here are a few thoughts on what to say instead:
1) The Bible is a good place to start any discussion.
In a famous/infamous 2008 speech, the President said, that the Bible should not be used in shaping public policy. Now, he takes a Bible passage to prove why his public policy is correct. While this is hypocritical, Christians must guard themselves against the same hypocrisy. He did actually quote the Bible! And we want people searching the scriptures, don’t we?
Rather than responding in anger, “He can’t quote the Bible,” let’s congratulate him on looking to the Bible for inspiration and then give him a better understanding of the meaning of the passage.
2) A text without context is a pretext for a proof-text.
Do what? Ok. Translation: if you take any text and rip it out of its context, you can make it mean whatever you want it to mean.
The principle the President quoted is correct; we should treat others as we want to be treated. But what is the context? Is this the only verse in the Bible where God instructs His people on what to do and how to live? What about the other verses in Exodus 23? Might they be important to the discussion? This is a good opportunity to discuss context and meaning.
3) God is no respecter of persons.
God’s offer of grace and mercy is freely given without regard to race, age, gender, or nationality.
If the President had studied the passage more closely, he would have seen that the protection is unilateral for ALL strangers. It is there to remind God’s children to deal fairly with strangers and not take advantage of them because Israel was enslaved in Egypt.
Whether you oppose or favor the immigration policy, this verse simply doesn’t fit his usage. The policy is limited to illegal aliens with US born children, who have been here for 5 years, and it is only temporary. That would mean that God’s kindness doesn’t apply to some strangers. But no one, not even the President, is taking the position that we should unilaterally treat ALL sojourners as citizens!
The point of the passage is that we should not oppress others and we should be giving toward those who are in need. It isn’t a political statement, it is a moral statement. And morally, you can’t treat the Bible like a buffet, picking and choosing a little of this and a few of those.
The greatest gift we have is the gospel. Jesus said salvation is available to all who would come – whosoever believes. And that is irrefutable. Help others to read the Bible for God’s intended meaning rather than hunting for verses that appear to support political positions. God sent His Son to die for us; doesn’t He at least deserve a fair read?