The book of Deuteronomy has often been characterized as Moses’ Farewell Speech. The people of Israel have been delivered from their slavery in Egypt and have wandered in the wilderness for a generation. They are now poised to enter Canaan, the land that God promised to their ancestor Abraham so many years earlier. Moses, however has been told by God that he will not enter the land with the rest of the people so he gives them some final instructions before his death.[1]

Among the many instructions given by Moses in this farewell speech are those regarding a particular offering in Deuteronomy 26. When the people enter this land, they are to bring an offering of first fruits to the priest and they are to make a particular confession as they do so:

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

Upon entering this land, the people must remind themselves that this land did not always belong to them; their ancestor was a wandering Aramean – a sojourner, an immigrant, an alien. They too had been strangers and foreigners in the land of Egypt – a point which the law insisted that they never forget. Repeatedly, Israel is commanded to treat foreigners and aliens living among them fairly and equitably precisely because they had once been aliens who were mistreated in a foreign land.[2] Israel’s treatment of immigrants and foreigners was rooted in their very own identity as migrants and foreigners themselves. Even in their own land, given to them by God, they were not to lose that identity as foreigners – and when they did they became literal foreigners and migrants once again in their exile in Babylon.

This identification with the stranger and the alien is found in the New Testament as well. In fact, it is re-enacted, so to speak in the story of Jesus as it is told by the Gospel of Matthew. Just as Israel’s ancestors went down to Egypt so also Matthew tells us that Jesus’ family fled to Egypt in order to escape the deadly edict of King Herod and they remained there until it was safe to return home. The story of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew begins as a story of a migrant family fleeing a tyrannical ruler.[3]

Similarly, the epistle to the Ephesians describes its audience as formerly aliens and strangers.[4] 1 Peter addresses the churches of Asia Minor as aliens, not merely as a former identity but as one they continue to have as followers of Jesus.[5] Hebrews 11 describes the role models of faith which it lists as “strangers and foreigners on the earth” and compels its audience to show hospitality to strangers because some have entertained angels by doing so without even knowing it.[6] These scriptures witness to a people who are called upon to show hospitality to strangers and immigrants because of their own identity as strangers and immigrants.[7]

Seeing ourselves in our migrant brothers and sisters might begin for Christians in the U.S. by seeking and speaking truth about the current realities of immigration in our country. Fears about increased crime and economic burden are often raised in debates about immigration. However, immigrants – refugees, in particular – are highly entrepreneurial, contributing billions to the U.S. economy and starting more businesses per capita than native born citizens.[8] Higher immigration rates are also associated with lower crime rates and immigrants are less likely than native born citizens to engage in criminal behavior.[9] It is a common misperception that undocumented immigrants benefit from federal services without paying taxes but in most cases just the opposite is true. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for most federal public benefits despite the fact that most pay taxes.[10] In fact, legal immigrants utilize public benefit programs at a lower rate than native born citizens and both documented and undocumented immigrants pay more into public benefit programs than they take out.[11] Social Security is increasingly reliant on the contributions of undocumented immigrants as they contributed $12 billion more than they withdrew in 2010.[12] Furthermore, attempts at tighter immigration enforcement over the past several decades have actually increased illegal immigration rather than reducing it.[13]

The recounting of these realities is not a suggestion toward a specific policy or political platform. The reform of immigration policy is a difficult and complex issue without simple solutions. I believe that reasonable people can come to opposing conclusions regarding the best path forward on points of policy regarding immigration, border security, and a path to citizenship. However, I also believe that for Christians, the conversation about these policies should begin with the confession that our father was a wandering Aramean, that our savior began his life as a refugee, and that our scriptures continually remind us that we are all strangers, aliens, and immigrants. The conversation must begin by putting ourselves in the shoes of those who wish to enter this country and asking ourselves, if we were not citizens of the most powerful nation on earth by sheer chance of our place of birth, how would we hope that the world’s most powerful nation would treat us?

[1] For the most part, these final instructions are essentially reminders about the law given at Mt.Sinai. The name Deuteronomy actually means “second law”. Although this name was probably given to the text later in history, it reflects how much of Deuteronomy is a reworking of material from Exodus and Leviticus.

[2] Ex 22:21; 23:9; Lev 19:10, 33-34. “22 Bible Verses on Welcoming Immigrants,” Sojourners, accessed May 10, 2019,

[3] Matt 2:13-23.

[4] Eph 2:12

[5] 1 Peter 1:1. Modern translations often render this as “exiles” but the same word is frequently used to refer to Abraham as a foreigner or alien in the Greek versions of the Old Testament.

[6] Heb 11:13; 13:2; Gen 18:1-15; 19:1-11

[7]For more reflections on immigration and scripture, see the Evangelical Immigration Table

[8] Dan Kosten, “Immigrants as Economic Contributors: Immigrant Entrepreneurs,” National Immigration Forum, July 11, 2018,

[9] Walter Ewing, Daniel E. Martínez, and Rubén G. Rumbaut, “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States,” American Immigration Council, July 13, 2015,

[10] Hunter Hallman, “How Do Undocumented Immigrants Pay Federal Taxes: An Explainer,” Bipartisan Policy Center, March 28, 2018,

[11] “Fact Sheet: Immigrants and Public Benefits,” National Immigration Forum, August 21, 2018,

[12] Alexia Fernandez Campbell, “The Truth About Undocumented Immigrants and Taxes,” The Atlantic, September 12, 2016,

[13] Michael Hotchkiss, “Tighter Enforcement Along the U.S.-Mexico Border Backfired, Researchers Find,” News at Princeton, Princeton University, April 20, 2016, Malcolm Gladwell, “General Chapman’s Last Stand,” Revisionist History, Season 3, Episode 5,’s-last-stand