Concern for foreigners and exhortations to care for outsiders crop up occasionally in Old Testament writings. Such expressions of concern appear in books like Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 1 Kings, and Micah. One such passage in Deuteronomy says, "You should love foreigners" (Deuteronomy 10:19, God's Word Translation). What is the meaning of that verse for us today?
Deuteronomy, a compilation of Moses' last messages, retells key events of the Israelites' post-Exodus wanderings in the Sinai. Moses was a third of the way through his storytelling when he passed on God's command to show love to foreigners.
That command has huge ramifications for the cause of world evangelism. Think for a moment about our unsaved friends and family members. Everyone I know has loved ones living outside the Kingdom. Don't we yearn that they come to know the Lord? Aren't they often in our prayers? Think about that. We love our friends and family members. God expects us to love foreigners as well. If we do genuinely love foreigners, won't we desire that they, too, know about Jesus?
Some might argue that such a broad application of Moses' command goes against the rest of the Old Testament. That objection may come from assuming the Old Testament mindset is one of us-against-the-world. Repeated Old Testament warnings against adopting foreign religions and idols may fuel that assumption. Those warnings have to be taken seriously. They were not, however, given to create a "fortress mentality" that manifests itself in disdain for foreigners.
Admittedly, when Moses said "foreigners," his listeners may have thought principally of the Israelites' close neighbors, some of whom were God-fearers who worshiped Yahweh. That scenario has obvious applications in a world where foreign immigrants crowd into neighborhoods bustling with evangelical Christians. However, isn't it also possible that the Holy Spirit envisioned Deuteronomy 10:19 being a command to embrace the whole world without regard to national or ethnic origins?
Seeing Deuteronomy 10:19 as an indicator that God's people should love everyone else in the world clearly reflects what we know from Scripture about God Himself. For example, 1 John 4:8 declares that "God is love" (1 John 4:8), and it is no stretch to say the exhortation to love foreigners flows out of God's loving wish to bless all peoples (Genesis 12:3).
The Deuteronomy command to love foreigners is very much in line with the "for God so loved the world" phrase of John 3:16. That idea of loving all peoples even brings to mind the words of the classic children's song:
"Red and yellow, black and white
"All are precious in His sight."
Sadly, loving foreigners is something God's people have not always done well. Jonah, for instance, stubbornly refused to love the foreign Ninevites. In the late 1700s, church leaders told aspiring missionary William Carey not to be concerned about people who had never heard the Gospel. That, they said, was God's concern, not ours.
Such cavalier disregard for other peoples signals a failure to embrace Deuteronomy 10:19 fully. Since that verse does reflect God's love for all people groups, is it not incumbent upon us to embrace the passion of God's heart by truly loving foreigners?
-- Howard Culbertson,
This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.
Examples of how English translations render the wording of Deuteronomy 10:19: