Loving all people -- even foreigners

Missions: The Heart of God

Commentary on Deuteronomy 10

"You are to love those who are foreigners" -- Deuteronomy 10:19

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 orethnic 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, God's people have not always been good at loving foreigners. 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.

Discussion questions

  1. Do you think the command to love foreigners in Deuteronomy 10 might be relevant to the Bible's call to get the Gospel to everyone? If so, how?
  2. The Old Testament contains warnings against adopting foreign religions and idols. Is there a danger that we can think these warnings mean we cannot love foreigners? What are some ways we can show Christlike love to people whose worldview and religion are different from ours?
  3. How can we avoid falling into a "fortress mentality" where it is "us against them" and instead embrace a love for all peoples, as reflected in Deuteronomy 10:19 and John 3:16? What are some practical steps we can take to actively love foreigners in our communities and around the world?
  4. The essay mentions examples of God's people failing to love foreigners, such as Jonah and the church leaders who discouraged William Carey from missionary work. Why do you think this happens? What can we learn from these examples, and how can we avoid making the same mistakes?
  5. What might Deuteronomy 10:19 say to us about loving those who share our nationality but whose cultural and racial identification is different from ours?

The meaning of Deuteronomy 10:19: Resident aliens, immigrants, sojourners, outsiders, and pilgrims

Examples of how English translations render the wording of Deuteronomy 10:19:

Five "takeaways" from Deuteronomy 10:19

  1. Embrace foreigners: The verse commands God's people to love those who are foreigners, indicating that God's love and concern extend beyond the Israelite community to include all people around them.
  2. Love without limits: "Love foreigners" suggests that our love must not limited to those we encounter daily but must extend to all human beings everywhere.
  3. Exude caring compassion Love is more than words; it involves action. The command to love foreigners should evoke caring compassion toward foreigners.
  4. Evangelize the whole world: "Love foreigners" should ignite a passion for world evangelism since Christ-followers who genuinely love other people will desire that they, too, know about Jesus.
  5. Reflect God's character: God is love. He desires to bless all peoples. So, the command to love foreigners reflects God's character. Deuteronomy 10:19 highlights our obligation to imitate God's love and compassion for all people groups, regardless of skin color, nationality, religion, or cultural identity.

Historical and Cultural Background

Understanding the historical and cultural context of Deuteronomy 10:19 can provide insight into its meaning and significance.

  1. Historical Context: The book of Deuteronomy is part of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, traditionally attributed to Moses. It contains a series of speeches given by Moses to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land. At this point, the Israelites had experienced slavery in Egypt and were journeying through the wilderness towards Canaan.
  2. Cultural Context:
  3. Theological Implications:

In summary, understanding the historical and cultural context of Deuteronomy 10:19 highlights the significance of empathy, hospitality, and solidarity with the marginalized, rooted in the Israelites' own experience of oppression and their covenant relationship with God.

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