The biblical story of Joseph and his brothers, which spans many chapters in Genesis, offers insight to how Christians should respond to folks seeking better lives in new lands. (Scriptures are from the New Revised Standard Version.)
Genesis 45:4-11. Joseph, a man of influence in Pharaoh’s court, invites his father and brothers (and their families) to come to Egypt and escape the famine that had befallen the region. Joseph says it was God who initiated the plan for their safety.
45:7 “God sent me [Joseph] before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”
45:10 “You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, and your children, and your children’s children…”
Genesis 46:1-7. God encourages Israel (Jacob) to sojourn to Egypt. Pharaoh also welcomes Jacob and his family by providing assistance for their relocation.
46:5 “Then Jacob set out from Beer-sheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him.”
Genesis 47:1-6 Joseph presents his brothers to Pharaoh. Pharaoh invites them to live in the best part of the land and gives them jobs.
47:4-6 “They said to Pharaoh, ‘We have come to reside as aliens in the land, for there is no pasture for your servant’s flocks because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, we ask you, let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Your father and your brothers have come to you . The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and brothers in the best part of the land; let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know that there are capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.’”
The long arc of the Joseph story is one of provision, welcome, and care. When given opportunities to help the alien and immigrant, Christians have many examples from scripture of how to faithfully respond.
Of course, the challenging next step in this story is that when the famine fully reached Egypt, Pharaoh bought all the land and enslaved the people. (47:20-26)
Perhaps American Christians should examine the immigration practices of our states and communities for ways that "enslavement" is still perpetuated. Such areas include:
- systemic poverty
- anti-immigrant bias in law enforcement and the courts
- lack of access to basic resources of education, rights and healthcare
Let's strive to be better, Church.