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Stranger and Sojourner (in the Old Testament)

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

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strānj´ẽr :


1. Legal provisions

(1) Principles

(2) Rules

2. Relation to Sacrifice and Ritual

3. Historical Circumstances



1. Marriage

2. Exclusion of Some Races from the Assembly


Four different Hebrew words must be considered separately: (1) גּר , gēr , the American Standard Revised Version "sojourner" or "stranger"; (2) תּושׁב , tōshābh , the American Standard Revised Version "sojourner"; (3) נכרי , nokhrı̄ , נכר בּן , ben nēkhār , the American Standard Revised Version "foreigner"; (4) זר , zār , the American Standard Revised Version "stranger."

I. The Ger.

This word with its kindred verb is applied with slightly varying meanings to anyone who resides in a country or a town of which he is not a full native land-owning citizen; e.g., the word is used of the patriarchs in Palestine, the Israelites in Egypt, the Levites dwelling among the Israelites (Deuteronomy 18:6; Judges 17:7 , etc.), the Ephraimite in Gibeah (Judges 19:16 ). It is also particularly used of free aliens residing among the Israelites, and it is with the position of such that this article deals. This position is absolutely unparalleled in early legal systems (A. H. Post, Grundriss der ethnologischen Jurisprudenz , I, 448, note 3), which are usually far from favorable to strangers.

1. Legal Provisions:

(1) Principles.

The dominant principles of the legislation are most succinctly given in two passages: He "loveth the gēr in giving him food and raiment" ( Deuteronomy 10:18 ); "And if a gēr sojourn with thee (variant "you") in your land, ye shall not do him wrong. The gēr that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were gērı̄m in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33 f). This treatment of the stranger is based partly on historic recollection, partly on the duty of the Israelite to his God. Because the gēr would be at a natural disadvantage through his alienage, he becomes one of the favorites of a legislation that gives special protection to the weak and helpless.

(2) Rules.

In nationality the freeman followed his father, so that the son of a gēr and an Israelitess was himself a gēr ( Leviticus 24:10-22 ). Special care was to be taken to do him no judicial wrong (Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19 ). In what may roughly be called criminal law it was enacted that the same rules should apply to gērı̄m as to natives (Leviticus 18:26 , which is due to the conception that certain abominations defile a land; Leviticus 20:2 , where the motive is also religious; Leviticus 24:10-22; see SBL , 84 ff; Numbers 35:15 ). A free Israelite who became his slave was subject to redemption by a relative at any time on payment of the fair price (Leviticus 25:47 ff). This passage and Deuteronomy 28:43 contemplate the possibility of a stranger's becoming wealthy, but by far the greater number of the legal provisions regard him as probably poor. Thus provision is made for him to participate in tithes ( Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 26:12 ), gleanings of various sorts and forgotten sheaves (Leviticus 19:10; Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19 , Deuteronomy 24:20 , Deuteronomy 24:21 ), and poor hired servants were not to be oppressed (Deuteronomy 24:14 ).

2. Relation to Sacrifice and Ritual:

Nearly all the main holy days apply to the gēr . He was to rest on the Sabbath ( Exodus 20:10; Exodus 23:12 , etc.), to rejoice on Weeks and Tabernacles (Dt 16), to observe the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29 ), to have no leaven on the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:19 ). But he could not keep the Passover unless he underwent circumcision (Exodus 12:48 ). He could not eat blood at any rate during the wilderness period (Leviticus 17:10-12 ), and for that period, but not thereafter, he was probihited from eating that which died of itself (Leviticus 17:15; Deuteronomy 14:21 ) under pain of being unclean until the even. He could offer sacrifices (Leviticus 17:8 f; Leviticus 22:18; Numbers 15:14 f), and was subject to the same rules as a native for unwitting sins ( Numbers 15:22-31 ), and for purification for uncleanness by reason of contact with a dead body (Numbers 19:10-13 ).

3. Historical Circumstances:

The historical circumstances were such as to render the position of the resident alien important from the first. A "mixed multitude" went up with the Israelites from Egypt, and after the conquest we find Israelites and the races of Palestine living side by side throughout the country. We repeatedly read of resident aliens in the historical books, e.g. Uriah the Hittite. According to 2 Chronicles 2:17 f (Hebrew 16 f) there was a very large number of such in the days of Solomon, but the figure may be excessive. These seem to have been the remnant of the conquered tribes ( 1 Kings 9:20 f). Ezekiel in his vision assigned to gērı̄m landed inheritance among the Israelites (Ezekiel 47:22 f). Hospitality to the gēr was of course a religious duty and the host would go to any lengths to protect his guest (Gen 19; Judges 19:24 ).

II. The Toshabh.

Of the tōshābh we know very little. It is possible that the word is practically synonymous with gēr , but perhaps it is used of less permanent sojourning. Thus in Leviticus 22:10 it appears to cover anybody residing with a priest. A tōshābh could not eat the Passover or the "holy" things of a priest (Exodus 12:45; Leviticus 22:10 ). His children could be purchased as perpetual slaves, and the law of the Jubilee did not apply to them as to Israelites (Leviticus 25:45 ). He is expressly mentioned in the law of homicide (Numbers 35:15 ), but otherwise we have no information as to his legal position. Probably it was similar to that of the gēr .

III. The Nokhri Ben Nekhar.

The nokhrı̄ or ben nēkhār was a foreigner. The word is far wider than those considered above. It covers everything of alien or foreign character regardless of the place of residence. By circumcision a foreign slave could enter into the covenant with Abraham. Foreigners were of course excluded from the Passover ( Exodus 12:43 ), but could offer sacrifices to Israel's God at the religious capital (Leviticus 22:25 ). The Israelite could exact interest of them (Deuteronomy 23:20 ) and the payment of debts in cases where an Israelite debtor was protected by the release of Deuteronomy 15:3 . Moses forbade the appointment of a foreigner as a ruler (Deuteronomy 17:15 , in a law which according to Massoretic Text relates to a "king," but in the preferable text of Septuagint to a ruler generally). Later the worship of God by foreigners from a distance was contemplated and encouraged (1 Kings 8:41-43; Isaiah 2:2 f; Isaiah 56:3 , Isaiah 56:6 f; etc.), while the case of Naaman shows that a foreigner might worship Him abroad ( 2 Kings 5:17 ). A resident foreigner was of course a gēr . The distinction between these three words is perhaps best seen in Exodus 12:43 , Exodus 12:45 , Exodus 12:48 f. in the first of these verses we have ben nēkhār , used to cover "alien" generally; in the last the gēr is contemplated as likely to undergo a complete naturalization; while in Exodus 12:45 the tōshābh is regarded as certain to be outside the religious society.

1. Marriage:

In the earlier period marriages with foreigners are common, though disliked (e.g. Genesis 24:3; Genesis 27:46 ff; Numbers 12:1; Judges 14:3 , etc.). The Law provides for some unions of this kind (Deuteronomy 21:10 ff; compare Numbers 31:18 ), but later Judaism became more stringent. Moses required the high priest to marry a virgin of his own people (Leviticus 21:14 ); Ezekiel limited all descendants of Zadok to wives of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 44:22 ); Ezra and Nehemiah carried on a vigorous polemic against the intermarriage of any Jew with foreign women (Ezr 10; Nehemiah 13:23-31 ).

2. Exclusion of Some Races from Assembly:

Deuteronomy further takes up a hostile attitude to Ammonites and Moabites, excluding them from the assembly of the Lord even to the tenth generation, while the children of the third generation of Edomites and Egyptians could enter it (Deuteronomy 23:3-8 (Hebrew 4-9)). From 1 Kings 9:20 , 1 Kings 9:21 , 1 Kings 9:24; 1 Chronicles 22:2 we learn of the existence of foreign quarters in Israel.

IV. The Zar.

The remaining word zār means "stranger" and takes its coloring from the context. It may mean "stranger in blood," e.g. non-Aaronite ( Numbers 16:40 (Hebrew 17:5)), or non-Levite (e.g. Numbers 1:51 ), or a non-member of some other defined family (Deuteronomy 25:5 ). In opposition to priest it means "lay" (Leviticus 22:10-13 ), and when the contrast is with holy, it denotes "profane" (Exodus 30:9 ). See FOREIGNER; GENTILE; PROSELYTE; CHERETHITES; PELETHITES; MARRIAGE; COMMERCE .

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Stranger and Sojourner (in the Old Testament)'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​s/stranger-and-sojourner-in-the-old-testament.html. 1915.