Strangers in the Congregation of Israel

Strangers Joined to the Community of Israel

Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.

For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.

The Lord GOD, which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.

Isaiah 56:3-8

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between ethnic Jews and those of Gentile descent in the church. The key passage detailing the relationship between the two is found in Ephesians 2, which states, in part, concerning Gentile believers that they are:

“being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world…” (Eph 2:11-12)

What does it mean to be a stranger?

According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language 1913:
1. One who is strange, foreign, or unknown.

(a) One who comes from a foreign land; a foreigner.
(b) One whose home is at a distance from the place where he is, but in the same country.

According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary, a stranger is:

A “stranger,” in the technical sense of the term, may be defined to be a person of foreign, i.e. non-Israelitish, extraction resident within the limits of the promised land. He was distinct from the proper “foreigner,” inasmuch as the latter still belonged to another country, and would only visit Palestine as a traveller: he was still more distinct from the “nations,” or non-Israelite peoples. The term may be compared with our expression “naturalized foreigner.” The terms applied to the “stranger” have special reference to the fact of residing in the land. The existence of such a class of persons among the Israelites is easily accounted for the “mixed multitude” that accompanied them out of Egypt, (Exodus 12:38) formed one element the Canaanitish Population,which was never wholly extirpated from their native soil, formed another and a still more important one captives taken in war formed a third; fugitives, hired servants, merchants, etc., formed a fourth. With the exception of the Moabites and Ammonites, (23:3) all nations were admissible to the rights of citizenship under certain conditions. The stranger appears to have been eligible to all civil offices, that of king excepted. (17:15) In regard to religion, it was absolutely necessary that the stranger should not infringe any of the fundamental laws of the Israelitish state. If he were a bondman, he was obliged to submit to circumcision, (Exodus 12:44) if he were independent, it was optional with him but if he remained uncircumcised, he was prohibited from partaking of the Passover, (Exodus 12:48) and could not be regarded as a full citizen. Liberty was also given to an uncircumcised stranger in regard to the use of prohibited food. Assuming, however, that the stranger was circumcised, no distinction existed in regard to legal rights between the stranger and the Israelite; to the Israelite is enjoined to treat him as a brother. (Leviticus 19:34; 10:19) It also appears that the “stranger” formed the class whence the hirelings were drawn; the terms being coupled together in (Exodus 12:45; Leviticus 22:10; 25:6,40) The liberal spirit of the Mosaic regulations respecting strangers presents a strong contrast to the rigid exclusiveness of the Jews at the commencement of the Christian era. The growth of this spirit dates from the time of the Babylonish captivity.

A brief summary of Smith’s synopsis of Old Testament teaching:

1) He is a non-Hebrew resident of Israel
2) He was protected by and subject to the law of Israel (and it’s consequent blessings and curses)
3) He was at liberty to be circumcised and participate in the religion of Israel

In order to further investigate the meaning of the word, I’ve decided to inductively study each use of the word in the Bible and categorize them in order to form a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of the word. The fruit of that labor, such as it is, is presented below.


Passover Laws for Strangers

  • No yeast during Passover: Ex 12:19
  • Uncircumcised may not eat Passover: Ex 12:43, 45
  • Circumcised may eat Passover: Ex 12:44 (servants), 48-49, Num 9:14

Key passages –

And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land (Ex 12:48)

And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land. (Num 9:14)

Kindness to Strangers

  • Generally: Ex 22:21, 23:9, Dt 10:17-19, Dt 23:7
  • Gleaning: Lv 23:22
  • Relieved if poor: Lv 25:35-36, Dt 14:29, 24:19-21, 26:10-14
  • Right to justice: Dt 1:16, 24:17, 27:19

Key Passages –

And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. (Lv 25:35-36)

He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Dt 10:18-19)

Sacrificial Laws for Strangers

  • May not eat atonement sacrifice: Ex 29:33, Lv 22:10-13
  • Afflict souls on Day of Atonement: Ex 16:29
  • May bring burnt offering: Lev 17:8, Num 15:14-16
  • Unclean for gathering burnt heifer ashes: Num 19:10
  • Sins of ignorance may be atoned: Num 15:25-30

NOTE: intentional sins result in death or excommunication

Key Passages –

And if a stranger sojourn with you, or whosoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD; as ye do, so he shall do. One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the LORD. One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you. (Num 15:14-16)

‘Other’ Laws for Strangers

  • Observe Sabbath: Ex 20:10, 23:12, Dt 5:14
  • May not eat blood: Lv 17:10,12
  • Blasphemy: Lv 24:16
  • Murder: Lv 24:22
  • Eat Sabbath of Land: Lv 25:6
  • May not trespass on tabernacle: Num 1:51, 3:10, 3:38, 16:40, 18:4,7
  • May flee to citites of refuge: Num 35:15
  • May eat dead carcass (Israelites cannot): Dt 14:21
  • Keep feast of Weeks: Dt 16:10-14
  • No stranger may be king: Dt 17:15
  • Israelites may exact usury from: Dt 23:20
  • Israelite widows may not marry: Dt 25:5
  • Hear law read at feast of tabernacles: Dt 31:11-12

Key Passages –

Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God. (Lev 24:22)

When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law (Dt 31:11-12)

Strangers Entered into the Covenant with God

Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water: That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the LORD thy God, and into his oath, which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day (Dt 29:10-12)

[IN WORK – to be continued with Joshua]

link to all references


Eph 2:11-22 (especially verse 19!)

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise …Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

In summary, those who have faith in Christ have their standing before God in Christ and as Christ, the righteous and obedient son of Abraham, has fulfilled all righteousness on our behalf, those that are Christ’s are true sons of Abraham and are no strangers to citizenship in and participation in the covenants and blessings of Israel.


One thought on “Strangers in the Congregation of Israel

  1. Pingback: Who is Abraham’s Seed? Gen 13:14-18 « Abraham's Seed

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