Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Leviticus 19:34
When I moved to a new country, one of my first experiences left me feeling unwelcome. After finding a seat in the little church where my husband was preaching that day, a gruff older gentleman startled me when he said, “Move along down.” His wife apologized as she explained that I was sitting in the pew they always occupied. Years later I learned that congregations used to rent out pews, which raised money for the church and also ensured no one could take another person’s seat. Apparently some of that mentality carried on through the decades.
Later, I reflected on how God instructed the Israelites to welcome foreigners, in contrast to cultural practices such as I encountered. In setting out the laws that would allow His people to flourish, He reminded them to welcome foreigners because they themselves were once foreigners (Leviticus 19:34). Not only were they to treat strangers with kindness (v. 33), but they were also to “love them as [themselves]” (v. 34). God had rescued them from oppression in Egypt, giving them a home in a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). He expected His people to love others who also made their home there.
As you encounter strangers in your midst, ask God to reveal any cultural practices that might keep you from sharing His love with them.
Why is it so important that we welcome people into our homes and churches? What do you find most challenging and most rewarding in this?
Father God, You welcome me with open arms, for You love me day after day. Give me Your love to share with others.
The book of Leviticus can be a tremendous challenge for readers. A useful tip for reading it begins with understanding its purpose—a purpose found in its name. In the Hebrew Bible, books were named based on their first few words; while in the West, books of the Bible were often named according to their purpose. In the Hebrew Bible, Leviticus is called Vayikra, which means “And He called” (taken from the opening verse, “the Lord called to Moses”). Our English title, Leviticus, is rooted in what the book presents—the rituals, offerings, and expectations of religious ritual and purity. The name is derived from the fact that these rituals were to be performed by the priests, who were from the tribe of Levi. Understanding that the Levitical priesthood’s responsibilities in leading the people in worship are in view can help place this book in its time, setting, and purpose.