God's salvation story, revealed in the Bible, contains many stories of people migrating and doing so to flee danger. The migration of the Israelites is a critical theme in the Old Testament. It is fair to say that in the Bible, God was on the side of refugees; I will explain. Let's look at Leviticus 19:33–34, which reads,
When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.
The book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, tells the story of how God's chosen people, the Israelites, became enslaved in Egypt. The Israelites were enslaved for over 500 years, and their population grew to hundreds of thousands of people, outnumbering the Egyptians who owned them.
God famously delivered them from the control of the Pharaoh through Moses and the 12 plagues, ending with the Passover. After the Passover, in which the firstborn male children of Egypt died, the Pharaoh decided to let them go, and they all fled, led by Moses, out of Egypt.
But then, Pharaoh decides he doesn't want to let them go anymore and sends his army after them. His army drowned in the Red Sea, which through God's power, was parted for the Israelites to pass through.
All of this happens in the first fifteen chapters of Exodus, the second book of the Bible.
Let's switch directions and define the word refugee according to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.
This definition sounds similar to the Israelites in Exodus, though Egypt technically wasn't the country they belonged to. At that point, they had not claimed the land of Israel. The scripture I quoted about how to treat the "alien" from Leviticus, the third book of the Bible, is in reference to the story of how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Another prominent example of Biblical refugees is from the Gospels.
The Holy Family
In Chapter 2 in the Gospel according to Matthew, the magi came to visit the newborn Jesus. In verse 13, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to flee to Egypt with his family because Herod was searching for Jesus to destroy him. King Herod wanted to kill Jesus because the Messiah was prophesied to become the ruler of Israel, suggesting he would no longer rule Israel. Matthew 2:13–14 (NABRE) reads,
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.
King Herod ordered that all boys under age two in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, must be killed. It was not until Herod died that the angel appeared to Joseph in Egypt, telling him to bring his family back to Israel (verses 19–23).
Given this description of the story of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt and the definition of a refugee, it is fair to say that the Holy Family were refugees at one point in time.
Reviewing the story of God delivering the Israelites from Egypt and the knowledge that Jesus Christ was forced to flee his country, it is clear that refugees have been among those instrumental to God's great salvation story.
Today, there are approximately 100 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide: individuals who have been forced to flee their homes, including refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons (IDPs). IDPs are people who have fled their homes due to violence or persecution but have not crossed a border into another country.
The total number of displaced persons is more than double what it was a decade ago.
It is greater than 1% of the global population.
Every person is created in the image of God, loved by God, and therefore deserving of respect and compassion by all people.
To those who may be hesitant or fearful of refugees or of bringing refugees into their communities, consider what you would hope for if you had to flee your country and were unable to return. I encourage you to dwell upon Jesus' second greatest commandment: "love your neighbor as yourself."
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