Why didn’t God just pick somebody from Canaan to start His nation? He could have just raised anybody and created a nation from that. But God picked Abram and led him away from his family and made him a foreigner in another land.
And then why didn’t Abram’s descendants get to stay in the land? Why the famine and the trip to Egypt and eventual slavery under the Egyptians? And, when they found themselves as slaves, why did God take so long to rescue them out of slavery? Through it all, God was preparing his people to have a particular identity.
“God was preparing his people to have a particular identity.”
Yes, he could have chosen a nation that was already existing. And he could have kept them planted in the land he created them for. But he picked a foreigner named Abram and formed Abram’s nation through centuries as foreigners.
We get a clue as to God’s reasoning from Deuteronomy 10:19, where he tells his people, “You are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” The identity they had developed through years of being slaves logically led them to open their hearts to foreigners. Elsewhere, he tells the Israelites, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Ex. 22:21). And, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34).
Remember who you were. And then love the foreigner.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with my mom. A few years ago, during the presidential election, I got into a lively argument with my mom about politics. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a Mexican mom, but you don’t do that. I’m not just talking about the kind of Mexican mom that says, “You can eat anywhere except for at Taco Bell because I don’t want you consuming lies.” I’m talking about the kind of mom that will put you in your place really quick.
We’re having this debate and I felt like I was beginning to win on immigration and policy and blah, blah, blah. She said, “You know, you need to come off your high horse. I know that you are a citizen now and all this stuff. But there was a time in our history when we were not here legally.”
I was like, “What are you talking about, Mom? I know you’re just lying to me. You’re just trying to win the argument. You’re trying to scare me. I remember that when we came to the US we came by airplane. I don’t remember crossing any rivers or any walls or any desert, so I’m pretty sure we did it the right way, Mom.”
She says, “No, we came by airplane, but then we overstayed our visa for seven years.”
What happened in that moment is that she reminded me of our story. She reminded me of my identity. She reminded me that I should treat people with empathy and compassion.
“She reminded me of our story…I should treat people with empathy and compassion.”
I think that’s what God was doing with his chosen people. He gave them a story. He gave them an experience to draw on. Here is the fuller version of a passage we read earlier:
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:17-19).
After all, the point of Israel was never just Israel.
God explained to Abram that the end result would be that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3b). It was so that the blessing of God could pour out to others. It was so that the blessing of God would reach the nations. So God continually reminds them of who they are.