Let’s continue on with our discussion of the word GER.
In our English Bibles, this is the word usually translated as “stranger” or “foreigner“.
There were many times in Israel’s history when the GERIM (plural for GER) attached themselves to Israel.
It happened when the Israelites were living in Egypt.
It happened after the Israelites left Egypt.
And it happened after the Israelites entered the Promised Land.
When the Israelites entered Canaan, many Canaanites decided to enjoin themselves to Israel rather than rebel or leave the land that had been their home for centuries.
Since what a GER‘s rights were was considered common knowledge during Bible times, Scripture doesn’t go into a lot of detail explaining the status of a GERIM and what laws they were required to obey.
Here’s a couple of interesting points to consider that will shed more light on the Biblical meaning of GER.
Recall that Israel was actually living in the Promised Land of Canaan before they moved to Egypt.
During that time, they actually considered themselves as GER.
And of course, when they were living in Egypt, they regarded themselves as GER because indeed they were foreigners living in a foreign land.
However, what’s even more interesting is that God Himself referred to His Chosen People Israel as GER even after He had officially given them the land.
Check out this verse from Leviticus.
“The land is not to be sold in perpetuity,
because the land belongs to me
— you are only foreigners and
temporary residents with me.“
God is telling Israel even after they take possession of the land, He will still view them as GER!
We’ve talked about this before.
The reason is because the land of Canaan is actually owned by HASHEM.
The Israelites were just leasing it.
This principle is called ACHUZZAH in Hebrew.
Now here’s the thing.
According to ancient tradition, a GER was NOT allowed to own property.
Hence, when God told the Israelites that they were just foreigners to Him they well understood they could never sell the land of Israel BECAUSE THEY NEVER OWNED IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.
In an agricultural society where ownership of land was essential to survival, many GERIM ended up receiving some form of welfare just to survive.
Now I’ve got a really interesting question for you.
Did you know there was another Israelite tribe in Israel that was also considered as GERIM or foreigners to the other 12 Israelite tribes?
Can you guess which tribe I’m referring to?
I’m talking about the Levites.
Biblically speaking, the Levites were considered as GERIM or foreigners to the other 12 Tribes of Israel even after Israel gained control of the land of Canaan.
The Levites exemplified the two chief characteristics of what a GER was all about.
First, they weren’t allowed to own land and second, they lived under the protection of the other tribes of Israel.
So you can see that depending on the time and context, in Scripture the term GER was also applied to the Israelites.
And in the Levites’ case, this distinction created a kind of separate class within Israelite society (this kind of reminds me of the HAREDIM in modern Israel today).
This idea of separation becomes much more apparent when we go back and examine the status of the non-Hebrew or GER of gentile origin in ancient Israel.
The truth is in some ways he was a 2nd class citizen.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, true, he was considered an honored guest but there wasn’t 100% full equality between him and the tribe with whom he was sojourning.
He was given equal protection under the law but there were some privileges he did NOT have.
So what were the differences?
Okay, at this juncture, I’m gonna say something surprising, so brace yourself.
This very TORAH we’re currently studying is actually comprised of BOTH “civil law” and “religious law“.
The TORAH is NOT all religious law like most people assume.
Just like our modern day legal code, the civil laws in ancient Israel dealt with crimes such as rape, adultery, murder, property damage, theft and so on.
It were these civil laws that applied EQUALLY to the GER (foreigner or stranger) and the native-born Hebrew.
Both the GER and the native-born Israelite were required to obey the civil laws and both would be punished to the full penalty of the law if they disobeyed these civil laws.
Now how about the religious law of TORAH?
Did it apply equally to both the GER who resided in Israel and the native-born Hebrew?
This is the thorny question I’d like to explore in my next post and don’t jump to any assumptions about what you think I’m going to say.
I have a feeling you’re going to be quite surprised at the conclusion.