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Encyclopedia of The Bible – Sojourner

SOJOURNER. The following words are tr. “sojourner” or “stranger.”

1. גֵּר, H1731. This term refers to a resident alien, a non-citizen in a country where he resides more or less permanently, enjoying certain limited civic rights. This person, the sojourner, is one who actually dwells among another people in contrast to the foreigner, whose stay is temporary. The KJV generally translates גֵּר, H1731, as “stranger,” which has caused needless confusion since there are other words for “stranger.” Either the term should be transliterated or consistently tr. “sojourner” which best agrees with the verb gûr (Gen 12:10; 19:9; 47:4; Isa 52:4).

The term was used of the patriarchs in Pal. (Gen 23:4), the Israelites in Egypt (Gen 15:13; Exod 22:21), the Levites dwelling among the Israelites (Deut 18:6; Judg 17:7), the Ephraimite in Gibeah (Judg 19:16), as well as of the aliens residing among the Israelites. The sojourner in Israel enjoyed many privileges, a position unparalleled in early legal systems which were usually far from favorable to strangers. Because the sojourner was at a natural disadvantage, he became favored under legislation which was designed to protect the weak and helpless (Lev 19:33ff.; Deut 10:18). The historical circumstances were such as to render the position of the resident alien important from the first. A “mixed multitude” went up with the Israelites from Egypt, and after the conquest there were Israelites and races of Pal. living side by side throughout the country. Resident aliens (sojourners) are repeatedly mentioned in the historical books; there was a large number in the days of Solomon, apparently the remnant of conquered tribes (1 Kings 9:20ff.). In nationality such persons followed the father; according to Leviticus 24:10-22 the son of a gēr and a Jewess was a gēr.

Legally, the gēr had many privileges. The Israelites must not oppress him (Exod 22:21; 23:9; Lev 19:33, 34); in fact, they were to love him (Deut 10:19). The gleanings of the vineyard and harvest field were to be left for him (Lev 19:10; 23:22; Deut 24:19-21). He was included in the provision made in the cities of refuge (Num 35:15; Josh 20:9). Although most legal provisions regard the gēr as poor, some apparently became wealthy (Lev 25:47ff.; Deut 28:43).

Religiously, nearly all the main holy days applied to the gēr. He was to rest on the Sabbath (Exod 20:10; 23:12), to rejoice on Feasts of Weeks and Tabernacles (Deut 16), to observe the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29), to have no leaven on the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Exod 12:19). He was not compelled to keep the Passover but was permitted to do so if circumcised first (12:48). He might not eat blood during the wilderness period (Lev 17:10-12), and for that period, but not thereafter, he was prohibited from eating that which died of itself (17:15; Deut 14:21) under pain of being unclean until evening. He might offer sacrifices (Lev 17:8; 22:18; Num 15:14), and was subject to the same rules as the native Israelite for unwitting sins (15:22-31), and for purification for uncleanness by reason of a contact with a dead body (19:10-13).

2. תּﯴשָׁב, H9369. In some cases this term seems almost synonymous with gēr. Its use is limited to the Pentateuch with three exceptions (1 Kings 17:1; 1 Chron 29:15; and Ps 39:12). In eight passages it is either coupled with, or parallel to, gēr; in three others it is, like gēr elsewhere, coupled with sākhīr. Its usage does not suggest any clear distinction from gēr.

3. נָכְרִי, H5799. The “foreigner” refers to one born and usually living outside Israel. Such a “foreigner” enjoyed no legal rights in Israel (Deut 15:3; 23:20). It denotes basically the difference between Israelite and non-Israelite (Isa 61:5; Jer 5:19; 30:8). Solomon was condemned because he loved many “foreign women” (1 Kings 11:1). Foreigners were excluded from the Passover (Exod 12:43), but might offer sacrifices to Israel’s God at the religious capital (Lev 22:25). The law of God forbade appointment of a foreigner as a ruler (Deut 17:15). Later the worship of God by foreigners from a distance was encouraged (1 Kings 8:41-43; Isa 2:2ff.; 56:3, 6ff.). The case of Naaman shows that a foreigner might worship Him abroad (2 Kings 5:17). The existence of foreign quarters in Israel may be inferred from 1 Kings 9:20, 21, 24, and 1 Chronicles 22:2.

In the earlier period marriages with foreigners were common, though disliked (Gen 24:3; 27:46; Num 12:1; Judg 14:3). Moses required the high priest to marry a virgin of his own people (Lev 21:14); Ezra and Nehemiah carried on a vigorous polemic against intermarriage of any Jew with foreign women (Ezra 10; Neh 13:23-31). In ancient civilizations the “foreigner” and enemy were practically the same.

4. גֵּר, H1731. The precise meaning of “stranger” must be determined by context. Frequently it refers to foreign or hostile peoples in contrast to Israel (Isa 1:7; Ezek 7:21; Hos 7:9; 8:7; Joel 3:17; Obad 11). In other contexts it refers to a “stranger” in another sense, such as the non-Aaronite (Num 16:40 [Heb 17:5]) or non-Levite (Num 1:51) or a non-member of some other defined family (Deut 25:5). In distinction from priest it means “layman” (Lev 22:10-13), and when the contrast is with holy, it signifies “profane” (Exod 30:9).

In the NT the terms “foreigner,” “stranger” no longer apply to non-Jews because of the disappearance of the Jewish national and political base for the life of God’s people; all Christians are aliens on this earth (Phil 3:20; 1 Pet 2:11). In the NT all strangers, foreigners, and sojourners can become, through Christ, full members of the household of God, since the separating wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down (Eph 2:11-19).

Bibliography M. Guttmann, “The Term ‘Foreigner’ (נָכְרִי, H5799) Historically Considered,” HUCA, III (1926), 1-20; L. A. Snijders, The Meaning of Zār in the Old Testament (1953).