Justice not pity

You would have to have a heart of stone and a head full of hate not to have been moved by the plight of Syrian refugees in the news recently. Media and politicians are talking about taking pity on these people. The Bible does talk a lot about compassion, love and pity but it speaks more of practical action for justice. Deuteronomy 23 is quite specific about our actions.

15 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.

This law is of course massively counter-cultural even for today. It was even more so in ancient times. The Law Code of Hammurabi (1792BC-1750BC) says,

16. If any one receive into his house a runaway male or female slave of the court, or of a freedman, and does not bring it out at the public proclamation of the major domus, the master of the house shall be put to death.

It runs completely in the opposite direction.

I am of course aware that we do not live in ancient Israel and we are no longer under the law of Moses but grace. However, if we are not simply going to dismiss it as no longer relevant then we need some way to translate the value of the law to contemporary society. To interpret Old Testament law correctly we need a key.Ladder of abstraction

This key is to be found in a concept called the ladder of abstraction. We can’t simply impose a 1-2-1 approach. The principle is important to draw out.

The principle seems to be here is that if somebody is fleeing oppression then the faithful Israelite is to give them refuge, protect them from the oppressor, give them freedom to live wherever they choose and to treat them with justice. This is not about pity or compassion but about justice. This is God giving his protection to the oppressed.

Now how that should be worked out by British Christians in the current context in which we find ourselves is up for discussion, however that we should be in the business of guaranteeing justice for those fleeing oppression is not.