Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/customer/www/valuesandvoices.com/public_html/wp-content/themes/salient/nectar/redux-framework/ReduxCore/inc/class.redux_filesystem.php on line 29
Letter 81 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 81

Choon-Leong Seow

Vanderbilt, Buffington, Cupples Chair in Divinity
Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible
Vanderbilt University Divinity School

April 10, 2017

Dear President Trump, Vice President Pence, Members of the Trump Administration and 115th Congress,

America is a country of migrants and refugees. According to the Bible, Israel too was a country of migrant and refugees. That experience shaped their vision of how those who profess to love God with all their hearts (Deuteronomy 6:4) should behave.

Deuteronomy 15 specifies what such love entails, beginning with the periodic forgiveness of debt (vv. 1-6). The people are instructed: “Do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted towards your needy compatriots…but open your hand and lend them whatever they need (vv. 7-8). They are to “give liberally and without a grudge” (v. 10). Moreover, when the terms of their indentured servants end, they must “not send them away empty-handed…but provide [for them] liberally” (vv. 13-14). The people must act liberally because they themselves had been liberated from Egypt (v. 15).

Deuteronomy 26 recounts a service of thanksgiving for a successful harvest. The worshippers bringing the first fruits of their crop would tell the story of their redemption—a story still retold every year at Passover. On the verge of perishing, they migrated to a foreign land where they were strangers and oppressed until God set them free and brought them into their new homeland (vv. 5-9). The passage ends with the charge: “You shall rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you and the Levite, and the stranger in your midst” (v. 11). There is no triumphalism in this liturgy; no proclamation of Israelite exceptionalism. Rather, bounty leads to shared blessings. Owning this history leads those who were once marginalized and dislocated to broaden their notion of “household” to include the Levites, who were without land, and the non-Israelite residents, who were protected and embraced.

The Bible is by no means unique in its vision of a just society. Other cultures of ancient Western Asia and Egypt shared the sense of responsibility to care for the vulnerable. Rulers were expected to act not on behalf of the rich and powerful, but for those who did not have the wherewithal to survive on their own. Those who were unwilling or unable to execute justice lost their legitimacy and were called upon to abdicate their power. Let those who govern today take heed!

Sincerely,

Choon-Leong Seow

Choon-Leong Seow
Vanderbilt, Buffington, Cupples Chair in Divinity
Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible
Vanderbilt University Divinity School

 

About the author

Choon-Leong Seow, Vanderbilt, Buffington, Cupples Chair in Divinity and Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, is the author of several books, including Job 1-21: Interpretation and Commentary (Eerdmans, 2013). Before joining the faculty at Vanderbilt in 2015, he was the Henry Snyder Gehman Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, where taught for 32 years.