Sojourner/Resident Alien—Malachi 3:5

The Hebrew word gēr and its Greek equivalent paroikos means “stranger,” “foreigner,” “sojourner,” “alien,” or “resident alien.” It referred to any foreigner traveling or residing in the land of Israel. The sojourner could have come through a marriage alliance, captivity, slavery, or immigration. Kings recruited some foreigners to work for them, and in most cases, had the males castrated so that they would not have children of their own. Usually, such court staff had high ranking responsibilities as in the case of Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian (Jer. 38), and Daniel and his friends (Dan. 1:19). Abram (Gen. 12) was the prototypical foreigner who came to live in Canaan. He also briefly sojourned in Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20). His progeny later lived in Egypt as foreigners for four centuries (Exod. 12:40: Acts 7:6). Jesus also had a brief sojourn in Egypt (Matt. 2:14, 15). In fact, the Israelites were even “strangers and sojourners” in the land of promise because it, in reality, belonged to God (Lev. 25:23; cf. Heb. 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11).

Several ancient nonbiblical inscriptions portray the concept of foreigners. In line 16 of the Mesha Inscription, the King of Moab mentions the killing of 7,000 native men along with foreign men and foreign women when he attacked Israel. A Phoenician inscription presents a list of different people, including builders, stonemasons, servants, and foreigners who were paid for the work they did at the temple at Kition in Cyprus. The phenomenon of foreigners was widespread in the ancient Near East. In fact, the root gwr for gēr “foreigner” appears in several Semitic languages and dialects with similar meaning.

Since Israel lived as foreigners, they were to treat other foreigners well, protect and provide for them just as they would do with their own widows, orphans, and the poor (Exod. 22:21-24; Lev. 19:34; Deut. 24:17-20; Mal. 3:5). Also, the foreigners had the privilege to be free on the Sabbath (Exod. 20:8-11) and to worship the God of Israel (Isa. 56:3-8). The necessity of separation from foreigners indicated in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah was the result of Israel’s failure to maintain their covenant with God (Ezra 10:11; Neh. 13:1-3). In a similar vein, the New Testament urges Christians not to marry unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14, 15).

Through Jesus, the barrier between Jews and Gentiles within the Christian church has been broken down (Eph. 2:11-19). As the apostle Paul declares, anyone who believes in Christ becomes Abraham’s child by faith (Gal. 3:7, 27-29).

The New Testament declares that all who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are children of God (John 1:12). If all are children of one God, then they are no longer aliens to each other. The great multitude of Revelation 7:9 from all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues are foreigners to each other anymore.


Rowell, “Sojourner,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 1235-1236.

Spencer, “Sojourner,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 103-104.