Listening to The Plague of the Firstborn in the Bible Project’s The Last Will Be First podcast series, I was struck by the contrast in the responses of two pharaohs to the immigrants in their midst.

In the story of Joseph in Genesis, his family was welcomed warmly by Pharaoh. He looked at this family who seemed blessed wherever they went, and saw them as a benefit to his nation. He greeted them with hospitality and offered them land to start a new home.

Generations later, another Pharaoh looked out at this same family and saw that they had grown. He did not see this as an asset or an opportunity, but instead was gripped by fear. Instead of looking at what was happening, he allowed fear of “the other” to cloud his thinking with what could happen. As Tim Mackie points out in the podcast, “There wasn’t a conflict, but it’s his fear of the conflict that creates the conflict.”

From the Bible Project mobile app

The heart of Pharaoh

This story sounds familiar today. From the U.S. to Belarus, we read headlines about building walls, sending troops, and intercepting boats to stop refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants from crossing borders. Descriptions like “invasion” plant fear into our hearts about who is coming and what they will take from us.

Fear is a natural human response to change and to the unknown. But we know that “God has not given us a spirit of fear,” (2 Timothy 1:7), and “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

When we read a story and find ourselves sounding like Pharaoh, it’s a good time to pause and reflect.

The heart of God

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

Throughout the law and the prophets, God’s concern for the vulnerable is evident. There are certain groups that are mentioned over and over again as recipients of special care: the widows, fatherless children, the poor, and immigrants. God loves (Deut. 10:19), watches over (Psa. 146:9), and makes provision for immigrants (Deut. 24:19), and commands His people repeatedly to do the same. In one of his most well-known parables, Jesus describes those in his kingdom. Along with feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, he identifies those who “welcome the stranger” as the faithful ones. (Matt. 25:31-40)

The Pharaohs of this world see differences as threats and let fear dictate their response. But God’s children are given a better way: love.