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Natives, Strangers, Immigrants and Foreigners
By Jeff A. Benner

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In another article I discussed the different people groups of the New Testament, the Jews, Greeks, Nations and Proselytes. In the Old Testament we have four different people groups; the natives, strangers, immigrants and foreigners.

Attempting to differentiate between these different people groups can be very difficult if you are using a translation as it is not uncommon for a translation to use the same English word for different groups. For instance, the King James Version uses the word “stranger” for זור (Z.W.R, a stranger, see Leviticus 2:10), גר (ger, an immigrant, see Exodus 2:22) and נכרי (nakhriy, a foreigner, see Deuteronomy 17:15). This is why it is imperative that one use a Hebrew dictionary, such as Strong’s, when doing a study of Biblical words.

Native

The natives (sometimes translated as “home-born”) are those who are born to one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Hebrew word for a native is אזרח (ezrahh, Strong's #249). This word comes from the verbal root זרח (Z.R.Hh, Strong's #2224), which means to “come up” or “come out of.” So an ezrahh is one has “come out of” Israel.

All that are home-born shall do these things after this manner, in offering an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah. (Numbers 15:13, ASV)

Stranger

The Hebrew verb זור (Z.W.R, Strong’s #2114) means “to be separated out.” The participle form of this verb means a “stranger,” one who is separated out. This word is frequently used in the Torah for someone who is not from one’s own tribe.

to be a memorial unto the children of Israel, to the end that no stranger, that is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to burn incense before Jehovah; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as Jehovah spake unto him by Moses. (Numbers 16:40, ASV)

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. (Deuteronomy 25:5, RSV)

Immigrant

The Hebrew word for an immigrant (often translated as “stranger” or “sojourner”) is גר (ger, Strong's #1616) and is derived from the verb גור (G.W.R, Strong's #1481), which means to “dwell with” or “dwell among.” So an immigrant is one who is not a native born Israeli, but lives with the natives. According to the Torah, the immigrants are to live according to the same customs and laws as the natives.

One law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger (גר) that sojourneth (גור) among you. (Exodus 12:49, ASV)

And they are to be treated the same way as a native because the Israelites were once immigrants.

And a sojourner shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him: for ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21, ASV)

However, there are still some differences between a native and an immigrant, as is apparent in the following verse.

Ye shall not eat of anything that dieth of itself: thou mayest give it unto the sojourner that is within thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto a foreigner… (Deuteronomy 14:21, ASV)

Foreigner

A foreigner is one who was born in a foreign land, but unlike an immigrant, is not bound to the customs and laws of the native or immigrant.

Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon interest; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon interest. (Deuteronomy 14:21, ASV)

There are two Hebrew words for a foreigner; נכרי (nakhriy, Strong’s #5237) and נכר (nekhar, Strong’s #5236). Both of these words are derived from the root נכר (N.K.R, Strong’s #5234) meaning “to be recognizable,” probably because a foreigner is easily recognizable due to their very different culture and lifestyle.


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