The history of Europe has been always been shaped by vast peoples marching from east to west.
A cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire was the pressure of peoples migrating west from the steppes of Asia. Some came on horseback, but many walked. When these people arrived on the edge of the empire, the were initially held out by the border garrisons, but eventually the pressure became to great, and they invaded the Empire. Over a couple of centuries, the Tervingi, Grethuni, Vandals, Alans, Suevi, Goths, Burgundians, Visigoths and Ostrogoths arrived in Western Europe. Some travelled as far as France and Spain. The Vandals crossed into North Africa and conquered Carthage.
When they first arrived, these peoples were vicious warriors, but over time they settled down in their new land and gradually merged with the rest of the population. Most gradually converted to Christianity.
The same pattern of populations arriving from the east was held in check for several generations by artificial borders created by the emergence of the national state, but now it is stirring again. It started with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when people from Eastern Europe began migrating to Western Europe. Polish painters and plumbers arrived into the United Kingdom looking for work.
A new phase of migration from the east has now arrived. We can see it daily on our television screen, with thousands of refugees walking, packing trains, rushing borders in heroic efforts to reach German, Denmark and Sweden. Many are Syrians, but other have come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the Middle East.
In an article called "Some Tips for the Long-Distance Traveller" in the London Review of Books, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad describes how this migration has been unleashed by the information revolution. In the past, information about how to get from one country to another was held by the people smugglers. They kept this information to themselves, so that could charge exorbitant prices to those seeking help. Many of them were cheats, taking money from helpless people and giving them nothing return.
For decades, the paths that led out of war, destruction and poverty into the safety of life in Europe was a closely guarded secret, the property of smugglers and mafias who controlled the routes and had a monopoly on the necessary knowledge. They conducted their illicit trade out of dingy cafes in the back streets of Aksaray in Istanbul and - for the lucky few who reached Greece - the district of Omonia in Athens, where those who had got that far were handed on from one network to another, to be lied to and manipulated again. After all, they had no choice but to hand over their cash in exchange for a promise and a hope.
Very people had sufficient money to pay the price demanded by the smugglers. Those who trusted them were usually disappointed.
This situation has now changed. The information about how to migrate from the Middle East to Western Europe is now available to anyone with access to social media.
A Kurdish friend of mine in Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq recently posted an image of a hand-drawn diagram on his Facebook page. With little arrows and stick figures and pictures of a train and boat or two, the diagram shows how to get from Turkey to the German border in twenty easy steps. After you've made the thousand-mile trip to western Turkey, the journey proper begins with a taxi to Izmir on the coast. An arrow points to the next stage: a boat across the Aegean to a 'Greek island', costing between $950 and $1200. Another boat takes you to Athens. A train leads to Thessaloniki. Walking, buses and two more worm-like trains take you across Macedonia to Skopje, and then through Serbia to Belgrade. A stick figure walks across the border into Hungary near the city of Szeged. Then it's on to Budapest by taxi, and another taxi across the whole of Austria. At the bottom of the page a little blue stick figure is jumping in the air waving a flag. He has arrived in Germany, saying hello to Munich, after a journey of some three thousand miles, taking perhaps three weeks, at a total cost of $2400.
Migration is the topic of almost every conversation in the cafes of Baghdad and Damascus - in towns large and small across Syria and Iraq and beyond - along with the pros and cons of social aid given to migrants in different countries. The best routes are common knowledge, and information on new developments and up-to-date advice spreads quickly on social media, via Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook. These days all you need to reach Europe are a couple of thousand dollars and a smartphone.
Anyone with a few thousand dollars can make the journey to Eastern Europe.
The mobilisation techniques used in the Arab Spring, which brought thousands of demonstrators to a given place, were now being used to organise the new waves of migration. This was no longer an exodus of the wretched and downtrodden - though many still were - but a pilgrimage, predominantly, of the young, educated and middle class. The breaking down of Europe's borders left two groups of people angry and struggling to find a way to restore the old order: the smugglers, and EU officials.
This explains why the refugees we see on television speak good English and carry smart phones. They come from the middle class with sufficient wealth to invest a few thousand dollars in getting their sons and daughters to Europe.
Migration from the East to the West has been going on for a long time. The information revolution makes it easier. I doubt that the national governments of Europe will be able to stop it, even if they wanted to.
Migration and the Promised Land
When God led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, he intended to drive the Canaanites out before them.
He brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today (Deut 4:38).
The Israelites disobeyed and allowed them to stay, but God wanted them out to clear the land of evil spirits that they carried.
However, once the Israelites were in the land, and it was clear of evil, God was quite happy for aliens to return. The only condition was that they agreed to serve the Lord and live by his laws.
But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things (Lev 18:26).
Foreigners were welcome in the land, but they must not do anything that would compromise the spiritual protection of the people. Detestable activities that would open away for evil spirits were prohibited.
Once they had returned to the Land, these foreigners were entitled to equal treatment under the law.
The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you (Ex 12:49).
You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God (Lev 24:22).
The laws must be the same for foreigners and native-born people. Foreigners must not be treated badly.
Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt (Ex 22:21).
Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice (Deut 24:17).
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Lev 19:33-34).
The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you (Num 15:15-16).
Foreigners should not be seen as an inconvenience. God loves them as much as native-born people.
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt (Deut 10:18-19).
God has not given nations authority to shut other people out of the land where they live. God owns the land, and in his eyes we are all aliens.
The land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and tenants (Lev 25:23).
Since we are all foreigners and tenants from God's perspective, human governments do not have authority to label other people as foreigners. Humans are all God's tenants, so we cannot decide who will live in a particular part of the world. Governments that try to decide who can live in a region are taking authority that belongs to God.
God decides where the people of the nations will live.
He has made from one blood every race (ethnos) of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord (Acts 17:26).
The places where different races reside are determined by God. We do not know where he might be leading people in order that they would find Jesus, so we should be careful about interfering with what he is doing.
Jesus challenged his followers to welcome refugees and foreigners.
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you a foreigner (xenos) and invite you in?' The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Matt 23:38,40).
Foreigners and refugees are Jesus' brothers. Those who follow Jesus must welcome them in the same as he would.
Support for Refugees
Modern states make the mistake of trying to control who has access to their land, while offering full social welfare payments to those they accept as refugees.
The biblical model is the opposite way round. People are given freedom to travel and live where they choose, but there is no state-funded social support.
Naomi's husband was free to move to Moab when a drought caused famine in Judah (Ruth 1:1). This has been a normal way of dealing with crisis and disaster throughout human history. When war breaks out, people flee to a safer place. When famine strikes, people move to where food is still available.
The law allowed foreigners to migrate to Israel, provided they honoured God and accepted his law. However, the foreigner would not have any land in Israel, unless they could afford to buy some. They would not get any state-funded social support. They would have to work to live. They might get also get some support through gleaning, but they had to work to get it.
When Ruth and Naomi moved to Israel, Ruth was a foreigner. She was free to move into the land, but she had to find her own financial support. She went out gleaning, so that she could gather enough grain to feed herself and Naomi until she got paid employment, probably as a servant.
The biblical model is freedom of migration, but family responsibility for earning income and producing food.
Fear of Islamic Refugees
Many Christians are afraid of refugees from Islamic nations and want to exclude them to keep their nation Christian. This is an Old Testament attitude.
In the Old Testament, the people had to separate themselves from evil influences, because they had no spiritual protection. That is why they had to expel the Canaanites from the Promised Land. God did not want his people to pick up the evil spirits that they carried. That changed with the cross, because the cross and resurrection of Jesus destroyed the powers of evil. This spiritual protection means that evil cannot touch this.
This change is reflected in the attitude to lepers. In the Old Testament, people kept separate from lepers because if they touched them, the evil spirits which had harmed them might hurt them too. Jesus took the opposite approach, he touched the lepers and healed them. He knew that any evil spirits attacking the leper, could not touch him. He knew the power of the Holy Spirit that was upon him could restore the leper.
The same applies to the nations of the world. In the Old Testament age, God's people had to keep separate from the nations, because they might corrupt them by opening them to evil spirits. Following the cross, Christians are to go into the world and make disciples of the nations. The spiritual protection provided by the cross keeps them safe from evil spirits. The power of the Holy Spirit upon them means that they will transform the nations, rather than being transformed by the nations.
The same applies to Islamic refugees moving into so-called Christian nations. Prior to the cross, we would have had to kept separate. In the New Testament age, we have spiritual protection from any evil spirits they are carrying. More important, the power of the Spirit that is available to the church is so strong, that the refugees should be overwhelmed by his influence.
If the power of the Spirit on the churches in Europe is so weak that it cannot draw a few refugees into the gospel, then it is already dead. The refugees are just exposing its real state.
The Bible teaches God's people to welcome stranger and sojourners in their land and bless them (Deut 10:17-19). The decisions were made locally within strong communities.
What is happening in the modern world is a bit different. The politicians decide that various communities should host refugees from overseas. The politicians do not receive them into their communities. They have very little to do with the refugees, unless they employ them as cheap gardeners and house cleaners.
The people that live in the communities that the refugees are sent to have very little say in what happens. Enforced hospitality to strangers is not what the scriptures have in mind.