Blaming Foreigners is not New. Or True.

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It was the foreigners, they said. They’re to blame.

At the time of Jesus the Jews had been blaming foreigners for their own idolatry, and they had been doing it for over four hundred years.

So long that it was just accepted wisdom.

It’s a familiar narrative, derived for the most part from the Chronicler’s account of Israelite history, supported by the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Solomon’s Wives

This narrative said that Solomon was a great king, a wise man who enlarged the territory of Israel to its greatest ever and brought tremendous wealth to the nation.

But he had a fatal flaw: in making deals with foreign kings he accepted their daughters as his wives, and these foreign women brought their foreign idols.

Which Solomon then allowed into the grand Temple he built for Israel’s God.

Solomon was thus responsible for unleashing a wave of Israelite idolatry that washed over the entire land.

Soon the northern tribes broke away from Jerusalem. They anointed Jeroboam as king, and his first act was to establish worship sites at Dan and Bethel as alternatives to the Jerusalem temple.

He made statues of bulls at each and declared, “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (1 Kings 12:28)

Scandal! Soon there were high places all over Israel where people could bring sacrifices, and these became breeding grounds for more idolatry. In spite of the efforts of a few Israelite kings—namely Hezekiah and his grandson Josiah—to rid the nation of idolatry by tearing down these high places, they flourished.

So God punished them by having the Assyrians destroy the northern tribes.

Judah fared little better. It lasted less than 140 years more until its idolatry caused God to bring the Babylonians upon them, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and then the Exile.

All because of Solomon’s foreign wives.

Foreigners Lead to Idolatry

When the Israelite exiles were allowed to return and rebuild, Ezra demanded that they rid themselves of anything foreign because it was unclean and would lead to idolatry.

That included foreigners, especially any foreign wives and the children born with them. (See Ezra 10)

They were unclean. Foreigners tempt us and lead us into idolatry. Get rid of the foreigners and we won’t be tempted to idolatry anymore.

That was the narrative that prevailed in Jesus’ day.

But it wasn’t true.

A Golden Mistake

The worst episode of idolatry in Israel’s history had occurred long before Solomon. It occurred after God had delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage with a strong hand, with plagues and Passover, Red Sea parting and pillars of smoke and fire.

While Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law, the Israelites were forging a Golden Calf down below. “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Aaron declared. (Exodus 32: 4, 8)

Where did this occur?

In the wilderness.

Where it was just them.

No Egyptians.

No Philistines.

No Canaanites or Moabites.

No worshipers of Baal or Asherah to tempt them and lead them astray into the worship of false gods.

Turns out the Israelites were fully capable of idolatry all on their own.

They couldn’t blame the foreigners for it. They did, but that was just deflection.

It’d be a mistake, however, to think that this was merely an Israelite thing, or an ancient thing.

It’s not.

We Still Blame the Foreigner

There always seems to be an impulse to blame the foreigner.

The Nazi’s blamed the Jews specifically and non-Aryans in general for their problems.

Today immigrants are being blamed in modern Germany, and in Great Britain and other European nations.

Right now there is an effort in our country to blame foreigners from Central America for drugs and violent crimes and even terrorism.

Even if it was true, does anyone believe that if all immigration was stopped, Americans left inside the wall wouldn’t find a way to smuggle drugs, commit violent crimes up to and including acts of terrorism?

I’m pretty sure we’re capable of all this all on our own.

Photo by Namroud Gorguis on Unsplash

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