“Then you … must go to the king of Egypt and tell him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So please let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord, our God.’ “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go … So I will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians … Then at last he will let you go. And I will cause the Egyptians to look favorably on you. They will give you gifts when you go … [So you will strip] the Egyptians of their wealth.”—Éxodo 3:18-22, NLT
The words of God to Moses might seem scandalous. Apparently, God tells him that he should try to deceive Pharaoh and that God will help him to strip the Egyptians of their wealth. Is it legitimate to lie and steal from those who have mistreated you in the context of leaving your country?
Let’s pay close attention to the details. The Israelites had suffered 400 years of slavery. The Egyptians had committed attrocities against them like the slaughter of their infants, and they were certainly willing to kill the leaders who would attempt to liberate Israel. Survival sometimes justifies the use of deceit to escape from oppressors. In John 7:6-14, Jesus himself attended the Feast of Tabernacles in secret, after saying he would not go. It would appear that deceiving people who are trying to kill you does not constitute a sin!
On the other hand, God made the Egyptians pay a kind of reparation to the Israelites for their 400 years of slavery. There was no act of stealing from the Egyptians, but rather they asked for gifts, and the Egyptians, influenced by God, gave them to the Israelites.
Today’s immigrant should be careful not to assume the status of the Hebrews. The fact that you have suffered oppression in your place of origin does not mean that you have a licence to deceive in the country where you intend to establish yourself as an immigrant. Those who violate the laws run the risk of punishment. Furthermore, your new neighbors do not owe you reparations because of the mistreatment you have suffered at the hands of your former countrymen.
Reading the history of the Israelites in Egypt, does not convert us into heirs of all their promises. We have no guarantee of reparations, nor of success in conquest, nor of inheriting vineyards we have not planted. But one promise does remain in place: The LORD will accompany those who trust in and obey God—and God will give them favor in the eyes of their neighbors.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.