In its general meaning the Hebrew noun ger refers to anyone residing as an alien outside his native land and who is restricted in civil rights. He may or may not have religious connections with the natives of the land in which he resides. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants were referred to as such before they were given legal title to the Promised Land.—Gen. 15:13; 17:8; Deut. 23:7.
When referring to a person of non-Israelite origin in relation to the Israelite commonwealth, in the Bible the designation “alien resident” sometimes applies to one of these who had become a proselyte or a full worshiper of Jehovah. Sometimes it refers to a settler in the land of Palestine who was content to live among the Israelites, obeying the fundamental laws of the land but not fully accepting the worship of Jehovah. The context determines to which class the term applies.
The Septuagint translates ger as proselyte (Gr., pro·seʹly·tos) more than seventy times. Some suggest that often the alien resident attached himself to a Hebrew household for protection, and was somewhat of a dependent but still distinguished from a slave. This is inferred from the expression “your alien resident.” (Deut. 5:14; compare Deuteronomy 1:16; also Leviticus 22:10, where the term toh·shavʹ, “settler,” is used.)
When the Law covenant was transmitted at Mount Sinai, special legislation was embodied governing, in a very loving spirit, the relationship of the alien resident to the natural Israelite. Being at a disadvantage due to his not being a natural-born Israelite, the alien resident was given special consideration and protection under the Law covenant, which had many provisions for the weak and vulnerable. Regularly Jehovah called Israel’s attention to the fact that they themselves knew the afflictions that beset an alien resident in a land not his own and hence should extend to the alien residents among themselves the generous and protective spirit that they had not received. (Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Deut. 10:18) Basically, the alien resident, especially the proselyte, was to be treated as a brother.—Lev. 19:33, 34.
Although the terms of the Law covenant allowed for persons of all national backgrounds to come into membership of the congregation of Israel by accepting the true worship of Jehovah and becoming circumcised, there were exceptions and restrictions. The Egyptians and Edomites could not enter into the congregation until the third generation, that is, the third generation living in the land of Israel. (Deut. 23:7, 8) Illegitimate sons and their descendants were denied entry into the congregation “to the tenth generation.” (Deut. 23:2) Ammonites and Moabites were prohibited “to the tenth generation . . . to time indefinite . . . You must not work for their peace and their prosperity all your days to time indefinite.” (Deut. 23:3-6) These restrictions all applied to males of these nations. Also, no male mutilated in his sexual parts could ever become a member of the congregation.—Deut. 23:1.
The alien resident who had become a circumcised worshiper was bound to one law with the Israelites, that is, to obey all the terms of the Law covenant. (Lev. 24:22) A few examples are: He was required to celebrate the Passover (Num. 9:14; Ex. 12:48, 49) and the Festival of Unfermented Cakes (Ex. 12:19), the Festival of Weeks (Deut. 16:10, 11), the Festival of Booths (Deut 16:13, 14) and the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29, 30), and to keep the sabbath. (Ex. 20:10; 23:12) He could offer sacrifices (Num. 15:14) and had to do so in the same manner as prescribed for the natural Israelite. (Num. 15:15, 16) His offerings were to be unblemished (Lev. 22:18-20) and brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting just as was done by the natural Israelite. (Lev. 17:8, 9) He could not engage in any false worship. (Lev. 20:2; Ezek. 14:7; Lev. 24:16) He was required to drain blood out of game killed in hunting and would be “cut off” if he ate it undrained. (Lev. 17:10-14) He could receive forgiveness along with natural Israel for community responsibility for sins. (Num. 15:26, 29) He had to observe the purification procedures, for example, if unclean by touching a human corpse. (Num. 19:10, 11) The alien resident who could be given the body of an animal that had died of itself was evidently one who had not become a full-fledged worshiper of Jehovah.—Deut. 14:21.
Judicially, the alien resident was guaranteed impartial justice in judgments involving a natural Israelite. (Deut. 1:16, 17) He was not to be defrauded or subjected to perverted judgment or have his garment seized as a pledge. (Deut. 24:14, 17) Curses were laid on those who rendered injustice to alien residents. (Deut. 27:19) The cities of refuge for the unintentional manslayer were available for the alien resident and the settler as well as the natural Israelite.—Num. 35:15; Josh. 20:9.
Alien residents, not having any land inheritance, might be merchants or hired laborers. Some were slaves. (Lev. 25:44-46) There was a possibility of their becoming wealthy. (Lev. 25:47; Deut. 28:43) Generally, however, the Law classified them as among the poor and outlined arrangements for protecting and providing for them. The alien resident could share in the tithes provided every third year. (Deut. 14:28, 29; 26:12) Gleanings of the field and of the vineyard were to be left for him. (Lev. 19:9, 10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19-21) He could receive the benefits of what grew during sabbath years. (Lev. 25:6) He was given equal protection with a native Israelite as a hired laborer. A poor Israelite might sell himself to a wealthy alien resident, in which case the Israelite was to be treated kindly, like a hired laborer, and could be repurchased it any time by himself or by a kinsman, or, at the latest, was released on the seventh year of his service or at the Jubilee.—Lev. 25:39-54; Ex. 21:2; Deut. 15:12.
During the period of the kings the alien residents continued to enjoy favorable relations. At the time of the construction of the temple at Jerusalem they were drawn on as construction workers. (1 Chron. 22:2; 2 Chron. 2:17, 18) When King Asa acted to restore true worship in Judah, alien residents from all over the Promised Land assembled at Jerusalem along with natural Israelites, to enter jointly into a special covenant to search for Jehovah with all their heart and soul. (2 Chron. 15:8-14) After cleansing the temple, King Hezekiah declared a Passover celebration in Jerusalem in the second month, sending the invitation throughout Israel, to which many alien residents responded.—2 Chron. 30:25.
Following the restoration of the remnant of Israelites from the Babylonian exile alien residents are again found with them associated in true worship at the temple, being comprised of such groups as the Nethinim (“given ones”), slaves, professional male and female singers, and the sons of the servants of Solomon. The Nethinim included the Gibeonites who had been assigned by Joshua to permanent temple service. (Ezra 7:7, 24; 8:17-20; Josh. 9:22-27) Down to the last mention of them these alien residents were inseparable adherents to the true worship of Jehovah with the remnant of faithful natural Israelites who had returned from Babylon. (Neh. 11:3, 21) In the postexilic period prophets of Jehovah reiterated the principles of the Law covenant safeguarding the rights of the alien resident.—Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5.
The prophet Ezekiel foretold a time when the alien resident would receive an inheritance in the land like a native among the sons of Israel. (Ezek. 47:21-23) After the coming of Jesus Christ the good news of the Kingdom was preached to Jews and proselytes, and these could equally become members of the Christian congregation. Then, in the time of Cornelius (36 C.E.), an uncircumcised Gentile and his household were accepted by Jehovah, receiving gifts of the spirit. (Acts chap. 10) From that time on, uncircumcised Gentiles, upon accepting Christ, were admitted into the Christian congregation, “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, foreigner, Scythian, slave, freeman, but Christ is all things and in all.” (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28) Revelation 7:2-8 describes spiritual Israel as made up of twelve tribes of 12,000 each, after which verses 9 to 17 tell of a great crowd that no man could number, associates out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues who hail the enthroned King and his Lamb and receive God’s favor and protection.
A settler [Heb., toh·shavʹ, settler, sojourner] was an inhabitant of a land or country not his own. Evidently some of the settlers in Israel became proselytes; others were content to dwell with the Israelites and to obey the fundamental laws of the land, but did not become worshipers of Jehovah as did circumcised proselytes. The settler was distinguished from the “foreigner,” who was generally a transient and was only extended the hospitality that is usually accorded guests in the Orient.
The settler who was an uncircumcised dweller in the land did not eat of the passover or of anything holy. (Ex. 12:45; Lev. 22:10) He received benefits along with the alien residents and the poor during the sabbath year and the Jubilee year by being able to share in what the land produced. (Lev. 25:6, 12) He or his offspring could be purchased as slaves by the Israelites and passed on as a permanent inheritance without the right of repurchase or benefit of Jubilee release. (Lev. 25:45, 46) On the other hand, an Israelite might sell himself as a slave to a settler or to members of the settler’s family, maintaining the right of repurchase at any time, as well as release in his seventh year of servitude or at the Jubilee.—Lev. 25:47-52; Ex. 21:2; Deut. 15:12.
While only the natural Israelites had a hereditary possession in the land, Jehovah was the actual owner and could put them in or out of the land as it suited his purpose. Regarding the sale of land he said: “So the land should not be sold in perpetuity, because the land is mine. For you are alien residents and settlers from my standpoint.”—Lev. 25:23.
The considering of persons as strangers was done in matters pertaining to the Aaronic family and the tribe of Levi, and it affected both the natural Israelite and the alien resident, as well as all other persons. Priestly functions were committed by the Law to the family of Aaron (Ex. 28:1-3), and other temple matters were assigned to the tribe of Levi in general. (Num. 1:49, 50, 53) All other persons, including the natural Israelites of the twelve non-Levitical tribes, were likened to ‘strangers’ with respect to the Levitical tribe in certain affairs. (Ex. 29:33, NW ftn. , “non-Aaronite, that is, a man not of the family of Aaron”; AV margin, “every one not a Levite”; Num. 3:38, NW ftn.  “that is, a non-Levite”; AV, JB, “layman.” See also Leviticus 22:10; Numbers 3:10.) According to the context “stranger,” in most occurrences in the Pentateuch, refers to anyone not of the family of Aaron or not of the tribe of Levi, because priestly or ministerial privileges and duties were not assigned to him.
The stranger (non-Aaronite) could not eat of the installation sacrifice (Ex. 29:33), nor be anointed with holy anointing oil (Ex. 30:33), nor eat anything holy. (Lev. 22:10) A non-Aaronite stranger could not handle any priestly duties. (Num. 3:10; 16:40; 18:7) A non-Levite stranger, that is, even those of any of the other twelve tribes, could not have anything to do with coming near the tabernacle to set it up or for any purpose other than when he came to offer sacrifices or to approach the priests at the gate of the tent of meeting. (Lev. 4:24, 27-29) The daughter of a priest who married a non-Aaronite stranger could not eat of the contribution of the holy things, nor could her “stranger” husband.—Lev. 22:12, 13.
Another sense in which the word stranger was used was in connection with unlawful conduct or hostile attitude, those who turned aside from what was in harmony with the Law. Thus the prostitute is referred to as a “strange woman.” (Prov. 2:16; 5:17; 7:5) Israel was led away into idolatry by following the ways of the “stranger.”—Jer. 2:25; 3:13.
Christian principles regarding strangers
In the Christian Greek Scriptures love toward the stranger is strongly emphasized as a quality the Christian must exercise. The apostle Paul says: “Do not forget hospitality [Gr., phi·lo·xe·niʹas, love of strangers], for through it some, unknown to themselves, entertained angels.” (Heb. 13:2) Jesus showed that those extending hospitality to his brothers, strangers or unacquainted though they may be at the time, he counts as extending it toward him. (Matt 25:34-46) The apostle John wrote commending Gaius for his good works toward Christian men, strangers to Gaius, sent to visit the congregation of which Gaius was a member, and condemns Diotrephes, who showed them no respect.—3 John 5-10; 1 Tim. 5:10.
Christians are termed “aliens” and “temporary residents” in the sense that they are no part of this world. (John 15:19; 1 Pet. 1:1) They are aliens in that they do not conform to the practices of the world hostile to God. (1 Pet. 2:11) Those of the Gentile nations, once “strangers to the covenants of the promise,” without hope and “without God in the world,” are, through Christ, “no longer strangers and alien residents,” but “fellow citizens of the holy ones and are members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:11, 12, 19) The “other sheep” that Jesus said he would gather into the “one flock” likewise take a position separate from the world, with favor of God and hope of life.—John 10:16; Matt. 25:33, 34, 46; compare Revelation 7:9-17.
One who attempts to gather religious followers to himself is termed by Christ as a thief and a stranger, one dangerous to Christ’s “sheep,” and is considered a false shepherd. Jesus’ true “sheep” will give no recognition to a false shepherd’s voice, just as the ancient Israelites kept themselves separate from the foreigner who advocated strange gods.—John 10:5; see FOREIGNER.