A World Without Strangers
How is a strangerless world possible in a world of constant change? Why is such a hope not visionary but a coming reality?
THE world we live in is virtually bursting at the seams with people. It may not seem so as you travel mile after mile across the rolling plains or fly over the forests, deserts and jungles of Asia, Africa and the other continents of the world. Nevertheless, it is a fact. Already responsible men are puzzled as to how the present population is going to maintain itself. And this is only the beginning, for men must live together and in peace, if at all.
At present there are 2,900,000,000 people on earth and their number is increasing by 49,000,000 a year. In just about thirty more years, that is, by 1990, United Nations’ experts estimate there will be another 2,700,000,000 people added. By the end of the century, they say, the world’s population may be nearly 7,000,000,000.
Think what this will mean: people working, playing, worshiping, yes, living together, in greater numbers and at closer proximity. Such closeness could very easily result in added strains, revolutions and wars. On the other hand, it could be an opportunity for improved relations through better knowledge of one another, a key to wider co-operation and greater happiness for all. Much, however, will depend on the mental disposition and training of the people.
Basically, men have a common, unifying factor in their being related to one another through the one man, Adam. But this fact in itself is not sufficient to insure peace and security, feed the race and bless men with happiness, because the force stemming from such a common “brother-and-sister” relationship is not powerful enough in itself to eliminate the causes that divide men.
In the first place the majority of mankind are total strangers to one another, despite their common origin. What are “strangers”? Are they not just men and women whom we have not met or people we do not know? How many of the earth’s 2,900,000,000 inhabitants do you know? The truth is we live in a world of strangers. Such strangeness is a dividing force, a power that foments distrust and suspicion. And it will remain until people get to know and to love one another.
But how can there be friendship and love unless there is the meeting of minds? How can there be trust between men without knowledge, and knowledge without a will to learn?
THE ANCIENT STRANGER
In ancient Israel, when laws were established protecting the rights of the stranger, the stranger-native relationship did enjoy a measure of success.
According to the New Schaff-Herzog Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, the word “stranger” comes from the Hebrew word ger in the King James or Authorized Version. It especially applies to “an alien living in a foreign land.” A stranger, in the technical Hebrew sense of the term, may be defined as a person of foreign or non-Israelitish extraction. He was a resident within the limits of the Promised Land. He was distinct from the “foreigner” inasmuch as the latter still belonged to another country and would only visit Palestine as a traveler. Such ones never held any relationship with the people of God. The Jews referred to them as heathens.
In Solomon’s time the Land of Promise was alive with strangers. Their presence among the Israelites is not surprising, because the Bible speaks of “a vast mixed company” coming out of Egypt with the Israelites at the time of the exodus. There were also several other groups of strangers among the Jews: the Canaanitish population that were never driven off the soil, captives taken in war, fugitives, hired servants, merchants, and so forth. The combined number of strangers was great. The census of them in Solomon’s day gave a return of 153,600 men, which might mean that the total number of strangers was equal to about a tenth of the population of Israel.—Ex. 12:38; 2 Chron. 2:17.
Therefore, it was a sensible and merciful thing to draw up laws to regulate and protect the rights of the resident stranger. Such laws were made up in the spirit of great liberality. With the exception of the Moabites and Ammonites, who fought against Israel, all nations were admissible to the rights of citizenship in Israel under certain conditions. The foreigner who was merely passing through or residing temporarily in the land enjoyed no rights except the hospitality usually accorded to strangers. This right was held sacred in the Orient. As a guest the stranger was safe even in the tent of his enemy.
With regard to religion, it was absolutely necessary that the stranger not infringe on any of the fundamental laws of Israel. He was forbidden to blaspheme Jehovah’s name, to work on the sabbath, to eat leavened bread at the time of the Passover, to commit any breach of the marriage laws, to worship false gods, or to eat blood.
An uncircumcised stranger was not regarded as a full citizen. If the stranger was circumcised, then there was no distinction that existed in regard to legal rights between the stranger and the Israelite. “One law” for both classes was a principle affirmed in respect to religious observances and to legal proceedings. The judges were strictly warned against any partiality in their decisions. The Israelite was commanded to treat the stranger as a brother. Such laws were needed in order to counteract the natural tendency to treat persons in the position of strangers with severity.—Num. 15:16.
DURING THE CHRISTIAN ERA
The liberal spirit of the Mosaic law respecting strangers presents a strong contrast to the rigid exclusiveness of the Jews at the beginning of the Christian era. Their firm distance from strangers may have originated partly out of the outrages that the Jews suffered at the hands of foreigners when they returned to Palestine from Babylonish captivity in 537 B.C., and perhaps partly through fear of having their race become mixed through intermarriages with strangers.
Jesus Christ, however, did not go along with such rigid exclusiveness, but condemned it in his illustration of the good Samaritan. There he defines the term “neighbor” in a sense that was completely new to his hearers.—Luke 10:36.
The proselytes, mentioned at Acts 2:10, are spoken of as the true representative of the stranger of the Hebrew Scriptures. Toward these as toward others the early Christians manifested a cordial feeling. In fact, the apostle Paul counsels that everyone who would be an overseer in the Christian congregation must be “a lover of strangers.” Of course, these strangers were newcomers to the Christian congregation. Such ones were to be treated with all tenderheartedness. Through Bible study and by their regular association with the Christian congregation, they would no longer be considered “strangers,” but regular friends of the congregation. Nevertheless, they would still continue to receive the hospitality accorded to strangers.—1 Tim. 3:2.
THE STRANGER OF TODAY
Of course, the word “stranger” today has taken on an entirely different meaning from what it had in the days of ancient Israel. Now the word commonly applies to one unknown, without acquaintance in a given place. A foreigner, on the other hand, is one who belongs to another nation. The word “alien” often denotes a foreign-born resident who is not a citizen.
It is primarily this modern meaning of “stranger” that is due to pass from the earth; because the ones pictured by the God-fearing “strangers” of Bible prophecy are destined to inhabit the earth for all time. They prefigured a class of people today who have hope of living on earth forever. These ones, like the strangers or foreigners who were drawn to ancient Israel because of Israel’s worship of the true God and because of his favor upon Israel, join themselves with the remnant of spiritual Israel today. This they have done primarily since 1931. Since they are not spiritual Israelites, but are their companions, they are, therefore, prophetically referred to as “strangers” (zarím).—Isa. 61:5.
In unity the spiritual remnant and the stranger class have been drawn together, like a flock in a pen. A good example of their unity and peace was seen during the 1958 Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses. From 123 lands came worshipers of Jehovah to New York city for an eight-day assembly. There were close to 5,000 delegates from Europe, 106 from Asia, 263 from Africa, 898 from Central and South America, 1,341 from the islands of the sea, besides scores of thousands from the United States and Canada, all together forming a peak attendance of 253,922.
Here, in the heart of a divided world, the spiritual Israelites and the antitypical strangers were congregated together as never before in history. But with plenty of tact, love and self-abnegation they were able to work and live together in close association for more than a week, without discord, violence or bloodshed. All of this demonstrates that a peaceful, harmonious world under the true God Jehovah is possible. This he has promised.
A STRANGERLESS WORLD
Through his prophet Daniel, Jehovah foretells the setting up of “a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself,” he says, “will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (Dan. 2:44) The setting up of that kingdom in the heavens A.D. 1914 marked the beginning of the end for this divided world. It is now time for people to ready themselves for the incoming new world of righteousness. The ingathering of the “stranger” class is positive evidence that we are living in the transition period.
How will the Kingdom government accomplish what nations of earth have failed to do? First of all, the Kingdom will govern all the earth. Opposing nations will perish. Secondly, it will tolerate only one religion—the worship of the true God Jehovah. Therefore, all nationalistic and religious barriers will fall. “All your sons will be persons taught by Jehovah, and the peace of your sons will be abundant.” “The earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea,” prophesied Isaiah.—Isa. 54:13; 11:9.
Knowledge of Jehovah will make the difference. It will draw all men together into a oneness never before experienced. It has already united the antitypical “stranger” with the remnant of spiritual Israel in bonds of love and affection. It has moved them “to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears.” As a people they have vowed not to lift up sword, nation against nation, neither to “learn war any more.” Therefore, their peace is abundant.—Isa. 2:3, 4.
Another factor that will contribute toward eliminating the modern meaning of stranger is the fact that “death will be no more.” (Rev. 21:4) With death out of the way, there will be ample time for people to get acquainted with one another. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16; 10:28.
But if no one dies, will not the earth become overpopulated in a short time? No. God’s war of Armageddon, which will put an end to this wicked world, will depopulate the earth considerably. The Bible says that “very few mortal men” will survive that battle. (Isa. 24:6; Rev. 16:14, 16) The few survivors, however, will marry and bring forth children. There will also be a resurrection of “both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) When the earth will have been suitably populated, most likely then childbearing will cease. The earth’s inhabitants will busy themselves with the peaceful pursuits of making this earth a paradise for all eternity.
In the new earth that the prophets and the apostles foretold, mankind will be brought to perfection of mind and body. With perfect minds the human family will be able to retain in memory the names of all their brothers and sisters whom they will meet. Each will be interested in the other and will seek the welfare of the other. In time the one who lives the farthest away will become known. He will no longer be a stranger. The human family under the direction of their “Father for eternity” will prosper in peace and happiness, for such is God’s unalterable purpose toward this earth.—Isa. 9:6; Ps. 72:1-8.
The earth, therefore, is due for a change. There is no doubt whatsoever that the change will come. Its coming is not dependent on the vision and unselfishness of men, but on the wisdom and power of God. As persons abound in the new earth of his making, it will become clear that God and not man is the Guardian of the human race. “Look! the tent of God is with humankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them,” is the inspired promise. The only question remaining is, Will we be there to enjoy it? Whether we will or not depends upon our relationship with the God who has vowed to make “all things new.”—Rev. 21:3-5.