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A Christian View of Emigration and Immigration – Part I

South Africa’s history makes it a strange combination of emigration and immigration. People from other countries have come to South Africa for a better life, and people have fled South Africa, seeking a better life.

The Bible does not forbid or prescribe movement between nations, though it does touch on the motives for leaving a nation, and how to treat the foreigner within your nation.

Unbiblical Reasons For Leaving a Nation

1. Fleeing Moral Or Lawful Obligations

1.1 Leaving a country to escape financial support of one’s family (wife & children, elderly parents) is wrong (1 Tim 5:4, 8).

1.2 Similarly, fleeing lawful financial obligations (personally accrued debt, bank loans, legitimate taxation) is a wrong reason to flee (Rom 13:7-8).

1.3 Fleeing the justice of a land, insofar as the laws do not compel evil or forbid obedience to God, is wrong.

2. Fleeing Out of Unbelieving Fear. The fear of man brings a snare (Prov 29:25). We are prone to fall into difficulties of our own making when fear controls us. A healthy sense of self-protection, of looking after life and limb is normal and good. However, irrational and consuming fretting over the future and over hypothetical situations will not lead to prudent judgement. Jeremiah 42-43 illustrate what happens when fear is controlling thought. The ten spies who brought an evil report likewise demonstrate this.

3. Greed. Wealth is good, but dangerous. Wanting to improve your material state is not forbidden. Being able to provide, meet your needs, and avoid utter poverty is why many people have left one nation for another. However, the pursuit of wealth for its own sake is forbidden (Prov 23:4-5, 1 Tim 6:9-10). Leaving a country only for a more luxurious lifestyle may be a pursuit of greed, which the Bible promises will pierce one through with sorrows.


Biblical Reasons For Leaving a Nation

1. Fleeing An Oppressive Government (Acts 8:1). Here you have persecution breaking out, and believers fleeing for their lives. Their action is not condemned, it is simply recorded. And, as we find out, the scattering of the believers led to the Gospel being preached wherever they went. Church history supplies us with many examples of believers who fled persecution. The followers of John Hus fled persecution and ended up on Nicolaus von Zinzendorf’s land, because they were fleeing, and launched the Moravian missionary movement. The Inquisition caused whole populations to migrate and flee Spain, and Portugal, leaving the Protestant movement almost non-existent in those countries. You might remember from school history that the French Huguenots fled France and settled in South Africa, America and Holland. Believers of the ages have known that unless God directs them otherwise in conscience, there is a time to flee persecution, to save their own lives, and to preserve a Gospel witness to others. So, I will say something which I will say often in this message and [Type text] come back in order to explain – fleeing a country due to persecution is a matter of conscience, and can be God’s will for you. This oppression can take the form of compelling a Christian to do evil or forbidding a Christian from doing right.

2. Fleeing Economic Hardship Or Disaster. As early as the book of Genesis, we have examples of believers leaving Canaan due to a severe famine and going to a land where there was plenty. While there were times they were instructed to stay in the land, there were other times, such as when Jacob was told to go down and settle in Goshen, that God permits believers to flee because of economic disaster. Later, a famine in Israel caused Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, to go into the land of Moab. In times of famine in Israel, some believers stayed, some fled. When the believers in Jerusalem were going through poverty, some probably left, but some clearly stayed This means the opportunity to find work, to provide faithfully, to give food, shelter and reasonable comfort to your family is hindered. What about fleeing before disaster? (Prov 22:3) Economic collapses are like predicting the weather. It is extremely difficult to know exactly which way an economy is going to go. 

3. Fleeing Political Revolution (Matthew 24:2, 14-16). It is a fact of history recorded by Eusebius that the Christian Jews fled Jerusalem four years before the final disaster in 70 A.D. The reason for this is that Christ had warned them of the coming disaster and had told them to flee. On the other hand, believers have remained in countries when the Nazis took over, when the Communists took over, when military coups in Africa and South America took over. Revolution is always frowned upon in Scripture and getting out of harm’s way before the bloodshed is not condemned.


  – David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa

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