So, what is a “ger”? What is Zar? Let’s start off with what ger means. Strong’s translates the Hebrew word ‘ger’ as stranger, sojourner, alien. It is defined as: a) a temporary inhabitant, a newcomer lacking inherited rights b) of foreigners in Israel, through conceded rights. A “ger” is one who dwells among Israel as one who is not against them, but alongside them. The ger has no inheritance rights and therefore has no way to support themselves and their family because they own no land.
The ger is listed as one of the disadvantaged people in the Torah – “the widow, the orphan and the foreigner…” They, therefore, are given special place as servants in the families of Israel.
It’s easy for non-Hebrew speakers and readers to feel a sense of confusion when one non-Hebrew is allowed to do something and another isn’t and then there’s the whole “there shall be one law for the native and the sojourner” verse that just adds to the confusion.
To be a “ger” in Israel and a servant meant you were protected, provided for, you were part of an Israelite household. And there was no shame in this! Ger is contrasted with ezrach which is a “native born” as in “native born Israelite”. Take a look at Exodus 12:19 where both the ger and the ezrach are mentioned in the same passage.
Now, to be clear there are several words that are translated as “foreigner” or “sojourner”. Let’s touch on those really quick.
Toshav is another word that often translates as “sojourner” and it is also a foreigner who has taken up residence in Israel. The key with Toshav and ger is that they sojourn “with you”. Toshav is used in Leviticus 25:45 as “strangers that do sojourn among you”.
By the times of Yeshua’s ministry and the teachings of the Emissaries, the word ger had come to mean proselyte. A proselyte is one who was not born a Jew and yet found the truth of the One True G-d and His ways, and wanted to join Israel, to convert. These people converted from paganism of whatever variety to Judaism, which was the only expression of faith in the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Jacob.
Zar is the word used in Isaiah 61:5 and speaks of an outsider, one who is estranged. Zar is a stranger, a foreigner. Zar is also the word used when speaking of strange fire. A Zar would be one who is different, and is used to describe someone who is not walking with Israel. A Zar could be a born Israelite who is doing the job that he is not supposed to (for example a non-priest doing the work of priest).
Zar is also used to speak of foreign gods, strange fire and strange incense. But the “Zar” isn’t all bad, he’s just separate because he is “strange” (not unique, but estranged). The Zar may be the one who worships the G-d of Israel but in a way that reveals a certain disregard for the Scriptures or those to whom He has entrusted them.
The Zar was not the one who later became the proselyte that was the Ger. The Zar seems to show no interest in becoming a proselyte. To my mind this resembles much of those who say worship the G-d of Israel; they say it in the Churches, but worshiping the same G-d but doing it their own way and with their own customs, traditions and interpretations. Sometimes there is hostility and sometimes there isn’t, but they are distinctly different than Israel.
Neichor (nachri) is another word for foreigner or stranger. The neichor is one who is hostile to Israel and whose allegiance is toward another god. Deuteronomy 23:20 uses the word neichor as the stranger that is treated differently than the Israelites. It is interesting to note that Ruth called herself nochri when speaking humbly with Boaz, her ultimate redeemer.
The issue here is that there are a few words used to speak of non-Jews who have left their native land or native position to join themselves to Israel (ger and Toshav) while there are also a few words used to speak of those who are estranged from Israel and those who are hostile toward her and HaShem (Zar and neichor). Ger and Toshav are often used together with ger being the most common word used, these are like resident aliens who have joined themselves to Israel in one way or another.
In English, they all translate the same: stranger, sojourner, foreigner, alien, etc. It is important to know which type of people a particular verse is referring to and to understand that the Torah’s applications are different for the differing classes of people. It is from these classes of people that we begin to draw our identity.
So, what about the non-Jews with the Messianic Jewish movement? As non-Jews who are grafted-in to the heritage of Abraham by our faith, where do you stand in this list? Or the question might be better phrased – who do you best represent, and who are you supposed to represent?
So how does one change status from a Zar to a ger? It is our thought, that as a pagan hears of the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he will have a natural progression toward the Light of the World. He will see that Israel has a Great G-d and will want to serve Him. As they turn from their pagan ways they will begin to walk more and more according to the Torah. This is the path from nochri to Zar and eventually to Ger.
How have you come to understand the difference between the various types of sojourners, foreigners and strangers in the Bible?
Tags: confusion, exodus, foreigner, foreigners, hebrew speakers, hebrew word, inhabitant, inheritance rights, israelite, nbsp, newcomer, orphan, rsquo, servant, servants, shame, sojourn, sojourner, stranger, Torah
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