As we watch this utter humanitarian disaster unfold on our southern border - a “man-caused disaster” if there ever was one - it’s natural to ask what insight we might gain from the Bible regarding borders.
What we learn from the Bible is that borders are God’s idea and that such borders are to be respected. They are not to be crossed without permission.
Crossing a border without permission is like breaking in the back door of a house to help yourself to goodies instead of being invited in by the host through the front door. You might get to eat either way, in the same house and from the same cupboard, but in one case you would be doing something that will land you in jail, in the other upholding the rule of law and civility.
The Scriptures make it clear that national sovereignty, including clearly defined borders, is God’s idea. In Acts 17:26, we read, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place...” (Emphasis mine throughout.)
Two things, we are told, are under God’s sovereign control: how long a nation lasts, and where its borders are. The verb translated “having determined” is the Greek verb “horizo,” from which we get the word “horizon.” It means “to mark out, to define.” So God has marked out and defined the borders of each country.
Our southern border is there by God’s design. To disregard it, to treat it as if it were not there, to regard it as something not worth respecting and defending, is an insult to the God who put it there for our benefit.
The bulk of the second half of Joshua is a record of the Promised Land being divided up among the 12 tribes. What is striking is how thorough and detailed the description of each tribal boundary is. In Joshua 15 the word “boundary” is found no less than 15 times in describing the perimeter of Judah.
For instance, here’s the description of the southern boundary: “It goes out southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, passes along to Zin, and goes up south of Kadesh-barnea, along by Hezron, up to Addar, turns about to Karak, passes along to Azmon, goes out by the Brook of Egypt and comes to its end at the sea. This shall be your southern boundary” (Joshua 15:3-4). Such detailed delineations go on for chapter after chapter.
Even regarding private property, curses were pronounced on anyone who moved a boundary marker, a stone which delineated the perimeter of privately owned land. Borders, boundaries and property lines clearly matter to God.
That such national boundaries are to be respected is made plain by no less a personage than Moses himself. In a largely forgotten passage, Numbers 20:14-21, we read that Moses sought permission from the king of Edom to cross his border and pass through his land. When permission was refused, Moses didn’t force his way in; he respected the king’s decision and went around Edom to the east.
Moses couched his original request this way: “Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well...we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”
The king’s response? “You shall not pass through.” Moses tries a second time to secure an entrance visa. “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.”
The king of Edom was utterly impervious to this plea for so much as a tourist visa. “You shall not pass through.” How did Moses react to this denial of permission to immigrate into and through the sovereign territory of another nation? Did he barge ahead anyway? Try to sneak in under cover of darkness? Did he launch a military strike to secure passage? Nope. “Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him.”
The lesson? Each nation’s sovereignty is marked by its border, and each nation has the moral right to decide who will be given permission to enter its sovereign territory. Moses recognized this, and so should we. The only exception is under circumstances of a just war.
Bottom line: borders are biblical, and are there by God’s sovereign design. And they are to be respected by everyone.