Borders are Biblical


by Wayne Grudem

Is building a wall onour border a morally good action? As a professor who has taught biblical ethicsfor 41 years, I think it is – in fact, the Bible itself repeatedly viewsprotective walls with favor.

Walls gave peace and security. In the world of the Old Testament, peoplebuilt walls around cities to protect themselves from thieves, murderers, andother criminals, and from foreign invaders who would seek to destroy the city.People could still enter the city, but they had to do so by the gate, so thatcity officials would have some control over who was coming in and going out.Today’s debate is about a larger area – a national border, not a city – but theprinciples are the same.

A strong wall gave peace and security to thecity, and one prayer of blessing for a city was, “Peace be within yourwalls and security within your towers!” (Psalm 122:7). Therewas also a spiritual component, for the Lord himself strengthened the gates inthe walls so they would protect the children and the peace and prosperity of acity:

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, OZion! For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He makes peace in yourborders; he fills you with thefinest of the wheat (Psalm 147:12-14).

After King David established his capital inJerusalem, he prayed, “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem” (Psalm 51:18) –  God’sblessing would include strong walls! After David came King Solomon, whofinished and strengthened the wall around Jerusalem (1 Kings 3:1).

But the people of Israel strayed from God, andhe brought judgment in the form of Babylonian invaders who broke down anddestroyed the city wall: “And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire anddestroyed all its precious vessels” (2 Chronicles 36:19; cf. Jeremiah 52:14).God’s judgment removed the walls! As long as the wall around Jerusalem wasbroken down, it was a mark of shame and derision: “The remnant . . . who hadsurvived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and itsgates are destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:3).

The pathetic shame of a city without walls isalso evident in this proverb: “A man without self-control is like a city brokeninto and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). The implication is that such a man and such acity are both headed for destruction.

After 70 years of exile in Babylon, the Jewishpeople were able to return and to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall. Nehemiah asked thePersian king Artaxerxes to give him the timber needed to build the wall and itsgates: “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of myGod was upon me” (Nehemiah 2:8). Inthis case, God’s blessing was evident when the leader of the governmentauthorized the allocation of materials to build the wall.

Then Nehemiah needed laborers for the massivetask of rebuilding the wall. He challenged the people, “Come, let us build the wall ofJerusalem, that we may no longersuffer derision” (Nehemiah 2:17). Fortunately, “the people had a mind to work”(Nehemiah 4:6), and an entire chapter of Nehemiah is devoted to recording thenames of people who rebuilt the wall, specifying the section that each personrepaired (Nehemiah 3). Such a record – having their names forever in the pagesof the Hebrew Bible – was a significant honor for those who repaired the wall.It was a morally commendable act.

There was a great celebration when the wall wascompleted: “And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought theLevites . . . to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings andwas singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres . . . . Then I . . . appointed twogreat choirs that gave thanks” (Nehemiah 12:27, 31).

There is another wall in the Bible – at the veryend of the New Testament. The apostle John has a vision of the New Jerusalem, agreat city that comes down from heaven, and it includes a wall: “It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelveangels” (Revelation 21:12). Whether this is literal or simply part of asymbolic prophetic vision (I don’t know), it is clear that the wall protectsthe peace and security of those who are within.

My conclusion from this overview is that theBible views border walls as a morally good thing, something for which to thankGod. Walls on a border are a major deterrent to evil and they provide clearvisible evidence that a city or nation has control over who enters it, something absolutely essential if a governmentis going to prevent a nation from devolving into more and more anarchy.

Objection: “We should bea nation that welcomes immigrants.” I agree wholeheartedly – if they come legally. But it is nokindness to them if the lack of a wall tempts them to risk death by walkingacross miles of parched desert, at the mercy of violent gangs, and then comeinto the US without legal documentation, only to live here as a permanent legalunderclass, easily exploited, living in constant fear of discovery. In addition,it diminishes respect for the law and destabilizes the nation when millions ofpeople exist in the shadows, living outside the legal recordkeeping functionsof the nation.

And there has to be some limit on the number we admit each year. I wouldlike the number to be higher than it is, but a complete “open borders” policywould overwhelm the country. The US population today is 328 million. Thepopulation of the world is 7.6 billion, or 23 times the US population. If weallowed in everyone who wanted to enter, as many as half the world’s populationmight want to come – giving us over 10 times our current population. Even if only 10% of the world (avery low estimate) came in through open borders, the US would suddenly confrontthe impossible task of trying to assimilate 760 million new immigrants into anation of 328 million. “Open borders” is not a realistic solution or one thatcould ever get enough popular support to pass Congress and become law. Buildinga wall with well-regulated gates declares that while we welcome immigrants, we– not they – are going to decide which ones, and how many.

The US currently admits over 1,000,000 immigrantsper year who come legally and stay permanently – far more than any othernation. If you think that number should be even higher (as I do), then suggesta higher number to your congressman and talk to your fellow citizens. Persuadepeople to agree with you, and work for a change in the law. But don’t oppose aborder wall, for that is just promoting more lawlessness.

Objection: “The Bibletells us to care for the sojourner.” I agree – but we still must have some means of regulating how many“sojourners” we allow into the country and who can qualify to enter – and awall is the most effective way to do this. When the Bible says, “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19),Old Testament professor James Hoffmeier has demonstrated that these“sojourners” (or “resident foreigners” in one translation; the Hebrew termis ger) were people who hadentered another country legally, with the permissionand knowledge of the country that admitted them. (The unmodified term“foreigner” in some translations is not specific enough to translateHebrew ger.) A foreigner who hadentered a country by stealth and did not have recognized standing as a residentalien was not considered a  “sojourner” (Hebrew ger) but simply a “foreigner” (Hebrew nekaror zar).

Objection: “These aregood people who are just seeking a better life.” Yes, many of them are, and we shouldwelcome them – if they come legally. But we can’t ignore the fact that manyothers will not become “good neighbors” – some are drug runners, gang members,and even terrorists. A wall makes it possible to screen out the people who havepreviously been deported for felonies and others who are most likely to commitcrimes or simply become a drain on the economy rather than getting a productivejob.

An effective border wall would also be the bestway to keep children together with their parents. Under the present system,families (1) enter the US illegally and (2) are caught, then (3) they plead forasylum, and (4) they are incarcerated until their asylum petition can beevaluated. But if we had a completed wall, such requests for asylum would bedecided at the border, before they ever entered the US. We would never have todetain either parents or children on US soil in the first place.

Objection: “Walls don’twork.” That objection isnot true. Sections of high, effective walls and fences have already transformedwhole regions of San Diego and El Paso from high-crime zones into peaceful,much safer cities.

A high, double wall with modern electronicequipment to detect tunneling would stop perhaps 90-95 percent or even more ofillegal border crossings. Once such a wall is complete, most Americans wouldfeel that the border is finally under control, and the remaining questionsabout immigration could be resolved in an atmosphere of far less tension andanimosity.

Walls that already work: In fact, we already have a highlyeffective system of “border walls” that nobody argues about – in our airports.Every time I return to the US from a foreign country, I have to go throughcustoms at the airport, and so does everybody else. The room where people waitin line to see a customs officer has walls to make sure that all arriving passengers have to go throughpassport control. I’ve never seen anyone protesting the existence of walls inthe customs area or demanding that a section of the wall be removed so thatpeople who don’t want to go through passport control can simply walk into thecountry whenever they want. That would be an open invitation to terrorists andother criminals, and it would make it impossible for the US to place any limitsat all on the number of people who came into the country and stayed withoutlegal documentation.

Yet demanding “no passport controls at airports”is, it seems to me, exactly parallel to saying that we should not build a wallon our southern border. Why should airports be any different from other borderentry points? Yes, we are a nation of immigrants, and we should eagerly welcomenumerous immigrants into the US every year, but they must come inlegally, through the gates in the wall, not illegally and dangerously across an open desert.