When I first arrived in Toronto in the 60s I discovered that the church I attended was right in the middle of an Italian neighbourhood. As the years passed the Italian immigrants who had first settled in the area became more prosperous. They began to move north—as a community. Then the neighbourhood became West Indian. All through the city communities within a community were the norm.
Not surprising! When my grandparents and great-grands immigrated to Canada they all settled in the Ottawa Valley around Pembroke, principally in a community then known as Germanicus (they, and all their neighbours, were from Germany). “Next door,” in another enclave, lived the Irish. And never the twain were to meet!
Immigrants tend to huddle together. They usually share a common language and common cultural norms. They often share common religious beliefs.
After a few generations, “melting” actually happens. But every new crop of immigrants begins the “un-melt” all over again!
As I read Genesis 46 this morning I met a group of immigrants. Jacob and his family, at the invitation of the Pharaoh and Jacob’s son, Joseph, arrived in Egypt to settle. There were seventy of them (46:27).
Joseph encouraged his father to introduce himself and his family to Pharaoh as shepherds, herders of livestock (46:31-34). He knew that as much as Pharaoh had encouraged this immigration of Joseph’s family, he would not want anything much to do with them—“…you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (vs. 34).
One would think that it would have been much more “politically correct” to find ways to assimilate, to ingratiate themselves with their hosts—to become as much like Egyptians as they could so that there would be no racial tensions. It would naturally be better to “melt.”
But Joseph makes sure that his family “un-melts.” Four hundred years later when Moses arrives on the scene, Jacob’s family—now much bigger—still lives in Goshen.
The scene is odd. Joseph had melted somewhat into Egyptian society—after all, he was the Pharaoh’s right-hand-man. But he makes sure that his family does not do as he, albeit forced by circumstances, did.
The family was to be separate from their hosts.
In our society today we look with suspicion on those immigrants who do not assimilate. We want them to look like us, act like us, talk like us, think like us, and believe like us, (hard to do considering how different “we” are from all the others of “us” who have long since forgotten that we are the products of immigrants ourselves.)
There was a good reason for Joseph’s request, though we are not told why he made the request and whether or not God had communicated that instruction to him. But perhaps he remembered the covenant that God had made with his ancestor, Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). God had promised to make of Joseph’s family a great nation. That nation was to inherit the land of Canaan. They were to be God’s faithful people, revealing the true God to the pagan nations around them.
Joseph had every reason to fear that assimilating his family into Egyptian society would destroy their resolve to live as God’s people and eventually follow Him back to the land and the destiny He had promised them. In this case, “melting” wasn’t good. So Joseph planned to keep his family as far away from Egyptians and Egyptian society as he could.
This is Paul’s warning to believers to “un-melt” and to not become like the society around them.
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
We are to "un-melt," to not follow the evils of the society around us. We are to be different, to be like Christ, whose name we bear. Will people look at us with suspicion and perhaps, like the Egyptians, detest us? Maybe. But that’s a good thing according to Paul, who wanted above all else, “…to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…” (Philippians 3:10) and who considered anything other than following Christ faithfully, no matter what, to be “rubbish” (vs. 8).