Strangers and Sojourners

Ger v'toshav

Psalm 39:12b (BHS)

For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner,
as were all my fathers. (Psalm 39:12b)

In this verse, David confesses that he, like his forefathers, is ger v'toshav - a stranger and a sojourner in this world.  This is a paradoxical phrase, since a ger is one who is just passing through, like a visitor or tourist, whereas a toshav is one who is a resident, like a settler or citizen.

How can someone be both a visitor and a resident of a place, or a stranger and a citizen at the same time? How can one "pass through" a place he is said to dwell?

Being ger v'toshav means understanding that the changes of life are the medium for that which is eternal and abiding. We neither detach from life nor cling to it, but live in the mediation of time and eternity. Every moment of life is therefore made sacred, since it is the occasion to transform the temporal into the eternal.

Like a stranger, the ger v'toshav holds on to things lightly, yet at the same time is passionately committed to them as a gift from God. He is both infinitely resigned and infinitely engaged in life, since he understands that all of life is ordered to ultimately reveal the glory of God. He dies to this present world and is resurrected in the undying life of God.

If we are given grace to answer the call of Jesus to "take up our cross," we presently become ger v'toshav. As gerim, we confess that we are strangers in this present world, but as toshavim we believe that our labors are not in vain, and that our true citizenship is in heaven.

We must die in order to live.

Transliteration:

Psalm 39:12b Transliteration

ki geir anokhi immakh toshav k'khol-avotai

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