The verb gwr or noun ger in Hebrew refers to someone who “sojourns” or “dwells as a stranger.” The word ger refers to a different category of people than the words nekhar and zar, which mean foreigner. When Abraham lived in Hebron, he referred to himself as “an alien and a stranger” (Gen. 23:4), using the words ger (alien) and toshav (resident), which should probably be translated together as “resident alien.” The same combination of words is used when Joseph presented his brothers to his boss for his permission for them to settle in Egypt (Gen. 47:1-2). It means someone who has taken up residence in a foreign land for a protracted period, having abandoned their homeland for another community. The people of Hebron acknowledge Abraham as one who is “among us” (Gen. 23:6), rather than viewing him as a foreigner (nekhar or zar). Jacob says that “I sojourned” (Gen. 32:4) when he lived with Laban for twenty years in Haran (Gen. 31:41). A ger was a protected citizen because he had a host family or sponsoring individual. Joseph, even as a high-ranking court official, had to ask Pharaoh for permission for his family to live in Egypt (Gen. 45:16-18, 47:1-6). Guests who were not sponsored by a citizen received rough treatment (Gen. 19:1-11; Judg. 19:10-23). The words nekhar and zar were used in parallel manner (Exo. 30:33; Isa. 28:21; Lam. 5:2), showing that they had nearly identical meaning. A foreigner could be an invading army (zar, Isa. 1:7; Obad.11) or squatters who moved into Israel when Israelites were removed to Babylon (nekhar and zar, Lam. 5:2). But for the most part in Israel, foreigners were passing through the land with no intention of taking residence, or perhaps they would be temporarily or seasonally employed.
- James K. Hoffman, The Immigration Crisis 48-56 (2009).