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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Is slavery approved by God?

Today, when most people think of slaves, they automatically picture something like the example of innocent people captured from Africa in chains and forced into hard labor under torturous circumstances. Nowhere does the Bible advocate this kind of behavior or treatment to our fellow man.

One thing to consider is how the slave came to be in that situation in the first place, how humanely they are treated, and the conditions of release. For instance, when considering the Israelite society, a person who became poor could sell himself or his children into slavery to care for his indebtedness:

Lev. 25:39 "And in case your brother grows poor alongside you and he has to sell himself to you, you must not use him as a worker in slavish service."

Le 25:47,48 "But in case the hand of the alien resident or the settler with you becomes wealthy, and your brother has become poor alongside him and must sell himself to the alien resident or the settler with you, or to a member of the family of the alien resident, after he has sold himself, the right of repurchase will continue in his case. One of his brothers may buy him back."

Also, the Bible indicates that a Hebrew slave was to be released in the seventh year of his servitude or in the Jubilee year...whichever came first. During the time of his servitude, the Hebrew slave was to be treated as a hired laborer:

Ex 21:2 "In case you should buy a Hebrew slave, he will be a slave six years, but in the seventh he will go out as one set free without charge."

Le 25:10 "And YOU must sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty in the land to all its inhabitants. It will become a Jubilee for YOU, and YOU must return each one to his possession and YOU should return each one to his family."

De 15:12 "In case there should be sold to you your brother, a Hebrew or a Hebrewess, and he has served you six years, then in the seventh year you should send him out from you as one set free."

Another thing that is not commonly associated with slavery today is that a Hebrew who sold himself into slavery to an alien resident, to a member of an alien resident's family, or to a settler could be repurchased at any time, either by himself or by one having the right of repurchase. The redemption price was based on the number of years remaining until the Jubilee year or until the seventh year of servitude. (Lev. 25:47-52) And then, when granting a Hebrew slave his freedom, the master was even to give him a gift to help him in getting a good start! (De 15:13-15)

At times, slaves even held positions of great trust and honor in a household. For instance, Abraham's aged servant managed all of his master's possessions. (Ge 24:2;) And Joseph, when he was a slave in Egypt, came to be in charge of everything belonging to Potiphar, who was a court official of Pharaoh. (Ge 39:1, 5, 6)
Leviticus 25:49 indicates that in Israel, there was even the possibility of a slave's becoming wealthy and redeeming himself:

"Or his uncle or the son of his uncle may buy him back, or any blood relative of his flesh, one of his family, may buy him back.

"'Or if his own hand has become wealthy, he must also buy himself back."

In our present time, in the western world and most other countries, the idea of forcibly capturing and enslaving another person is abhorrent to the average person. And even the less extreme case of someone selling himself or his family to settle a debt or an injustice is distasteful. Our current society have found other ways and means to handle these situations.

Jesus said that you "'must love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets." (Mt. 22:39, 40) Forcibly capturing and enslaving another person certainly would not be demonstrating love to your neighbor! People should be responsible for the intentional debts that they have accrued, but our current society has found ways other than slavery to legally handle these situations. However, if two parties want to work out some kind of deal to settle debts on a private level and understanding, they should also be able to do so as long as the actions from both parties are in line with the commandment of "loving your neighbor as yourself."

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