Summary: Part 2 of this series focuses on slavery in the Old Testament.
A Slave For Christ Part 2
(Inspired by the book: “A Better Freedom” by Michael Card)
Scripture: Mal. 1:6; Exo. 20:2; 21:2-6; Lev. 25:39-42; Matt. 6:24
In my message last week I introduced you to a slave named Paul in an attempt to get us to think about what our lives would be like if we were slaves back during America’s history. During those times the choice to become a slave was not a choice at all. You were stolen from your home land and put into bondage. If you were a freedman and did not have your proof on you at all times, you were subjected to being captured and placed into slavery. As I shared with you on last Sunday, the whole idea of slavery leaves a very bad taste in our mouth. This morning we are going to examine slavery from another perspective, that of the Old Testament. Next week we will continue with slavery in the New Testament and begin our examination of some of the Scriptures and individual references to slaves in that time period.
I. Slavery In The Old Testament
In the Israelite law, whether the bondage was for a specified period of time or in perpetuity depended upon nationality, the form of servitude and the gender of the individual. A person could lose their freedom in society in a number of different ways. When household slaves gave birth, their children began life with the status of slave which was the same as slavery in America (Gen. 17:23). During this time slaves could also be purchased in the open slave market or individuals could sell themselves into slavery (I will talk more about this later.) Another way a person could enter into slavery was if they failed to repay a debt (Exodus 21:7; Deut. 15:12). The man or his family could be held by the creditor until the debt was paid. Exodus 22:3 speaks of a person entering into enslavement for breaking into someone’s home. Another point about slavery in the Old Testament was that kidnapping someone for the purposes of enslaving them was worthy of a death sentence because it threatened the very integrity of the community. The exception to this was prisoners of war who were used as slaves for the state and religious temples throughout the ancient Near East (1 Samuel 17:9). (Mesha king of Moab bragged that he carried out his building projects with the aid of Israelite captives. The enslavement of war captives also took place between Israel and Judah (2 Chronicles 28). So as you can see, someone entering into slavery did not happen just because someone was captured or decided to sell themselves into slavery, there were several ways it could happen.
Slaves in Israel had a legal status of property, meaning that they had a market value; could be bought and sold; and were considered the master’s “money”. Because they were deemed as property, as in America, they could be passed on as an inheritance (Lev. 25:46). They could also be physically beaten short of death and in Exodus chapter twenty-one there was a difference between the penalty assessed for an ox-goring death of a free citizen versus that of a slave. There were also other laws that were applied differently based on whether the person was a slave or a free citizen. Slaves were, however, afforded some legal protection in Israel. The Covenant Code stipulated three basic measures: beating a slave to death would necessitate an unspecified punishment (Exo. 21:20); if a master permanently injured a slave, freeing the slave was required (Exo. 21:26); and the third was the master was required to provide the Sabbath as a day of rest for his slaves (Exo. 23:12) I will discuss more about this shortly. Besides these general regulations, the law afforded Hebrew slaves further protection such as they could only be held for six years (Exo. 21:2); when they were freed the master would have to provide them with animals, grain and wine upon their departure (Deut 15:13). If they succeeded in running away, they could not be returned to a foreign owner although in some cultures (Babylonia in particular) a person helping a slave escape would be given a death penalty. I share this so that you understand that there was a difference between how the Israelites treated their slaves for the most part compared to their contemporaries in other cultures.