Does the Bible condone slavery?
Many people, usually those who are not Christians, claim that the Bible condones slavery. They point to certain passages within the Bible itself that they say prove that the Bible not only condones slavery but also gives rules regarding the application of it. They then often use this as an argument against a loving God with the claim how can a loving God allow such an abhorrently vile and evil act as slavery.
They also point to the fact that the slave traders and owners in America used the Bible to justify their owning slaves during the transAtlantic slave trade.
The fact is that the American slave owners who used the Bible to justify their actions were just as guilty of cherry picking verses, ripping them out of context and applying a meaning that is contrary to their actual meaning as those who are using the argument are today. Obviously just with much more severe consequences as a result of doing so.
Slavery, and I mean the type of slavery that the Black African people were subjected to during the transatlantic slave trade is wrong. It was wrong then, it is wrong now and it would be wrong if the Bible condoned it. It is ALWAYS wrong. There is NO defense of such an act. There are some Christians who would say if the Bible says it is ok then it is ok. They are also wrong and that is NOT my position. This type of slavery is simply wrong and if God said that it was not wrong then that is not a God that I would or in fact could worship. Just in case anyone does not understand my position before we get into this study, I am 100% against slavery. I am not trying to argue that slavery, even if God ordained, is OK. I would not say that it is OK just because God did. If God did. But God doesn’t say that this type of slavery is Ok.
In fact God flat out condemns it. If a person steals another person then they are to be put to death. The punishment even goes as far as to say the person that is found in possession of a person that has been stolen is to be put to death also.
Exodus 21- 16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
The punishment for taking a person against their will then is death. There is no harsher punishment imposed by God in the Bible.
This should in fact be the end of the argument. But of course it isn’t.
Some say that this only refers to if a person steals a person who belongs to someone else. This though is reading this interpretation into the verse. It only states that if one person steals another then they are to be punished by death. The plain and straightforward reading of this would be that this is simply a blanket statement. Anyone that steals a person or who has them within their hand, they are to be sentenced to death.
Now irrespective of this, there are in fact a number of passages that are often cited by those that claim slavery is not condemned, despite the clear statement of condemnation that we have just seen.
So let’s have a look at these passages and see exactly what else the Bible really says about slavery.
The first thing we must understand is that the Bible does not shy away from the act or fact of slavery. Slavery was a major part of the ANE culture. It was not unusual for nations to enslave individual people, groups of people or in fact whole other nations. The Israelites themselves were slaves in Egypt before they were redeemed by God out of that slavery. Slavery is referenced many times throughout the scriptures. However there is a huge difference between a descriptive text and a prescriptive text. We should not and in fact cannot allow a descriptive text, a text describing the act of slavery to be confused with a prescriptive text, a text giving a rule on or the condoning of slavery, and then use that incorrectly applied descriptive text to claim that God prescriptively allowed slavery.
Simply taking a descriptive text and applying a prescriptive meaning into it is nothing short of disingenuous.
Now there are actually 3 different types of “slavery” in the Bible.
“Slavery” by the other nations of the Israelites (or another nation)
“Slavery” of Israelites by other Israelites
“Slavery” of those of other nations by the Israelites
What we will find out is that only the last is in fact a kind of slavery that we would even recognise as the kind of slavery that we understand today when we input our conceptions of the transatlantic slave trade into the term. The literal ownership of one human being over another against the will of the person that is being owned. Where the basic human right to freedom of the person owned is removed.
There are two Hebrew words that are translated as servant, bondman/bondmaid in the KJV (slave in some other translation) עֶבֶד ebed (male) and אָמָה abed (female) I will do a more detailed study on this in another writing but for now it’s suffice to say that they do not always simply imply slave.
The armies of the Israelites were called servants of Saul.
1 Samuel 17- 8 And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me.
The Israelites were not slaves of King Saul.
The Israelites were called servants of Moses.
Numbers 32-25 And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spake unto Moses, saying, Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth.
David, before he was king, was a servant (ebed) of the then King Saul.
1 Samuel 22- 14Then Ahimelech answered the king, and said, And who is so faithful among all thy servants as David, which is the king’s son in law, and goeth at thy bidding, and is honourable in thine house?
David was the son in law of King Saul. It would take a stretch of the imagination and would be quite incorrect to imply that David was a slave of King Saul.
David called himself the servant of Achish the King of the Philistines.
1 Samuel 28- 1And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle, thou and thy men. 2And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do. And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever.
David was not the slave of Achish.
Abraham (Genesis 26-24), Moses (Numbers 12-7), Caleb (Numbers 14-24), David (2 Samuel 3-18) and even the Messiah (Isaiah 42.1) were all called the servant of God.
Ebed could be and was clearly used of those that served a person but were not considered slaves.
So let us have a look at these 3 different types of “slavery”
- “Slavery” of Israelites by other Israelites
In reality what we will see is that the “slavery” between one Israelite and another Israelite was not slavery at all. Actually this would be better, more accurately and often described as indebted servitude.
Indebted servitude could be implemented for many different reasons as we will see
Leviticus 25-39 And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: 40But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubile: 41And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return. 42For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen
It was possible that if an Israelite found themselves being poor, for whatever reason, that that Israelite could “sell” himself to another Israelite in return for a financial benefit. The selling and buying would be by mutual consent. The “servant” would work for the “master” and the “master” would in turn provide for the “servant”. However the “master” was NOT to make his servant serve like a bondservant. He was specifically to be treated as a hired servant or sojourner (the sojourner reference here will become relevant again later).
This did not mean that one Israelite could sell another Israelite to a third party.
The Hebrew of verse 39 makes this clear that it is the brother who is poor who sells himself. Not that he is sold by a third party.
The Israelite is the servant of God and therefore not to be sold as bondmen. Both Servant and Bondmen here translated from the same Hebrew root word ebed showing the two meanings of the word.
The passage says that the Israelite servant who had sold himself was to be treated as any other hired servant or what we would call employee. We will get to the treatment of the Israelite a little later in this study.
It shouldn’t go without mentioning that God had actually declared that if the Israelites would have fully followed him, he promised to bless them so as there would be no poor amongst Israel.
Deuteronomy 15- 4Save when there shall be no poor among you; for the LORD shall greatly bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it: 5Only if thou carefully hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all these commandments which I command thee this day. 6For the LORD thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee.
God had also actually commanded that the Israelites help the poor that would arise from the Israelites not following God.
Deuteronomy 15- 7If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: 8But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.
God again gave instruction to the Israelites to provide for the poor and the stranger.
Leviticus 19- 9And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. 10And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.
The Israelites were NOT to charge interest on money lent to a poor Israelite and they were to sell him food at cost.
Leviticus 25- 35And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. 36Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. 37Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase. 38I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.
Every 3rd year the tithes of the Israelites were to be shared out between the Levites, the poor and the strangers.
Deuteronomy 14- 28At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay itup within thy gates: 29And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.
The whole system designed by God was to prevent poverty from arising in Israel but eliminating it if and when it did. Over and over God makes provisions to protect the poor amongst the Israelites so that they would not need to sell themselves in the first place (including the cancellation of all debts every 7 years which we will look at later) …..if only they would just follow him.
1b) Punishment for a crime
For those crimes that did not carry the penalty of death such as theft, the punishment would be to pay restitution. If a man stole something from another he would have to pay back what he stole plus an extra cost. If the man had no means in which to repay this debt then he would have to work off that debt by becoming the servant of the person he owed the debt to. We have to remember there was no prison system back then. Rather than going to jail, the punishment for the crime, that didn’t carry the penalty of death, would be servitude.
Exodus 22-2 2If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. 3If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 4If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double.
The thief himself or rather his productivity, his work, his time, being sold to pay off his debt and his “fine”.
Jacob (Israel) put himself into servitude for the right to marry Rachel. He voluntarily served (worked for) her father Laban for the right to marry her.
Genesis 29- 15And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be? 16And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. 18And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
In no way can any of these 3 Indebted servitudes be conflated with the definition of slavery.
This Indebted servitude of Israelites was indeed regulated by God and rightfully so. There were strict laws regarding the treatment of those who were in indebted servitude and served to protect the person who was in indebted servitude.
Servitude of Israelites was to last a maximum of 6 years. In the 7th year the master was to allow the servant to go free.
Exodus 21- 1Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.
2If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
Deuteronomy 15- 12And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.
At the end of the 6 years service a Hebrew (Israelite) servant, was not only to go free from their service but they were also to be furnished by the master, given a parting gift, in honour of their service. This parting gift would include cattle, food and wine.
Deuteronomy 15 – 13And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: 14Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. 15And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.
This year of release happened every 7 years. If the Israelite became indebted 4 years into the 7 years then he would serve the remainder of the 6 years (2 years) and then be set free.
Although it was not part of the law, the Israelite did start to hold the children accountable for their fathers debts after the father had died.
As we see in the case of the woman who appealed to Elisha for help in 2 kings chapter 4
2 Kings 4- 1Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.
This rather famous Biblical story is where Elisha tells her to obtain vessels to put oil and then he provides enough oil for her to pay her husbands debt.
The non release of the Israelites who were in indebted servitude by their masters was something that Jeremiah addressed.
Jeremiah 34- 8This is the word that came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them; 9That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother. 10Now when all the princes, and all the people, which had entered into the covenant, heard that every one should let his manservant, and every one his maidservant, go free, that none should serve themselves of them any more, then they obeyed, and let them go. 11But afterward they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids, whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids.
However, it was possible, if the servant so wished, that he could remain as a servant of his master after the 6 years were completed. This though, was to be the servants own choice. This did not allow the master to keep the servant after the 6 year period against the servants wishes.
The master could not force the servant to remain. If the servant chose to remain at the end of his term then it was the servant who had the right to do so.
Deuteronomy 15- 16And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee; 17Then thou shalt take an aul, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever. And also unto thy maidservant thou shalt do likewise.
But even after this is stated, the fact the servant was free to finish his service after 6 years is repeated just in case it was not understood. God proclaiming that the master should not find it difficult to let the servant go.
Deuteronomy 15- 18It shall not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free from thee; for he hath been worth a double hired servant to thee, in serving thee six years: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all that thou doest.
This is also explained in Exodus chapter 21
Exodus 21- 2If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. 3If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. 5And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 6Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.
Forever does not mean a literal forever, even though some do try to assert that it does. (obviously a person could not remain a slave after they die) Therefore forever even in the understanding of forever being literal can only mean unto death which is not forever. But forever actually means until the year of Jubilee when ALL Israelites were to return back to their own families and their own land. This was the longest that one Israelite could serve another Israelite. They could stay after the 6 years service but at the Jubilee there was no choice to remain.
This is highlighted back in Leviticus 25.
Leviticus 25-39 And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: 40But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubile:
The year of jubilee was when all debts were to be settled, all accounts restarted back at zero and everyone back on an even keel. All possessions returned back to their original owner. In all essence a full factory reset.
The Jubilee year is explained in detail in Leviticus chapter 25.
Leviticus 25 – 8And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. 9Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. 10And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. 11A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.12For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field
ALL possessions were to return to whom they were given as a possession.
Leviticus 25- 13In the year of this jubile ye shall return every man unto his possession. 14And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour’s hand, ye shall not oppress one another: 15According to the number of years after the jubile thou shalt buy of thy neighbour, and according unto the number of years of the fruits he shall sell unto thee: 16According to the multitude of years thou shalt increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of years thou shalt diminish the price of it: for according to the number of the years of the fruits doth he sell unto thee. 17Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am the LORD your God.
It was forbidden for the Israelite to make any Israelite servant serve with rigour. This is explicitly stated in the law.
Leviticus 25- 43Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God.
Rigour here is the Hebrew פֶרֶךְ Perek, rigour, harshness, severity.
With rigour is how the Egyptians made the Israelites serve
Exodus 1-13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:
The Israelites were not to be made to serve in this way.
Neither could the master oppress his servant.
Leviticus 25- 17Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am the LORD your God.
So when actually analysed, what we have here is a very clear condemnation of slavery, the enslavement of one Israelite on another. Literally God here is condemning one Israelite making another Israelite his slave. It was strictly forbidden to do so.
So we see that there simply was no such thing as an Israelites israelite slave. There is no condoning by God of Israelite on Israelite slavery. In fact there was strict condemnation against it and laws in place for the wellbeing of the servant, even those servants who we would more consider prisoners today.
3) “Slavery” of those of other nations by the Israelites
But obviously this can be argued that that is laws for the protection of Israelites and forbidding Israelites making other Israelites their slaves, but what about slaves from other nations. What does the Bible say about Israelites owning slaves from other nations?
A verse so often cited as proof that the Bible does sanction the enslavement of persons from other nations by the Israelites is Leviticus 24-44
Leviticus 25- 44 Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.
So the assumption here is that the Israelites were allowed to take slaves from other nations and buy and sell them.
However this again is simply reading into the text a meaning that simply does not exist.
The verse does not say that the Israelites could go out into the other nations and simply take anyone they so wished from among those nations and make them their slaves. Neither does it say that the Israelites could sell these strangers to other Israelites (Or anyone else for that matter). This all has to be read into the meaning of this verse.
This is very clearly contrary to the condemnation that we have already seen. It is totally dishonest to read this understanding into this verse in light of the clear condemnation. The condemnation simply has to be ignored when interpreting this verse in order to even start to interpret this verse as an endorsement for the Israelites to make slaves of the other nations.
So what does this actually mean.
It was quite possible for a stranger, someone from a foreign nation who wanted to join the Israelites to “sell” themselves into Israel. This was not the indebted servitude as of the Israelite but the Israelite buying the services of a stranger who wished to join Israel. By doing this they could join the Israelites and be partakers in the land but they could not possess the land.
As the stranger would not have any tribal affiliation or have any right to any of the land or property within Israel, seeing they were not an actual Israelite and therefore had no possession given them, in order to be able to survive in the land of Israel they would have to align themselves with one of the Israelite families. They would “sell” themselves, simply meaning that they would work for their new family and be as a member of the family. They would become a servant of the Israelite family but this does not mean that they were to be made slaves. They would work for the family just like any other member of the family would. These strangers had very specific rights as a member of the family. They were to be treated as such.
Then we have a passage that is often used to show that it was perfectly OK for the Israelites to buy and sell their slaves as they wished.
Leviticus 25- 45 Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. 46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.
The misrepresentation of this passage is quite staggering. Notice that this is specifically talking about the strangers that SOJOURN amongst you. This means that they already are in Israel as a part of Israel. This is not now talking about any other stranger apart from those already dwelling in Israel. Those strangers that had already aligned themselves with an Israelite family as per the previous verse.
This simply does not mean that the Israelites can go out and take slaves from the strangers that do not reside in Israel then buy and sell those strangers that they had made slaves.
Now there is a subtlety that many, nay, most people miss here. In verse 45 it specifically states that the CHILDREN of the strangers that sojourn amongst you may you buy. Notice that the children could only be BOUGHT, there is no mention of these children being SOLD. This is not giving permission for the Israelites to simply buy and sell the children of the strangers living in Israel to other Israelites without the permission of these children. So what does this actually mean?
The Hebrew word translated as children here is בֵּן bene, meanings sons. This is not a reference to little children but the offspring, the sons of the strangers. The Israelites themselves being called the children of Israel. This could refer to a person of ANY age. All this actually means is that the services of strangers offspring could also be bought by the Israelites and that son of the stranger would then work for their Israelite family just as their parent(s) did and also become part of Israel. They would have all the same rights and protection that their parent(s) did. They would be able to stay in Israel and be provided for. This just does not mean that the master purchased the ownership of the child but acquired their productivity. In return they were to provide them with security, food and shelter.
Many people have a problem with the word possession or rather the word property as some translations such as the NIV and ESV render the Hebrew אֲחֻזָּה achuzzah
They simply apply the wrong definition to it.
The word possession (Achuzzah) does not mean that one owns what they possess in the way that a slave trader owned their slaves in the transatlantic slave trade.
When we look at this Hebrew word it does not mean literal ownership but rather the state of having something, being in possession of something.
The Israelites had possession of the land, however the land did not actually belong to them, they did not own the land they were simply in possession of it. The land actually belongs to God as God himself states.
Leviticus 25- 23 The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. 24 And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.
When we go back and look at verse 45 and 46 what we will see is that God rather than subjugating the strange to be a slave forever was actually protecting the stranger forever.
During the year of Jubilee, as we have seen, all debts were cancelled and all servants were freed to go back to their own families and their own land as we have seen. However unlike the Israelite servants who would return back to their own home, families and lands, again as we have already seen the stranger had no land to which to go back to. If they were released then they would have nowhere to go. Therefore God made a commandment of the Israelites, not that the stranger would remain their slave but that the stranger should continue to reside with them, even after the year of Jubilee. The command, far from endorsing the enslavement of the stranger forever actually served to safeguard the strangers wellbeing forever.
They were not to simply release them as this would essentially make them homeless and jobless. They were their possession. Not that they owned them but they were in their possession and it was the responsibility of the Israelite to continue allowing the stranger to sojourn with them. . This responsibility would be passed down from father to son. When the father died the son was obligated to continue allowing the stranger to reside with him and the stranger would continue working for the family.
It must be noted that back in verses 39 and 40 of Leviticus 25 the Israelite brother is not to serve as a bondservant but as a hired servant and as a SOJOURNER.
Leviticus 25- 39And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: 40But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubile:
The Israelite brother should be treated as a SOJOURNER. The Hebrew word here is תּוֹשָׁב toshab. Now if the Israelite brother is to be treated as the sojourner then if we know how the Israelite was to be treated, which we have already seen was not as a slave, then we can say that the sojourner was not to be treated as a slave. When we look into the Bible we will see that there are numerous verses that state exactly this.
There is a command to love the stranger as yourself.
Leviticus 19- 33And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. 34But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Exodus 23-9 9Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10- 17For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: 18He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. 19Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.20Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.
God actually warns that any oppression of the stranger would lead to death.
Exodus 22-21 21Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. 23If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; 24And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.
ANY servant that flees from his master to another was to be kept safe and was not to be returned back to the master that they had fled from.
Deuteronomy 23- 15Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: 16He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.
This clearly then would mean that any servant who did not wish to remain a servant who left their master was freed from that servitude.
All this can only constitute the very clear condemnation of a stranger being made to serve with rigour or of any other way than that of a Israelite servant who was not to serve with rigour
The stranger was even able to obtain wealth, via his master, to the extent that an Israelite would sell themselves unto the stranger.
Leviticus 25- 47And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee, and thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor, and sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee, or to the stock of the stranger’s family: 48After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him: 49Either his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be able, he may redeem himself. 50And he shall reckon with him that bought him from the year that he was sold to him unto the year of jubile: and the price of his sale shall be according unto the number of years, according to the time of an hired servant shall it be with him. 51If there be yet many years behind, according unto them he shall give again the price of his redemption out of the money that he was bought for. 52And if there remain but few years unto the year of jubile, then he shall count with him, and according unto his years shall he give him again the price of his redemption. 53And as a yearly hired servant shall he be with him: and the other shall not rule with rigour over him in thy sight. 54And if he be not redeemed in these years, then he shall go out in the year of jubile, both he, and his children with him. 55For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
3) “Slavery” by the other nations of the Israelites (or another nation)
We know that the Israelites were servants in Egypt. The slavery that was imposed upon the Israelites would be far more like the slavery of the transatlantic slave trade. They were afflicted , they had taskmasters set over them, their lives were made bitter with hard bondage and they were forced to serve with rigour.
Exodus 1- 8Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. 11Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. 13And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: 14And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.
NONE of this was ever imposed on those that served in Israel, Israelite or stranger. The language that is used to describe the servitude, the slavery of the Israelites is never used for those that were servants in Israel, in fact quite the opposite with much of the same language used in that which was forbidden.
So there are numerous texts that condemn the mistreatment of a stranger. They were not to be slaves but servants who were to be provided for and well treated by their masters.
When correctly understood there are no verses that condone the enslavement of strangers or Israelites.
But what about the passage that says a master can beat his slave, even to death, as long as he doesn’t die the same day.
This is found in Exodus chapter 21
Exodus 21- 20And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. 21Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.
This does not mean that a master could simply beat their slaves whenever they felt like it.
This one vese is actually in a section dealing with different personal injuries and their punishments.
Corrective punishment (not just of servants but of all those in Israel) was permitted.
Deuteronomy 25- 1If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. 2And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number.
It was only for the WICKED. Again there was no prison system in Israel.
The verse in question deals with the abuse of that corrective punishment. If the master was to use such corrective punishment that the servant died immediately this would be considered murder and so the master would be PUNISHED. The punishment for murder was the death penalty. So if the master murdered his servant he was to be punished, he was to be put to death. If the master beat his servant that the servant did not die immediately then this would not be classed as murder and the master would not therefore be punished, with the death penalty.
Just 5 verses later there is a command that if the master was to cause any physical damage to their servant then that servant was to be released.
Exodus 21- 26And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. 27And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.
There simply is no condoning of a master simply beating a servant as they so wished.
I shall deal with one last passage that is often cited as evidence that God allowed the slavery and rape of woman and children which is found in Numbers chapter 31
Numbers 31- 17Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. 18But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
It is asserted here by those that say slavery is not condemned in the Bible, that God commanded the Israelites spare the woman who were virgins and that they could keep them for themselves, meaning they could do what they wanted with them, they could make them their sex slaves.
Of course the verse doesn’t say this in any way shape or form. This is literally reading into the text a command or at least an acceptance of a vile and evil act that simply is not there. I rather think this says more about the person making the claim, but hey what other possible explanation than God telling the Israelites to capture, imprison and sexually abuse the virgin woman could there be right…….
It can’t go without saying that many if not all of the Israelite men would have been married and had families. To say that these men took sex slaves would also imply that the woman were perfectly fine with them doing so. There is also not one verse that actually states the men did in fact take them as sex slaves.
It is nothing more than dishonest to read this into the verse and then use this “understanding” that has been read into the verse as an attack against the Bible. In reality the argument is nothing more than a straw man.
Apart from the simple fact that the verse does not say what is claimed it does, there are a number of other problems with this “understanding” if you can even call it that, I think unsupported presumption and downright dishonesty is probably better. Anyway, so the first problem is a little thing called CONTEXT. It turns out, this again is actually pretty vitally important when trying to ascertain correct answers. Who knew?
The verse in Numbers 31 is not a stand alone verse. There is a context. We must read the Bible as a whole or otherwise we end up with wild accusations such as this. When done so, the Bible itself explains exactly why things that seem evil and condemning against the Bible when a verse is taken out of context are not in fact evil and condemning. They become more clear in context.
So let’s add some context back into this.
The events of this story happened before Israel had entered into the promised land. They were still wandering in the wilderness being led by God.
The Israelites were told to smite/kill the Midianites because what they had done regarding their wives.
Numbers 25- 17Vex the Midianites, and smite them: 18For they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor’s sake.
This was NOT a command to commit Genocide. Although all the men are stated as having been killed, the Midianites would attack Israel later. This was not ALL the Midianites just certain tribes.
Lets first find out who the Midianites were. They were sons of Abraham through Keturah
Genesis 25-1Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. 2And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah.
The context of the story starts back in verse 1 of chapter 31
The Israelites went to war with the Midianites. This was by command of God.
They were to avenge the children of Israel.
Numbers 31- 1And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people. 3And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the LORD of Midian.
So Moses commanded Israel to go to war. 1000 men from each tribe went to war with the Midianites, 12,000 men in total.
Numbers 31- 4Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war. 5So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.
The Israelites won the war with the Midianites and slew, they killed, all the men of Midian. This included all the kings of Midian
Numbers 31- 7And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males. 8And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
However the Israelites returning from the war had saved, not killed, the women of Midian. They had taken them captive along with the children.
Numbers 31- . 9And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
Captive does not mean slave it means prisoner. The women were taken as prisoners. It is possible to make a prisoner a slave but the term captive itself does not indicate this.
Moses after he sees that they have kept the women, asks them why they had done so.
Numbers 31- 15And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
Moses then tells the Israelites that it was these same women that had caused the Children of Israel to commit a trespass against the LORD which had in turn caused a plague amongst the people of Israel.
Numbers 31- 16Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
So Moses orders that all the woman be killed
Numbers 31- 17Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
The event, the matter of Peor, that Moses refers to here is found in Numbers chapters 24 and 25. The Midianites had conveined with the Moabites in order to come against the children of Israel and seduce them into Idolatry.
We see that the people of Israel began to to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
Numbers 25- 1And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
The Hebrew translated as whoredom is זָנָה zanah. Harlotry. So they people were going astray with the woman of Moab.
We know by verse 6 that they were also doing so with the woman of the Midianites.
Numbers 25- 6And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
We even see the Israelites who held high respect engaged in this act with a Midianite woman.
Numbers 25-14Now the name of the Israelite that was slain, even that was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a chief house among the Simeonites. 15And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian.
The woman also caused the people to sacrifice to their gods and bow down to them. Israel joined itself to Baalpeor, which brought about the anger of God.
Numbers 25- 2And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.3And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
God then commanded that all the Israelites who had joined themselves with Baalpeor were to be killed.
Numbers 25- 4And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel. 5And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.
24,000 Israelites were killed.
Numbers 25- 9And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.
It is after this that Moses states that the women who had not known a man, had not had sex, they were not to be killed.
Numbers 31- 18But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
So we see that the reason the women who had not known a man were to be spared was rather simple. They were innocent of the act of leading the Israelites into the trespass against the LORD. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Israelites using them as sex slaves because they were virgins at all. Rather they were spared because as virgins they were innocent of the leading the Israelites into a trespass and had not engaged in the ritual sex acts. It was therefore not their virginity for which they were spared but their innocence. Being virgins was imply a sign of that innocence for which by they were spared.
We must also understand that the women that remained had nothing left. The men had all been killed, the cities destroyed and the cattle all taken by the Israelites as spoils of war. Far from the Israelites taking these woman and doing as they pleased with them, it was now the responsibility and the obligation of the Israelites to take in and care for these women.
As we already know the Israelites were commanded to take care of the stranger.
They were not to be used as simple sex slaves. In fact there was even laws that were given regarding the Israelite men and taking the woman that remained after war to be their wives if they wished to do so.
Deuteronomy 21- 10When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, 11And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; 12Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; 13And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. 14And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.
Now there is no specific clarification here on whether the woman chosen by the Israelite to be his wife had any say in the matter however when we understand that an Israelite was not to oppress or mistreat a stranger it is unlikely they would be allowed to force marriage.
This clearly goes against any understanding that God was allowing the Israelites to make sex slaves of the young virgin girls of the Midianites.
There is simply no context that would give the understanding that the Israelite men were allowed to do as they wish with these women. As already pointed out there is also not one passage that can be cited as evidence that shows the Israelites doing such. There most certainly is no command or condoning of the act.
When we look at slavery in context and understanding the claim that God condoned slavery is simply false. Slavery is condemned and the Israelites although they were themselves enslaved, were not to partake in the act.
The Bible does not condone slavery.