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Slavery in the Torah

When the issue of slavery in the bible first grabbed my attention I instinctively knew something was very wrong with the idea being proposed. The problem is that looking at the argument given by people such as Aaron Ra or Matt Dilahaunty it seemed logical and true. I was puzzled and tried to find a suitable answer for it myself. This was only marginally successful. I asked around and got a few answers that only kind of answered the problem and did not finalize the argument. It was apparent to me that the God of Grace and Love would not allow anything being described to me and the answers I had been given fell short of the God of Grace. The God and Gospel I know is far too loving and kind to allow the picture being painted by these atheists. There had to be more. I prayed about it and sought the Lord on this. Within days I was given the answer.

The Jewish people I am acquainted with have explained that the Hebrew idea of servanthood is very different from the western idea. There are a whole host of issues concerning slavery in the Torah. First, slavery as we think of it today did not exists then, servanthood was a reparation or a teaching and training method. It was useful for instruction and correction, not as barbarism and free labor.

In ancient Israel there were no prisons or bankruptcy. Servanthood was the answer, which as it turns out is far greater than any system America has today. There are a few verses we need to establish here.


General Servanthood

The idea of ownership or chattel slavery is not what is communicated here at all. The Hebrew idea of "slavery" was this. This person became a member of your household and was your helper. You were responsible for their food, housing, clothing, teaching, children, wife, and finances so long as they were under your name. The purpose of this was to teach and train those who had done wrong or were not familiar with Hebrew culture. If you stole something you would be taught, and would repay up to 7 times what was taken by your labor. Thieves steal either from laziness, envy, or hunger. Laziness can be overcome by learning what goals are sought and then how to obtain those goals through profitable work. Envy can be overcome by learning to obtain for yourself. Hunger can be overcome by learning to build wealth or paying off debts. The purpose was teaching and instruction from one that has grasped the understanding of wealth and debt. This was also taught to foreigners who were to be assimilated into Hebrew culture.

Consider the situation here. A man steals from another. First thing we can understand is that generally the thief is not as wealthy as the victim. The thief is caught and has options. He can either repay the victim what has been taken 7 times over or he can become a servant until the debt is paid. This is a high price to be sure. However, consider the situation here. A wealthy man is stolen from. This means that the wealthy man knows how to conduct his business and affairs to build wealth. The thief does not. Now the thief must pay restitution with his labor. The wealthy man trains the thief on how to build wealth so that stealing is no longer required.


Slaves may not be maltreated or offended – the law destined them for service, not for humiliation. Do not shout at them or be angry with them, but hear them out, as it is written [Job 31:13–14]: 'If I did despise the cause of my man-servant or maid-servant when they contended with me, what then shall I do when God riseth up? and when He remembereth what shall I answer?'"


Hebrew servanthood- This was your brother, literally, and to be treated the same way you were to treat your fathers son. The maximum amount of time a Hebrew could be a member of another home and subject to their rules was 6 years. The servant at that time could choose to stay under the authority of the "master" however it was no longer as a servant but as a hired hand and assistant. This was common as those with wealth and land were also those who had the highest clout as the most wise and kind. This was the idea.

Ex 21:2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.

Jer 34:13 “At the end of seven years let every man set free his Hebrew brother, who has been sold to him; and when he has served you six years, you shall let him go free.


There is a caveat. If the Master gives the Hebrew servant a wife and they bear children then the Hebrew servant will still be freed after 6 years but may appeal to the court and become a permanent servant of the master and stay with the wife and children. Notice that the choice to stay is undertaken by the servant, now freed, and not the master.

Ex 21 "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges.[a] He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life." This is the servants choice. The Master would not do this except at the request of the servant. The servant may come from a very broken place in life and enjoy the wages and lifestyle the master's house offers. The servant would then ask for a wife and the master would provide one for the servant. In all of this the purpose is to raise the prosperity of Israel and all persons within the land.

Deuteronomy 15 shows us the template and reasoning for this system. At the end of every seven years you must declare a cancellation of debts.[a] 2 This is the nature of the cancellation: Every creditor must remit what he has loaned to another person; he must not force payment from his fellow Israelite, for it is to be recognized as “the Lord’s cancellation of debts.” 3 You may exact payment from a foreigner, but whatever your fellow Israelite owes you, you must remit. 4 However, there should not be any poor among you, for the Lord will surely bless you in the land that he is giving you as an inheritance, 5 if you carefully obey him by keeping all these commandments that I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you just as he has promised; you will lend to many nations but will not borrow from any, and you will rule over many nations but they will not rule over you. This system was in place to make Israel Prosperous by educating and training those who were the least wealthy and prosperous. Female Servanthood- This slavery did not exists in Hebrew culture. There are only two kinds of female servanthood. The first kind is an engagement to marriage. Ex 21 7-11 " “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. 8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself,[b] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. 9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money." The dowry is paid and the young woman lives with her husband to be. There is no intimacy. If the husband finds that the woman is to his liking He may marry her. If the Woman finds the bridegroom lacking she can ask her father to refund the dowry and go back home to her family. This was exceedingly rare however as the marriage had been discussed and arranged previous to the dowry exchange. It would be a tremendous disgrace to both persons if this were to occur and the husband to be would become a pariah. Anyone taking advantage of this arrangement sexually would be stoned to death. It simply was not done. These verses are often confused as slavery however the Hebrew makes it incredibly clear that this is a wedding and a dowry, not a servanthood at all, though due to the nature of the relationship of the arranged marriage the word servant is used and fitting. The idea of servanthood is an honor and respected in the Torah. If a foreign woman was taken in battle she was to be assimilated into the hebrew culture and taught the Hebrew law and conduct. She was taken into a Hebrew home and treated as a daughter or maidservant. The goal here was to teach the foreigner how to behave, the customs of the Hebrew people, and the Torah. The best outcome was that she would be married to a man and stay within the household having children and being adopted into the family. She is not a "slave" and sexual engagement was strictly forbidden. The Sabbot was still in effect for her and the laws governing the treatment of women and foreigners applied to her for her entire life. The Hebrew also has the option to marry her and remove the servanthood from here forever, even if she no longer finds favor with him. Dt 21:10-14 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother for a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her. Spoils of War. Yes foreign slaves were taken as spoils of war and this was allowed in the Torah. This servanthood was to be lifelong and these persons were never released to their own care. This applied only to men. Females that were taken into slavery were to be married. Most of the time this was to find women for their male servants or as we saw previously to find a wife for the Hebrew. Only Canaanite women were the exception and they were to be killed. More on this later. bond slaves This was to last no more than 6 years, no matter the crime. This existed to clear debt and teach the servant how to manage his household and prosper. This servant has lived within the home of a wealthy Hebrew who knows how to manage finance and has taught this servant how to increase. This system caused the Hebrew population to learn the value of ownership and wealth management. Those that did not were not "slaves" but were bankrupt and the debt was repaid by labor and training. After 6 years of labor and instruction in debt and wealth management the servant was released from his commitment. They were given a sum of money and released from the debt. This was commanded. Deut. 15:13 Treatment of all Hebrews To deal judicially with the Hebrew bondman in accordance with the laws appertaining to him (Ex. 21:2-6) (affirmative). Not to compel the Hebrew servant to do the work of a slave (Lev. 25:39) (negative). Not to sell a Hebrew servant as a slave (Lev. 25:42) (negative). Not to treat a Hebrew servant rigorously (Lev. 25:43) (negative). Not to permit a gentile to treat harshly a Hebrew bondman sold to him (Lev. 25:53) (negative). Not to send away a Hebrew bondman servant empty handed, when he is freed from service (Deut. 15:13) (negative). To bestow liberal gifts upon the Hebrew bondsman (at the end of his term of service), and the same should be done to a Hebrew bondwoman (Deut. 15:14) (affirmative). To redeem a Hebrew maid-servant (Ex. 21:8) (affirmative). Not to sell a Hebrew maid-servant to another person (Ex. 21:8) (negative). To espouse a Hebrew maid-servant (Ex. 21:8-9) (affirmative). **it should be noted for clarity that a Hebrew could "redeem" or buy a Hebrew from a foreigner in order to free them. The same was done for women who had been enslaved or abandoned by the husband in war or through debt. The redeeming of a woman was a marriage arrangement. (see the book of Ruth). Treatment of all foreigners. The most mentioned and repeated commandment in the Torah is the kind treatment of the care for the stranger, Even more than the command to Love God. Thirty-six times in the Old Testament the Hebrews are told to remember that they themselves were once strangers in a strange land. They are to treat the gentile as brothers and sisters. Deut. 7:3 Deut. 10:19 Deut. 15:3 Deut. 23:21 Ex. 20:20 are a few examples. Deut. 21:14 strictly forbids the selling of women taken as servants in war. They are to be taken only to be married. They are to be treated exactly the same as any Hebrew wife and by marriage are a Hebrew woman. Not to surrender a slave, who has fled to the land of Israel, to his owner who lives outside Palestine (Deut. 23:16) (negative). Not to wrong such a slave (Deut. 23:17) (negative). The Canaanites To keep the Canaanite slave forever (Lev. 25:46) (affirmative). The Canaanites were of a different set of Laws. Take note that exceptions were made of the Canaanites. They were to be killed and none allowed to live. They were to be slaves forever. They were not allowed to be married. The reason for this is due to the curse placed on them from Noah. Canaan was to be the lowest of all servants of all Hebrews forever because of what Ham had done. These commandments reflect this. The Canaanites were the very real and prevalent example of the consequences of wickedness and dismissal of God's ways. American Slavery. America has slavery today. We have two forms of slavery and both are the ones objected to in the Torah. We have prisoners of war and we have those who have committed crimes. Both are sent to slave colonies we call prisons. Here there is no life at all, there is only bondage. There is no rehabilitation. There is no learning except to become a more accomplished criminal. Let me ask you directly..."Would you rather spend a lifetime in service to a Hebrew or in an American prison?". The Hebrew was free to marry, Ex 20:6 Become part of the Hebrew family. The slaves children learn and play right along side the children of the master. The wife of the slave works and spends tiome with the wife of the master. They observe Passover together. They eat together, they learn together, & they pray together. Amos, Jeramiah, Joel, and most other books of the bible have examples of these things taking place. Summary In closing what we learn is that the Torah does in no way condone slavery as the westerner thinks it does. It is a form of restitution and rehabilitation, not abject slavery. For more reading https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/305549/jewish/Torah-Slavery-and-the-Jews.htm https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/slavery-in-judaism

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