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Joined: 2010/10/26
Posts: 236

 OT servants and slavery?

Ezekiel 46:16-17 says:

16Thus saith the Lord GOD; If the prince give a gift unto any of his sons, the inheritance thereof shall be his sons'; it shall be their possession by inheritance.

17But if he give a gift of his inheritance to one of his servants, then it shall be his to the year of liberty; after it shall return to the prince: but his inheritance shall be his sons' for them.


The term 'servant' here essentially means a slave; am I right? If so, why the distinction in this inheritance law against the servant/slave?

I am uncomfortable with the notion that God is giving law on the treatment of servants/slaves, rather than forbidding the practice altogether. Any help to understand this?

 2010/10/26 14:16Profile

Joined: 2009/4/5
Posts: 2007
Joplin, Missouri

 Re: OT servants and slavery?

There are many more laws on what a person does with his slaves than just this one. There were hired servants, as well as those who had no choice in the matter. There were those who, when the time came for all servants to be freed, could choose of their own will to have a hole punched through their earlobe and enter into voluntary servitude to that master for the rest of their life.

The law had a specific purpose. It was a picture of the holiness of God, a set of standards of conduct that the Jews were to keep through the weakness of their own flesh. The standard was so high and touched on every facet of life that no one could ever keep the law. This is why Paul says in Romans 7 that the no one could become righteous through the law because it was weak through the flesh.

Servitude both hired and indentured was a common practice among the people of that day. I don't think God was condoning the practice. Notice that He gave specific instruction on how a man should treat his servants, not whether or not it was a good thing to have servants to begin with. It is really interesting to note that in the New Testament Paul gives instruction to Christian servants to not despise their Christian masters, but to serve them faithfully. Again, he is dealing with what is in the heart of the servant, not with whether it was good or not to have servants.

We tend to look at slavery only through the lenses of the terrible history that we as Americans have in this regard. I believe this was a very dark and evil time in our nation. We tend to value our personal freedom and rights as paramount to all other virtue. It is interesting as I think about it that the scripture talks about us as voluntary bondservants of Christ. I love Him so much I want Him to put an awl through my ear into the doorpost so I can be bound to Him forever. It is also interesting that scripture talks about us becoming voluntary servants of the sin we participate in. None of us are really free if you want to look at it that way. We choose our servitude. One is bondage, the other is not.


 2010/10/26 15:23Profile

Joined: 2009/5/15
Posts: 1042
Pacific Ocean


Some of the slavery in the law was also a form of penal punishment for criminal activity. Which in a lot of ways can be considered a far more efficient and effective means of dealing with thievery. If you steal something, you must pay back through servitude four times the value of what you stole, it is only fitting and logical. The thrust of the law would be placed in the hands of the people, enforced through the elder/judicial system. It (servitude) also benefited the culture rather than burdening it with a bloated and pointless prison system, which can actually become more cruel than a master/slave relationship, as a matter of fact if the Jews had truly believed and followed the greatest commandment as God had intended, indentured servitude would have been a phenominal opportunity to display this love of God to their servants. It would have been a massive oportunity for the Jewish people to demonstrate the light of God to the carnal worldly ways in which the wicked civilizations of old dealt with their slaves.

From so many practical points of view, this system would make so much sense in an agrarian society. Travis is right that we must be cautious when foisting our current cultural points of reference upon scripture, or even upon history. History is best understood in its own context.

In many ways...all men are slaves, the only difference is that some are called slaves and some are not. We are either a slave to the god of this world or we are to be a slave to Jesus Christ.

I once heard someone say that any man's greatest hope in life is to find a good master...

The greatest freedom from this worlds slave system is found in Galatians 6:14..."But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." A crucified slave does not care about anything but the will of his resurrected Lord...we are free from the tyranny's of this life.

Travis offered great insight also about what slavery was to be a picture of. This shows the wisdom of God and that all things work for the Good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes. Under grace, through faith the weapons of death are turned upon their intruding thieving master. The Christian holds within his bosom, via the Spirit...sense. Sense of all the foolishness of this life. The Christian thrives on hope, hope that God can make glorious something through what the Devil may intend as evil. (And in most ways, slavery has demonstrated the true color of the nature of the Devil, and the corresponding nature of the Devil's greatest compatriots...fallen men.)

God used the slavery of that day to make something beautiful.

Here is a tip for you for all your future scriptural study. Do not come to scripture with pre-conceived ideas. Come to the word of God bereft and naked of your personal prejudices. Come to the word of God as a child...or as a penitent sinner...beating your breast and begging for a propitiated mind. The word will thrive in will free you from the clutches of the serpent. Wrath and doubting are the means where the devil will cast your eyes upon what he desires, which is always going to result in your hiding from God.

I know that may seem like a bold thing to say considering that we do not know one another, but doubting the veracity of the word of God is Satan's first...and most effective tool.

Presume that God is good. Good in his intentions...within this framework you will see that God always has bigger things in mind. With this approach in your tool belt as a bible student, you will do well.

God is, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Jeremiah Dusenberry

 2010/10/26 16:07Profile

Joined: 2010/10/26
Posts: 236


Thank you both for your responses.

I accept some of your points and struggle with others:

-God saw it fit to make explicit what His ruling was on murder, idolatry etc. in the ten commandments (let alone all the other instances of law-giving). It follows in my mind then, that He viewed slavery differently. Not something warranting a place in the commandments.

If God gives commands on how to *treat* slaves (of various kinds) including treating them kindly, giving them the choice once every seven years to stay or leave, He appears to me to be complicit with the system rather than radically overturning it. 'Radical' akin to how Jesus' indignation led Him to overturn the tables of the money-changers in the gospels.

-I accept the point about being careful with using my present cultural point of reference to make judgments about Jewish life of 600BC. What puzzles me then is what to acquit on culturally relativist grounds, and what to question more critically. For instance, were the abolitionists furthering the Kingdom of God here on earth in their fight to destroy the system of slavery? If they were saved and are in heaven today, will their work count for anything or do God and all of heaven look on their work indifferently? If indeed they were doing God's will, then when did God's will turn from viewing slavery as culturally acceptable to denouncing it?

-Slavery was part of the judicial system - a punitive practice - of the time of the OT law. I could be wrong, but I think its 'voluntary' instances were so only in as much as the slave had no other means of livelihood. I don't think, given the choice, any slave of that day would willingly sell off his sizable wealth, to submit himself to a master. Slaves did it because it was their best available option.

So, I have trouble with understanding how the system of slavery can be a means of showing God's love to the slave (in the law or the early church). Surely, the best way to show God's love is to set the slave free, or hire him/her.

Here's my attempt at answering these questions:

-I wonder if I have it wrong like this: the slavery of the OT (when not a punitive practice) was essentially a means of livelihood to the slave. He/she had no other means, and essentially threw himself at the master's feet for livelihood in exchange for service. Perhaps the master couldn't afford to hire, so offered this arrangement instead.

This is different from other more contemporary forms of slavery, because contemporary slavery was explicitly against the slave's will, and indeed against all otherwise available opportunities to a free person (i.e. if the slave was free, he/she could have earned their own livelihood).

So perhaps one form of slavery is exploitative and the other is not?

Thanks again.

 2010/10/27 3:22Profile

 Re: OT servants and slavery?

Reverend John Rankin

you'll want to read this. Rankin's "Letters On Slavery" was first published in 1826, a series of letters, John wrote to his brother, who had purchased slaves, urging him thru Scripture, to repent and free his slaves.

This book was the first clearly articulated Scriptural refutation on slavery in America, and made quite an impact.
It WAS rare in print, but is available now on amazon.

Some may becry "social gospel", but i believe with all my heart, that the LORD'S call on a man or woman's life is His Call, and It is between that person and the LORD---"face to face". just my read.

 2010/10/27 9:10

Joined: 2010/6/8
Posts: 191


Slavery, I agree was a very terrible and dark moment in World history. MAny who aren't African or African American have no clue as to the extent and nature of such a horrible dealing or the perpetrators of this terrible event.

Some of us want to emphasize how God was in it or that "we all are slaves", but I challenge any of u to read the annals that ae out there on the horrible things that were done to the great people of Africa.

 2010/10/27 9:42Profile

Joined: 2008/10/25
Posts: 1196
North Central Florida

 Re: Slavery

The past two days we have been studying the Book of Job. After reading that, we see if it be God's Pleasure to enslave it is for the best. There is no darkness in Him or His ways.

Whatever we suffer now is nothing when compared to what Jesus paid for our salvation.

My concern is that you may still feel you can contend with God. Please, read Job. A copy of the Matthew Henry Commentary of Job to go along with the study is a great companion piece.

Kind regards,
white stone


 2010/10/27 12:49Profile

Joined: 2010/8/24
Posts: 1033


In the Book of Job you will see how a righteous man acts towards his slave.

Job 13-15

13 “If I have despised the cause of my male slave or female slave.
When they complained against me,

14 What then shall I do when God rises up?
When He punishes, how shall I answer Him?

15 Did not He who made me in the womb make them?
Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?

Job believed that all men were created equal and endowed by their creator with certain and unalienable rights thousands of years before the Declaration of Independance was ever written. It is the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH.


 2010/10/27 13:04Profile

Joined: 2009/5/15
Posts: 1042
Pacific Ocean


"So, I have trouble with understanding how the system of slavery can be a means of showing God's love to the slave (in the law or the early church). Surely, the best way to show God's love is to set the slave free, or hire him/her."

The way the slave was to be treated is the difference.

The kingdom of heaven is like a little bit of leaven hidden in three measures of meal. Just a little bit of it expands the loaves. When you get to the book of Hebrews you discover that the full revelation of who God is and what His expectations completely are were not discovered until Christ came. The first verse in Hebrews tells us that God had revealed himself incrementally.

God also allowed polygamy, and all sorts of other practices that we now consider wrong. Acts 17:29-30 says, "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men in that he hath raised him from the dead."

The level of moral accountability to God was dramatically changed toward mankind after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

From my reading of scripture, It would seem that God has progressively turned up the dial's of morality with a relationship of time connected to the fall. The nature of sin was so destructive that for God to display all of his expectations to quickly might have had the affect of removing a tourniquet too quickly. I am only postulating here, but that really does seem to be the case with things like slavery, polygamy...and the more culturally difficult-restructuring forms of reformation.

The greatest hope mankind has for societal, and cultural reform is the gospel...the good news. However we have even been warned by the Lord himself that in the last days...he wondered if he would find faith on the earth upon his return.

Again though, as much as I possibly can emphasize, when you read not read it critically. If you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from your must change you to a newborn child so you trust all of Gods goodness. I see zero place whatsoever as a christian for a critical perspective or disposition when interpreting the word. The word must challenge and renew our thinking which is debased and fallen before we become new creatures.

I think too that your last statement probably has a degree of wisdom in it that the kind of slavery advocated in the OT was degrees different from the most exploitative forms of it.

I hope this helps ET.

Jeremiah Dusenberry

 2010/10/27 15:47Profile

Joined: 2010/10/26
Posts: 236


Thanks for the link on Rankin.

ManofGod; I am African. And I can share some of your strong sentiment. I think suffering makes the heritage of identity stronger. However, I can't help but squarely ask myself which is my greater identity and which is my lesser; Christian or African? Christian or black man? I think it's important to keep the lesser from ever approaching to eclipse the greater. . .

White_Stone; I agree. Ultimately, God is God, and I am not. We should still ask Him 'why' when we need to though, and do the best with the answer we get - even if that answer is 'where were you when I formed the earth?'

Areadymind; I see your point. Yes, it's very helpful, thank you. It puzzles me though why God wouldn't include slavery among the other matters in His earlier 'turnings of tourniquet;' ie. why He didn't speak out against it much earlier. Especially say, if He included something like not coveting one's neighbour's possessions among the ten commandments.

Also, for instance, Untobabe's quote from Job is dated around 1500BC, whereas my quote from Ezekiel is a millennium later around 600BC. So Job was saying 'God fashioned the slave and I both; we're equal' long before God spoke through Ezekiel about how to treat slaves...

It almost seems like Job was deconstructing the practice of slavery, and God was saying how to practise it righteously...

I'm exaggerating for effect. I think somewhere in and amongst the translation of the original text, what 'slavery' actually meant at the time, and in light of God gradually revealing His plan of salvation, will be the full answer. I'm not entirely convinced yet. I'll think some more.

I find your advice to not reading too critically, too difficult. I figure as long as my heart is honest and willing before God, a critical mind will never obstruct His truth from entering my soul. This is God, afterall.

 2010/10/28 15:03Profile

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