One of the things I really enjoy doing with the ministry the Lord has blessed me with is answering questions of believers and unbelievers alike. The questions people have never cease to amaze me; most I have never even considered myself.
This QFTBOC (Questions From the Body of Christ) series are articles from these questions I have received and will be in a question and response format.
If you or someone you know has a question pertaining to the Word of God – theology, difficult passages, eschatology, etc. – I would really like to hear from you.
If I end up using your question, and you would like to have your name and/or place of residence listed on the question in the article, please specify with your submitted question; otherwise, if I use your question, it will be listed as “Anonymous.”
Regardless, I will make every attempt to answer every person’s questions in a response to the emails I receive. Depending on volume, it may be a little while until you hear back from me, but my intention is to respond to all inquiries.
Other articles in this series are: QFTBOC: Civil Disobedience and Patriotism, QFTBOC: Memory – Fully Retained or Total Reset?, QFTBOC: Psalm 91, Protection, & God’s Will, QFTBOC: God’s Chastisement of His Children, QFTBOC: What’s Satan’s Problem?, QFTBOC: Can We Know Another’s Salvation?, and QFTBOC: Childbirth Purification & Christ.
I am enjoying your articles and have shared them with my sisters. We love to discuss what we read and our thoughts on them.
My question is about slavery from a Biblical view. Israel was in slavery in Egypt while God was building them into a nation. Then later, God said an Israelite could sell themselves into slavery to another Israelite. It is the ownership of another person I am thinking about, as in our country in previous years.
In the New Testament, slavery is mentioned again and includes ownership.
Since God gave us all free will, it is difficult for me to think about ownership of another person for their lifetime. What does God say about slavery as ownership?
Thank you for taking the time to help me understand God’s Word.
Thank you for your email and excellent question!
The very first foundation we must lay is that slavery in Israel is not the slavery most nations and cultures are familiar with. In fact, slavery in Israel wasn’t slavery by our modern-day definition. In essence, slavery in Israel was something that would be akin to an employer and employee relationship in today’s world.
But before we get there, let’s discuss Israel’s situation in Egypt.
Israel in Egypt and Slavery
In Biblical typology, Egypt represents the world and Israel, of course, the people of God. Therefore, as the people of God, Israel was living “in the world” and were slaves to it.
Historically, God had told Abraham concerning his descendants:
“And he [God] said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance” (Genesis 15:13-14).
Therefore, God’s plan was that Israel would be in Egypt for 400 years – mostly under affliction – and God would redeem His people and lead them into the promised land and be a priestly nation in the sight of the Gentile world. The idea was for Israel to draw the other nations to the Lord, but we know that they failed miserably in this endeavor.
This is exactly what God is doing with His people now. Christians (Jews and Gentiles) are in the world (Egypt) under the bondage of the world’s system, and God will ultimately lead us into His promised land. Of course, until then, our mission isn’t much different; we are to serve the Lord, share the gospel, and bring others into the Lord’s Kingdom.
The slavery that Israel experienced in Egypt is very similar to slavery known to the rest of the world down through the ages.
Now, let’s look at “slavery” in ancient Israel.
‘Slavery’ in Ancient Israel
It should be noted, first of all, that there was slavery in the purest sense in Israel when it came to the inhabitants of the land of Canaan and other parties of war. These people, when God gave approval, could be used as bondservants or slaves. But, remember, these individuals’ only other choice would have been death. Therefore, it was actually an act of mercy in most of these cases.
Here is the passage:
“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. 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. 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” (Leviticus 25:44-46).
Slavery, or indentured servanthood, in ancient Israel was much different than the slavery of the world. In Israel, if someone were to come into a financial crisis, they had the option of selling themselves to another Israelite to work off any debt they may have incurred. This system was a just system and was beneficial to both parties involved if done in accordance with God’s laws. This should not be known as “ownership” as much as “paying off a debt.”
This is the reason God instituted the seven-year redemption policy. Six years to pay off a debt and freedom on the seventh. This policy was to be considered in all situations. Here is the passage containing these laws:
“If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If 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. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then 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” (Exodus 21:2-6).
In the following passage, we see the law for those with large debts that could not be paid off in six years:
“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: But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubile. And 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. For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God” (Leviticus 25:39-43).
The “year of Jubile” was a system of service from an individual or a family for 49 years and released on the 50th year. All bondservant debts and duration of service were calculated based on how much time was left before the Jubilee year.
The Israelites, as God’s people, were to treat each other with justice and respect in regard to these laws. God’s people were His servants:
“For 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” (Leviticus 25:55).
Unfortunately, Israel, in their apostasy, did not honor this law:
“Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen, saying, At the end of seven years let ye go every man his brother an Hebrew, which hath been sold unto thee; and when he hath served thee six years, thou shalt let him go free from thee: but your fathers hearkened not unto me, neither inclined their ear” (Jeremiah 34:13-14).
The truth is, slavery has been a man-made institution since the beginning, but it was God’s people and God’s laws that began the process of ending barbaric slavery in the world — especially when Christianity thrived!
Christianity was the tool God used to convict the world of this heinous and cruel institution, and born-again men and women were those vessels that propelled that change. Although slavery is still very much alive – most regrettably – in many parts of the world, even today.
There are many things in the Bible that, just because God didn’t “condemn” them outright, doesn’t mean He approves of them or they are within His will. Polygamy would be a great example of this. We know God’s will is for one man and one woman, but God knows man’s tendencies and works His will through the many ways that He has dealt with mankind through the centuries.
What was once tolerated or allowed in the past (for whatever reason known only to Him) is now revealed to be something entirely different in the present. Essentially, God has dealt with mankind in different ways, through different ages, and for different reasons.
This doctrine is known as “Dispensationalism” and is defined as such:
A dispensation is a way of ordering things—an administration, a system, or a management. In theology, a dispensation is the divine administration of a period of time; each dispensation is a divinely appointed age. Dispensationalism is a theological system that recognizes these ages ordained by God to order the affairs of the world. (gotquestions.org)
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).
No one understands man’s depravity more than our Creator does, and He knows the proper way in which He will deal with each situation, in each dispensation, according to His divine plan. This we can trust!
The sad truth is, slavery is still alive and well today in many forms, functions, and degrees. Even in the United States, human and sexual trafficking is abundant, albeit under the radar in most cases. The human heart is just as Jeremiah said it was:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Slavery has been a human institution, apparently, since the fall of man, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Treating slaves with respect, with the exception of Israel, was unheard of. For this, we give glory to God. For without Him and His leading through the nation of Israel and, ultimately, Christian influence, this unsavory history of mankind would still be in every corner of the world. While it is manifest, it is not completely prevalent.
But we would do well to remember that Scripture truths often reveal spiritual truths. We, like the Apostles – and as Israel was and is supposed to be – are slaves/servants of the Almighty God of creation, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1a)
“Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ” (Jude 1a)
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1a)
“Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1a)
We all are servant to something – whether man, sin, Satan, or God – and we all serve at the behest of something or someone greater than ourselves:
“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34).
For whoever wants to be greatest in service to our Lord should note:
“And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:44).
Now, we are no longer servants to unrighteousness, but unto the Lord:
“Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness… But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Romans 6:18, 22).
Just as our Lord said that we would “have the poor with [us] always” (Mark 14:7), so, too, will slavery and indentured servanthood, as this is a picture of Messiah Jesus as Servant of all.
“Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high” (Isaiah 52:13).
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).
After all, our Creator, Lord, and Savior was our perfect example of servanthood:
“For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
May we all continue to be conformed to the image of Christ as we serve our loving Master with our whole being!
Love, grace, mercy, and shalom in Messiah Yeshua, and Maranatha!
- If you have not given your life to Jesus Christ and are seeking answers about God, Jesus Christ, the gospel, and salvation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
- I am still taking questions for the Questions From the Body of Christ If you or someone you know has a question pertaining to the Word of God – theology, difficult passages, eschatology, etc. – I would really like to hear from you.
- A listing of past articles may be found at my Article Listings on Rapture Ready or my Home Page on FaithWriters.