How was slavery practiced among the Hebrews?

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In ancient times, slavery was a universal established institution. In heathen countries, slaves were regarded more as possessions than human beings. The majority of those suffering involuntary servitude were either born in it or made so by the misfortunes of war. These ones had no political rights and only few social rights. They were often subject to beatings and torture and required to do severe labor.

In contrast, although God permitted the practice of slavery in ancient Israel, He made rules and regulation to lessen its evils. The Hebrews were generally made “slaves” to their own race due to poverty (Lev. 25:35, 39), wrongdoing (Ex. 22:3), as a payment for a debt (2 Kings 4:1–7), or through the tragedies of war when they were taken to foreign countries (2 Kings 5:2, 3).

According to God’s law, there was no lasting involuntary slavery for a Hebrew slave to a Hebrew master (Lev. 25:25–55). Upon payment of the unexpired portion of the sale price, the master was obligated to release a slave and set him free ”after he is sold he may be redeemed again. One of his brothers may redeem him” (Lev. 25:48–52).

In spirit, the Mosaic Law is opposed to servitude as it focuses on the dignity of the human who was made in God’s image. And realizes that all people are created equal. It confirmed the rights of every person in the human family (Lev. 25:39–42; Lev. 26:11–13).

The Lord carefully protected the rights of Hebrew slaves, and even made the lot of the foreign slaves far more kind than was practiced elsewhere. Severe treatment was not permitted (Lev. 25:43). To the master, the slave was still regarded as “thy brother” (Deut. 15:12; Philemon 16).

The spirit of Mosaic Law concerning slaves, was also taught in the NT by Paul in Col. 4:1, and expressed by him upon returning the Christian slave Onesimus back to his Christian master Philemon (Philemon 8–16). Caring laws characterizes all the Mosaic regulations. No other nation in ancient times dealt with its slaves in this caring manner.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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