How was slavery practiced among the Hebrews?

Author: BibleAsk Team


The Hebrews and Slavery

In ancient times, slavery was a world wide established institution. In heathen countries, slaves were dealt with as possessions than like human beings. The majority of those in slavery were either born in it or made so by war. These ones had no political rights and few social rights. They were often subject to torture and were required to do severe labor.

In contrast, although God permitted the practice of slavery in ancient Israel, He made rules and regulation to restrict its evils. The Hebrews were generally made “slaves” to their own race due to poverty (Leviticus 25:35, 39), wrongdoing (Exodus 22:3), as a payment for a debt (2 Kings 4:1–7), or through misfortunes 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 (Leviticus 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” (Leviticus 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 (Genesis 1:26,27). And it realizes that all people are created equal. It confirmed the rights of every person in the human family (Leviticus 25:39–42; Leviticus 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 (Leviticus 25:43). To the master, the slave was still regarded as “thy brother” (Deuteronomy 15:12; Philemon 16). No other nation in ancient times dealt with its salves in this caring manner.

The spirit of Mosaic Law concerning slaves, was also taught in the New Testament by Paul in Colossians 4:1, and expressed by him upon returning the Christian slave Onesimus back to his Christian master Philemon (Philemon 8–16). Just and merciful laws characterizes all the Mosaic regulations.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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