The Biblical laws concerning slavery not only lightened the lot of the Hebrew slave but eventually led to his freedom. No slave was to be continue in permanent slavery. The Lord instructed the Israelites saying, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today” (Deuteronomy 15:15). These regulations included the following provisions:
(1) The Hebrews slave could not be required to serve longer than six years, and was to be set free in the seventh year. “If you buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing” (Exodus 21:2).
(2) Severe treatment by the owner was firmly discouraged. “And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers. For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God” (Lev. 25:39–43).
(3) If, in anger, the owner causes serious bodily injury to the slave, the slave was to receive his freedom. “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye” (Ex. 21:26).
(4) Unreasonably harsh punishment given to a slave would subject the owner to legal penalties. “And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property” (Ex. 21:20, 21).
(5) During service, the terms of servitude were to be so generously given that it would be possible for the slave to obtain property or sufficient amount of money to redeem himself (Lev. 25:49).
The operation of these guidelines would progressively lead to the eradication of unfair and sad misfortunes of a slave. In fact, the lot of the Hebrew “slave” was not seen as slavery by the neighboring heathen nations around Israel.
And if a slave likes his master and his provisions, he can decline his freedom. This establishment, if done according to the rules laid down by God (Duet. 15: 15), would be a blessing especially to the one who is unable to take care of himself. In this way, the slave places himself under the care of his master who has shown kindly care of his slaves. “And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do” (Deut. 15:16-18).
In His service,
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