If a man be found stealing any of his brothers of the children of Israel, and makes merchandise of him, or sells him…
Slavery, in modified form, has always prevailed in Eastern lands; and, with prudent limitations, was tolerated among the Hebrews. To promulgate laws for men, which transcended their moral sense, would defeat the ends of law. God has continually to lead men from lower levels to higher. A man may voluntarily sell his liberty for a time. But to deprive a man of liberty by violence is a scarlet sin; and man-stealing is rightly branded with the deepest indignation of God.
I. LIBERTY IS ESSENTIAL TO MAN'S FULLEST LIFE. Any form of bondage is a curtailment of life, a mutilation of the man. His outward condition may be bettered. He may have more food and warmer clothing and a healthier home, but the real man is injured. He is not fully susceptible of self-development. The springs of life are poisoned. He learns to despise himself, and to despise oneself is a step on the slippery road to ruin. Yet liberty is a human right not well understood. It must be distinguished from license. True liberty has its limits and its checks. A man is at liberty to part with his liberty for a time. Every man who toils for his bread is compelled to do this. Yet even this temporary cessation of his liberty must be voluntary.
II. TO DEPRIVE A MAN FORCIBLY OF HIS LIBERTY IS TO DEPRIVE HIM OF HIS LIFE. The life of the body is not the whole of a man's life. The intellect, affections, choice, will, have a life more precious than the life of the body. To steal a man or to kidnap a child is to interfere, wantonly and injuriously, with the proper life of the person. The outward conditions of training and probation are not such as God ordained. The man's eternal prospects, as well as his earthly possibilities, are blighted. And all this moral damage is done for paltry gain. The man who can lend himself to such a business as slave-mongering is lost to all goodness, lost to shame. He is a disgrace to the human species - a tool of Satan.
III. FOR SUCH A CRIME THE GOD-APPOINTED PENALTY IS DEATH. No heavier penalty is imposed by the civil magistrate, because no heavier penalty is possible. Such a monster must be removed from the scenes of human society, because his presence is pestilential, demoralizing, deadly. Where human judgment ends, God's judgment begins. Such a one is hurried before the higher court of heaven, is arraigned before the great white throne of the Eternal, and fullest justice will here be meted out. My soul, be thou free from such taint as this! - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.
WEB: If a man be found stealing any of his brothers of the children of Israel, and he deal with him as a slave, or sell him; then that thief shall die: so you shall put away the evil from the midst of you.