And if your brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold to you, and serve you six years…
Quiet revolutions are the most permanent and the most successful. Sudden and violent assaults upon social institutions are sure to provoke reaction. All great changes must commence in the thought and feeling of the people.
I. SOCIAL USAGES, THOUGH EVIL, MUST BE TEMPORARILY TOLERATED. It is difficult to realize the conditions of human life in the earlier ages of the world. Many found a livelihood: by the use of the sword and by violent plunder. The honest poor found very precarious opportunities for labor. Coin was almost unknown, and therefore wages must be paid in the form of food and raiment. Amid these circumstances, personal servitude became almost a necessity. It was a social usage liable to great abuse, and gradually degenerated into a system of evil oppression. Yet, as God patiently tolerates on his earth so many forms of evil, and quietly provides his remedy, so we should learn, not to connive at evil, but patiently to endure it, until a real remedy can be set in motion.
II. JEWISH SLAVERY WAS CURTAILED BY LIMITS OF TIME. In this way the back of the burden was broken. The bondage, which must terminate within a fixed period, was endurable. It inspired the oppressed with hope. It checked the violence of the oppressor. The slave-holder, if severely exacting, would earn an unenviable reputation, and every device would be resorted to by the emancipated to avoid that man's service. His lands might remain untilled, his flocks neglected, his vineyards unpruned, because of his oppressive treatment of former slaves. Divine wisdom had fixed this short term of service as a barrier against human cruelty.
III. JEWISH SLAVERY WAS FURTHER RELIEVED BY A SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY. It is possible to show a spirit of kindness everywhere. If we have an unpleasant duty to perform, firmness may be always tempered with kindness. God would not allow the Hebrews to deal with their bondmen on terms of mere justice. They were not permitted to extort all that was in the bond. To make the largest possible gain out of human flesh and blood was strictly prohibited. They might continue the usage of slavery for a time, but the system should be relieved and penetrated and embellished by acts of kindness. The day of release was not to be a day of mourning for the masters. They were to share in the gladness of the emancipated, to send them away laden with flocks and with fruit. In proportion as had been the industry and fidelity of the bondman, would be (unless his master were a brute) the bountiful reward. This new spirit of fraternal benevolence would speedily undermine and overthrow the old usage of slavery. Such is God's process of change.
IV. GENEROUS KINDNESS MIGHT SECURE THE LIFELONG SERVICE OF THE SLAVE. There was no necessity that the condition of the bondman should be one of hardship. Love might surmount all custom, rise above law, and transcend all considerations of gain. The spirit of religion can find its way down to the root of all wrong, eradicate all the evils that curse society, and make human life beautiful as heaven. In the very midst of slavery, it is possible for love to operate, to soften asperities, and lighten burdens. To this practical affection the hearts of slaves would soon respond. Their service would rise in quality, and would increase in indefinite measure. Kindness is a most remunerative investment. And at the close of the term of service, many a bondman would decline his freedom, and prefer the service of such a master for the possible drawbacks and risks of liberty.
V. REMEMBRANCE OF OUR OWN OBLIGATION SHOULD MAKE US INDULGENT TO OTHERS. (Ver. 15.) If adversity has not made us tender-hearted, it has been wasted upon us. God has redeemed us from the bondage of sin, and redeemed us at costly price, and it is plain that we do not prize our redemption if we oppress others. The love of our heart, which God rightly claims for himself, he commands us to express in the form of practical kindness. God has identified his interests with the interests of humanity, so that we either promote both or neither. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.