And if your brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold to you, and serve you six years…
No argument in favor of modern slave-holding can be drawn from Hebrew bend-service. The Hebrew bondmen, unlike modern slaves, were incorporated as part of the nation; had legal rights; took part in the religious feasts; if mutilated or injured, thereby obtained their freedom. On the sabbatic year the Hebrew bondman regained his freedom, going out, not simply free, but loaded with presents. We learn -
I. THE NATURAL RIGHT OF MAN TO HIS FREEDOM. (Vers. 12, 13.) Freedom is man's birthright. It cannot be bartered. He must not be robbed of it by violence. If from temporary causes the use of it is lost, the right itself is not destroyed. So the Jews were taught by the return of every Hebrew to his freedom in the seventh year. It is a primary and unalienable right of man, which here, like underlying rock, juts to the surface.
II. THE RIGHT OF SERVANTS TO EQUITABLE AND GENEROUS TREATMENT. (Vers. 13-16.) Bondmen were not to be regarded as mere "hands," still less as chattels. They were to be kindly treated, and dismissed with presents. It is a principle of equity which comes to light in ver. 18. We may apply it to modern times by saying that if servants are worth more to us than their wages, it is but fair that they should participate in profits. The principle is already being recognized, and has in it the germ of the solution of many difficult problems in political economy.
III. THAT LOVE IS THE TRUE RECONCILER OF SERVICE AND FREEDOM. (Vers. 17, 18.) It made the service no service - no real bond-service. Compare Jacob's service for Rachel (Genesis 29:20). Were the law of love to rule more than it does in the relations of servants and masters, of employers and employed, it would greatly sweeten trade, commerce, manufactures, and domestic life. There are doubtless faults on the side of servants as well as of masters - but how seldom is any earnest attempt made to break down feelings of antagonism, and to bring in healthier relations! The law of Christ is the true cure for strikes, lock-outs, combinations, etc. Apply to the service of God in Christ. Law here, but also love, and through the love freedom in obedience. The highest freedom is in obedience to the law of holiness. - J.O.
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.