If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free without paying anything.
Exodus 12:43-45; Exodus 22:3; Leviticus 25:39-55; Leviticus 26:13; Deuteronomy 12:12, 18; Deuteronomy 15:15-19; Deuteronomy 16:11, 14; Deuteronomy 21:10-15; Deuteronomy 23:15; Deuteronomy 24:7. An impartial examination of these laws will show how fallacious must be every argument attempted to be deduced from them in favour of modern slave-holding. (On the fallacy of all such arguments, based on the state of matters in primitive society, see Maine''s "Ancient Law," pp. 162-166.) The Mosaic law did not establish slavery - at most it accorded to it a very modified toleration. It accepted it as an existing usage, labouring to the utmost to reduce, and as far as that was practicable, to abolish, the cvils connected with it. It could not well do more, for slavery, under the then existing conditions of society, was in some form or other almost inevitable, and was often the only alternative to a worse evil. Yet the law in its entire spirit and fundamental doctrines was opposed to slavery. Its doctrines of the dignity of man as made in God''s image, and of the descent of all mankind from one pair, contained in principle the recognition of every human right. As a member of the theocracy, redeemed by Jehovah for himself, every Israelite was free by constitutional right (see the emphatic annunciation of this principle in Leviticus 25:42, 55; Leviticus 26:13). If from temporary causes, the Hebrew lost the use of his freedom, the right to it was not thereby destroyed. It returned to him at the beginning of the seventh year. A law can hardly be regarded as favourable to slavery which makes man-stealing a crime punishable by death (ver. 18), and which enacts that a fugitive slave, taking refuge in Israel from his heathen master, is not to be delivered back to him, but is to be permitted to reside where he will in the land (Deuteronomy 23:15, 16). Bondsmen (both Hebrew and non-Israelite) were incorporated as part of the nation, had legal rights, sat with the other members of the family at the board of the passover, took part in all religious festivals, and had secured to them the privilege of the Sabbath rest. The master was responsible for the treatment of his slave; and if he injured him, even to the extent of smiting out a tooth, the slave thereby regained his freedom (vers. 26, 27). A female slave was to be treated with strictest honour (vers. 7-11), and with due consideration for her womanly feelings (Deuteronomy 21:10-15). Humanity and kindness are constantly inculcated. When the Hebrew bondsman went out in the seventh year he was to go forth loaded with presents (Deuteronomy 15:13-16). The legislation of Moses is thus seen to be studiously directed to the protection of the slave''s interests and rights. If there is a seeming exception, it is the one precept in ver. 20, on which see below. The law as a whole must be admitted to be framed in the spirit of the greatest tenderness and consideration, recognising the servant''s rights as a man, his privileges as a member of the theocracy, his feelings as a husband and father. As respects the Hebrew bondsman, indeed, his position did not greatly differ from that of one now who sells his labour to a particular person, or engages to work to him on definite terms for a stated period (Fairbairn). He could be reduced to servitude only by debt, or as the penalty for theft. In this latter case (Exodus 22:3), liberty was justly forfeited - is forfeited still in the case of those convicted of felony, and doomed to compulsory labours, or to transportation, or lengthened terms of imprisonment. The laws in the present section embrace three eases -
1. That of the Hebrew servant who is unmarried (ver. 2). He goes out at the beginning of the seventh year.
2. That of the Hebrew servant who is married. In this case, if the wife came in with her husband, she goes out with him in the year of release (ver. 3); but if his master has given him a wife - presumably a non-Israelite - he has not the privilege of taking her with him when he leaves. He may, however, elect to remain in his master''s service, in which case his servitude becomes perpetual (vers. 5, 6). The retention of the wife may appear oppressive, but it was, as Keil points out, "an equitable consequence of the possession of property of slaves at all."
3. The third case is that of a Hebrew daughter, sold by her father to be a maidservant, i.e., as the sequel shows, as a housekeeper and concubine (vers. 7-12). The master may betroth her to himself, or may give her to his son, but in either case the law strictly guards her honour and her rights. If her full rights are not accorded her, she is entitled to her freedom (ver. 11). Lessons.
(1) Ver. 2. - The natural right of mar. to his freedom.
(2) Ver. 5. - Recognition of the slave''s personality. "In modern systems, the man is a mere chattel, but in the Mosaic system, the slave''s manhood is declared. He is sovereign over himself, and is allowed the power of choice. The Southern slaveholder would not permit his slave to say, 'I will not'; but the Hebrew slave is permitted to say, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free'" (Burrows).
(3) Vers. 5, 6. - Love, the true reconciler between servitude and freedom. Paul the "slave" of Christ, yet the truest freeman.
(4) Jehovah''s care for the unfriended. This comes beautifully out in the law for the protection of the woman. - J.O.
If thou buy an Hebrew servant.
I. These judgments dealt WITH AN EXISTING INSTITUTION. The circumstances under which an Hebrew might be reduced to servitude were —
2. The commission of theft.
3. The exercise of paternal authority.
II. This admitted institution does NOT SANCTION MODERN SLAVERY. There is in the Divine revelation a spirit ever working to the enfranchisement of the race. More closely consider the conditions of Mosaic slavery —
III. This system asserted the SLAVE'S PERSONAL SOVEREIGNTY. In modern systems, the man is a mere chattel, but in the Mosaic system the slave's manhood is declared. He is sovereign over himself, and is allowed the power of choice. The Southern slaveholder would not permit his slave to say, "I will not"; but the Hebrew slave is permitted to say, "I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free."
IV. This system declared the slave's right TO BE A MAN OF FEELING. The man was not to be separated from the wife he had chosen prior to his days of servitude. This part of the Mosaic regulations would not harmonize with the painful scenes which took place at slave marts.
V. This system proclaimed the SLAVE'S RIGHT TO FREEDOM, AND THAT IT IS THE HIGHEST CONDITION. The Hebrew slave worked on to the day of happy release. This term of service was no longer than a modern apprenticeship. The bells of the seventh year rang out the old order of slavery, and rang in the new glorious order of freedom.
VI. This system typically SETS FORTH THAT THE SERVICE OF LOVE IS THE HIGHEST, AND ALONE ENDURING. He only was to serve "for ever" who chose continued servitude on account of love to his master, and love to his wife and his children. The service of love outstrips in dignity and surpasses in duration all other forms of service.
(W. Burrows, B. A.)
Great Thoughts.The following anecdote is furnished by an officer who went through the campaign in Egypt against the French in the time of the first Napoleon. "I am glad," he says, "to recall to my memory the remembrance of a deed done by a brave and faithful servant. While in Egypt, the plague broke out in the 2nd Regiment of Guards. A large tent was immediately set apart as a hospital for the stricken. It was, naturally, regarded with extreme dread by the unfortunate sufferers, who despaired of ever leaving it alive. The surgeon of the Guards, discovering that he had symptoms of the disorder about him, bravely gave himself up as an inmate of the plague tent. His servant, who was greatly attached to him, was in despair. 'At least,' he said, 'let me go with you, and nurse you.' His master, however, made answer that such a step was impossible, since the tent was guarded by sentinels, who had orders to admit no one without a pass. The breach of this rule was punishable with death. The man was silenced for the moment, but at nightfall, regardless of the danger of disease or detection, he crept on hands and knees past the sentinels, and slipping under the cords of the doomed tent, he presented himself at his master's bedside. Here he went through many days of patient and tender nursing of the sick man, till the plague claimed another victim, and the good surgeon died. Then the servant walked quietly out of the tent door, and went through the usual form of disinfection, after that returning to his regiment, where he was received with open arms. To have dared so much for a beloved master raised him to the rank of a hero, both among officers and men. He had shown that love for a fellow-man was stronger even than the love of life in his breast, and those who might not have been brave enough to dare such fearful risks, were noble enough to own their admiration of one who had done so. Such faithful service is registered in heaven," the writer adds.
(H. O. Mackey.)
1. And the first use is this. Men are by nature the slaves of sin. Some are the slaves of drunkenness, some of lasciviousness, some of covetousness, some of sloth; but there are generally times in men's lives when they have an opportunity of breaking loose. There will happen providential changes which take them away from old companions, and so give them a little hope of liberty, or there will come times of sickness, which take them away from temptation, and give them opportunities for thought. Above all, seasons will occur when conscience is set to work by the faithful preaching of the Word, and when the man pulls himself up, and questions his spirit thus: — "Which shall it be? I have been a servant of the devil, but here is an opportunity of getting free. Shall I give up this sin? Shall I pray God to give me grace to break right away, and become a new man; or shall I not?"
2. Our text reads us a second lesson, namely, this. In the forty-first Psalm, in the sixth verse, you will find the expression used by our Lord, or by David in prophecy personifying our Lord, "Mine ear hast thou opened," or Mine ear hast thou digged." Jesus Christ is here, in all probability, speaking of Himself as being for ever, for our sakes, the willing servant of God. Will you not say, "Let my ear be bored to His service, even as His ear was digged for me"?
I. First, let us speak upon our CHOICE OF PERPETUAL SERVICE.
1. The first thing is, we have the power to go free if we will.
2. We have not the remotest wish to do so.
3. We are willing to take the consequences. The boring of our ear is a special pain, but both ears are ready for the aul. The Lord's service involves peculiar trials, for He has told us, "Every branch that beareth fruit He purgeth it." Are we willing to take the purging?
II. Now, secondly, OUR REASONS FOR IT. A man ought to have a reason for so weighty a decision as this. What reasons can we give for such decided language?
1. We can give some reasons connected with Himself. The servant in our text who would not accept his liberty, said, "I love my master." Can we say that? The servant in our text, who would not go free, plainly declared that he loved his wife, so that there are reasons connected not only with his Master, but with those in his Master's house, which detain each servant of Jesus in happy bondage. Some of us could not leave Jesus, not only because of what He is, but because of some that are very dear to us who are in His service. How could I leave my mother's God? Besides, let me add, there are some of us who must keep to Christ, because we have children in His family whom we could not leave — dear ones who first learned of Christ from us.
2. There are reasons also why we cannot forsake our Lord which arise out of ourselves; and the first is that reason which Peter felt to be so powerful. The Master said, "Will ye also go away?" Peter answered by another question. He said, "Lord, to whom shall we go?"
3. And why should we go? Can you find any reason why we should leave Jesus Christ? Can you imagine one?
4. And when should we leave Him if we must leave Him? Leave Him while we are young? It is then that we need Him to be the guide of our youth. Leave Him when we are in middle life? Why, then it is we want Him to help us to bear our cross, lest we sink under our daily load. Leave Him in old age? Ah, no! It is then we require Him to cheer our declining hours. Leave Him in life? How could we live without Him? Leave Him in death? How could we die without Him? No, we must cling to Him; we must follow Him whithersoever He goeth.
III. In the last place, I WANT TO BORE YOUR EAR. Do you mean to be bound for life? Christians, do you really mean it? Come, sit ye down and count the cost.
1. And, first, let them be bored with the sharp awl of the Saviour's sufferings. No story wrings a Christian's heart with such anguish as the griefs and woes of Christ. The bleeding Lamb enthralls me. I am His, and His for ever. That is one way of marking the ear.
2. Next, let your ear be fastened by the truth, so that you are determined to hear only the gospel. The gospel ought to monopolize the believer's ear.
3. Furthermore, if you really give yourself to Christ, you must have your ear opened to hear and obey the whispers of the Spirit of God, so that you yield to His teaching, and to His teaching only.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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