You might think that this is an odd question with little relevance today. However, I have discovered that such questions are being proposed and answered by our secular culture with a great deal of mis-information and an air of skepticism, or even derogatory disregard for what the Bible actually teaches.
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.” – Exodus 21:2 NASB
The first teachings, or instructions (laws), that God gave the Israelites after giving them the Ten Commandments concern the proper treatment of slaves. It is as if God is saying, “I took you out of Egypt, ‘the house of slaves,’ now I am going to instruct you in the correct way about the institution of slavery which is nothing like what you experienced in Egypt.”
Torah absolutely banned the type of slavery that modern people think of when they picture slavery.
The Biblical definition for American slavery is kidnapping, which is capturing human beings by kidnapping and selling them or enslaving them. As prohibited in the Eight Commandment, “Do not steal.” This commandment originally, when God gave it to Moses, was understood as first and foremost prohibiting the stealing of human beings. And, if that were not enough this verse, 21:16, makes kidnapping of any person—Israelite or non-Israelite—for the purpose of enslavement, a capital crime. This meant under Mosaic Judicial Law they would be put to death.
By the way, this is a great truth to communicate to people outside the faith. This judicial instruction authenticates our sense of justice because of the sheer cruelty of slavery in American History. This command prohibited all practices of slavery based on kidnapping.
To provide a clarifying contrast, Muslims who were involved in the equally large Muslim slave trade based on kidnapping, were not violating Quranic or later Islamic law. The Muslims traded in slaves of individuals that they kidnapped in Africa, India, Central Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe which involved millions of souls. But unlike the Christian world, Islam never preached the abolition of slavery as a doctrine. Look to Forough Jahanbaksh, Islam, Democracy and Religious Modernism in Iran.
The biblical view of slavery refers to the institution of indentured servitude, wherein people sell themselves into slavery in order to pay off debts—either debts they do not have the funds to repay or debts incurred as a result of criminal activity, such as a thief or for the individual who lacked the means to pay back what he/she stole (see, for example, Exodus 22:2 and 22:6).
There were three types of people who could become Hebrew slaves: paupers, debtors, and thieves.
• A pauper was a person who could not make a living so he or she worked for another person in exchange for room and board until they were able to save enough to live on their own.
• A debtor was a person who was unable to pay back what he owed so he sold himself to another to work without pay until he paid off his debts.
• A thief was one who was unable to make restitution because of his crime and came under the authority of his debtor until he paid for his crime.
Hebrew (indentured) slavery was not perpetual. After a debt was paid, or a certain amount of time elapsed, the indentured individual became a free person.
Think about how effective this practice was in regard to handling the punishment for crimes, benefits to the society in creating responsibility, and the just repayment for victims of the crimes. Today we send people to prison and each individual in prison costs approximately $32,000 a year to incarcerate. In many cases criminals with worse behaviors influence those who have committed lesser crimes. Most people who are placed in prison never have to face the victim of their crimes nor pay back their victims, thus creating even more irresponsibility.
The powerful truths that we learn from Torah and the New Testament have application not only for our personal moral benefit but have implications for our society as a whole.
I have taken the opportunity to communicate with several non-Christians these powerful truths from Torah when discussing such topics as criminals being incarcerated in our society, the irresponsibility of people who commit crimes or owe money and are not held accountable for their actions.
Psalm 19:7 (KJV) is quite intriguing: “The Law (Torah) is perfect, converting the soul, (the mind, will and emotions).” One of the purposes of sharing truths from the Torah is that God uses it to change (convert) a person’s mind, soul, and emotions to align with the truth of Scripture.
In the course of a week I intentionally engage Christians and Non-Yet-Christians with truths that I have learned. I would encourage you to become more intentional. It’s fun, rewarding, and honoring to our LORD God!