Slavery In The Bible
One of the criticism’s that are made against the God of the Bible is that slavery is condoned and even commanded by God.
The reason that many people bring this accusation is due largely to their lack of knowledge in what the Bible is actually saying and how the text should be correctly understood. In a general sense, we never find that God commanded slavery to any people or nation. In fact, we see God delivering the Hebrews from Egypt and destroying the kingdom of Pharaoh, because he held people in slavery. It was because of God’s hatred of slavery that He delivered the Hebrews from their bondage and brought them into a new land of their own.
Unfortunately, this new land was filled with vile and evil people. The Canaanites were known to the world as the most reprobate people on the planet. Taking their newborn babies and laying them on the fiery hot arms of the god Molech, their infant children were burned to death as an act of worship. Rampant sexual sin with animals, eating of raw meat, storing the body parts of babies killed after birth in jars and sealed inside the walls of their houses as ritualistic practices to appease their gods, these are just a few of the practices of the Canaanites.
God was bringing His people out of slavery and into a new land where He would judge these surrounding nations for their horrific practices, but not immediately. God would wait for nearly 900 years before issuing the orders to destroy every man, woman, and child who inhabited these nations. First, God would give these people a very long time to turn from their sins and turn to God, before judgement would arrive.
Many people condemn God for destroying an entire nation, without understanding just how evil these people really were. God always preludes His judgment by a very long period of grace when He give people time to change their minds.
Should Evil Be Punished?
Just a any righteous earthly judge will examine a person for their crimes and see if there is evidence to convict, God examines all people on the earth before He brings judgement. Just as an earthly judge gathers the evidence, then brings judgement for evil, so also does the God who made the universe. God also examines evil people and brings judgement to them. The primary differences are that God’s judgment is perfect because He is able to look inside the heart and mind of people and discern the truth. Second, God gives people an extraordinary long period of time to change their minds. For the Canaanites, God waited nearly 900 years before destroying them. For we humans, God gives us our entire life to decide if we will turn from our sins and receive the salvation that is only possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
No person would want to live in a land where judges fail to enforce the laws by executing judgement against evil persons and their crimes. The Canaanites were some of the most evil people that have ever existed. God executed judgment after waiting and warning the Canaanites.
When the Israelites came into this land that the Canaanite occupied and conquered them, God permitted the Hebrews to take slaves from the surrounding nations, rather than execute them at that time. God commanded that even these enemy slaves would be treated fairly and decently. As a result of this treatment, many of the Canaanite slaves did find the God of Israel and were saved from the future judgement.
This gives us a glimpse into the great love of God. Some people are spared from death, but live in slavery during their life—all so that they can learn about the love of God and have a further opportunity to be saved.
The idea that God commanded and approved of slavery is a distortion of the facts that we find in the Bible. God did not command slavery to be instituted, but rather issued regulations for its practice. Long before God gave Moses the law, the people of this land, including the Jews, were already practicing slavery.
The Text In Question From Leviticus 25:
Israelites In Debt: 35 “If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and cannot support himself, support him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident and allow him to live with you. 36 Do not charge interest or make a profit at his expense. Instead, show your fear of God by letting him live with you as your relative. 37 Remember, do not charge interest on money you lend him or make a profit on food you sell him. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
Israelites Who Are Poor: 39 “If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell himself to you, do not treat him as a slave. 40 Treat him instead as a hired worker or as a temporary resident who lives with you, and he will serve you only until the Year of Jubilee. 41 At that time he and his children will no longer be obligated to you, and they will return to their clans and go back to the land originally allotted to their ancestors. 42 The people of Israel are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt, so they must never be sold as slaves. 43 Show your fear of God by not treating them harshly.
Canaanite People: 44 “However, you may purchase male and female slaves from among the nations around you. 45 You may also purchase the children of temporary residents who live among you, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, 46 passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat them as slaves, but you must never treat your fellow Israelites this way. ~Leviticus 25:38-46 (NLT)
Notice the preface to the disputed verses from Leviticus 25, that God begins His comments with the statement that He had brought the Hebrews out of their own slavery in Egypt. From this text we can understand the true heart of God that He never intended, nor did He command, that people would make others their slaves. God consistently desires throughout the Bible that every person would find liberty in their life by a personal and loving relationship with Him.
God is instituting regulations to a long-held practice of the Hebrews and the nations around them, that men take other men and make them their slaves.
Evidence that the enslavement of the Canaanites was a precursor to God imminent judgment of these nations, is observed in Deuteronomy chapter 9.
Listen, O Israel! Today you are about to cross the Jordan River to take over the land belonging to nations much greater and more powerful than you. They live in cities with walls that reach to the sky! The people are strong and tall—descendants of the famous Anakite giants. You’ve heard the saying, ‘Who can stand up to the Anakites?’ But recognize today that the Lord your God is the one who will cross over ahead of you like a devouring fire to destroy them. He will subdue them so that you will quickly conquer them and drive them out, just as the Lord has promised. “After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people. ~Deuteronomy 9:1-6 (NLT)
When God brought the Hebrews out of their slavery in Egypt, they were coming to a land that was inhabited by people just as evil as the Egyptians. Some of the Hebrews imagined that it was because they deserved this land and were good people, that God gave them the lands that belonged to other nations and peoples. Here the Lord clarifies that the reason He brought them into the land of the Canaanites was not because the Hebrews were good, but because He was going to bring judgement to the Canaanites through the Hebrews.
Continual Reminders Of God’s Abhorrence To Slavery
In the text of 1 Samuel 10, as God is about to appoint Saul as the first king of Israel, He reminds the people of His mercy and power in leading them already, by delivering nearly 2 million Hebrew slaves from the brutality of the Egyptian Pharaoh.
Later Samuel called all the people of Israel to meet before the Lord at Mizpah. And he said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, has declared: I brought you from Egypt and rescued you from the Egyptians and from all of the nations that were oppressing you. But though I have rescued you from your misery and distress, you have rejected your God today and have said, ‘No, we want a king instead!’ Now, therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by tribes and clans.” ~1 Samuel 10:17-19 (NLT)
Leviticus 25 And The Different Categories Of Slavery
In the text of this chapter from Leviticus we see three types of slavery that God addresses:
- A fellow Israelite who is in debt and sells himself into slavery in order to repay a debt. Other Israelites are to lend him money but not charge interest on the loan. Fellow Israelites who are poor are to be treated compassionately, like members of the same family (Leviticus 25:35-38).
- A fellow Israelite who is poor and sells himself or family into servitude in order to survive (Leviticus 25:39-43).
- Evil Canaanites. Israelites were permitted to take slaves from their enemies in surrounding nations, rather than execute them (Lev. 25:44-46).
It was from this third category that men during the Civil War in America sought to justify taking African’s and Blacks from other countries, as slaves. The problem was that God did not approve of any other nation in taking slaves, only the Israelites during that specific time, and only because they lived in the midst of these evil people. The purpose was to subdue their enemies while showing mercy and give further opportunities for these evil people to learn about the God of Israel and be saved. God never approved of slavery for the world, nor did He ever give a command for anyone else to take slaves for any other purpose.
Notice the first paragraph from the first chapter in the book of Leviticus:
The Lord called to Moses from the Tabernacle and said to him, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. ~Leviticus 1:1-2 (NLT)
The men who sought to justify slavery in America were told by Bible teachers of that day that they were wrong in taking slaves and that God did not approve of their unjust actions. The slave traders and owners of slaves refused to listen and went to war because of their greed, not because they cared about slaves or what the Bible declared.
Does God’s Patience With People Mean He Condones Their Sins?
Some critics of God and the Bible, have the idea that because God does not take decisive action to stop evil, that this makes Him complicit in the evil.
The reason that people think such things is because they are thinking from a human perspective that is limited to things on earth. God thinks about things with an eternal perspective. His goal is always to save people. Human reasoning is always to act quickly and stop evil.
It is based upon this kind of thinking that people have condemned God for the evil and suffering that exists in the world. In the minds of those who do not understand God or scoff at the idea that He could exist, they see God’s inaction as evidence that, 1. He doesn’t exist. 2. He is not omnipotent and capable of doing anything. 3. He is not loving and doesn’t really care about the suffering of human beings.
All three of these, are, of course, foolishness.
If God did not exist, the universe would not exist. If God was not omnipotent, the universe and human life could not exist. If God did not care, then why did He allow His only Son to come to earth, suffer unimaginable torture, and die for the sins of the world?
The Existence Of Evil And Suffering
Evil still exists in the world today because God is continuing to show patience to sinners and give them time, just as He did the Canaanites for nearly 900 years; the people of earth during the time of Noah when God waited for judgement after warning the world, for 100 years; the nearly 2,000 years God is giving people now, since Jesus died and rose again and warned of the final judgement.
If we will read the Bible we will discover that at the end of a predetermined time that God has set for the present world, Jesus will return again and stop all evil and suffering, as well as sickness and death on the earth.
Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come. ~Revelation 12:10
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” ~Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)
The reason that God tolerates men who take other men in slavery is that first He must change the heart of people before He can work to change behavior. It never works to simply legislate morality by laws. Unsaved people do not respond to laws and commands. It is by changing the heart of a person when they come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior that they are born again into a new life that is guided by the Spirit and not simply the understanding of a human mind.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. ~2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
In the New Testament we do not see the followers of Jesus attacking those who take slaves. History records that there were more than 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire during that time. It has always been the mission of Jesus’ church to proclaim the salvation that He died to give us. It is by coming into a new relationship with Jesus that a person’s heart is truly changed and they determine not to do anything to take advantage of, or hurt another person.
Jesus said that how we live personally and the righteous lives we live for Christ, is like salt which acts as a preservative in a sinful and evil world. I have stories of many people who I personally led to Christ by simply living the right way all of of my life for Jesus.
Alexander Maclaren Said:
“The gospel message meddles directly with no political or social arrangements, but lays down principles which will profoundly affect these, and leaves them to soak into the general mind.”
If the early Christian church had launched a militant crusade against the practices of slavery, it would have identified the followers of Jesus as nothing more than a political movement. This would have prevented these first believers from spreading of the gospel into the entire Roman world.
The early Christian church had no opportunity to change political or social issues by force in the first century. It was only by living for Jesus and demonstrating His love, righteousness, and hope, that people understood who God is and experienced a changed life.
God has chosen to change people gradually through the ministry of His Holy Spirit and by proclaiming the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ.
God has always hated and has eternally been in opposition to slavery. It is men who take other men as slaves. It is the desire of God’s Spirit that He might change these hearts and minds by allowing people to know Him and come into a new relationship with Him.
This is our job as the followers of Jesus; to introduce the Love of God, through a knowledge and relationship with Jesus, which changes everything.
 A. From the Expositor’s Bible Commentary on 2 Kings 23:10, regarding child sacrifices to Molech by the Amalekites: “An eighth- century b. c. Phoenician inscription speaks of sacrifices made to Molech before battle by the Cilicians and their enemies. Topheth was the cultic installation where children were offered to the god Molech. The word is thought to signify the hearth where the child was placed. The Hebrew term has parallel terms in both Ugaritic and Aramaic with the meaning “furnace, fireplace.” Scholars have thought that Topheth was at the edge of the valley of Ben Hinnom before connecting with the Kidron Valley. The valley of Ben Hinnom has been identified with Wadier-Rahabi southwest of the City of David. Many consider Molech to be a netherworld deity featuring rituals with Canaanite origins focusing on dead ancestors.”
B. “There is archaeological evidence that the Canaanites of the second millennium BCE followed the custom of child sacrifice owing to excavations of a shrine near the city of Gezer which has yielded clay jars containing the charred bones of babies.” Retrieved from: http://www.baal.com/baal/about/divine_overview.shtml
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