Leviticus 25:44-46 and slavery

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
Brothers and sisters, please help me understand Leviticus 25:44-46

44
וְעַבְדְּךָ֥ וַאֲמָתְךָ֖ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִהְיוּ־לָ֑ךְ מֵאֵ֣ת הַגֹּויִ֗ם אֲשֶׁר֙ סְבִיבֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם מֵהֶ֥ם תִּקְנ֖וּ עֶ֥בֶד וְאָמָֽה׃
As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you.
45
וְ֠גַם מִבְּנֵ֨י הַתֹּושָׁבִ֜ים הַגָּרִ֤ים עִמָּכֶם֙ מֵהֶ֣ם תִּקְנ֔וּ וּמִמִּשְׁפַּחְתָּם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עִמָּכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר הֹולִ֖ידוּ בְּאַרְצְכֶ֑ם וְהָי֥וּ לָכֶ֖ם לַֽאֲחֻזָּֽה׃
You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property
46
וְהִתְנַחֲלְתֶּ֨ם אֹתָ֜ם לִבְנֵיכֶ֤ם אַחֲרֵיכֶם֙ לָרֶ֣שֶׁת אֲחֻזָּ֔ה לְעֹלָ֖ם בָּהֶ֣ם תַּעֲבֹ֑דוּ וּבְאַ֨חֵיכֶ֤ם בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אִ֣ישׁ בְּאָחִ֔יו לֹא־תִרְדֶּ֥ה בֹ֖ו בְּפָֽרֶךְ׃
You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

The question: would a foreign slave have been freed according to the provisions given in the proceeding verses, IF he converted and was circumcised? Or, was he and his family considered "property" all their days or until their release?


Elaboration:
I do not think slavery is always sinful, although the particular slavery that Americans most recently practiced I think the Bible would consider heinous man-stealing (Exodus 21:16; 1 Timothy 1:10). Slavery was less profitable than being a hired wage-earner, but the principle in slavery of "you owe me work by contract" is the same. Slavery may or may not be voluntarily taken up. The slavery ideal of the NT was to treat your slaves with respect and justice, as fellows united to Christ (see Col 3:5-4:1). Although bad masters certainly existed, slavery was not called to be destroyed as an institution. Like prisons, it is a legitimate institution brought on by sin and to be destroyed in the New Heavens and New Earth (where there is no slave or free, Col 3).

The slavery of the OT seems very humane in comparison to the nations around, but these verses are puzzling me. Perhaps these slaves placed themselves into service in their own nations camps or they were prisoners of war or of crime? That would eliminate them being man-stolen.

There are other puzzling verses about slavery. For example, Exodus 21:4 "if a man gives [his slave] a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out alone." Certainly, the avenging of a slave's death in Exodus 21:20 shows slaves were considered human, but the next verse considers them "money" (if killed unintentionally by their masters). Although considered human, how could a master give a wife, then be allowed to break the obligations of a husband providing and having life-long union with his wife? Let alone having possession of his children. This seems like a type of prostitution, or "stud" usage.

Another passage of the same type makes a distinction in the death penalty for a man who lies with a slave woman (Leviticus 19:20-22), "If a man lies sexually with a woman who is a slave, assigned to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, a distinction shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; but he shall bring compensation to the LORD, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering... For his sin... And he shall be forgiven."

This text and Ex 21:4 would seem to make a sharp distinction in value between slave and free women - not to mention in sexual ethics - that I cannot well reconcile with Colossians 3 "there is no slave nor free... Christ is all and in all."

Indentured servitude seems to be the norm among Israel, but life-long slaves of different ethnic groups seems the norm. Or, do I have it wrong and they could have become Israelites through faith in the promises and reversed their life-long slave status to indentured/jubilee type? If this is the case, it might make more sense of the other passages - there was a way of escape, so to speak.
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
It seems plain to me that an acquired household member of foreign extraction, being raised to the status of an Israelite through conversion and circumcision, himself acquired rights of citizenship at that point. New circumstance yields new access. The rights of a citizen supercede the rights of a foreigner. The Israelite slave would go free in the year of Jubilee, if not before.

The language of "perpetuity" in law is frequently subject to qualification, implicit or explicit; as in "...all things being equal," or "...circumstances unchanged." One piece of legislation is bound to come into conflict with or challenge another; it is the nature of the competition of power and procedure. The job of a judge is hashing out which party has the stronger case; especially important when matters do not appear cut-and-dried.

It is also wise for the sake of interpretation (as with your further "Elaboration") not to assume it is a simple matter to "map" modern social relations to those of the ancient world. We may not understand well enough how the dynamics of "release" were designed to result in increased gneeral social stability, rather than a decrease. The man who was given a wife, and may have had children with her, while he was a slave, might be "ready" to go out himself in the Sabbath year if he was still single.

But, in this scenario, though he had earned his own freedom, he was not yet capable of supporting the wife and child. He still owed a "bide-price" to the man who had (in a real sense) saved him from ruin by means of indentured servitude. Thus, while he had been blessed with a wife while he was a slave, he still had the same obligation another man might have had as a freeman, who wanted to marry a woman of the rich man's house--namely, to pay the bride price (as Jacob did to Laban). He had not done so once his own contract was done. So, that debt was still waiting service.

We should not presume the woman was treated like a chattel, nor as a prostitute with the rich man as her pimp. The fact was, she and her child were being cared for as members of the original household. To send her away with the husband who had only just started to get his own feet under him was to imperil him, her, and the child--the exact opposite of actually caring for them. The marriage union was now motive for the husband to work hard for her "release" by payment of the bride-price.

If you attend the story of Jacob, Rachel & Leah, you notice when he wishes to escape Laban his wives are ready to leave with him, their father having spent all their price (Gen.31:14-15). The bride-price ideally was a guarantee payment that, should the husband die (or other), the woman and her children could come home to her father's house and be less of a burden because of that escrow account.

Our society doesn't have the same social safeguards as even a hundred years ago, let alone a few thousand. We have a major task even understanding what were the norms of a biblical-age Israelite society. There are myriad details about ancient life that the Law of Moses takes for granted as common knowledge background for them. Today, we have to be educated into that same background just to try to make sense of the complex web of the Sinai Constitution. And, it's not as if we know all the history of case-law that followed over the centuries after its delivery.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
It seems plain to me that an acquired household member of foreign extraction, being raised to the status of an Israelite through conversion and circumcision, himself acquired rights of citizenship at that point. New circumstance yields new access. The rights of a citizen supercede the rights of a foreigner. The Israelite slave would go free in the year of Jubilee, if not before.

The language of "perpetuity" in law is frequently subject to qualification, implicit or explicit; as in "...all things being equal," or "...circumstances unchanged." One piece of legislation is bound to come into conflict with or challenge another; it is the nature of the competition of power and procedure. The job of a judge is hashing out which party has the stronger case; especially important when matters do not appear cut-and-dried.

It is also wise for the sake of interpretation (as with your further "Elaboration") not to assume it is a simple matter to "map" modern social relations to those of the ancient world. We may not understand well enough how the dynamics of "release" were designed to result in increased gneeral social stability, rather than a decrease. The man who was given a wife, and may have had children with her, while he was a slave, might be "ready" to go out himself in the Sabbath year if he was still single.

But, in this scenario, though he had earned his own freedom, he was not yet capable of supporting the wife and child. He still owed a "bide-price" to the man who had (in a real sense) saved him from ruin by means of indentured servitude. Thus, while he had been blessed with a wife while he was a slave, he still had the same obligation another man might have had as a freeman, who wanted to marry a woman of the rich man's house--namely, to pay the bride price (as Jacob did to Laban). He had not done so once his own contract was done. So, that debt was still waiting service.

We should not presume the woman was treated like a chattel, nor as a prostitute with the rich man as her pimp. The fact was, she and her child were being cared for as members of the original household. To send her away with the husband who had only just started to get his own feet under him was to imperil him, her, and the child--the exact opposite of actually caring for them. The marriage union was now motive for the husband to work hard for her "release" by payment of the bride-price.

If you attend the story of Jacob, Rachel & Leah, you notice when he wishes to escape Laban his wives are ready to leave with him, their father having spent all their price (Gen.31:14-15). The bride-price ideally was a guarantee payment that, should the husband die (or other), the woman and her children could come home to her father's house and be less of a burden because of that escrow account.

Our society doesn't have the same social safeguards as even a hundred years ago, let alone a few thousand. We have a major task even understanding what were the norms of a biblical-age Israelite society. There are myriad details about ancient life that the Law of Moses takes for granted as common knowledge background for them. Today, we have to be educated into that same background just to try to make sense of the complex web of the Sinai Constitution. And, it's not as if we know all the history of case-law that followed over the centuries after its delivery.
This is very helpful! I have noticed with Biblical law that the general principles are mapped out, and the specific case law was left to the ages. But that has made Biblical law - as you say - a major task to understand. However, that it can be understood was not in doubt for me. My elaboration may have sounded as if I did doubt itit, but I was trying to establish the question in the starkest language.

It makes sense that if the bride-price were payed they would be married. It also makes sense that if they became Israelites they would be transferred to indentured servitude and eventual freedom. The majority of my questions have been answered already, and I thank you!

However, a few questions still crop up:
*Why does Ex 21:4 use the language of "give" for the wife to the slave man? Does this mean the master has the right to arrange marriages for his slaves (make slave with female slave), and perhaps only in this case would the directions of Exodus 21:4 apply?

*Why would the penalty of death be lowered to a mere sacrifice when perpetrated against a slave woman in Leviticus 19?
In society, I understand that slaves were rightly lower - they had fewer responsibilities, they were often not Israelite, and could not sustain themselves. However, this verse would make it seem they are not valued the same intrinsically, rather than merely in the eyes of the law. I cannot accept that or believe that to be the Scriptural interpretation, as Scripture everywhere establishes the image of God in all, and therefore their value. But it is puzzling me.

*Israelites are buying these foreign slaves from the foreigners among them. If man-stealing was punishable by death, would that apply to those foreigners? Or, could an Israelite buy man-stolen people as long as the seller was a travelling salesman and not a sojourner? Or, because man-stealing is prohibited, does that also make illegal the buying of man-stolen people?


I apologize, this might be an impossible task given how far we are from their situation, but I am curious. Slavery is used as a cudgel against Christianity, and I think it defensible.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
What is clearly communicated is that what we would call "human chattel" was permitted as long as they were foreigners.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The issue addressed in Lev.19:20ff presents as a complicated case, but which could be studied and analyzed for wider applications.

In its basic form, the scenario goes thus: an Israelite householder had control of a maidservant (there would have been from our perspective only a slight variation in status between a daughter and a maid), which at some time was promised to someone as his wife, hence the betrothal. In this case, she had not been made the future husband's carnal partner, just promised awaiting the payment and/or release. But, the betrothal is an important social construct, an expectation in law. It is not a minor thing for any interested party to breach such a contract.

Now, what appears to happen in the case is that the householder himself is responsible for the breach of contract. He either takes the woman himself for his own concubine, or else he allows her to be the partner of another man than the betrothed. I refuse any interpretation that would treat the woman (being in the Israelite, as opposed to a heathen society) as a pure sex-object. I do not imagine that the man originally betrothed to the woman had slept with her or had children by her. In other words, the Ex.21 passage does not describe the "original" relationship.

The "power dynamics" could have been this or that; we can't be the judge of how much "consent" we accord the woman; other than to say her forcible rape or forcing her into informal prostitution would not be allowable under the Sinai code. There is some indication that she goes along with the situation, because either man (the rich householder, or the other man whose advances she accepts) is more advantageous than the betrothed. "They shall not be put to death." It is not a situation of seduction (ala Dt.22:23f), but of another party inserting in place of the originally betrothed.

So, the breach of contract created a sinful situation. You cannot promise someone a wife, get into the bride-price process, and cut it off without consequence. "There must be a punishment." I don't think the translations have it correct that assign this punishment to the woman ("...she shall be scourged.") It is not a situation where there was no "following the rules" of mastery, but of a conflict of interest. She wasn't free, not even freedom of a daughter; and accepted the changes given or proposed to her. The man (or men) involved broke the betrothal contract, but not in a way that did irreversible harm. But it did harm, and the harm had to be restituted.

The woman obtained the status of a wife (or concubine, as some women taken as partners were not given the full status, but still had to be taken care of by right). The fault was wholly assigned to the man, the householder, either for taking the woman for himself or allowing her to a preferred suitor. He bore the burden of the breach of contract. In other words, the LORD took the promise of his people seriously. He took the grief of the betrothed man seriously, one who had invested his heart into this thing and was waiting (and working) for a wife, only to have that contract broken, not for any sin or breach of his side. He would survive; his money could be put toward another union, he could move on. But the LORD marked the breach as a sin, requiring acknowledgement of the selfishness and an offering be made.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
The issue addressed in Lev.19:20ff presents as a complicated case, but which could be studied and analyzed for wider applications.

In its basic form, the scenario goes thus: an Israelite householder had control of a maidservant (there would have been from our perspective only a slight variation in status between a daughter and a maid), which at some time was promised to someone as his wife, hence the betrothal. In this case, she had not been made the future husband's carnal partner, just promised awaiting the payment and/or release. But, the betrothal is an important social construct, an expectation in law. It is not a minor thing for any interested party to breach such a contract.

Now, what appears to happen in the case is that the householder himself is responsible for the breach of contract. He either takes the woman himself for his own concubine, or else he allows her to be the partner of another man than the betrothed. I refuse any interpretation that would treat the woman (being in the Israelite, as opposed to a heathen society) as a pure sex-object. I do not imagine that the man originally betrothed to the woman had slept with her or had children by her. In other words, the Ex.21 passage does not describe the "original" relationship.

The "power dynamics" could have been this or that; we can't be the judge of how much "consent" we accord the woman; other than to say her forcible rape or forcing her into informal prostitution would not be allowable under the Sinai code. There is some indication that she goes along with the situation, because either man (the rich householder, or the other man whose advances she accepts) is more advantageous than the betrothed. "They shall not be put to death." It is not a situation of seduction (ala Dt.22:23f), but of another party inserting in place of the originally betrothed.

So, the breach of contract created a sinful situation. You cannot promise someone a wife, get into the bride-price process, and cut it off without consequence. "There must be a punishment." I don't think the translations have it correct that assign this punishment to the woman ("...she shall be scourged.") It is not a situation where there was no "following the rules" of mastery, but of a conflict of interest. She wasn't free, not even freedom of a daughter; and accepted the changes given or proposed to her. The man (or men) involved broke the betrothal contract, but not in a way that did irreversible harm. But it did harm, and the harm had to be restituted.

The woman obtained the status of a wife (or concubine, as some women taken as partners were not given the full status, but still had to be taken care of by right). The fault was wholly assigned to the man, the householder, either for taking the woman for himself or allowing her to a preferred suitor. He bore the burden of the breach of contract. In other words, the LORD took the promise of his people seriously. He took the grief of the betrothed man seriously, one who had invested his heart into this thing and was waiting (and working) for a wife, only to have that contract broken, not for any sin or breach of his side. He would survive; his money could be put toward another union, he could move on. But the LORD marked the breach as a sin, requiring acknowledgement of the selfishness and an offering be made.

Thank you, brother. That is a very reasonable explanation! I suppose my misunderstandings might have to do with marriage and how it was construed of in those days as well. Today it seems culturally like a contract before the government, but then marriage was a covenant taken before God and the community, consummated through sex (if I have that correct). This text is about a breach in that process, but not extramarital sex. You put this forth exegetically because of passages that establish the value of slaves, and the horror or rape in any situation?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Human beings, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, have intrinsic value. Whatever the pagan peoples around Israel thought, in Israel even the non-Israelite had value, and the law applied to him as much as to the native born, Lev.19:34. It applied to the female as much as to the male (true, irrespective of whether someone cops an attitude about how men had more "rights" in that era). The law was laid down from God on high, and everyone was subject to it to the same degree, and bore its penalties without favoritism--unless some person or judge put his finger on the scales of justice. In which case, God himself would bring that wickedness to account, if not sooner by the society itself.

The sexual relationship was ordained to be exclusive to marriage. While we see subversion of the ideal practiced in various ways from the start, even by the patriarch Jacob, there was always some semblance of order in establishing a marriage relationship between a man and a woman (in Jacob's family, compare statements found in Gen.34:31 and 38:23f). Jesus' teaching makes it clear that in his kingdom, the citizens will abide by the ideal, and any exceptional cases will need formal disposition. Lev.19:29 inveighs against prostitution, cf. Dt.23:17-18. For men and women to shamelessly traffic or participate in such detestable practice was contrary to the Law and to the good order of society. Some of Israel's laws regulated rough and sin-ridden realities of the ancient world; but never to condoning of sin.

There is no reasonable case for interpreting Lev.19:20-21 as some kind of lax allowance for a rich Israelite man to "get loose" with his servant girls. That may be how BartEhrman or RichardDawkins would like to read the legislation, because that validates their disdain for this "primitive, BronzeAge, misogynistic culture" beholden to its mythologies, unconcerned about inconsistencies in law. Talk about chronological snobbery. There's little chance a certain class of interpreters will favor a rational deciphering of the Mosaic law code, even if they push its completion out to the 8th century. They are as emotionally invested in belittling the ancients, and religion in general; as those of us who are religious are invested in respect for these we regard as fathers.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
Yes, I agree that those who usually bring up these texts or these objections are not trying to actually understand the text, but are really "prooftexting" in the opposite direction, so to speak. I have had those conversations with atheists and - especially nowadays - atheists who formerly claimed Christ, and it really is a pearls before swine scenario.

However, there is not a consistent teaching on these issues for the Reformed world. Or else they are ashamed of these texts and do not seek to explain them for fear of the opposition. That the scoffers of our age speak this way is partly or mainly because they feel they can without consistent opposition.

So, I would ask - where have you found good resources on this and related issues that the scoffers of our age dwell on, so Christ's Word might be vindicated?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Use a decent commentary or several. The old standbys are still great. There are good modern ones as well. John Currid's volumes on the Pentateuch are good. Victor P. Hamilton is quite good in his treatment of the books of the Pentateuch (so far as I've noticed). Honestly, it's my mission just to teach God's people the word of truth, and I'm not burdened to confute every debater who takes a run at our hope. I present and explain the text with confidence; so the congregation is not burdened with the wisdom or the doubts of this age.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
Use a decent commentary or several. The old standbys are still great. There are good modern ones as well. John Currid's volumes on the Pentateuch are good. Victor P. Hamilton is quite good in his treatment of the books of the Pentateuch (so far as I've noticed). Honestly, it's my mission just to teach God's people the word of truth, and I'm not burdened to confute every debater who takes a run at our hope. I present and explain the text with confidence; so the congregation is not burdened with the wisdom or the doubts of this age.
My aim is to present the text with confidence - not only in the pulpit, but also in day to day interactions. But it may be my pride, as I do not have an answer to every question. I desire integrated, general and reasonably specific knowledge on these things. I have wanted to help others with the hard questions, but you may be persuading me out of that with your post.

I use Calvin, Keil and Delitzsch, Matthew Henry and others for commentaries.
 

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
And a question of bare curiosity: are these common and somewhat draining questions on PB or in pastoral life?
 
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