Why in ancient Israel were Hebrew slaves freed in the seventh year (Ex - Bible Questions and Answers - Prayer Tents

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34. Why in ancient Israel were Hebrew slaves freed in the seventh year (Exodus 21:2, Deuteronomy 15:12-18) but Gentile slaves were not freed (Leviticus 25:44-46)?
Asked by: Male, South America, No Religion, 19-25 on September 4, 2021 12:05:44 pm



Thank you for the excellent question.

You are correct in that non-Hebrew slaves were able to be kept indefinitely.

Slavery in the Jewish culture may not have been the same as the cruel slavery we have witnessed in the past few centuries. For example, consider Joseph in Genesis 39:2-6 He was a slave who was given great responsibility. Additionally, some "slaves" chose to be with their masters (See Deuteronomy 15:16-17). The reason for that is the fair treatment of the "slaves."

As you mentioned, the Hebrew slaves were "freed" in the seventh year (Deuteronomy 15:12) or at the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-13, 40) with many blessings (Deuteronomy 15:13). The concept of slavery, as we think today, probably did not cross the minds of the Jews. The Hebrews became "slaves" because they were in extreme poverty or debt (Leviticus 25:35). Yet, if the master feared God, they recognized the "slave" as a relative or temporary worker (Leviticus 25:36-37, 39-41). The masters are also reminded that they, too, were slaves whom God rescued (Leviticus 25:38, 42).

Unfortunately, Biblical texts do not share much about what happens to non-Jewish "slaves." However, we know some laws protect slaves, such as punishment for the master if he kills the slave or freedom for the slave if s/he is injured (Exodus 21:20, 26-27). The day of rest, the Sabbath also applies to the slaves (Exodus 20:10).

Yet, as you mentioned, the non-Jewish slaves would be kept as if they were property indefinitely (Leviticus 25:44-46). I wonder if a Jewish Rabbi may be able to answer better the historical perspective that is not written in the Bible. Yet, I read somewhere that the Jewish people would take slaves from other countries as a prisoner of war and allow them to come to faith. If they accept God as their God, they would become Israelite and receive the treatment of a Jewish slave. If they decide not to, they may be given up as part of trade within 12 months with other foreign countries. Jewish people recognized they were slaves God rescued, and it was not likely to be abusive in their culture.

Now, let me fast forward you to the New Testament picture of slavery. Paul writes to a Christian brother named Philemon, who is a slave owner. The slave, Onesimus, ran away from his master, but he met Paul and became a Christian. Paul sent Philemon a letter asking him to recognize Onesimus as a dear brother in Christ and forgive him for running away and accept him as a beloved brother and a fellow worker (Philemon 1:10-11).

Though slavery is not condemned in the Bible, there is always a recognition that all of us were slaves God rescued. God calls us to love all people, especially among the believers (1John 4:7-21). Recognizing that we, Christians, have a master, it would be foolish to treat a "slave" in ways that we would not want to be treated by God.

Please feel free to write back if my response raised more questions for you.

Thanks again for the question. Many blessings!

Answered by Dr. Sang Sur

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