Part 5 out of 12
17, 19. "_For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a
great God, a mighty and a terrible, which_ REGARDETH NOT PERSONS, _nor
taketh reward. He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow,
and_ LOVETH THE STRANGER, _in giving him food and raiment_, LOVE YE
THEREFORE THE STRANGER." So Exodus xxii. 21. "_Thou shalt neither vex a
stranger nor oppress him_." Exodus xxiii. 9. "_Thou shalt not oppress a
stranger, for ye know the heart of a stranger_." Lev. xxv. 35, 36. "_If
thy brother be waxen poor thou shalt relieve him, yea, though he be a_
STRANGER _or a sojourner, that he may live with thee, take thou no usury
of him or increase, but fear thy God_." [What an absurdity to suppose
that _this same stranger_ could be taken by one that _feared his God_,
held as a _slave_, and robbed of time, earnings, and all his rights!]
7. _Servants were placed upon a level with their masters in all civil
and religious rights_. See Numbers xv. 15, 16, 29. Numb. ix. 14. Deut,
i. 16, 17. Lev. xxiv. 22.
III.--DID PERSONS BECOME SERVANTS VOLUNTARILY, OR WERE THEY MADE
SERVANTS AGAINST THEIR WILLS?
We argue that they became servants _of their own accord_,
1. Because to become a servant in the family of an Israelite, was to
abjure idolatry, to enter into covenant with God[A], to be circumcised
in token of it, to be bound to the observance of the Sabbath, of the
Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, and to receive
instruction in all the particulars of the moral and ceremonial law.
[Footnote A: Maimonides, who wrote in Egypt about seven hundred years
ago, a contemporary with Jarchi, and who stands with him at the head of
Jewish writers, gives the following testimony on this point: "Whether a
servant be born in the power of an Israelite, or whether he be purchased
from the heathen, the master is to bring them both into the covenant."
"But he that is in the _house_ is entered on the eighth day, and he that
is bought with money, on the day on which the master receives him,
unless the slave be _unwilling_. For if the master receive a grown
slave, and he be _unwilling_, his master is to bear with him, to seek to
win him over by instruction, and by love and kindness, for one year.
After which, should he _refuse_ so long, it is forbidden to keep him,
longer than a year. And the master must send him back to the strangers
from whence he came. For the God of Jacob will not accept any other than
the worship of a _willing_ heart."--Maimon, Hilcoth, Miloth, Chap. 1st,
The ancient Jewish Doctors agree in the testimony, that the servant from
the strangers who at the close of his probationary year still refused to
adopt the religion of the Mosaic system, and was on that account cut off
from the family, and sent back to his own people, received a _full
compensation_ for his services, besides the payment of his expenses. But
that _postponement_ of the circumcision of the foreign servant for a
year (_or even at all_ after he had entered the family of an Israelite)
of which the Mishnic doctors speak, seems to have been _a mere usage_.
We find nothing of it in the regulations of the Mosaic system.
Circumcision was manifestly a rite strictly _initiatory_. Whether it was
a rite merely _national_ or _spiritual_, or _both_, comes not within the
scope of this inquiry. Nor does it at all affect the argument. ]
Were the servants _forced_ through all these processes? Was the
renunciation of idolatry _compulsory_? Were they _dragged_ into covenant
with God? Were they seized and circumcised by _main strength_? Were they
_compelled_ mechanically to chew, and swallow, the flesh of the Paschal
lamb, while they abhorred the institution, despised its ceremonies,
spurned the law which enjoined it, detested its author and executors,
and instead of rejoicing in the deliverance which it commemmorated,
bewailed it as a calamity, and cursed the day of its consummation? Were
they _driven_ from all parts of the land three times in the year up to
the annual festivals? Were they drugged with instruction which they
nauseated? Were they goaded through a round of ceremonies, to them
senseless and disgusting mummeries; and drilled into the tactics of a
creed rank with loathed abominations?
We repeat it, to become a _servant_, was to become a _proselyte_. And
how did God authorize his people to make proselytes? At the point of the
sword? By the terror of pains and penalties? By converting men into
_merchandise_? Were _proselyte_ and _chattel_ synonymes, in the Divine
vocabulary? Must a man be sunk to a _thing_ before taken into covenant
with God? Was this the stipulated condition of adoption, and the sole
passport to the communion of the saints?
2. We argue the voluntariness of servants from Deut. xxiii. 15, 16,
"_Thou shall not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped
from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in
that place which he shall choose, in one of thy gates where it liketh
him best; thou shalt not oppress him_."
As though God had said, "To deliver him up would be to recognize the
_right_ of the master to hold him. His _fleeing_ "shows his
_choice_--proclaims his wrongs, his master's oppressive acts, and his
own claim to legal protection." You shall not force him back, and thus
recognize the _right_ of the master to hold him in such a condition as
induces him to flee to others for protection." It may be objected, that
this command had no reference to servants among the _Israelites_, but
only to those of _heathen_ masters in the surrounding nations. We
answer, The regulation has no restriction. Its terms are unlimited. But
the objection, even if valid, merely shifts the pressure of the
difficulty to another point. Does God array his infinite authority to
protect the _free choice_ of a _single_ servant from the heathen, and
yet _authorize_ the same persons, to crush the free choice of
_thousands_ of servants from the heathen! Suppose a case. A _foreign_
servant flees from his master to the Israelites; God speaks, "He shall
dwell with thee, in that place which _he shall choose_, in one of thy
gates where it _liketh_ him best." They were strictly charged not to put
him in a condition which he did not _choose_. Now, suppose this same
servant, instead of coming into Israel of his own accord, had been
_dragged_ in by some kidnapper who _bought_ him of his master, and
_forced_ him into a condition against his will. Would He who forbade
such treatment of the stranger, who _voluntarily_ came into the land,
sanction the _same_ treatment of the _same person_, provided in
_addition_ to this last outrage, the _previous_ one had been committed
of _forcing him into the nation against his will_?
To commit violence on the free choice of a _foreign_ servant is a
horrible enormity, forsooth, PROVIDED you _begin_ the violence _after_
he has come among you. But if you commit the _first act_, on the _other
side of the line_; if you _begin_ the outrage by buying him from a third
person _against his will_, and then tear him from home, and drag him
across the line into the land of Israel, and hold him as a slave--ah!
that alters the case, and you may perpetrate the violence now with
impunity! Would _greater_ favor have been shown to this new comer from
the heathen than to the old residents--those who had been servants in
Jewish families perhaps for a generation? Were the Israelites commanded
to exercise toward _him_, uncircumcised and _out_ of the covenant, a
justice and kindness denied to the multitude, who _were_ circumcised,
and _within_ the covenant?
Again: the objector finds small gain to his argument on the supposition
that the covenant respected merely the fugitives from the surrounding
nations, while it left the servants of the Israelites in a condition
against their wills--the objector finds small gain to his argument. In
that case, the surrounding nations would of course adopt retaliatory
measures, and resolve themselves into so many asylums for fugitive
Israelitish servants. As these nations were on every side of them such a
proclamation would have been an effectual lure to men held in a
condition which was a constant _counteraction of will_. Further, the
objector's assumption destroys itself; for the same command which
protected the foreign servant from the power of his _master_, protected
him equally from the power of an _Israelite_. It was not merely, "Thou
shalt not deliver him to his _master_," but "he (the servant) shall
dwell with thee, in that place which _he shall choose_, in one of thy
gates where it liketh him best." Every Israelite was commanded to
respect his free choice, and to put him in no condition _against his
will_. What was this but a proclamation, that all who _chose_ to live in
the land and obey the laws, were left to their own free will, to dispose
of their services at such a rate, to such persons, and in such places as
Besides, grant that this command prohibited the sending back of
_foreign_ servants merely, was the any law requiring the return of
servants who had escaped from the _Israelites_? There was a statute
requiring the return of _property_ lost, and _cattle_ escaped, but none
requiring the return of escaped _servants_.
Finally, these verses contain, _first_, a command, "Thou shalt not
deliver," &c. _Secondly_, a declaration of the fugitive's right of _free
choice_, and of God's will that he should exercise it at his own
discretion; and _thirdly_, a command guarding this right, namely, "Thou
shalt not oppress him," as though God had said, If you forbid him to
exercise his _own choice_, as to the place and condition of his
residence, it is _oppression_, and I will not tolerate it.
3. _We argue the voluntariness of servants from their peculiar
opportunities and facilities for escape_. Three times every year, all
the males over twelve years of age, were required to attend the public
festivals. The main body were thus absent from their homes not less than
three weeks each time, making nine weeks annually. As these caravans
moved over the country, were there military scouts lining the way, to
intercept deserters?--a corporal's guard stationed at each pass of the
mountains, sentinels pacing the hill-tops, and light horse scouring the
defiles? What safe contrivance had the Israelites for taking their
_"slaves"_ three times in a year to Jerusalem and back? When a body of
slaves is moved any distance in our free and equal _republic_, they are
handcuffed to keep them from running away, or beating their drivers'
brains out. Was this the _Mosaic_ plan, or an improvement left for the
wisdom of Solomon? The usage, doubtless, claims a paternity not less
venerable and biblical! Perhaps they were lashed upon camels, and
transported in bundles, or caged up, and trundled on wheels to and fro,
and while at the Holy City, "lodged in jail for safe keeping," religions
services _extra_ being appointed, and special "ORAL instruction" for
their benefit. But meanwhile, what became of the sturdy _handmaids_ left
at home? What hindered them from marching off in a body? Perhaps the
Israelitish matrons stood sentry in rotation round the kitchens, while
the young ladies scoured the country, as mounted rangers, to pick up
stragglers by day, and patrolled the streets as city guards, keeping a
sharp look-out at night.
4. _Their continuance in Jewish families depended upon the performance
of various rites and ceremonies necessarily_ VOLUNTARY.
Suppose a servant from the heathen should, upon entering a Jewish
family, refuse circumcision; the question whether he shall remain a
servant, is in his own hands. If a _slave_, how simple the process of
emancipation! His _refusal_ did the job. Or, suppose that, at any time,
he should refuse to attend the tri-yearly feasts, or should eat leavened
bread during the Passover, or compound the ingredients of the anointing
oil, he is "cut off from the people;" _excommunicated_.
5. _We infer the voluntariness of the servants of the Patriarchs from
the impossibility of their being held against their wills._ The servants
of Abraham are an illustration. At one time he had three hundred and
eighteen _young men_ "born in his house," and probably many more _not_
born in his house. The whole number of his servants of all ages, was
probably MANY THOUSANDS. Doubtless, Abraham was a man of a million, and
Sarah too, a right notable housekeeper; still, it is not easy to
conceive how they contrived to hold so many thousand servants against
their wills, unless the patriarch and his wife _took turns_ in
performing the Hibernian exploit of surrounding them! The neighboring
tribes, instead of constituting a picket guard to hem in his servants,
would have been far more likely to sweep them and him into captivity, as
they did Lot and his household. Besides, Abraham had neither
"Constitution," nor "compact," nor statutes, nor judicial officers to
send back his fugitives, nor a truckling police to pounce upon
panic-stricken women, nor gentleman-kidnappers, suing for patronage,
volunteering to howl on the track, boasting their blood-hound scent, and
pledging their "honor" to hunt down and "deliver up," _provided_ they
had a description of the "flesh marks," and were stimulated in their
chivalry by _pieces of silver_. Abraham seems also to have been sadly
deficient in all the auxiliaries of family government, such as stocks,
hand cuffs, foot-chains, yokes, gags, and thumb-screws. His destitution
of these patriarchal indispensables is the more afflicting, when we
consider his faithful discharge of responsibilities to his household,
though so deplorably destitute of the needful aids.
6. _We infer that servants were voluntary, from the fact that there is
no instance of an Israelitish master ever_ SELLING _a servant_. Abraham
had thousands of servants, but appears never to have sold one. Isaac
"grew until he became very great," and had "great store of servants."
Jacob's youth was spent in the family of Laban, where he lived a servant
twenty-one years. Afterward he had a large number of servants.
When Joseph sent for Jacob to come into Egypt, the words are, "thou and
thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks and thy herds,
and ALL THAT THOU HAST." Jacob took his flocks and herds but _no
servants_. Gen xlv. 10; xlvii. 6; xlvii. 1. His servants doubtless,
served under their _own contracts_, and when Jacob went into Egypt, they
_chose_ to stay in their own country.
The government might sell _thieves_, if they had no property, until
their services had made good the injury, and paid the legal fine. Ex.
xxii. 3. But _masters_ seem to have had no power to sell their
_servants_--the reason is obvious. To give the master a _right_ to sell
his servant, would annihilate the servant's right of choice in his own
disposal; but says the objector, To give the master a right to _buy_ a
servant, equally annihilates the servant's _right of choice_. Answer. It
is one thing to have a right to buy a man, and a very different thing to
have a right to buy him of _another_ man.
Though there is no instance of a servant being bought of his, or her
master, yet there are instances of young females being bought of their
_fathers_. But their purchase as _servants_ was their betrothal as
WIVES. Exodus xxi. 7, 8. "_If a man sell his daughter to be a
maid-servant, she shall not go out as the men-servants do. If she please
not her master_ WHO HATH BETROTHED HER TO HIMSELF, _he shall let her be
[Footnote A: The comment of Maimonides on this passage is as follows: "A
Hebrew handmaid might not be sold but to one who laid himself under
obligations, to espouse her to himself or to his son, when she was fit
to be betrothed."--_Maimonides--Hilcoth--Obedim_, Ch. IV. Sec. XI.
Jarchi, on the same passage, says, "He is bound to espouse her and take
her to be his wife for the _money of her purchase_ is the money of her
7. _We infer that the Hebrew servant was voluntary in_ COMMENCING _his
service, because he was pre-eminently so_ IN CONTINUING _it_. If, at the
year of release, it was the servant's _choice_ to remain with his
master, so did the law guard his free will, that it required his ear to
be bored by the judges of the land, thus making it impossible for the
servant to be held in an involuntary condition. Yea, so far was his
_free choice_ protected, that his master was compelled to keep him,
however much he might wish to get rid of him.
8. _The method prescribed for procuring servants, recognized their
choice, and was an appeal to it_. The Israelites were commanded to offer
them a suitable _inducement_, and then leave them to decide. They might
neither seize by _force_, nor frighten them by _threats_, nor wheedle
them by false pretenses, nor _borrow_ them, nor _beg_ them; but they
were commanded to BUY them[A]; that is, they were to recognize the
_right_ of the individuals to their own services--their right to
_dispose_ of them, and their right to _refuse all offers_. They might,
if they pleased, refuse all applications, and thus oblige those who made
them, _to do their own work_. Suppose all, with one accord, _refused_ to
become servants, what provision did the Mosaic law make for such an
[Footnote A: The case of thieves, whose services were sold until they
had earned enough to make restitution to the person wronged, and to pay
the legal penalty, _stands by itself_, and has no relation to the
condition of servants.]
9. _Various incidental expressions throughout the Bible, corroborate the
idea that servants became such by virtue of their own contract_. Job
xli. 4. is an illustration, "_Will he_ (Leviathan) _make a_ COVENANT
_with thee? wilt thou take him for a_ SERVANT _forever?_"
10. _The transaction which made the Egyptians the_ SERVANTS OF PHAROAH,
_shows entire voluntariness throughout_. It is detailed in Gen. xlvii.
18-26. Of their own accord, they came to Joseph and said, "We have not
aught left but our _bodies_ and our lands; _buy_ us;" then in the 25th
verse, _"Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my
Lord, and we will be servants to Pharaoh._"
11. _We argue that the condition of servants was an_ OPTIONAL _one from
the fact that_ RICH _strangers did not become servants._ Indeed, so far
were they from becoming servants themselves, that _they bought and held
Jewish servants._ Lev. xxv. 47.
12. _The sacrifices and offerings which_ ALL _were required to present,
were to be made_ VOLUNTARILY. Lev. i. 2, 3.
13. _Mention is often made of persons becoming servants where they were
manifestly and pre-eminently_ VOLUNTARY. The case of the Prophet Elisha
is one. 1 Kings xix. 21; 2 Kings iii. 11. Elijah was his _master_. The
original word, translated master, is the same that is so rendered in
almost every instance where masters are spoken of throughout the Mosaic
and patriarchal systems. It is translated _master_ eighty-five times in
our English version. Moses was the servant of Jethro. Exodus iii. 1.
Joshua was the servant of Moses. Numbers xi. 28. Jacob was the servant
of Laban. Genesis xxix, 18-27.
IV. WERE THE SERVANTS FORCED TO WORK WITHOUT PAY?
Having already shown that the servants became and continued such _of
their own accord_, it would be no small marvel if they _chose_ to work
without pay. Their becoming servants, pre-supposes _compensation_ as a
That they _were paid_ for their labor, we argue,
1. _Because, while Israel was under the Mosaic system, God rebuked in
thunder, the sin of using the labor of others without wages. "Wo unto
him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by
wrong; that useth his neighbor's service without wages, and giveth him
not for his work._" Jer. xxii. 13. Here God testifies that to use the
service of others without wages is "unrighteousness," and He commissions
his "wo" to burn upon the doer of the "wrong." This "wo" was a permanent
safeguard of the _Mosaic system_. The Hebrew word _Rea_, here translated
_neighbor_, does not mean one man, or class of men, in distinction from
others, but _any one with whom we have to do_--all descriptions of
persons, not merely servants and heathen, but even those who prosecute
us in lawsuits, and enemies while in the act of fighting us--"_As when a
man riseth against his_ NEIGHBOR _and slayeth him._" Deut. xxii. 26.
"_Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the
end thereof, when thy_ NEIGHBOR _hath put thee to shame._" Prov. xxv. 8.
"_Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy_ NEIGHBOR." Exod. xx.
16. "_If any man come presumptuously upon his NEIGHBOR to slay him with
guile_." Exod. xxi. 14. In these, and in scores of similar cases, _Rea_
is the original word.
2. _We have the testimony of God, that in our duty to our fellow men,_
ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS _hang upon this command, "Thou shalt love
thy neighbor as thyself._" Our Saviour, in giving this command, quoted
_verbatim_ one of the laws of the Mosaic system. Lev. xix. 18. In the
34th verse of the same chapter, Moses commands obedience to this law in
all the treatment of strangers, "_The stranger that dwelleth with you
shall be unto you as one born among you, and_ THOU SHALT LOVE HIM AS
THYSELF." If it be loving others _as_ ourselves, to make them work for
us without pay; to rob them of food and clothing, as well as wages,
would be a stranger illustration still of the law of love!
Super-disinterested benevolence! And if it be doing to others as we
would have them do to us, to make them work for _our own_ good alone,
Paul should be called to order for his hard sayings against human
nature, especially for that libellous matter in Ephes. v. 29, "_No man
ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it_."
3. _As persons became servants_ FROM POVERTY, _we argue that they were
compensated, since they frequently owned property, and sometimes a large
amount_. Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, gave David a princely
present, "An hundred loaves of bread, and an hundred bunches of raisins,
and an hundred of summer fruits, and a bottle of wine." 2 Sam. xvi. 1.
The extent of his possessions can be inferred from the fact, that though
the father of fifteen sons, he still employed twenty servants, of whom
he was the master.
A case is stated in Leviticus xxv. 47-55, where a servant, reduced to
poverty, sells himself; and it is declared that afterward he may be
_redeemed_, either by his kindred, or by HIMSELF. As he was forced to
sell himself from sheer poverty he must not only have acquired property
_after_ he became a servant, but a considerable sum.
If it had not been common for servants to possess, and acquire property,
over which they had the exclusive control, Gehazi, the servant of
Elisha, would hardly have ventured to take a large sum of money, (nearly
$3000[A]) from Naaman, (2 Kings v. 22, 23.) As it was procured by
deceit, he was anxious to conceal the means used in getting it; but if
the Israelitish servants, like our slaves, could "own nothing, nor
acquire any thing," to embark in such an enterprise would have been
consummate stupidity. The fact of having in his possession two talents
of silver, would of itself convict him of theft[B]. But since the
possession and use of property by servants, was common under the Mosaic
system, he might have it, and invest or use it, without attracting
special attention. And that consideration alone would have been a strong
motive to the act. His master, while he rebukes him for using such means
to get the money, not only does not take it from him, but seems to
expect that he would invest it in real estate, and cattle, and would
procure servants with it. 2 Kings v. 26. In 1 Sam. ix. 8, we find the
servant of Saul having money, and relieving his master in an emergency.
Arza, the servant of Elah, was the _owner of a house_. That it was
spacious and somewhat magnificent, would be a natural inference from the
fact that it was a resort of the king. 1 Kings xvi. 9. The case of the
Gibeonites, who, after they became servants, still occupied their
cities, and remained, in many respects, a distinct people for centuries;
and that of the 150,000 Canaanites, the _servants_ of Solomon, who
worked out their tribute of bond-service in levies, periodically
relieving each other, while preparing the materials for the temple, are
additional illustrations of independence in the acquisition and
ownership of property.
[Footnote A: Though we have not sufficient data to decide with accuracy
upon the _relative_ value of that sum, _then_ and _now_, yet we have
enough to warrant us in saying that two talents of silver had far more
value _then_ than three thousand dollars have _now_.]
[Footnote B: Whoever heard of the slaves in our southern states stealing
a large amount of money? They "_know how to take care of themselves_"
quite too well for that. When they steal, they are careful to do it on
such a _small_ scale, or in the taking of _such things_ as will make
detection difficult. No doubt they steal now and then a little, and a
gaping marvel would it be if they did not. Why should they not follow in
the footsteps of their masters and mistresses? Dull scholars indeed! if,
after so many lessons from _proficients_ in the art, who drive the
business by _wholesale_, they should not occasionally copy their
betters, fall into the _fashion_, and try their hand in a small way, at
a practice which is the _only permanent and universal_ business carried
on around them! Ignoble truly! never to feel the stirrings of high
impulse, prompting them to imitate the eminent pattern set before them
in the daily vocation of "Honorables" and "Excellencies," and to emulate
the illustrious examples of Doctor of Divinity and _Right_ and _Very
Reverends_! Hear President Jefferson's testimony. In his notes of
Virginia, speaking of slaves, he says, "That disposition to theft with
which they (the slaves) have been branded, must be ascribed to their
_situation_, and not to any special depravity of the moral sense. It is
a problem which I give the master to solve, whether the religious
precepts against the violation of property were not framed for HIM as
well as for his slave--and whether the slave may not as justifiably take
a little from one who has taken ALL from him, as he may _slay_ one who
would slay him" See Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, pp. 207-8]
4. _Heirship_--Servants frequently inherited their master's property;
especially if he had no sons, or if they had dishonored the family. This
seems to have been a general usage.
The cases of Eliezer, the servant of Abraham; Ziba, the servant of
Mephibosheth, Jarha an Egyptian, the servant of Sheshan, and the husband
of his daughter; 1 Chron. ii. 34, 35, and of the _husbandmen_ who said
of their master's son, "_this is the_ HEIR, let us kill him, _and_ the
INHERITANCE WILL BE OURS." Mark xii. 7, are illustrations. Also the
declaration in Prov. xvii. 2--"_A wise servant shall have rule over a
son that causeth shame, and_ SHALL HAVE PART OF THE INHERITANCE AMONG
THE BRETHREN." This passage seems to give _servants_ precedence as
heirs, even over the _wives_ and _daughters_ of their masters. Did
masters hold by force, and _plunder of earnings_, a class of persons,
from which, in frequent contingencies, they selected both heirs for
their property, and husbands for their daughters?
5. ALL _were required to present offerings and sacrifices_. Deut. xvi.
15, 17. 2 Chron. xv. 9-11. Numb. ix. 13.
Servants must have had permanently, the means of _acquiring_ property to
meet these expenditures.
6. _Those Hebrew servants who went out at the seventh year, were
provided by law with a large stock of provisions and cattle_. Deut. xv.
11-14. "_Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of
thy floor, and out of thy wine press, of that wherewith the Lord thy God
hath blessed thee, thou shalt give him_[A]." If it be objected, that no
mention is made of the servants from the strangers, receiving a like
bountiful supply, we answer, neither did the most honorable class of the
_Israelitish_ servants, the free-holders; and for the same reason, _they
did not go out in the seventh year_, but continued until the jubilee. If
the fact that no mention is made of the Gentile servants receiving such
a _gratuity_ proves that they were robbed of their _earnings_; it proves
that the most valued class of _Hebrew_ servants were robbed of theirs
also, a conclusion too stubborn for even pro-slavery masticators,
[Footnote A: The comment of Maimonides on this passage is as
follows--"'Thou shalt furnish him liberally,' &c. That is to say,
'_Loading ye shall load him._' likewise every one of his family, with as
much as he can take with him in abundant benefits. And if it be
avariciously asked, How much must I give him? I say unto _you, not less
than thirty shekels_, which is the valuation of a servant, as declared
in Exodus xxi. 32"--Maimonides, Hilcoth, Obedim, Chapter ii. Section 3.]
7. _The servants were_ BOUGHT. _In other words, they received
compensation for their services in advance_. Having shown, under a
previous head, that servants _sold themselves_, and of course received
the compensation for themselves, (except in cases where parents hired
out the time of their children until they became of age[B],) a mere
reference to the fact in this place is all that is required for the
purposes of this argument.
[Footnote B: Among the Israelites, girls became of age at twelve, and
boys at thirteen years.]
8. _We infer that servants were paid, because we find masters at one
time having a large number of servants, and afterwards none, without any
intimation that they were sold._ The wages of servants would enable them
to set up in business for themselves. Jacob, after being the servant of
Laban for twenty-one years, became thus an independent herdsman, and was
the master of many servants. Gen. xxx. 43, and xxxii. 15. But all these
servants had left him before he went down into Egypt, having doubtless
acquired enough to commence business for themselves. Gen. xlv. 10, 11,
and xlvi. 1-7, 32.
9. _God's testimony to the character of Abraham._ Genesis xviii. 19.
_"For I know him that he will command his children and his household
after him, and they shall keep_ THE WAY OF THE LORD TO DO JUSTICE AND
JUDGMENT." We have here God's testimony, that Abraham taught his
servants "the way of the Lord." What was the "way of the Lord"
respecting the payment of wages where service was rendered? "_Wo unto
him that useth his neighbor's service without wages_!" Jer. xxii. 13.
"_Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal_." Col.
iv. 1. _"Render unto all their_ DUES." ROM. xiii. 7. _"The laborer is
worthy of his hire."_ Luke x. 7. How did Abraham teach his servants to
_"do justice"_ to others? By doing _injustice to them?_ Did he exhort
them to "render to all their dues" by keeping back _their own_? Did he
teach them that "the laborer was worthy of his hire" by robbing them of
_theirs_? Did he beget in them a reverence for the eighth commandment by
pilfering all their time and labor? Did he teach them "not to defraud"
others "in any matter" by denying _them_ "what was just and equal?" If
each of Abraham's pupils under such a catechism did not become a very
_Aristides_ in justice, then an illustrious example, patriarchal
dignity, and _practical_ lessons, can make but slow headway against
10. _Specific precepts of the Mosaic law enforcing general principles._
Out of many, we select the following:
(1.) _"Thou shall not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn,"_ or
literally, _while he thresheth._ Deut. xxv. 4. Here is a general
principle applied to a familiar case. The ox representing all domestic
animals. Isaiah xxx. 24. A _particular_ kind of service--_all_ kinds;
and a law requiring an abundant provision for the wants of an animal
ministering to man in a _certain_ way,--_a general principle of
treatment covering all times, modes, and instrumentalities of service._
The object of the law was, not merely to enjoin tenderness towards
brutes, but to inculcate the duty of _rewarding those who serve us_,
showing that they who labor for others, are entitled to what is just and
equal in return; and if such care is enjoined, by God, not merely for
the ample sustenance, but for the _present enjoyment of a brute_, what
would be a meet return for the services of _man_? MAN, with his varied
wants, exalted nature and immortal destiny! Paul tells us expressly,
that the principle which we have named, lies at the bottom of the
statute. See 1 Corinthians ix. 9, 10--_"For it is written in the law of
Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the
corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for OUR
sakes? that he that ploweth should plow in_ HOPE, _and that he that
thresheth in hope should be_ PARTAKER OF HIS HOPE."
(2.) "_If thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then
thou shalt relieve him._ YEA, THOUGH HE BE A STRANGER OR a SOJOURNER,
_that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase, but
fear thy God. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him
thy victuals for increase._" Lev. xxv. 35-37. Or, in other words,
"relief at your hands is his right, and your duty--you shall not take
advantage of his necessities, but cheerfully supply them." Now, we ask,
by what process of pro-slavery legerdemain, this benevolent regulation
can be made to be in _keeping_ with the doctrine of WORK WITHOUT PAY?
Did God declare the poor stranger entitled to RELIEF, and in the same
breath, _authorize_ them to _"use his services without wages_;" force
him to work, and ROB HIM OF ALL HIS EARNINGS? Judge ye.
V.--WERE MASTERS THE PROPRIETORS OF SERVANTS AS THEIR LEGAL PROPERTY?
The discussion of this topic has been already somewhat anticipated under
the preceding heads; but a variety of considerations, not within the
range of our previous inquiries, remain to be noticed.
1. _Servants were not subjected to the uses, nor liable to the
contingencies of property._
(1.) _They were never taken in payment for their masters' debts_, though
children were sometimes taken (without legal authority) for the debts of
a father. 2 Kings iv. 1; Job xxiv. 9; Isaiah l. 1; Matt. xviii. 25.
Cases are recorded to which creditors took from debtors property of all
kinds, to satisfy their demands. In Job xxiv. 3, cattle are taken; in
Prov. xxii 27, household furniture; in Lev. xxv. 25-28, the productions
of the soil; in Lev. xxv. 27-30, houses; in Exodus xxii. 26-29, and
Deut. xxiv. 10-13, and Matt. v. 40, clothing; but _servants_ were taken
in _no instance_.
(2.) _Servants were never given as pledges_. _Property_ of all sorts was
given and held in pledge. We find in the Bible, household furniture,
clothing, cattle, money, signets, and personal ornaments, with divers
other articles of property, used as pledges for value received. But no
(3.) _All lost_ PROPERTY _was to be restored._ "Oxen, asses, sheep,
raiment, and whatsoever lost things," are specified--servant _not_.
Deut. xxii. 13. Besides, the Israelites were expressly forbidden to take
back the runaway servant to his master. Deut. xxiii. 15.
(4.) _The Israelites never gave away their servants as presents_. They
made princely presents of great variety. Lands, houses, all kinds of
animals, merchandize, family utensils, precious metals, and grain,
armor, &c. are among their recorded _gifts_. Giving presents to
superiors and persons of rank when visiting them, and at other times,
was a standing usage. 1 Sam. x. 27; 1 Sam. xvi. 20; 2 Chron. xvii. 5.
Abraham to Abimelech, Gen. xxi. 27; Jacob to the viceroy of Egypt. Gen.
xliii. 11; Joseph to his brethren and father, Gen. xlv. 22, 23; Benhadad
to Elisha, 2 Kings viii. 8, 9; Ahaz to Tiglath Pileser, 2 Kings xvi. 8;
Solomon to the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings, x. 13; Jeroboam to Ahijah, 1
Kings xiv. 3; Asa to Benhadad, 1 Kings xv. 18, 19. But no servants were
given as presents--though that was a prevailing fashion in the
surrounding nations. Gen. xii. 16; Gen. xx. 14.
OBJECTION 1. _Laban_ GAVE _handmaids to his daughters, Jacob's wives_.
Without enlarging on the nature of the polygamy then prevalent, it is
enough to say that the handmaids of wives, at that time, were themselves
regarded as wives, though of inferior dignity and authority. That Jacob
so regarded his handmaids, is proved by his curse upon Reuben, (Gen.
xlix. 4, and Chron. v. 1) also by the equality of their children with
those of Rachel and Leah. But had it been otherwise--had Laban given
them _as articles of property_, then, indeed, the example of this "good
old patriarch and slaveholder," Saint Laban, would have been a
fore-closer to all argument.
Ah! We remember his jealousy for _religion_--his holy indignation when
he found that his "GODS" were stolen! How he mustered his clan, and
plunged over the desert in hot pursuit, seven days, by forced marches;
how he ransacked a whole caravan, sifting the contents of every tent,
little heeding such small matters as domestic privacy, or female
seclusion, for lo! the zeal of his "IMAGES" had eaten him up!
No wonder that slavery, in its Bible-navigation, drifting dismantled
before the free gusts, should scud under the lee of such a pious worthy
to haul up and refit; invoking his protection, and the benediction of
OBJECTION 2. _Servants were enumerated in inventories of property_. If
that proves _servants_ property, it proves _wives_ property. "_Thou
shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy
neighbor's_ WIFE, _nor his man servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his
ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's_" EXODUS xx. 17.
An examination of all the places in which servants are included among
beasts, chattels, &c., will show, that in inventories of _mere
property_, servants are not included, or if included, it is in such a
way, as to show that they are not regarded as _property_. Eccl. ii. 7,
8. But when the design is to show, not merely the wealth but the
_greatness_ of any personage, that he is a man of distinction, a ruler,
a prince, servants are spoken of, as well as property. In a word, if
_riches_ alone are spoken of, no mention is made of servants; if
_greatness_, servants and property. Gen. xiii. 2. _"And Abraham was very
rich in cattle, in silver and in gold."_ No mention of _servants_. So in
the fifth verse; Lot's riches are enumerated, "_And Lot also had flocks,
and herds, and tents_." In the seventh verse servants are mentioned,
"_And there was a strife between the_ HERDMEN _of Abraham's cattle and
the_ HERDMEN _of Lot's cattle_". See also Josh. xxii. 8; Gen. xxxiv. 23;
Job. xlii. 12; 2 Chron. xxi. 3; xxxii. 27-29; Job 1. 3-5; Deut. viii.
12-17; Gen. xxiv. 35, and xxvi. 13, and xxx. 43.
Divers facts dropped incidentally, show that when servants are mentioned
in connection with property, it is in such a way as to _distinguish_
them from it. When Jacob was about to leave Laban, his wives say, "All
the _riches_ which thou hast taken from our father, that is ours and our
children's." Then follows an inventory of property. "All his cattle,"
"all his goods," "the cattle of his getting," &c. He had a large number
of servants at the time, _but they are not included with his property_.
Compare Gen. xxx. 43, with Gen. xxxi. 16-18.
When he sent messengers to Esau, in order to secure his respect, and
impress him with an idea of his state and sway, he bade them tell him
not only of _his_ RICHES, but of his GREATNESS; that Jacob had "_oxen,
and asses, and flocks, and men servants, and maid servants_." Gen.
xxxii. 4, 5. Yet in the present which he sent, there were no servants;
though he seems to have aimed to give it as much variety as possible.
Gen. xxxii. 14, 15; see also Gen. xxxvi. 6, 7; Gen. xxxiv. 23. As flocks
and herds were the _staples_ of wealth, a large number of servants
_presupposed_ large possessions of cattle, which would require many
herdsmen. Further. When servants are spoken of in connection with _mere
property_, the terms used to express the latter do not include the
The Hebrew word _Mickna_ is an illustration. It is a derivative of
_Kana_, to procure, to buy, and its meaning is, a _possession, wealth,
riches_. It occurs more than forty times in the Old Testament--and is
applied always to _mere property_--generally to domestic animals, but
_never_ to servants. In some instances, servants are mentioned in
_distinction_ from the _Mickna._ See Gen. xii. 5. _"And Abraham took
Sarah his wife, and Lot his brother's son. And all their_ SUBSTANCE
_that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran,
and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan_." _Substance
gathered_ and _souls gotten_! Many will have it, that these _souls_ were
a part of Abraham's _substance_ (notwithstanding the pains here taken to
separate them from it)--that they were _slaves_--probably captives in
war, and now, by right of conquest, taken with him in his migration as
part of his family effects. Who but slaveholders, either actually, or in
heart, would torture into the principle and practice of slavery, such a
harmless phrase as "_the souls that they had gotten_?" Until the slave
trade breathed its haze upon the vision of the church, and smote her
with palsy and decay, commentators saw no slavery in, "The souls that
they had gotten." In the Targum of Onkelos[A] it is thus rendered, "The
souls whom they had brought to obey the law in Haran." In the Targum of
Jonathan, thus: "The souls whom they had made proselytes in Haran." In
the Targum of Jerusalem, "The souls proselyted in Haran." Jarchi, placed
by Jewish Rabbis at the head of their commentators, thus renders it:
"The souls whom they had brought under the Divine wings." Jerome, one of
the most learned of the Christian fathers: "The persons whom they had
proselyted." The Persian version thus gives the whole verse, "And
Abraham took Sarah his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their
wealth which they had accumulated, and the souls which they had _made_."
The Vulgate version thus translates it, "Universam substantiam quam
possederant et animas quas fecerant in Haran." "The entire wealth which
they possessed, and the souls which they had made." The Syriac thus,
"All their possessions which they possessed, and the souls which they
had made in Haran." The Arabic, "All their property which they had
acquired, and the souls whom they had made in Haran." The Samarian, "All
the wealth which they had gathered, and the souls which they had made in
Haran." Menochius, a commentator who wrote before our present
translation of the English Bible, renders it as follows:--"Quas de
idolotraria converterunt[B]." "Those whom they have converted from
idolatry."--Paulus Fagius[C]. "Quas instituerant in religione."--"Those
whom they had instructed in religion."--Luke Franke, a German
commentator who lived two centuries ago. "Quas legi
subjicerant."--"Those whom they had brought to obey the law."
[Footnote A: The Targums are Chaldee paraphrases of parts of the Old
Testament. The Targum of Onkelos is for the most part, a very accurate
and faithful translation of the original, and was probably made at about
the commencement of the Christian era. The Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel
bears about the same date. The Targum of Jerusalem was probably about
five hundred years later. The Israelites, during their long captivity in
Babylon, lost as a body, their knowledge of their own language. These
translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Chaldee, the language
which they acquired in Babylon, were thus called for by the necessity of
the case. ]
[Footnote B: See his "Brevis explicatio sensus literalis totius
[Footnote C: This eminent Hebrew scholar was invited to England by
Cranmer, then Archbishop of Canterbury, to superintend the translation
of the Bible into English, under the patronage of Henry the Eighth. He
had hardly commenced the work when he died. This was nearly a century
before the date of our present translation.]
2. _The condition of servants in their masters' families, the privileges
which they shared in common with the children, and their recognition as
equals by the highest officers of the government--make the doctrine that
they were mere_ COMMODITIES, _an absurdity._ The testimony of Paul, in
Gal. iv. 1, gives an insight into the condition of servants. _"Now I say
unto you, that the heir, so long as he is a child,_ DIFFERETH NOTHING
FROM A SERVANT, _though he be lord of all."_
That Abraham's servants were voluntary,--that their interests were
identified with those of their master's family--that they were regarded
with great affection by the household, and that the utmost confidence
was reposed in them, is shown in the arming of 318 of them for the
recovery of Lot and his family from captivity. See Gen. xiv. 14, 15.
When Abraham's servant went to Padanaram, the young Princess Rebekah did
not disdain to say to him, "Drink, MY Lord," as "she hasted and let down
her pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink," and "she hasted and
emptied her pitcher, and ran again unto the well, and drew for all his
camels." Laban, the brother of Rebekah, prepared the house for his
reception, "_ungirded his camels, and brought him water to wash his
feet, and the men's feet that were with him!"_
In the 9th chapter of 1 Samuel, we have an account of a high festival in
the city of Zuph, at which Samuel, the chief judge and ruler in Israel,
presided. None sat down at the feast but those that were bidden. And
only "about _thirty_ persons" were invited. Quite a select party!--the
elite of the city of Zuph! Saul and his servant arrived at Zuph just as
the party was assembling; and _both_ of them, at Samuel's solicitation,
accompany him as invited guests. _"And Samuel took Saul and his_
SERVANT, _and brought_ THEM _into the_ PARLOR(!) _and made_ THEM _sit in
the_ CHIEFEST SEATS _among those that were bidden."_ A _servant_ invited
by the chief judge, ruler, and prophet in Israel, to dine publicly with
a select party, in company with his master, who was _at the same time
anointed King of Israel_; and this servant introduced by Samuel into the
PARLOR, and assigned, with his master, to the _chiefest seat_ at the
table! This was "_one_ of the servants" of _Kish_, Saul's father; not
the _steward_ or the _chief_ of them--not at all a _picked_ man, but
"_one_ of the servants;" _any_ one that could be most easily spared, as
no endowments specially rare would be likely to find scope in looking
Again: we learn from 1 Kings xvi. 8, 9, that Elah, the King of Israel,
was slain by Zimri, one of his chief officers, at a festive
entertainment, in the house of Arza, his steward, or head servant, with
whom he seems to have been on terms of familiarity. Without detailing
other cases, we refer the reader to the intercourse between Gideon and
his servant.--Judges vii. 10, 11.--Jonathan and his servant.--1 Samuel
xiv. 1-14.--Elisha and his servant.
3. _The condition of the Gibeonites, as subjects of the Hebrew
commonwealth, shows that they were neither articles of property, nor
even_ INVOLUNTARY _servants_. The condition of the inhabitants of
Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjathjearim, under the Israelites, is
quoted in triumph by the advocates of slavery; and truly they are right
welcome to all the crumbs that can be gleaned from it. Milton's devils
made desperate snatches at fruit that turned to ashes on their lips. The
spirit of slavery raves under tormenting gnawings, and casts about in
blind phrenzy for something to ease, or even to _mock_ them. But for
this, it would never have clutched at the Gibeonites, for even the
incantations of the demon cauldron, could not extract from their case
enough to tantalize starvation's self. But to the question. What was the
condition of the Gibeonites under the Israelites?
(1.) _It was voluntary_. It was their own proposition to Joshua to
become servants. Joshua ix. 8, 11. Their proposition was accepted, but
the kind of service which they should perform, was not specified until
their gross imposition came to light; they were then assigned to menial
offices in the tabernacle.
(2.) _They were not domestic servants in the families of the
Israelites_. They still continued to reside in their own cities,
cultivating their own fields, tending their flocks and herds, and
exercising the functions of a _distinct_, though not independent
community. They were _subject_ to the Jewish nation as _tributaries_. So
far from being distributed among the Israelites, their family relations
broken up, and their internal organization as a distinct people
abolished, they seem to have remained a separate, and, in some respects,
an independent community for many centuries. When they were attacked by
the Amorites, they applied to the Israelites as confederates for aid--it
was promptly rendered, their enemies routed, and themselves left
unmolested in the occupation of their cities, while all Israel returned
to Gilgal. Joshua x. 6-18. Long afterwards, Saul slew some of them, and
God sent upon Israel a three years' famine for it. David said to the
Gibeonites, "What shall I do for you, and wherewith shall I make the
atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the Lord?" At their
demand, he delivered up to them, seven of the royal family, five of them
the sons of Michal, his own former wife. 2 Samuel xxi. 1-9. The whole
transaction was a formal recognition of the Gibeonites as a separate
people. There is no intimation that they served families, or individuals
of the Israelites, but only the "house of God," or the Tabernacle. This
was established first at Gilgal, a day's journey from the cities of the
Gibeonites; and then at Shiloh, nearly two days' journey from them;
where it continued about 350 years. During all this period, the
Gibeonites inhabited their ancient cities and territory. Only a few,
comparatively, could have been absent from their cities at any one time
in attendance on the tabernacle.
(1.) Whenever allusion is made to them in the history, the main body are
spoken of as _at home_.
(2.) It is preposterous to suppose that their tabernacle services could
have furnished employment for all the inhabitants of these four cities.
One of them "was a great city, as one of the royal cities;" so large,
that a confederacy of five kings, apparently the most powerful in the
land, was deemed necessary for its destruction. It is probable that the
men were divided into classes, and thus ministered at the tabernacle in
rotation--each class a few days or weeks at a time. This service was
their _national tribute_ to the Israelites, rendered for the privilege
of residence and protection under their government. No service seems to
have been required of the _females_. As these Gibeonites were
Canaanites, and as they had greatly exasperated the Israelites by
impudent imposition, hypocrisy, and lying, we might assuredly expect
that they would reduce _them_ to the condition of chattels and property,
if there was _any_ case in which God permitted them to do so.
7. _Because, throughout the Mosaic system, God warns them against
holding their servants in such a condition as they were held in by the
Egyptians_. How often are the Israelites pointed back to the grindings
of their prison-house! What motives to the exercise of justice and
kindness towards their servants, are held out to their fears in
threatened judgements; to their hopes in promised good; and to all
within them that could feel, by those oft repeated words of tenderness
and terror! "For ye were bondmen in the land of Egypt"--waking anew the
memory of tears and anguish, and of the wrath that avenged them.
That the argument derived from the condition of the Israelites in Egypt,
and God's condemnation of it, may be appreciated, it is important that
the Egyptian bondage should be analyzed. We shall then be able to
ascertain, of what rights the Israelites were plundered, and what they
EGYPTIAN BONDAGE ANALYZED. (1.) _The Israelites were not dispersed among
the families of Egypt, the property of individual owners_[A]. They
formed a _separate_ community. See Gen. xlvi. 35. Ex. viii. 22, 24, and
ix. 26, and x. 23, and xi. 7, and ii. 9, and xvi. 22, and xvii. 5.
[Footnote A: The Egyptians evidently had _domestic_ servants living in
their families; these may have been slaves; allusion is made to them in
Exodus ix. 14, 20, 21. But none of the Israelites were included in this
(2.) _They had the exclusive possession of the land of Goshen_[B], _one
of the richest and most productive parts of Egypt_. Gen. xlv. 18, and
xlvii. 6, 11, 27. Ex. xii. 4, 19, 22, 23, 27.
[Footnote B: The land of Goshen was a large tract of country, east of
the Pelusian arm of the Nile, and between it and the head of the Red
Sea, and the lower border of Palestine. The probable centre of that
portion, occupied by the Israelites, could hardly, have been less than
60 miles from the city. From the best authorities it would seem that the
extreme western boundary of Goshen must have been many miles distant
from Egypt. See "Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt," an able article
by Professor Robinson, in the Biblical Repository for October, 1832.]
(3.) _They lived in permanent dwellings_. These were _houses_, not
_tents_. In Ex. xii. 6, the two side _posts_, and the upper door _posts_
of the houses are mentioned, and in the 22d, the two side posts and the
lintel. Each family seems to have occupied a house _by itself_--Acts
vii. 20, Ex. xii. 4--and from the regulation about the eating of the
Passover, they could hardly have been small ones--Ex. xii. 4--and
probably contained separate apartments, and places for seclusion. Ex.
ii. 2, 3; Acts vii. 20. They appear to have been well apparelled. Ex.
xii. 11. To have had their own burial grounds. Ex. xiii. 19, and xiv.
(4.) _They owned "a mixed multitude of flocks and herds_," and "_very
much cattle_." Ex. xii. 32, 37, 38.
(5.) They had their own form of government, and preserved their tribe
and family divisions, and their internal organization throughout, though
still a province of Egypt, and _tributary_ to it. Ex. ii. 1, and xii.
19, 21, and vi. 14, 25, and v. 19, and iii. 16, 18.
(6.) _They seem to have had in a considerable measure, the disposal of
their own time_,--Ex. xxiii. 4, and iii. 16, 18, and xii. 6, and ii. 9,
and iv. 27, 29-31. Also to have practised the fine arts. Ex. xxxii. 4,
and xxxv. 32-35.
(7.) _They were all armed_. Ex. xxxii. 27.
(8.) _All the females seem to have known something of domestic
refinements; they were familiar with instruments of music, and skilled
in the working of fine fabrics_. Ex. xv. 20, and 35, 36.
(9.) _They held their possessions independently, and the Egyptians seem
to have regarded them as inviolable_. This we infer from the fact that
there is no intimation that the Egyptians dispossessed them of their
habitations, or took away their flocks, or herds, or crops, or
implements of agriculture, or any article of property.
(10.) _Service seems to have been exacted from none but adult males_.
Nothing is said from which the bond service of females could be
inferred; the hiding of Moses three months by his mother, and the
payment of wages to her by Pharaoh's daughter, go against such a
supposition. Ex. ii. 29.
(11.) So far from being fed upon a given allowance, their food was
abundant, and had great variety. "They sat by the flesh-pots," and "did
eat bread to the full." Ex. xvi. 3, and xxiv. 1, and xvii. 5, and iv.
29, and vi. 14. Also, "they did eat fish freely, and cucumbers, and
melons, and leeks, and onions, and garlic." Num. xi. 4, 5, and x. 18,
and xx. 5.
(12.) _That the great body of the people were not in the service of the
Egyptians, we infer_ (1) from the fact, that the extent and variety of
their own possessions, together with such a cultivation of their crops
as would provide them with bread, and such care of their immense flocks
and herds, as would secure their profitable increase, must have
furnished constant employment for the main body of the nation.
(2.) During the plague of darkness, God informs us that "ALL the
children of Israel had light in their dwellings." We infer that they
were _there_ to enjoy it.
(3.) It seems improbable that the making of brick, the only service
named during the latter part of their sojourn in Egypt, could have
furnished permanent employment for the bulk of the nation. See also Ex.
Besides, when Eastern nations employed tributaries, it was, as now, in
the use of the levy, requiring them to furnish a given quota, drafted
off periodically, so that comparatively but a small portion of the
nation would be absent _at any one time_.
Probably there was the same requisition upon the Israelites for
one-fifth part of the proceeds of their labor, that was laid upon the
Egyptians. See Gen. xlvii. 24, 26. Instead of taking it out of their
_crops_, (Goshen being better for _pasturage_ than crops) they exacted
it of them in brick making; and it is quite probable that only the
_poorer_ Israelites were required to work for the Egyptians at all, the
wealthier being able to pay their tribute, in money. See Exod. iv.
This was the bondage in Egypt. Contrast it with American slavery. Have
our slaves "very much cattle," and "a mixed multitude of flocks and
herds?" Do they live in commodious houses of their own? Do they "_sit by
the flesh-pots_," "_eat fish freely_," and "_eat bread to the full_?" Do
they live in a separate community, at a distance from their masters, in
their distinct tribes, under their own rulers and officers? Have they
the exclusive occupation of an extensive and fertile tract of country
for the culture of their own crops, and for rearing immense herds of
_their own_ cattle--and all these held independently of their masters,
and regarded by them as inviolable? Are our female slaves free from all
exactions of labor and liabilities of outrage?--and whenever employed,
are they paid wages, as was the Israelitish woman, when employed by the
king's daughter? Exod. ii. 9. Have the females entirely, and the males
to a considerable extent, the disposal of their own time? Have they the
means for cultivating social refinements, for practising the fine arts,
and for intellectual and moral improvement?
THE ISRAELITES, UNDER THE BONDAGE OF EGYPT, ENJOYED ALL THESE RIGHTS AND
PRIVILEGES. True, "_their lives were made bitter, and all the service
wherein they made them serve was with rigor_." But what was that, when
compared with the incessant toil of American slaves, the robbery of all
their time and earnings, and even the "power to own any thing, or
acquire any thing"--the "quart of corn a day," the legal allowance of
food[A]!--their _only_ clothing for one half the year, "_one_ shirt and
_one_ pair of pantaloons[B]!"--the _two hours and a half_ only for rest
and refreshment in the twenty-four[C]!--their dwellings, _hovels_, unfit
for human residence, commonly with but one apartment, where both sexes
and all ages herd promiscuously at night, like the beasts of the field.
Add to this, the mental ignorance, and moral degradation; the daily
separations of kindred, the revelries of lust, the lacerations and
baptisms of blood, sanctioned by the laws of the South, and patronized
by its pubic sentiment. What, we ask, was the bondage of Egypt when
compared with this? And yet for _her_ oppression of the poor, God smote
her with plagues, and trampled her as the mire, till she passed away in
his wrath, and the place that knew her in her pride, knew her no more.
Ah! "_I have seen the afflictions of my people, and I have heard their
groanings, and am come down to deliver them_." HE DID COME, and Egypt
sank, a ruinous heap, and her blood closed over her.
[Footnote A: The law of North Carolina. See Haywood's Manual, 524-5]
[Footnote B: The law of Louisiana. See Martin's Digest, 610.]
[Footnote C: The whole amount of time secured by the law of Louisiana.
See Act of July 7, 1806. Martin's Digest, 610-12]
If such was God's retribution for the oppression of heathen Egypt, of
how much sorer punishment shall a Christian people be thought worthy,
who cloak with religion, a system, in comparison with which the bondage
of Egypt dwindles to nothing?
Let those believe who can, that God gave his people permission to hold
human beings, robbed of _all_ their rights, while he threatened them
with wrath to the uttermost, if they practised the _far lighter_
oppression of Egypt--which robbed its victims of only the _least_ and
_cheapest_ of their rights, and left the _females_ unplundered even of
these. What! _Is God divided against himself_? When he had just turned
Egypt into a funeral pile; while his curse yet blazed upon her unburied
dead, and his bolts still hissed amidst her slaughter, and the smoke of
her torment went upwards because she had "ROBBED THE POOR," did He
license the VICTIMS of robbery to rob the poor of ALL? As _Lawgiver_,
did he _create_ a system tenfold more grinding than that, for which he
had just hurled Pharaoh headlong, and cloven down his princes, and
overwhelmed his hosts, and blasted them with His thunder, till "hell was
moved to meet them at their coming?"
Having touched upon the general topics which we design to include in
this inquiry, we proceed to examine various Scripture facts and
passages, which will doubtless be set in array against the foregoing
The advocates of slavery are always at their wits end when they try to
press the Bible into their service. Every movement shows that they are
hard-pushed. Their odd conceits and ever varying shifts, their forced
constructions, lacking even plausibility, their bold assumptions, and
blind guesswork, not only proclaim their _cause_ desperate, but
themselves. Some of the Bible defences thrown around slavery by
ministers of the Gospel, do so torture common sense, Scripture, and
historical fact, that it were hard to tell whether absurdity, fatuity,
ignorance, or blasphemy, predominates, in compound. Each strives so
lustily for the mastery, it may be set down a drawn battle.
How often has it been set up in type, that the color of the negro is the
_Cain-mark_, propagated downward. Doubtless Cain's posterity started an
opposition to the ark, and rode out the flood with flying streamers! Why
should not a miracle be wrought to point such an argument, and fill out
for slaveholders a Divine title-deed, vindicating the ways of God to
OBJECTION 1. "_Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto
his brethren_." Gen. i. 25.
This prophecy of Noah is the _vade mecum_ of slaveholders, and they
never venture abroad without it. It is a pocket-piece for sudden
occasion--a keepsake to dote over--a charm to spell-bind opposition, and
a magnet to attract "whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie."
But closely as they cling to it, "cursed be Canaan" is a poor drug to
stupify a throbbing conscience--a mocking lullaby, vainly wooing slumber
to unquiet tossings, and crying "Peace, be still," where God wakes war,
and breaks his thunders.
Those who plead the curse on Canaan to justify negro slavery, _assume_
all the points in debate.
1. That the condition prophesied was _slavery_, rather than the mere
_rendering of service_ to others, and that it was the bondage of
_individuals_ rather than the condition of a _nation tributary_ to
another, and in _that_ sense its _servant_.
2. That the _prediction_ of crime _justifies_ it; that it grants
absolution to those whose crimes fulfil it, if it does not transform the
crimes into _virtues_. How piously the Pharaohs might have quoted God's
prophecy to Abraham, "_Thy seed shall be in bondage, and they shall
afflict them for four hundred years_." And then, what _saints_ were
those that crucified the Lord of glory!
3. That the Africans are descended from Canaan. Whereas Africa was
peopled from Egypt and Ethiopia, and Mizraim settled Egypt, and Cush,
Ethiopia. See Gen. x. 15-19, for the location and boundaries of Canaan's
posterity. So on the assumption that African slavery fulfils the
prophecy, a curse pronounced upon one people, is quoted to justify its
infliction upon another. Perhaps it may be argued that Canaan includes
all Ham's posterity. If so, the prophecy has not been fulfilled. The
other sons of Ham settled the Egyptian and Assyrian empires, and
conjointly with Shem the Persian, and afterward, to some extent, the
Grecian and Roman. The history of these nations gives no verification of
the prophecy. Whereas the history of Canaan's descendants, for more than
three thousand years, is a record of its fulfilment. First, they were
made tributaries by the Israelites. Then Canaan was the servant of Shem.
Afterward, by the Medes and Persians. Then Canaan was the servant of
Shem, and in part of the other sons of Ham. Afterward, by the
Macedonians, Grecians, and Romans, successively. Then Canaan was the
servant of Japhet, mainly, and secondarily of the other sons of Ham.
Finally, they were subjected by the Ottoman dynasty, where they yet
remain. Thus Canaan is _now_ the servant of Shem and Japhet and the
other sons of Ham.
But it may still be objected, that though Canaan is the only one _named_
in the curse, yet the 22d and 23d verses show that it was pronounced
upon the posterity of Ham in general. "_And Ham, the father of Canaan,
saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren
without_."--Verse 22. In verse 23, Shem and Japhet cover their father
with a garment. Verse 24, "_And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what
his YOUNGER son had done unto him, and said_," &c.
It is argued that this younger son cannot be _Canaan_, as he was not the
_son_, but the _grandson_ of Noah, and therefore it must be _Ham_. We
answer, whoever that "_younger son_" was, or whatever he did, _Canaan_
alone was named in the curse. Besides, the Hebrew word _Ben_, signifies
son, grandson, great-grandson, or _any one_ of the posterity of an
individual. Gen. xxix. 5, "_And he said unto them, Know ye Laban, the_
SON _of Nahor_?" Yet Laban was the _grandson_ of Nahor. Gen. xxiv. 15,
29. In 2 Sam. xix. 24, it is said, "_Mephibosheth, the_ SON _of Saul,
came down to meet the king_." But Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan,
and the _grandson_ of Saul. 2 Sam. ix. 6. So Ruth iv. 17. "_There is a_
SON _born to Naomi_." This was the son of Ruth, the daughter-in-law of
Naomi. Ruth iv. 13, 15. So 2 Sam. xxi. 6. "_Let seven men of his
(Saul's)_ SONS _be delivered unto us_," &c. Seven of Saul's _grandsons_
were delivered up. 2 Sam. xxi. 8, 9. So Gen. xxi. 28, "_And hast not
suffered me to kiss my_ SONS _and my daughters_;" and in the 55th verse,
"_And early in the morning Laban rose up and kissed his_ SONS," &c.
These were his _grandsons_. So 2 Kings ix. 20, "_The driving of Jehu,
the_ SON _of Nimshi_." So 1 Kings xix. 16. But Jehu was the _grandson_
of Nimshi. 2 Kings ix. 2, 14. Who will forbid the inspired writer to use
the _same_ word when speaking of _Noah's_ grandson?
Further, if Ham were meant what propriety in calling him the _younger_
son? The order in which Noah's sons are always mentioned, makes Ham the
_second_, and not the _younger_ son. If it be said that Bible usage is
variable, and that the order of birth is not always preserved in
enumerations; the reply is, that, enumeration in the order of birth, is
the _rule_, in any other order the _exception_. Besides, if the younger
member of a family, takes precedence of older ones in the family record,
it is a mark of pre-eminence, either in original endowments, or
providential instrumentality. Abraham, though sixty years younger than
his eldest brother, and probably the youngest of Terah's sons, stands
first in the family genealogy. Nothing in Ham's history warrants the
idea of his pre-eminence; besides, the Hebrew word _Hakkaton_, rendered
_younger_, means the _little, small_. The same word is used in Isaiah
xl. 22. "A LITTLE ONE _shall become a thousand_." Also in Isaiah xxii.
24. "_All vessels of_ SMALL _quantity_." So Psalms cxv. 13. "_He will
bless them that fear the Lord, both_ SMALL _and great_." Also Exodus
xviii. 22. "_But every_ SMALL _matter they shall judge_." It would be a
perfectly literal rendering of Gen. ix. 24, if it were translated thus,
"when Noah knew what his little son[A], or grandson (_Beno hakkaton_)
had done unto him, he said, cursed be Canaan," &c.
[Footnote A: The French language in this respect follows the same
analogy. Our word _grandson_ being in French, _petit fils_, (little
Even if the Africans were the descendants of Canaan, the assumption that
their enslavement is a fulfilment of this prophecy, lacks even
plausibility, for, only a mere _fraction_ of the inhabitants of Africa
have at any one time been the slaves of other nations. If the objector
say in reply, that a large majority of the Africans have always been
slaves at _home_, we answer, 1st. _It is false in point of fact_, though
zealously bruited often to serve a turn. 2d. _If it were true_, how does
it help the argument? The prophecy was, "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of
servants shall he be unto his brethren" not unto _himself_!
OBJECTION II.--"_If a man smite his servant or his maid with a rod, and
he die under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if
he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished, for he is his
money_." Exodus xxi. 20, 21.
Arguments drawn from the Mosaic system in support of slavery, originate
in a misconception both of its genius, _as a whole_, and of the design
and scope of its most simple provisions. The verses quoted above, afford
an illustration in point.
What was the design of this regulation? Was it to grant masters an
indulgence to beat servants with impunity? and an assurance, that if
they beat them to death, the offence would not be _capital_? This is
substantially what some modern Doctors tell us. What Deity do such men
worship? Some blood-gorged Moloch, enthroned on human hecatombs, and
snuffing carnage for incense? Did He who thundered out from Sinai's
flames, "THOU SHALT NOT KILL," offer a bounty on _murder_? Whoever
analyzes the Mosaic system--the condition of the people for whom it was
made--their inexperience in government--ignorance of judicial
proceedings--laws of evidence, &c., will find a moot court in session,
trying law points--setting definitions, or laying down rules of
evidence, in almost every chapter. Numbers xxxv. 10-22; Deuteronomy xi.
11, and xix. 4-6; Leviticus xxiv. 19-22; Exodus, xxi. 18, 19, are a few,
out of many cases stated, with tests furnished by which to detect _the
intent_, in actions brought before them. The detail gone into, in the
verses quoted, is manifestly to enable the judges to get at the _motive_
of the action, and find out whether the master _designed_ to kill.
1. "If a man smite his servant with a _rod_."--The instrument used,
gives a clue to the _intent_. See Numbers xxxv. 16, 18. It was a _rod_,
not an axe, nor a sword, nor a bludgeon, nor any other
death-weapon--hence, from the _kind_ of instrument, no design to _kill_
would be inferred; for _intent_ to kill would hardly have taken a _rod_
for its weapon. But if the servant dies _under his hand_, then the
unfitness of the instrument, instead of being evidence in his favor, is
point blank against him; for, to strike him with a _rod_ until he
_dies_, argues a _great many_ blows laid on with _great_ violence, and
this kept up to the death-gasp, establishes the point of _intent to
kill_. Hence the sentence, "He shall _surely_ be punished." The case is
plain and strong. But if he continued _a day or two_, the _length of
time that he lived_, together with the _kind_ of instrument used, and
the fact that the master had a pecuniary interest in his _life_, ("he is
his _money_,") all, made out a strong case of circumstantial evidence,
showing that the master did not _design_ to kill; and required a
corresponding decision and sentence. A single remark on the word
"punished:" in Exodus xxi. 20, 21, the Hebrew word here rendered
_punished_, (_Nakum_,) is _not so rendered in another instance_. Yet it
occurs thirty-five times in the Old Testament--in almost every instance,
it is translated _avenge_--in a few, "_to take vengeance_," or "_to
revenge_," and in this instance ALONE, "_punish_." As it stands in our
translation, the pronoun preceding it, refers to the _master_--the
_master_ in the 21st verse, is to be _punished_, and in the 22d _not_ to
be punished; whereas the preceding pronoun refers neither to the
_master_ nor to the _servant_, but to the _crime_, and the word rendered
_punished_, should have been rendered _avenged_. The meaning is this: If
a man smite his servant or his maid with a rod, and he die under his
hand, IT (the death) shall surely be avenged, or literally, _by avenging
it shall be avenged_; that is, the _death_ of the servant shall be
_avenged_ by the _death_ of the master. So in the next verse--"If he
continues a day or two," his death shall not be avenged by the _death_
of the _master_, for in that case the crime was to be adjudged
_manslaughter_, and not _murder_, as in the first instance. In the
following verse, another case of personal injury is stated, not
intentional, nor extending to life or limb, a mere accidental hurt, for
which the injurer is to pay _a sum of money_; and yet our translators
employ the same phraseology in both places. One, an instance of
deliberate, wanton, _killing by piecemeal_. The other and _accidental_,
and comparatively slight injury--of the inflicter, in both cases, they
say the same thing! "_He shall surely be punished_." Now, just the
difference which common sense would expect to find in such cases, where
GOD legislates, is strongly marked in the original. In the case of the
servant wilfully murdered, God says, "It (the death) shall surely be
_avenged_," (_Nakum_,) that is, _the life of the wrong doer shall
expiate the crime_. The same word is used in the Old Testament, when the
greatest wrongs are redressed, by devoting the perpetrators, whether
individuals or communities, to _destruction_. In the case of the
_unintentional_ injury, in the following verse, God says, "He shall
surely be" _fined_, (_Aunash_.) "He shall _pay_ as the judges
determine." The simple meaning of the word _Aunash_, is to lay a fine.
It is used in Deut. xxii. 19. They shall _amerce_ him in one hundred
shekels," and in 2 Chron. xxxvi. 3--"He condemned (_mulcted_) the land
in a hundred talents of gold.--This is the general use of the word, and
its primary signification. That _avenging_ the death of the servant, was
neither imprisonment, nor stripes, nor amercing the master in damages,
but that it was _taking the master's life_ we infer.
1. From the _Bible usage_ of the word Nakam. See Genesis iv. 24; Joshua
x. 13; Judges xv. 7-xvi. 28; 1 Samuel xiv. 24-xviii. 25-xxv. 31; 2
Samuel iv. 8; Judges v. 2; 1 Samuel xxv. 26-33, &c. &c.
2. From the express statute in such case provided. Leviticus xxiv. 17.
"_He that killeth_ ANY _man_ shall surely be put to death." Also Numbers
xxxv. 30, 31. "_Whoso killeth_ ANY _person_, the murderer shall be put
to death. _Moreover ye shall take_ NO SATISFACTION _for the life of a
murderer which is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to
3. The Targum of Jonathan gives the verse thus, "Death by the sword
shall assuredly be adjudged." The Targum of Jerusalem thus, "Vengeance
shall be taken for him to the _uttermost_." Jarchi gives the same
rendering. The Samaritan version thus, "He shall die the death."
Again, the last clause in the 21st verse ("for he is his money") is
often quoted to prove that the servant is his master's _property_, and
_therefore_, if he died, the master was not _to be punished_. _Because_,
1st. A man may dispose of his _property_ as he pleases. 2d. If the
servant died of the injury, the master's _loss_ was a sufficient
punishment. A word about the premises, before we notice the inferences.
The assumption is, that the phrase, "HE IS HIS MONEY," proves not only
that the servant is _worth money_ to the master, but that he is an
_article of property_. If the advocates of slavery will take this
principle of interpretation into the Bible, and turn it loose, let them
either give bonds for its behavior, or else stand and draw in
self-defence, "lest it turn again and rend" them. If they endorse for it
at one point, they must stand sponsors all around the circle. It will be
too late to cry for quarter when they find its stroke clearing the whole
table, and tilting them among the sweepings beneath. The Bible abounds
with such expressions as the following: "This (bread) _is_ my body;"
"this (wine) _is_ my blood;" "all they (the Israelites) _are_ brass, and
tin, and iron, and lead;" "this _is_ life eternal, that they might know
thee;" "this (the water of the well of Bethlehem) _is_ the blood of the
men who went in jeopardy of their lives;" "I _am_ the lily of the
valleys;" "a garden enclosed _is_ my sister;" "my tears _have been_ my
meat;" "the Lord God _is_ a sun and a shield;" "God _is_ love;" "the
Lord _is_ my rock;" "the seven good ears _are_ seven years, and the
seven good kine _are_ seven years;" "the seven thin and ill-favored kine
_are_ seven years, and the seven empty ears blasted by the east wind
_shall be_ seven years of famine;" "he _shall be_ head, and thou _shall_
be tail;" "the Lord _will_ be a wall of fire;" "they _shall_ be one
flesh;" "the tree of the field _is_ man's life;" "God _is_ a consuming
fire;" "he _is_ his money," &c. A passion for the exact _literalities_
of Bible language is so amiable, it were hard not to gratify it in this
case. The words in the original are (_Kaspo-hu_,) "his _silver_ is he."
The objector's principle of interpretation is, a philosopher's stone!
Its miracle touch transmutes five feet eight inches of flesh and bones
into _solid silver_! Quite a _permanent_ servant, if not so nimble with
all--reasoning against "_forever_," is forestalled henceforth, and,
Deut. xxiii. 15, utterly outwitted.
Who in his senses believes that in the expression, "_He is his money_,"
the object was to inculcate the doctrine that the servant was a
_chattel_? The obvious meaning is, he is _worth money_ to his master,
and since, if the master killed him, it would take money out of his
pocket, the _pecuniary loss_, the _kind of instrument used_, and _the
fact of his living some time after the injury_, (as, if the master
_meant_ to kill, he would be likely to _do_ it while about it,) all
together make out a strong case of presumptive evidence clearing the
master of _intent to kill_. But let us look at the objector's
inferences. One is, that as the master might dispose of his _property_
as he pleased, he was not to be punished, if he destroyed it. Answer.
Whether the servant died under the master's hand, or continued a day or
two, he was _equally_ his master's property, and the objector admits
that in the _first_ case the master is to be "surely punished" for
destroying _his own property_! The other inference is, that since the
continuance of a day or two, cleared the master of _intent to kill_, the
loss of the slave would be a sufficient punishment for inflicting the
injury which caused his death. This inference makes the Mosaic law false
to its own principles. A _pecuniary loss_, constituted no part of the
claims of the law, where a person took the _life_ of another. In such
case, the law utterly spurned money, however large the sum. God would
not so cheapen human life, as to balance it with such a weight. "_Ye
shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, but he shall
surely be put to death_." See Numb. xxxv. 31. Even in excusable
homicide, a case of death purely accidental, as where an axe slipped
from the helve and killed a man, no sum of money availed to release from
confinement in the city of refuge, until the death of the High Priest.
Numbers xxxv. 32. The doctrine that the loss of the servant would be a
penalty _adequate_ to the desert of the master, admits the master's
_guilt_--his desert of _some_ punishment, and it prescribes a _kind_ of
punishment, rejected by the law, in all cases where man took the life of
man, whether with or without _intent_ to kill. In short, the objector
annuls an integral part of the system--resolves himself into a
legislature, with power in the premises, makes a _new_ law, and coolly
metes out such penalty as he thinks fit, both in kind and quantity.
Mosaic statutes amended, and Divine legislation revised and improved!
The master who struck out the tooth of a servant, whether intentionally
or not, was required to set him free for his tooth's sake. The
_pecuniary loss_ to the master was the same as though the servant had
_died_. Look at the two cases. A master beats his servant so severely,
that after a day or two he dies of his wounds; another master
accidentally strikes out his servant's tooth, and his servant is
free--_the pecuniary loss of both masters is the same._ The objector
contends that the loss of the slave's services in the first case is
punishment sufficient for the crime of killing him; yet God commands the
_same_ punishment for even the _accidental_ knocking out of a _tooth_!
Indeed, unless the injury was done _inadvertently_, the loss of the
servant's services is only a _part_ of the punishment--mere reparation
to the _individual_ for injury done; the _main_ punishment, that
strictly _judicial_, was, reparation to the _community_ for injury to
one of its members. To set the servant _free_, and thus proclaim his
injury, his right to redress, and the measure of it--answered not the
ends of public justice. The law made an example of the offender, "those
that remain might hear and fear." _"If a man cause a blemish in his
neighbour, as he hath done, so shall it be done unto him. Breach for
breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a
man, so shall it be done to him again. You have one manner of law as
well for the_ STRANGER _as for one of your own country_." Lev. xxiv. 19,
20, 22. Finally, if a master smote out the tooth of a servant, the law
smote out _his_ tooth--thus redressing the _public_ wrong; and it
cancelled the servant's obligation to the master, thus giving some
compensation for the injury done, and exempting him from perilous
liabilities in future.
OBJECTION III. _Both the bondmen and bondmaids which thou shalt have,
shall be of the heathen that are round about you, of them shall ye buy
bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do
sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are
with you, which they begat in your land, and they shall be your
possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children
after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen
forever_. Lev. xxv. 44-46.
The _points_ in these verses, urged as proof, that the Mosaic system
sanctioned slavery, are 1. The word "BONDMEN." 2. "BUY." 3. "INHERITANCE
AND POSSESSION." 4. "FOREVER."
The _second_ point, the _buying_ of servants, has been already
discussed, see page 15. And a part of the _third_ (holding servants as a
"possession." See p. 36.) We will now ascertain what sanction to slavery
is derivable from the terms "bondmen," "inheritance," and "forever."
I. BONDMEN. The fact that servants, from the heathen are called
"_bondmen_," while others are called "servants," is quoted as proof that
the former were slaves. As the _caprices_ of King James' translators
were not divinely inspired, we need stand in no special awe of them. The
word rendered _bondmen_, in this passage, is the same word uniformly
rendered _servants_ elsewhere. To infer from this that the Gentile
servants were slaves, is absurd. Look at the use of the Hebrew word
"_Ebed_," the plural of which is here translated "_bondmen_." In Isaiah
xlii. 1, the _same word_ is applied to Christ. "Behold my _servant_
(bondman, slave?) whom I have chosen, mine elect in whom my soul
delighteth." So Isaiah lii. 13. "Behold my _servant_ (Christ) shall deal
prudently." In 1 Kings xii. 6, 7, it is applied to _King Rehoboam_. "And
they (the old men) spake unto him, saying if thou wilt be a _servant_
(_Ebed_) unto this people this day, and will serve them and answer them,
and wilt speak good words to them, then they will be thy _servants_
forever." In 2 Chron. xii. 7, 8, 9, 13, it is applied to the king and
all the nation. In fine, the word is applied to _all_ persons doing
service to others--to magistrates, to all governmental officers, to
tributaries, to all the subjects of governments, to younger
sons--defining their relation to the first born, who is called _Lord_
and _ruler_--to prophets, to kings, to the Messiah, and in respectful
addresses not less than _fifty_ times in the Old Testament.
If the Israelites not only held slaves, but multitudes of them, why had
their language _no word_ that _meant slave_? If Abraham had thousands,
and if they _abounded_ under the Mosaic system, why had they no such
_word_ as slave or slavery? That language must be wofully poverty
stricken, which has _no signs_ to represent the most _common_ and
_familiar_ objects and conditions. To represent by the same word, and
without figure, _property_, and the _owner_ of that property, is a
solecism. Ziba was an "_Ebed_," yet he _"owned_" (!) twenty _Ebeds_. In
_English_, we have both the words _servant_ and _slave_. Why? Because we
have both the _things_, and need _signs_ for them. If the tongue had a
sheath, as swords have scabbards, we should have some _name_ for it: but
our dictionaries give us none. Why? because there is no such _thing_.
But the objector asks, "Would not the Israelites use their word _Ebed_
if they spoke of the slave of a heathen?" Answer. The servants of
individuals among the heathen are scarcely ever alluded to. _National_
servants or _tributaries_, are spoken of frequently, but so rarely are
their _domestic_ servants alluded to, no necessity existed, even if they
were slaves, for coining a new word. Besides, the fact of their being
domestics, under _heathen laws and usages_, proclaimed their
_liabilities_; their locality told their condition; so that in applying
to them the word _Ebed_, there would be no danger of being
misunderstood. But if the Israelites had not only _servants_, but
besides these, a multitude of _slaves_, a _word meaning slave_, would
have been indispensable for purposes of every day convenience. Further,
the laws of the Mosaic system were so many sentinels on every side, to
warn off foreign practices. The border ground of Canaan, was quarantine
ground, enforcing the strictest non-intercourse between the _without_
and the _within_, not of _persons_, but of _usages_. The fact that the
Hebrew language had no words corresponding to _slave_ and _slavery_,
though not a conclusive argument, is no slight corroborative.
II. "FOREVER."--"They shall be your bondmen _forever_." This is quoted
to prove that servants were to serve during their life time, and their
posterity, from generation to generation.
No such idea is contained in the passage. The word _forever_, instead of
defining the length of _individual_ service, proclaims the _permanence_
of the regulation laid down in the two verses preceding, namely, that
their _permanent domestics_ should be of the _Strangers_, and not of the
Israelites; and it declares the duration of that general provision. As
if God had said, "You shall _always_ get your _permanent_ laborers from
the nations round about you--your _servants_ shall always be of _that_
class of persons." As it stands in the original, it is plain--"_Forever
of them shall ye serve yourselves_." This is the literal rendering of
the Hebrew words, which, in our version, are translated, "_They shall be
your bondmen forever_."
This construction is in keeping with the whole of the passage. "Both thy
bondmen and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the
_heathen_ (the nations) that are round about you. OF THEM shall ye buy
bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do
sojourn among you, OF THEM shall ye buy," &c. The design of this passage
is manifest from its structure. It was to point out the _class_ of
persons from which they were to get their supply of servants, and the
_way_ in which they were to get them. That "_forever_" refers to the
permanent relations of a _community_, rather than to the services of
_individuals_, is a fair inference from the form of the expression,
"THEY shall be your possession. Ye shall take _them_ as an inheritance
for your children to inherit them for a possession." To say nothing of
the uncertainty of _these individuals_ surviving those _after_ whom they
are to live, the language used, applies more naturally to a _body_ of
people, than to _individual_ servants.
But suppose it otherwise; still _perpetual_ service could not be argued
from the term _forever_. The ninth and tenth verses of the same chapter,
limit it absolutely by the jubilee. "_Then shall thou cause the trumpet
of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month: in the
day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout_ ALL _your
land." "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty
throughout all the land unto_ ALL _the inhabitants thereof_."
It may be objected that "inhabitants" here means _Israelitish_
inhabitants alone. The command is, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the
land unto ALL _the inhabitants thereof_." Besides, in the sixth verse,
there is an enumeration of the different classes of the inhabitants, in
which servants and strangers are included. "_And the Sabbath of the land
shall be meet for_ YOU--[For whom? For you _Israelites_ only?]--_for
thee, and for thy_ SERVANT, _and for thy maid, and for thy hired
servant, and for thy_ STRANGER _that sojourneth with thee_."
Further, in all the regulations of the jubilee, and the sabbatical year,
the strangers are included in the precepts, prohibitions, and promised
blessings. Again: the year of jubilee was ushered in, by the day of
atonement. What was the design of these institutions? The day of
atonement prefigured the atonement of Christ, and the year of jubilee,
the gospel jubilee. And did they prefigure an atonement and a jubilee to
_Jews_ only? Were they the types of sins remitted, and of salvation,
proclaimed to the nation of _Israel_ alone? Is there no redemption for
us Gentiles in these ends of the earth, and is our hope presumption and
impiety? Did that old partition wall survive the shock, that made earth
quake, and hid the sun, burst graves and rocks, and rent the temple
vail? And did the Gospel only rear it higher to thunder direr perdition
from its frowning battlements on all without? No! The God of OUR
salvation lives. "Good tidings of great joy shall be to ALL people."
_One_ shout shall swell from _all_ the ransomed, "Thou hast redeemed us
unto God by thy blood out of EVERY kindred, and tongue, and people, and
nation." To deny that the blessings of the jubilee extended to the
servants from the _Gentiles_, makes Christianity _Judaism_. It not only
eclipses the glory of the Gospel, but strikes out the sun. The refusal
to release servants at the sound of the jubilee trumpet, falsified and
disannulled a grand leading type of the atonement, and thus libelled the
doctrine of Christ's redemption.
Finally, even if _forever_ did refer to the length of _individual_
service, we have ample precedents for limiting the term by the jubilee.
The same word is used to define the length of time for which those
_Jewish_ servants were held, who refused to go out in the _seventh_
year. And all admit that their term of service did not go beyond the
jubilee. Ex. xxi. 2-6; Deut. xv. 12-17.
The 23d verse of the same chapter is quoted to prove that "_forever_" in
the 46th verse, extends beyond the jubilee. "_The land shall not be
sold_ FOREVER, _for the land is mine_"--as it would hardly be used in
different senses in the same general connection. In reply, we repeat
that _forever_ respects the duration of the _general arrangement_, and
not that of _individual service_. Consequently, it is not affected by
the jubilee; so the objection does not touch the argument. But it may
not be amiss to show that it is equally harmless against any other
argument drawn from the use of forever in the 46th verse,--for the word
there used, is _Olam_, meaning _throughout the period_, whatever that
may be. Whereas in the 23d verse, it is _Tsemithuth_, meaning _cutting
off_, or _to be cut off_.
III. "INHERITANCE AND POSSESSION."--"_Ye shall take them as an_
INHERITANCE _for your children after you to inherit them for a
possession_." This refers to the _nations_, and not to the _individual_
servants, procured from these nations. We have already shown, that
servants could not be held as a _property_-possession, and inheritance;
that they became servants of their _own accord_, and were paid wages;
that they were released by law from their regular labor nearly _half the
days in each year_, and thoroughly _instructed_; that the servants were
_protected_ in all their personal, social, and religious rights, equally
with their masters, &c. Now, truly, all remaining, after these ample
reservations, would be small temptation, either to the lust of power or
of lucre. What a profitable "possession" and "inheritance!" What if our
American slaves were all placed in _just such a condition_! Alas, for
that soft, melodious circumlocution, "Our PECULIAR species of property!"
Truly, emphasis is cadence, and euphony and irony have met together!
What eager snatches at mere words, and bald technics, irrespective of
connection, principles of construction, Bible usages, or limitations of
meaning by other passages--and all to eke out such a sense as accords
with existing usages and sanctifies them, thus making God pander for
their lusts. Little matter whether the meaning of the word be primary or
secondary, literal or figurative, _provided_ it sustains their
But let us inquire whether the words rendered "inherit" and
"inheritance," when used in the Old Testament, necessarily point out the
things inherited and possessed as _articles of property_. _Nahal_ and
_Nahala_--_inherit_ and _inheritance_. See 2 Chronicles x. 16. "The
people answered the king and said, What portion have we in David, and we
have none _inheritance_ in the son of Jesse." Did they mean gravely to
disclaim the holding of their king as an article of _property?_ Psalms
cxxvii. 3--"Lo, children are an _heritage_ (inheritance) of the Lord."
Exodus xxxiv. 9--"Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine
_inheritance_." When God pardons his enemies, and adopts them as his
children, does he make them _articles of property?_ Are forgiveness, and
chattel-making, synonymes? Psalms cxix. 111--"Thy testimonies have I
taken as a _heritage_ (inheritance) forever." Ezekiel xliv. 27, 28--"And
in the day that he goeth into the sanctuary, unto the inner court to
minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin-offering, saith the
Lord God. And it shall be unto them for an _inheritance_; _I_ am their
_inheritance_." Psalms ii. 8--"Ask of me, and I will give thee the
heathen for thine _inheritance_." Psalms xciv. 14--"For the Lord will
not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his _inheritance_." See
also Deuteronomy iv. 20; Joshua xiii. 33; Chronicles x. 16; Psalms
lxxxii. 8, and lxxviii. 62, 71; Proverbs xiv. 8.
The question whether the servants were a PROPERTY--"_possession_," has
been already discussed--(See p. 36)--we need add in this place but a
word. _Ahusa_ rendered "_possession_." Genesis xlii. 11--"And Joseph
placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a _possession_ in the
land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as
Pharaoh had commanded."
In what sense was the land of Goshen the _possession_ of the Israelites?
Answer, In the sense of, _having it to live in_. In what sense were the
Israelites to _possess_ these nations, and _take them_ as an
_inheritance for their children?_ We answer, They possessed them as _a
permanent source of supply for domestic or household servants. And this
relation to these nations was to go down to posterity as a standing
regulation--a national usage respecting them, having the certainty and
regularity of a descent by inheritance_. The sense of the whole
regulation may be given thus: "Thy permanent domestics, both male and
female, which thou shalt have, shall be of the nations that are round
about you, of _them_ shall ye get male and female domestics." "Moreover
of the children of the foreigners that do sojourn among you, of _them_
shall ye get, and of their families that are with you, which they begat
in your land, and _they_ shall be your permanent resource," (for
household servants.) "And ye shall take them as a _perpetual_ provision
for your children after you, to hold as a _constant source of supply_.
ALWAYS _of them_ shall ye serve yourselves."
OBJECTION IV. "_If thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and
be sold unto thee, thou shalt not compel him to serve as a_
BOND-SERVANT, _but as an_ HIRED-SERVANT, _and as a sojourner shall he be
with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee_." Lev. xxv.
From the fact that only _one_ class of the servants is called _hired_,
it is sagely inferred that servants of the _other_ class were _not paid_
for their labor. That is, that while God thundered anathemas against
those who "used their neighbor's service _without wages_," he granted a
special indulgence to his chosen people to seize persons, force them to
work, and rob them of earnings, provided always, in selecting their
victims, they spared "the gentlemen of property and standing," and
pounced only upon the _strangers_ and the _common_ people. The inference
that "_hired_" is synonimous with _paid_, and that those servants not
_called_ "hired" were _not paid_ for their labor, is a _mere
The meaning of the English verb _to hire_, is, as every one knows, to
procure for a temporary use at a curtain price--to engage a person to
_temporary_ service for wages. That is also the meaning of the Hebrew
word "_Saukar_." _Temporary_ service, and generally for a _specific_
object, is inseparable from its meaning. It is never used when the
procurement of _permanent_ service, for a long period, is spoken of.
Now, we ask, would _permanent_ servants, those who constituted an
integral and stationary part of the family, have been designated by the
same term that marks _temporary_ servants? The every-day distinctions
made on this subject, are as familiar as table-talk. In many families,
the domestics perform only such labor, as every day brings along with
it--the _regular_ work. Whatever is _occasional_ merely, as the washing
of a family, is done by persons _hired expressly for the purpose_. In
such families, the familiar distinction between the two classes, is
"servants," or "domestics," and "hired help," (not _paid_ help.) _Both_
classes are _paid_. One is permanent, the other occasional and
temporary, and therefore in this case called "_hired_." To suppose a
servant robbed of his earnings, because when spoken of, he is not called
a _hired_ servant, is profound induction! If I employ a man at twelve
dollars a month to work my farm, he is my _"hired"_ man, but if, instead
of giving him so much a month, I _give him such a portion of the crop_,
or in other words, if he works my farm _"on shares,"_ he is no longer my
_hired_ man. Every farmer knows that _that_ designation is not applied
to him. Yet he works the same farm, in the same way, at the same times,
and with the same teams and tools; and does the same amount of work in
the year, and perhaps clears twenty dollars a month, instead of the
twelve, paid him while he was my _hired_ laborer. Now, as the technic
_"hired"_ is no longer used to designate him, and as he still labors on
my farm, suppose my neighbors gather in conclave, and from such ample
premises sagely infer, that since he is no longer my _"hired"_ laborer,
I _rob_ him of his earnings, and with all the gravity of owls, they
record their decision, and adjourn to hoot it abroad. My neighbors are
deep divers!--like some theological professors, they not only go to the
bottom, but come up covered with the tokens.
A variety of particulars are recorded in the Bible, distinguishing
_hired_ from _bought_ servants. (1.) Hired servants were paid daily at
the close of their work. Lev. xix 13; Deut. xxiv. 14, 15; Job. vii. 2;
Matt. xx. 8. _"Bought"_ servants were paid in advance, (a reason for
their being called, _bought_,) and those that went out at the seventh
year received a _gratuity_ at the close of their period of service.
Deut. xv. 12-13. (2.) The hired servant was paid _in money_, the bought
servant received his _gratuity_, at least, in grain, cattle, and the
product of the vintage. Deut. xiv. 17. (3.) The _hired_ servant _lived
by himself_, in his own family. The _bought_ servant was a part of his
master's family. (4.) The _hired_ servant supported his family out of
his wages; the _bought_ servant and his family, were supported by the
master _besides_ his wages.
A careful investigation of the condition of "_hired_" and of "_bought_"
servants, shows that the latter were, _as a class, superior to the
former_--were more trust-worthy, had greater privileges, and occupied in
every respect (_other_ things being equal) a higher station in society.
(1.) _They were intimately incorporated with the family of the master_.
They were guests at family festivals, and social solemnities, from which
hired servants were excluded. Lev. xxii. 10; Exod. xii. 43, 45. (2)
_Their interests were far more identified with the general interests of
their masters' family._ Bought servants were often actually, or
prospectively, heirs of their master's estate. Witness the case of
Eliezer, of Ziba, of the sons of Bilhah, and Zilpah, and others. When
there were no sons to inherit the estate, or when, by unworthiness, they
had forfeited their title, bought servants were made heirs. Proverbs
xvii. 2. We find traces of this usage in the New Testament. "But when
the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, this is
the _heir_, come let us kill him, _that the inheritance may be ours_."
Luke xx. 14; also Mark xii. 7. In no instance on Bible record, does a
_hired_ servant inherit his master's estate. (3.) _Marriages took place
between servants and their master's daughters_. "Now Sheshan had no
sons, but daughters: and Sheshan had a _servant_, an Egyptian, whose
name was Jarha. And Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant to
wife." 1 Chron. ii. 34, 35. There is no instance of a _hired_ servant
forming such an alliance.
(4.) _Bought servants and their descendants seem to have been regarded
with the same affection and respect as the other members of the
family[A]._ The treatment of Eliezer, and the other servants in the
family of Abraham, Gen. chap. 25--the intercourse between Gideon and his
servant Phurah, Judges vii. 10, 11. and Saul and his servant, in their
interview with Samuel, 1 Sam. ix. 5, 22; and Jonathan and his servant, 1
Sam. xiv. 1-14, and Elisha and his servant Gehazi, are illustrations. No
such tie seems to have existed between _hired_ servants and their
masters. Their untrustworthiness seems to have been proverbial. See John
ix. 12, 13.
None but the _lowest class_ seem to have engaged as hired servants. No
instance occurs in which they are assigned to business demanding much
knowledge or skill. Various passages show the low repute and trifling
character of the class from which they were hired. Judges ix. 4; 1 Sam.
The superior condition and privileges of bought servants, are manifested
in the high trusts confided to them, and in the dignity and authority
with which they were clothed in their master's household. But in no
instance is a _hired_ servant thus distinguished. In some cases, the
_bought_ servant is manifestly the master's representative in the
family--with plenipotentiary powers over adult children, even
negotiating marriage for them. Abraham besought Eliezer his servant, to
take a solemn oath, that HE would not take a wife for Isaac of the
daughters of the Canaanites, but from Abraham's kindred. The servant
went accordingly, and _himself_ selected the individual. Servants also
exercised discretionary power in the management of their master's
estate, "And the servant took ten camels, of the camels of his master,
_for all the goods of his master were under his hand_." Gen. xxiv. 10.
The reason assigned for taking them, is not that such was Abraham's
direction, but that the servant had discretionary control. Servants had
also discretionary power in the _disposal of property_. See Gen. xxiv.
22, 23, 53. The condition of Ziba in the house of Mephiboseth, is a case
in point. So is Prov. xvii. 2. Distinct traces of this estimation are to
be found in the New Testament, Math. xxiv. 45; Luke xii. 42, 44. So in
the parable of the talents; the master seems to have set up each of his
servants in trade with considerable capital. One of them could not have
had less than eight thousand dollars. The parable of the unjust steward
is another illustration. Luke xvi. 4, 8. He evidently was entrusted with
large _discretionary_ power, was "accused of wasting his master's
goods." and manifestly regulated with his master's debtors, the _terms_
of settlement. Such trusts were never reposed in _hired_ servants.
The inferior condition of _hired_ servants, is illustrated in the
parable of the prodigal son. When the prodigal, perishing with hunger
among the swine and husks, came to himself, his proud heart broke; "I
will arise," he cried, "and go to my father." And then to assure his
father of the depth of his humility, resolved to add imploringly, "Make
me as one of thy _hired_ servants." It need not be remarked, that if
_hired_ servants were the _superior_ class; to apply for the situation,
and press the suit, savored little of that sense of unworthiness that
seeks the dust with hidden face, and cries "unclean." Unhumbled nature
_climbs_; or if it falls, clings fast, where first it may. Humility
sinks of its own weight, and in the lowest deep, digs lower. The design
of the parable was to illustrate on the one hand, the joy of God, as he
beholds afar off, the returning sinner "seeking an injured father's
face" who runs to clasp and bless him with an unchiding welcome; and on
the other, the contrition of the penitent, turning homeward with tears,
from his wanderings, his stricken spirit breaking with its ill-desert,
he sobs aloud, "The lowest place, _the lowest place_, I can abide no
other." Or in those inimitable words, "_Father, I have sinned against
Heaven, and in thy sight, and no more worthy to be called thy son; make
me as one of thy_ HIRED _servants_." The supposition that _hired_
servants were the _highest_ class, takes from the parable an element of
winning beauty and pathos. It is manifest to every careful student of
the Bible, that _one_ class of servants, was on terms of equality with
the children and other members of the family. (Hence the force of Paul's
declaration, Gal. iv. 1, _"Now I say unto you, that the heir, so long as
he is a child,_ DIFFERETH NOTHING FROM A SERVANT, _though he be lord of
all."_) If this were the _hired_ class, the prodigal was a sorry
specimen of humility. Would our Lord have put such language, into the
lips of one held up by himself, as a model of gospel humility, to
illustrate its lowliness, its conscious destitution of all merit, and
deep sense of all ill desert? If this is _humility_, put it on stilts,
and set it a strutting, while pride takes lessons, and blunders in
Here let it be observed, that both Israelites and Strangers, belonged
indiscriminately to _each_ class of the servants, the _bought_ and the
_hired_. That those in the former class, whether Jews or Strangers, were
in higher estimation, and rose to honors and authority in the family
circle, which were not conferred on _hired_ servants, has been already
shown. It should be added, however, that in the enjoyment of privileges,
merely _political_ and _national_, the hired servants from the
_Israelites_, were more favored than either the hired, or the bought
servants from the _Strangers_. No one from the Strangers, however
wealthy or highly endowed, was eligible to the highest office, nor could
he own the soil. This last disability seems to have been one reason for
the different periods of service required of the two classes of bought
servants--the Israelites and the Strangers. The Israelite was to serve
six years--the Stranger until the jubilee[A].
[Footnote A: Both classes may with propriety be called _permanent_
servants; even the bought Israelite, when his six-years' service is
contrasted with the brief term of the hired servant.]
As the Strangers could not own the soil, nor even houses, except within
walled towns, most of them would choose to attach themselves permanently
to Israelitish families. Those Strangers who were wealthy, or skilled in
manufactures, instead of becoming servants themselves, would need
servants for their own use, and as inducements for the Strangers to
become servants to the Israelites, were greater than persons of their
own nation could hold out to them, these wealthy Strangers would
naturally procure the poorer Israelites for servants. See Levit. xxv.
47. In a word, such was the political condition of the Strangers, the
Jewish polity furnished a strong motive to them, to become servants,
thus incorporating themselves with the nation, and procuring those
social and religious privileges already enumerated, and for their
children in the second generation, a permanent inheritance. (This last
was a regulation of later date. Ezekiel xlvii. 21-23.) Indeed, the
structure of the whole Mosaic polity, was a virtual bounty offered to
those who would become permanent servants, and merge in the Jewish
system their distinct nationality. None but the monied aristocracy among
them, would be likely to decline such offers.
For various reasons, this class, (the servants bought from the
Strangers,) would prefer a _long_ service. They would thus more
effectually become absorbed into the national circulation, and identify
their interests with those in whose gift were all things desirable for
themselves, and brighter prospects for their children. On the other
hand, the Israelites, owning all the soil, and an inheritance of land
being a sort of sacred possession, to hold it free of incumbrance, was,
with every Israelite, a delicate point, both of family honor and
personal character. 1 Kings xxi. 3. Hence, to forego the _possession_ of
one's inheritance, _after_ the division of the paternal domain, or to be
restrained from its _control_, after having acceded to it, was a burden
grievous to be borne. To mitigate, as much as possible, such a calamity,
the law, instead of requiring the Israelite to continue a servant until
the jubilee, released him at the end six years[A], as, during that
time--if, of the first class--the partition of the patrimonial land
might have taken place; or, if of the second, enough money might have
been earned to disencumber his estate, and thus he might assume his
station as a lord of the soil. If these contingencies had not occurred,
then, at the end of another six years, the opportunity was again
offered, and in the same manner until the jubilee. So while strong
motives urged the Israelite, to discontinue his service as soon as the
exigency had passed, which induced him to become a servant, every
consideration impelled the _Stranger_ to _prolong_ his term of service;
and the same kindness which dictated the law of six years' service for
the Israelite, assigned as the general rule, a much longer period to the
Gentile servant, who, instead of being tempted to a brief service, had
every inducement to protract the term.
[Footnote A: Another reason for protracting the service until the
seventh year, seems to have been, its coincidence with other
arrangements, and provisions, inseparable from the Jewish economy. That
period was a favorite one in the Mosaic system. Its pecuniary
responsibilities, social relations and general internal structure, if
not _graduated_ upon a septennial scale, were variously modified by the
lapse of the period. Another reason doubtless was, that as those
Israelites who became servants through poverty, would not sell
themselves, except as a last resort when other expedients to recruit
their finances had failed--(See Lev. xxv. 35)--their _becoming servants_
proclaimed such a state of their affairs, as demanded the labor of _a
course of years_ fully to reinstate them.]
It is important to a clear understanding of the whole subject, to keep
in mind that adult Jews ordinarily became servants, only as a temporary
expedient to relieve themselves from embarrassment, and ceased to be
such when that object was effected. The poverty that forced them to it
was a calamity, and their service was either a means of relief, or a
measure of prevention. It was not pursued as a _permanent business_, but
resorted to on emergencies--a sort of episode in the main scope of their
lives. Whereas with the Strangers, it was a _permanent employment_,
pursued not merely as a _means_ of bettering their own condition, and
prospectively that of their posterity, but also, as an _end_ for its own
sake, conferring on them privileges, and a social estimation not
We see from the foregoing, why servants purchased from the heathen, are
called by way of distinction, _the_ servants, (not _bondmen_, as our
translators have it.) (1.) They followed it as a _permanent business_.
(2.) Their term of service was _much longer_ than that of the other
class. (3.) As a class, they doubtless greatly outnumbered the
Israelitish servants. (4.) All the Strangers that dwelt in the land,
were _tributaries_ to the Israelites--required to pay an annual tribute
to the government, either in money, or in public service, which was
called a "_tribute of bond-service_;" in other words, all the Strangers
were _national servants_, to the Israelites, and the same Hebrew word
which is used to designate _individual_ servants, equally designates
_national_ servants or tributaries. 2 Sam. viii. 2, 6, 14. 2 Chron.
viii. 7-9. Deut. xx. 11. 2 Sam. x. 19. 1 Kings ix. 21, 22. 1 Kings iv.
21. Gen. xxvii. 29. The same word is applied to the Israelites, when
they paid tribute to other nations. See 2 Kings xvii. 3. Judges iii. 8,
14. Gen. xlix. 15. Another distinction between the Jewish and Gentile
bought servants, claims notice. It was in the _kinds_ of service
assigned to each class. The servants from the Strangers, were properly
the _domestics_, or household servants, employed in all family work, in
offices of personal attendance, and in such mechanical labor, as was
constantly required in every family, by increasing wants, and needed
repairs. On the other hand, the Jewish bought servants seem to have been
almost exclusively _agricultural_. Besides being better fitted for this
by previous habits--agriculture, and the tending of cattle, were
regarded by the Israelites as the most honorable of all occupations;
kings engaged in them. After Saul was elected king, and escorted to
Gibeah, the next report of him is, "_And behold Saul came after the herd
out of the field_."--1 Sam. xi. 7.
Elisha "was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen" when Elijah threw his
mantle upon him. 1 Kings xix. 19. King Uzziah "loved husbandry." 2
Chron. xxvi. 10. Gideon, the deliverer of Israel, _was "threshing wheat_
by the wine press" when called to lead the host against the Midianites.
Judges vi. 11. The superior honorableness of agriculture, is shown by
the fact, that it was _protected and supported by the fundamental law_
of the theocracy--God thus indicating it as the chief prop of the
government, and putting upon it peculiar honor. An inheritance of land
seems to have filled out an Israelite's idea of worldly furnishment.
They were like permanent fixtures on their soil, so did they cling to
it. To be agriculturalists on their own inheritances, was, in their
notions, the basis of family consequence, and the grand claim to
honorable estimation. Agriculture being pre-eminently a _Jewish_
employment, to assign a native Israelite to _other_ employments as a
_business_, was to break up his habits, do violence to cherished
predilections, and put him to a kind of labor in which he had no skill,
and which he deemed degrading. In short, it was, in the earlier ages of
the Mosaic system, practically to _unjew_ him, a hardship and rigor
grievous to be borne, as it annihilated a visible distinction between
the descendants of Abraham and the Strangers--a distinction vital to the
system, and gloried in by every Jew.
_To guard this and another fundamental distinction_, God instituted the
regulation contained in Leviticus xxv. 39, which stands at the head of
this branch of our inquiry, "_If thy brother that dwelleth by thee be
waxen poor, and be sold unto thee, thou shalt not compel him to serve as
a bond-servant._" In other words, thou shalt not put him to _servants'
work_--to the _business_, and into the _condition_ of _domestics_.
In the Persian version it is translated thus, "Thou shalt not assign to
him the work of _servitude_," (or _menial_ labor.) In the Septuagint
thus, "He shall not serve thee with the service of a _domestic or
household servant_." In the Syriac thus, "Thou shalt not employ him
after the manner of servants." In the Samaritan thus, "Thou shalt not
require him to serve in the service of a servant." In the Targum of
Onkelos thus, "He shall not serve thee with the service of a household
servant." In the Targum of Jonathan thus, "Thou shalt not cause him to
serve according to the usages of the servitude of servants[A]." In fine,
"thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bond-servant," means, _thou
shalt not assign him to the same grade, nor put him to the same
services, with permanent domestics._
[Footnote A: Jarchi's comment on "Thou shalt not compel him to serve as
a bond-servant" is, "the Hebrew servant is not to be required to do any
thing which is accounted degrading--such as all offices of personal
attendance, as loosing his master's shoe latchet, bringing him water to
wash his feet and hands, waiting on him at table, dressing him, carrying
things to and from the bath. The Hebrew servant is to work with his
master as a son or brother, in the business of his farm, or other labor,
until his legal release."]
We pass to the remainder of the regulation in the 40th verse:--
"_But as an hired servant and as a sojourner shall he be with thee_."
Hired servants were not incorporated into the families of their masters;
they still retained their own family organization, without the surrender
of any domestic privilege, honor, or authority; and this, even though
they resided under the same roof with their master. While
bought-servants were associated with their master's families at meals,
at the Passover, and at other family festivals, hired servants and