As Christians we are still fully human in this life. We just have a drastically different destination after we die. We do not have all of the answers in this life and at times, non-believers will hit us with questions that we do not have the answers to. I seek to provide answers to those difficult questions through my writing no matter what aspect of the Bible that the world seeks to discredit. One of the more effective attacks is bringing up the fact that slavery was condoned in the Bible. At a glance, this seems to be a legitimate question of God’s authority as the morally perfect Judge of humanity. In a post-resurrection world where the New Covenant has been established, the super majority of cases of slavery are 100% immoral and condemned by the Lord. In the days of the Old Testament though, there were many instances that are justified.
There is a critical distinction that we need to make. There were both involuntary and voluntary cases of slavery. The Lord’s chosen people, the Jews, created through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob became the nation of Israel over the years. For the cases of involuntary slavery, you must look at what Israel represented. It was the only true legitimate theocracy ever created. As such, Israel was used by God to enact His justice upon the world. Pagan nations were either utterly slaughtered OR enslaved for their unabashed wickedness and rebellion against God’s people. For example, remember the terms agreed upon in the battle of David and Goliath. The winning nation was granted the right to enslave the other. Countless people were under the control of Israel during the reign of her kings. Consider the fact that when Israel turned her back on God and started acting like the pagan nations, that God, just like he warned, handed them over to be enslaved by other nations. Involuntary slavery in the Old Testament, when it comes to who the Jews enslaved, and when they were enslaved, it was a result of a severe moral failure on their part.
Deuteronomy 28: 47 “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you.
When it comes to voluntary slavery, look no further than the events that placed all of Israel under the control of the Egyptians. During the years of the famine, Joseph had full control over the nation of Egypt and its stored food supply. He would sell the food to everyone. The Israelites ran out of things to trade for food and as a result, they decided to sell themselves as slaves to have access to food. Voluntary slavery or becoming a bondservant was a means of paying off debts when you had no other means or if you did not have a way to provide yourself with food, shelter, etc. This was essentially what someone did when they declared bankruptcy in the Old Testament.
If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. But if the servant plainly says, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,” then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. (Exodus 21:2–6)
For voluntary slavery, you can almost liken it to declaring bankruptcy these days or that if you rack up a bunch of debt that you will never pay off can result in jail time: they didn’t have jails back then for every single person with no money folks. Becoming a bondservant was the only option.
For a period of time after Christ’s resurrection, people were still becoming bondservants all the time and the New Testament authors decreed that those servants were to be treated fairly! To abuse a servant was a sin. Israel was no longer a theocracy and much less a state so they were no longer the Lord’s tool of enacting justice upon the world. He now sought to save the world with a New Covenant that would encompass the Gentiles as well. This means that the involuntary enslavement of people became a sin because there is no one acting on God’s behalf as a tool of justice any longer. That means that yes, the U.S. and the rest of the major world nations that condoned forced slavery were morally wrong. You can count this as one of the single greatest moral failures of our country and we continue to reap the terrible consequences of it today where racial tensions are so high. The Lord’s righteousness on this matter is unquestionable. The cases I have described how and why slavery was a morally just practice under the Old Covenant.