Many may be surprised to learn that in the Old Testament, God expressly forbids the slave trade, commanding that anyone who steals a man is to be put to death, whether he has sold the victim yet or not (Exodus 21:16).
Naturally, this raises the question of why God had laws on slavery. It must be understood that there were different types of slavery in the ancient days. One was the all-too-familiar slave trade of kidnapping a person from their home country and selling them for profit (this being the type God forbade). Another was those in debt who sold themselves into slavery.
This second type of slavery was the most common, and was based on finances, not on race (oftentimes Jews had Jewish slaves). If a person ran into debt, instead of ending up homeless and desolate, he could sell himself as a slave. Basically, a well-to-do man would “buy” the one in debt, and from then on the one bought was the “slave.” The buyer or “master” would then pay off all the slave’s debts, and in return the slave would work for him for a specified amount of time until this loan was paid back (in Jewish culture this was no more than six years, for God ordered that slaves were to be freed the seventh year). In the meantime, the slave was guaranteed food, clothing, and housing. [Read more…]