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Are Slavery & Racism Okay with God?

A Bible student's question

A Bible student commented that certain Bible verses seem to indicate that slavery and racism are permitted under the Laws set forth in the Bible.

Accordingly, the following Bible Study will deal with this issue.

Be a Berean

  • God designated the Christians in the town of Berea as being "noble-minded." Why? Because they carefully checked their Bibles to see if Paul & Silas were teaching sound doctrine.
  • Be a Berean! That is, be SURE to read the Bible verses (right-side column) that form the basis for this study (left-side column.)
  • Also, if you feel this study has overlooked any other applicable Bible verses, be sure to send us an E-mail.
  Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Acts 17.11-12

The Law prohibited enslavement of an Israelite...

  • A citizen of Israel who became poor could sell himself for money. By so doing, he became a hired servant of the person who purchased his services.
  • The "hiring contract" set forth a specific amount of money to be paid-in-advance, in return for a specific duration of service.
  • The duration of required service could not, in any event, exceed 7 years, as shown alongside.
  (God said...) If one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. But as a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. And then he shall depart from you, both he and his children with him, and shall return to his own family; he shall return to the possession of his fathers. For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. Lev 25.39-42

If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then
in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him. Deu 15.12-14

Every man should set free his male and female slave -- a Hebrew man or woman -- that no one should keep a Jewish brother in bondage. Jer 34.9

The Law permitted Israelites to have foreign slaves...

  • But why would God's Law allow slavery in Israel?
  • Is this Law as harsh as it sounds? Is it "racist"?
  As for your male and female slaves whom you may have from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who sojourn among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property. And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor. Lev 25.44-46

Is God's Law "Racist"?
God's Law specifically forbids racism of any sort...

  • More than this, the Law commands LOVE among all races.
  • Black or yellow, red or white, ALL are precious in God's sight.
  The stranger (foreigner) who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself Lev 19.34a

You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Lev 19.18b
  • In short, the Kingdom of Heaven is an "equal-opportunity employer."
  • Therefore racism is, was, and always shall be, a SIN against Almighty God.
  After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne (of God) and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'' Rev 7.9-10

As to God's Laws Concerning Slavery...
There are two categories of Bible laws...

  • Moral laws
  • Civil laws
General Examples of Moral Laws
As shown alongside, moral laws dealt with ethical and holiness matters with respect to maintaining loving and honorable relationships with God, and with people.

Moral Laws are forever.
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain Ex 20.7a
  • You shall not steal. Ex 20.15

General Examples of Civil Laws
As shown in the verses alongside, civil laws dealt with matters of day-to-day community life, such as...

  • property rights
  • sanitation
  • civil disputes

Whereas Moral Laws are forever, Civil Laws were designed to meet needs in a SPECIFIC historical/cultural environment, as discussed below...

  And if a man sells a house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year he may redeem it. Lev 25.29

This is the law for any leprous sore and scall, for the leprosy of a garment and of a house, for a swelling and a scab and a bright spot, to teach when it is unclean and when it is clean. This is the law of leprosy.
Lev 14.54-57

Background of the Civil Laws
The Old Testament's Civil Laws were given by God...

  • to a specific group of people (Israel)
  • to meet a specific set of circumstances
  • at a specific period of time (many centuries BC)


Living conditions in Old Testament days

  • In Old Testament days, the Israelites were a migrant people. They lived in tents and traveled from place to place.
  So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Exod 15.22
  • The areas through which the Israelites traveled were populated by other tribes and races.
  • These races were idolatrous. The majority of them were hostile to Israel and to God.
  Now Amalek (King Amalek and his tribe) came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. Exod 17.8

But Sihon
(King of the Amorites) would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and he came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. Num 21.23
  • There were no refrigerators, no Boards of Sanitation, no Welfare agencies, and so forth.
  They (the Israelites) did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it (the food, manna) until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Exod 16.20

A Time of Many Wars
There were, as the Bible shows, recurrent wars between Israel and the surrounding tribes of people in the land of Canaan...

  • These wars left the survivors in a horrible state. Their homes were destroyed. Most families were left without fathers. Many families were left without mothers, as well. Farms were burned and ruined. Herds were devastated.
  • There were no "foreign relief" or "welfare" programs to meet the physical needs of defeated peoples -- food, clothing, shelter, child care, and so forth.
  • It was within this circumstance that slavery was permitted in Israel.
  And it came to pass when all the kings who were on this side of the Jordan, in the hills and in the lowland and in all the coasts of the Great Sea toward Lebanon the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite heard of it, that they gathered together to fight with Joshua and Israel with one accord. Josh 9.1-2

A Time of Sharing -- the Good AND the Bad
While a foreign slave in Israel was not free, neither was he oppressed. While he was not paid a salary, neither did he suffer want...

  • He shared in the family's food
  • He shared in the family's home
  • He shared in the family's festivals
  • He shared in the family's work
  You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Deu 24.14

And the sabbath produce of the land shall be
food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you Lev 25:6-7

You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. Deu 16.11

Example #1 - Eliezer
Eliezer was a slave, in service to Abraham...

  • Until the birth of Abraham's son, Eliezer was designated as Abraham's heir.
  But Abraham said, "Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?'' Gen 15.2
  • Eliezer ruled over Abraham's house.
  Abraham spoke to the oldest servant of his house (Eliezer), who ruled over all that he had Gen 24.2a
  • Abraham entrusted Eliezer to make a journey of several hundred miles, taking with him a great deal of Abraham's wealth.
  • Eliezer thus had the chance to flee, and be a wealthy man. But he did not.
  Then the servant (Eliezer) took ten of his master's camels and departed, for all his master's goods were in his hand. And he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. Gen 24.10

Example #2- 318 slaves of Abraham
Abraham's slaves accompanied him to battle. There were 318 of them, and they were armed...

  • They could easily have killed Abraham and obtained their freedom. But they did not.
  • Instead, they bravely risked their lives to help Abraham win the battle.
  Now when Abraham heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. Gen 14.14

I will NOT go free!
These are not the acts and attitudes of an oppressed people, yearning to be free...

  • Rather, these acts demonstrate that these people were well cared for, and loyal.
  • This was so often true that the Law actually provided for a slave to REFUSE freedom.
  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. Ex 21.5-6

Note: Some Christians pierce their ears and wear earrings to signify that they are willing "bondservants of Jesus Christ."

Summary Concerning the Civil Law
There is no comparison WHATSOEVER between the situation in Bible days, versus what went on in America prior to the Civil War...

  • As to Pre-Civil-War America: African slaves were kidnapped, and sold for profit.
  • As to Israel: Under God's Law, anyone who traded in slaves was put to death.
  He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. Exod 21.16
  • As to Pre-Civil-War America: If an African slave fled, he was subject to death, as was anyone who gave him safe haven.
  • As to Israel: Under God's law, the Jews were required to FREE any slave who ran away, and to provide him with safe haven.
  You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him. Deu 23.15-16

The Moral Law
Any evaluation of God's Civil Laws must always be done in the light of God's Moral Laws, as set forth in Exodus chapter 20 (the Ten Commandments).

In Matthew 22.37-40, Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments into just exactly two...

  • Love God
  • Love your neighbor

Therefore, LOVE is the foundational principle of all Laws given by God.


(A rabbinical lawyer asked Jesus...) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?''

Jesus said to him:

  • "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.
  • "And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

"On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." Mt 22.36-40

THIS is *Love*? You Gotta Be Kidding!
It is sometimes difficult to discern that "love" is the basis for seemingly evil laws such as...

  • Requiring that a family's home be demolished
  • Forbidding farmers to fully harvest the crops which are their livelihood.
  • Requiring the taking of another person's life
  • And he shall break down the house Lev 14.45a
  • You shall not wholly reap the corners of your field Lev 19.9b
  • He... shall surely be put to death. Ex 21.16b

The fact that love IS the foundation for these laws is readily seen when you examine the context of the cited verses so as to reveal their PURPOSES...

  • Infected houses were destroyed so as to prevent the spread of disease (Lev 14.45a)
  • The corners and gleanings of crops were left standing so that the poor could harvest them for food (Lev 19.9b)
  • Slavers were executed so as to deter trading in human lives (Ex 21.16b)

The Law of God can be boiled down to a single word: LOVE...

  • As shown by the verses alongside, God's Law specifically forbids ANY type of abuse of our fellow human beings.
  • To the contrary, God's Law explicitly commands us to love our neighbors -- foreign and domestic!
  • These Laws are consistent with God's oft repeated statement that ALL humans are in His image, to be treated with love and respect, regardless of race or status. Gen 9.6, Acts 10.28, Rom 10.12, et al
  • You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. Lev 19.11
  • You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him. Lev 19.13a
  • You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind Lev 19.14a
  • You shall do no injustice in judgment. Lev 19.15a
  • You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge Lev 19.18a
  • Do not prostitute your daughter Lev 19.29a
  • You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man Lev 19.32a
  • The stranger (foreigner) who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself Lev 19.34a
  • You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Lev 19.18b
Bottom Line
Any person who would seek to use God's Law to justify or condone slavery is a liar and deceiver. Nothing more. Nothing less!

(God said...) Is this not the fast that I have chosen...

  • To loose the bonds of wickedness
  • To undo the heavy burdens
  • To let the oppressed go free
  • And that you break every yoke?

Isa 58.6

There is neither Jew nor Greek
There is neither slave nor free
There is neither male nor female
For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Gal 3.28


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