Biblical View of Slavery

This recurrent theme in the Bible begs the question, why would God allow it and even give instructions concerning it. In fact, there is one law for the descendants of Abraham and another for the stranger (Exodus 12:49). None of this seems to marry up with our perception of slavery.

There are some obvious analogies in terms of spiritual slavery which I will try to stay away from and talk more about the physical aspect of slavery and why it was so prevalent in the Bible and why God’s people actually participated in it.

More specifically that God gave specific instructions of how to interact with slaves.  It’s obviously a part of the biblical history.

As a background

A large part of the population of the Greek city-states, in latter days, were of the servile class.

Among the Romans, the lot of the slaves seems to have been more arduous and cruel than among the Greeks.

Catholicism was against it but were participating in it and used it.

Islam, like Catholicism, accepted slavery; it wasn’t until 1962 that they decided to ban slavery.

In Western Europe, slavery largely disappeared by the later Middle Ages.

In Russia, slavery persisted longer than in Western Europe, and the serfs were pushed into severe slavery by Peter the Great.

A revolution in the institution of slavery came in the 15th and 16th centuries. The exploration of the African coasts by Portuguese navigators resulted in the exploitation of the Africans as slaves. And for nearly five centuries, the preying and plundering of slave raiders along the coasts of Africa were a lucrative and important business—conducted with appalling brutality.

The British, the Dutch, the French, the Spanish, and the Portuguese all engaged in African slave trade. Africans were brought back to Portugal as early as 1440. An interesting thing happened there. Portugal brought so many slaves into its country that the slaves became dominant. It began to change the ethnography of Portugal. They actually became the dominant race; and so, laws were passed to rid many of the slaves from that area.

American Indians then Africans

In the United States, slavery proved unprofitable in the Northern States, and by the early 19th century had disappeared. Slavery’s abolition had been hastened by the work of the Quakers who, as in Great Britain, were staunchly opposed to slavery. They had caused slavery to be ended in the British Empire, by their pushing and their demonstrating and that type of thing. And then they started working on slavery here in the colonies. The small northern farmer also feared slavery as a system of cheap labor for the South, against which it was difficult to compete. Throughout man’s history, economics have always come into play—having to do with slavery.

Slavery: someone who is legally owned by another person and is forced to work for that person without pay

Generally, history shows that the descendants of ancient Israel have always treated slaves more kindly than the descendants of the Gentile nations. No doubt, this is the direct result of the laws that God gave the Israelitish nations regarding slavery.

In the victory of the Republican presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, in 1860, the South saw a threat to Southern institutions. And the Southern States, in an effort to secure those institutions, resorted to secession and formed the Confederacy (as all of us in this country know). The Civil War followed, and the victory of the North brought an end to slavery in the United States. Then Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863, declared all slaves in the Southern secessionist states “free.” And it was followed by other legislation—especially the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which is something that we are all familiar with having to do with the institution of slavery in this country.

In Africa, it was blacks selling blacks to other black nations. Also, whites selling blacks to other black nations, and whites selling blacks to Islamic nations. So, there were many, many different races involved in the selling, and deportation, and buying of slaves—throughout man’s history.

Still going on today

The media insists on instigating and stirring up resentment in the descendants of those people whose ancestors were slaves more than 135 years ago. I’m not trying to downplay the suffering that many experienced while slaves, but express that slavery has been going on, and still does; and it leaves an everlasting impression on those affected—even unto the third and fourth generations (as we are seeing here in the United States).

Slavery is an institution based upon a relationship of dominance and submission, whereby one person owns another and can exact, from that person, labor or other services. Slavery has been called by many names—among which are bondage, servitude, and serfdom. I’m sure you can come up with quite a few others as well.

We are all slaves to something, in varying degrees. We are “slaves” to governments, to laws, to employers [sweat shops].

Biblical times

Egyptians – made the Israelites work real hard; bricks without straw

Assyrians – known for their brutality


Why people became slaves

People have become slaves because of restitution. If a convicted thief could not make restitution to pay his fines and damages, funds towards this could be raised by selling him as a slave.

Default on a debt

Debtors, who went bankrupt, were often forced to sell their children as slaves or the children would be confiscated as slaves by the creditor until the debt was worked off.

Indentured servitude: selling oneself voluntarily into slavery

Primary cause—War

During the course of history, slaves were acquired in seven different ways. The first was by capture. Prisoners of war were commonly reduced to slavery when captured.


The second way is by purchase. In antiquity, slaves were sold among all kinds of other merchandise and from country to country.


Children born in the house of slave parents became “house-born slaves”—which Scripture also mentions.

God didn’t want it, but He allowed it

Kings – rejected God

1 Samuel 8:7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.
1 Samuel 8:8 According to all the works6 which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also.
1 Samuel 8:9 Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.”
1 Samuel 8:10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king.
1 Samuel 8:11 And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots.
1 Samuel 8:12 He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. [Fighting – Jericho example] 1 Samuel 8:13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers.
1 Samuel 8:14 And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.
1 Samuel 8:15 He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants.
1 Samuel 8:16 And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work.
1 Samuel 8:17 He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants.
1 Samuel 8:18 And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”
1 Samuel 8:19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us,
1 Samuel 8:20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Reason for slavery

At the core: Sin Produces Slavery; Slavery is the result of Sin

John 8:34 “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.”

A slave is a person whose ability to make choices in life has been either given away or taken away.

Example: keeping the Sabbath; in other cultures of slavery or in the future the people of God will not have the opportunity to be fully godly.

Slavery is not a device of God, and it was not something that He ever wanted

God wanted Israel to co-mingle with the sinful people of the world – He wanted them to come out of the world, also He didn’t want to bring the world into and among them. He knew the problems that it would bring.

Deuteronomy 2:30 “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through, for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day.
Deuteronomy 2:31 “And the LORD said to me, ‘See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to possess it, that you may inherit his land.’
Deuteronomy 2:32 Then Sihon and all his people came out against us to fight at Jahaz.
Deuteronomy 2:33 And the LORD our God delivered him over to us; so we defeated him, his sons, and all his people.
Deuteronomy 2:34 We took all his cities at that time, and we utterly destroyed the men, women, and little ones of every city; we left none remaining.
Deuteronomy 2:35 We took only the livestock as plunder for ourselves, with the spoil of the cities which we took.
Deuteronomy 2:36 From Aroer, which is on the bank of the River Arnon, and from the city that is in the ravine, as far as Gilead, there was not one city too strong for us; the LORD our God delivered all to us.
Deuteronomy 2:37 Only you did not go near the land of the people of Ammon—anywhere along the River Jabbok, or to the cities of the mountains, or wherever the LORD our God had forbidden us.

Joshua 6:20 So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
Joshua 6:21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.

Joshua 8:26 For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

God made provisions before the incidents that we just read for the treatment of slaves which was in a way a foreshadow of things to come.


First let’s look a little at the how they were to be treated—

If the punishment of a slave was excessive the slave got to go free (Exodus 21:20, 26-27).

Or that they could be returned to a cruel master (Deuteronomy 23:16)

What we find in the bible is that the treatment of others was to fall in line with how we are to treat our neighbors…in other words any one for that matter of a fact

Job 31:13 “If I have despised the cause of my male or female servant When they complained against me,
Job 31:14 What then shall I do when God rises up? When He punishes, how shall I answer Him?
Job 31:15 Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?

Colosians 4:1 Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Now here is where it gets interesting…

We find that more meaningful relationships developed because of the way that the servant/slaves were treated—

1 Chronicles 2:34 Now Sheshan had no sons, only daughters. And Sheshan had an Egyptian servant whose name was Jarha.
1 Chronicles 2:35 Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant as wife, and she bore him Attai.

One born in his house, and brought up by him, and a proselyte, such a one as Eliezer in Abraham’s family.

1 Chronicles 2:3 The sons of Judah were Er, Onan, and Shelah. These three were

He became an heir and his lineage went on as a son of Judah

1 Chronicles 2:36 Attai begot Nathan, and Nathan begot Zabad;
1 Chronicles 2:37 Zabad begot Ephlal, and Ephlal begot Obed;

This developing relationship didn’t have to stop there

As we know:

Exodus 20:10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.

But they could go beyond that—

Exodus 12:43 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: No foreigner shall eat it.
Exodus 12:44 But every man’s servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it.
Exodus 12:45 A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it.
Exodus 12:46 In one house it shall be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house, nor shall you break one of its bones.
Exodus 12:47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it.
Exodus 12:48 And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it.
Exodus 12:49 One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.”

What would cause this to happen? A beating? Harsh task master? Highly unlikely!

Or because someone was treated the right way, a better way and saw God among the people?

Because they acted in Christian way we find:

Deuteronomy 15:15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.
Deuteronomy 15:16 And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you,
Deuteronomy 15:17 then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise.

Notice what God intended—

Leviticus 25:38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
Leviticus 25:39 ‘And 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.
Leviticus 25:40 As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee.
Leviticus 25:41 And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers.
Leviticus 25:42 For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.
Leviticus 25:43 You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God. [because they are His not yours] Leviticus 25:44 And 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.
Leviticus 25:45 Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property.
Leviticus 25:46 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.
Leviticus 25:54 And if he is not redeemed in these years, then he shall be released in the Year of Jubilee—he and his children with him.
Leviticus 25:55 For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

We are seeing the principle found in:

Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to allespecially to those who are of the household of faith.

Exodus 12:49 One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.”

God expects more from those that He is working with—

This is our day of judgment

As we have seen the stranger or foreigner can become a part of Israel

Does this sound familiar?

[See Sermon on Gentiles]

Let’s go a scripture we covered in that message—

Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Galatians 3:28 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.
Galatians 3:29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

What was the point of the message on Gentiles?

There will be none in the Family of God

All become Abrahams seed, Spiritual Israelites when they put on Christ

Before that they were all SLAVES to sin.

Do we see how the treatment of those within the congregation of Israel brought even the Gentiles into and among the People of God?

Colosians 3:9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,
Colosians 3:10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,
Colosians 3:11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
Colosians 3:12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
Colosians 3:13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

What if one part of the body was in subjection to another—

Colosians 12:12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. [This is what God is working towards]

1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.

Ephesians 6:5 Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ;
Ephesians 6:6 not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,
Ephesians 6:7 with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men,
Ephesians 6:8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
Ephesians 6:9 And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.


Slavery comes about because of sin, whether it’s of war or not following God’s principals of money management.

God knowing that man would fall short, put into place a system that would help, not just Israel, but all of mankind get back to where He wants them to be … as free men.