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DID SLAVERY EXIST AMONG THE JEWS
IN THE DAYS OF MOSES?
LEVIT. XXV. 44, 45, 46.
“Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, sball 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; but over you brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor."
SLAVERY has been the political condition of a large portion of the human family, in ev. ery age of the world. The rigors, and sufferings of this condition among the nations of the earth, not influenced by divine revelation, are always great and extreme. This, together with all other evils of humanity, be. comes ameliorated by the influence of revela
ed truth, the tendency of which is, ultimately to banish all sorrow from the human bosom. The law, as well as the gospel, looks directly to the abolition of the institution of slavery, as it does to the abolition of all other civil institutions, that bear unequally upon the rights of
The two precepts of the law ; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself,” constitute the very spirit and essence of the gospel. If the law could have had its legitimate influence upon the hearts of men at the time it was promulgated, it would have produced all the benign results upon the condition of humanity, that the gospel will ever effect, that is to say, the gospel will never make men better than the law requires them to be. There is however this difference, the law is a simple statement of what is right, without of itself, ministering to the creature under law, any aid to do right. The gospel reaffirms what is right, and ministers divine assistance, by which the fallen creature may be enabled to do right. These things being so, divine revelation is, at all times, the only antidote to hurnan woe. And wherever and by whomsoever it is enjoyed, the suffering con
dition of human beings, begins to be ameliorated. It does not in any instance effect immediate freedom from all sorrow but it assuages that sorrow, and tends to ultimate deliverance from it. Revelation, did mitigate the evils of slavery under the old testament dispensation, though it did not eradicate the institution. The tendency is the same under the gospel, only more powerful in proportion to the superadded light, which it furnishes. The promised result of deliverance from this, and all other evils, is a matter'of certainty, where christianity is fully received, and practically obeyed.
Moses the divine law-giver in his day found slavery existing, and prevalent among the Jews and all the surrounding nations, as a civil institution of long standing, and of immemorial custom (See Michaelis' Com. Laws of Moses.) The Patriarchs had all been slaveholders. Abraham had souls in his possession before he left Haran, and he brought them into Canaan with him. In Canaan he had a large house-hold of slaves, of those that were bought with his money, and of those, that were born in his family. Hager the maid servant of Sarai was a bond woman, and what in slave-holding regions is called a family servant.
Moses undoubtedly saw the evils of slavery. But it existed among the people as a civil institution incorporated into all their domestic arrangements, and strengthened by immemorial usage.The question with a wise legislator, and one who was under the direction of the God of love and mercy, was, which would be the greater evil of the two, entirely to abrogate the institution, or suffer it to remain under certain restrictions, which would in some degree mitigate the evils of bondage ? Civil institutions of long standing, can never be suddenly abrogated with safety to the public. All attempt of this kind end usually in revolution, revolution in anarchy, and anarchy in a state of things infinitely worse than that which had previously existed. For all great changes in the civil condition of men, the public mind must be gradually prepared, or the result will be an entire disruption of all the bonds of society, and the introduction of untold, and almost interminable miseries. Moses therefore, saw that it would be best both for the master and the slave to suffer the institution to continue, and add such regula.
tions in regard to it as would make the condition of bondmen more comfortable than it had previously been. This course he persued, not alone in regard to the institution of slavery. There were other consuetudinary laws of the Jews of long standing and of evil influence, which he treated in a similar manner. He suffered them to remain, and either added restrictions to correct some of their evil influences, or left them to be regulated by the general spirit of his laws. Of these, were the law of retaliation, the law of divorce, and the law of concubinage all of them injurious in their effect upon general society, but so incorporated into all the habits of the community that it was not safe to abrogate them.
That Moses saw the evils of slavery is manifest from the regulations, which he made in behalf of the Israelites who had themselves been slaves in Egypt. "If thy brother that dwelleth by thee,” he says, “be waxen poor and be sold unto thee, thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bond servant, but as a hired servant and as a sojourner he shall be with thee and shall serve thee unto the year of Jubilee." (Lev. xxv. 39, 40.)