Leviticus 25:42
For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as slaves.
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(42) For they are my servants.—This is a clue to the whole system of Hebrew servitude. These poverty-stricken men, who are driven to sell themselves to their fellow-Israelites, God claims as His servants. God is their Lord as well as their master’s Lord. He delivered them both alike from bondage to serve Him. There is, therefore, no difference between bond and free.

They shall not be sold as bondmen—That is, as personal property or chattels. The authorities during the second Temple, however, interpreted this clause to mean that an Israelite is not to be sold by proclamation or in public places, but privately, and in an honourable manner, with all possible consideration for his feelings.



Leviticus 25:42

This is the basis of the Mosaic legislation as to slavery. It did not suppress but regulated that accursed system. Certainly Hebrew slavery was a very different thing from that of other nations. In the first place, no Jew was to be a slave. To that broad principle there were exceptions, such as the case of the man who voluntarily gave himself up to his creditor. But even he was not to be treated as a slave, but as a ‘hired servant,’ and at the jubilee was to be set free. There were also other regulations of various kinds in other circumstances on which we do not need to dwell. The slaves of alien blood were owned and used, but under great mitigations and restrictions.

Of course we have here an instance of the incompleteness of the Mosaic law,-or rather we may more truly say of its completeness, regard being had to the state of the world at the time. All social change hangs together. Institutions cannot be altered at a blow, without altering the stage of civilisation, of which they are the expression. ‘Raw haste’ is ‘half-sister to delay.’ What is good and necessary for one era is out of place in another. So God works slowly, and lets bad things die out, by changing the atmosphere in which they flourish.

All servitude to men was an infraction of God’s rights over Israel. God was the Israelites’ ‘Master’; they were His ‘slaves.’ He was so, because He had ‘broken the bands of their yoke, and set them free.’ There is, then, here-

I. The ground of God’s rights. ‘I brought you forth.’

II. Our servitude because of our redemption. ‘Ye are My servants.’

III. Our consequent freedom from all other masters. ‘Ye shall not be sold as bondmen.’25:39-55 A native Israelite, if sold for debt, or for a crime, was to serve but six years, and to go out the seventh. If he sold himself, through poverty, both his work and his usage must be such as were fitting for a son of Abraham. Masters are required to give to their servants that which is just and equal, Col 4:1. At the year of jubilee the servant should go out free, he and his children, and should return to his own family. This typified redemption from the service of sin and Satan, by the grace of God in Christ, whose truth makes us free, Joh 8:32. We cannot ransom our fellow-sinners, but we may point out Christ to them; while by his grace our lives may adorn his gospel, express our love, show our gratitude, and glorify his holy name.The law here appears harmoniously to supplement the earlier one in Exodus 21:1-6. It was another check applied periodically to the tyranny of the rich. Compare Jeremiah 34:8-17. 39-46. if thy brother … be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee, thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bond-servant—An Israelite might be compelled, through misfortune, not only to mortgage his inheritance, but himself. In the event of his being reduced to this distress, he was to be treated not as a slave, but a hired servant whose engagement was temporary, and who might, through the friendly aid of a relative, be redeemed at any time before the Jubilee. The ransom money was determined on a most equitable principle. Taking account of the number of years from the proposal to redeem and the Jubilee, of the current wages of labor for that time, and multiplying the remaining years by that sum, the amount was to be paid to the master for his redemption. But if no such friendly interposition was made for a Hebrew slave, he continued in servitude till the year of Jubilee, when, as a matter of course, he regained his liberty, as well as his inheritance. Viewed in the various aspects in which it is presented in this chapter, the Jubilee was an admirable institution, and subservient in an eminent degree to uphold the interests of religion, social order, and freedom among the Israelites. They are my servants; they, no less than you, are members of my church and people; such as I have chosen out of all the world to serve me here, and to enjoy me hereafter, and therefore are not to be oppressed or abused, neither are you absolute lords over them, to deal with them as you please. For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt,.... The Lord redeemed them out of Egypt, made a purchase of them, and had a prior right unto them, and being his servants first, they cannot be the servants of others; his right unto them as such antecedes and prevents any other claim upon them:

they shall not be sold as bondmen; or, "with", or, "according to the sale of a bondman" (u); in the manner they are sold, or according to the laws of selling of servants; not in such a public manner as they are sold in markets, nor for such purposes to be used as slaves in a rigorous manner, nor so as to be retained for ever in servitude; not to be sold by proclamation, as Jarchi observes, saying, here is a servant to be sold; nor shall they set him upon the stone of sale; for it seems in public places in markets, where slaves were sold, there was a stone on which they were placed, which showed that they were to be sold; but now an Israelite was not to be sold in such a manner, so Maimonides (w) says, but privately, in an honourable way.

(u) "venditione servi", Drusius. (w) Hilchot Abadim, c. 1. sect. 5.

For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not {s} be sold as bondmen.

(s) To perpetual servitude.

If he borrowed money, they were not to demand interest; or if food, they were not to demand any addition, any larger quantity, when it was returned (cf. Exodus 22:24; Deuteronomy 23:20-21), from fear of God, who had redeemed Israel out of bondage, to give them the land of Canaan. In Leviticus 25:37 וחי is an abbreviation of וחי, which only occurs here. - From Leviticus 25:39 onwards there follow the laws relating to the bondage of the Israelite, who had been obliged to sell himself from poverty. Leviticus 25:36-46 relate to his service in bondage to an (other) Israelite. The man to whom he had sold himself as servant was not to have slave-labour performed by him (Exodus 1:14), but to keep him as a day-labourer and sojourner, and let him serve with him till the year of jubilee. He was then to go out free with his children, and return to his family and the possession of his fathers (his patrimony). This regulation is a supplement to the laws relating to the rights of Israel (Exodus 21:2-6), though without a contradiction arising, as Knobel maintains, between the different rules laid down. In Exodus 21 nothing at all is determined respecting the treatment of an Israelitish servant; it is simply stated that in the seventh year of his service he was to recover his liberty. This limit is not mentioned here, because the chapter before us simply treats of the influence of the year of jubilee upon the bondage of the Israelites. On this point it is decided, that the year of jubilee was to bring freedom even to the Israelite who had been brought into slavery by his poverty, - of course only to the man who was still in slavery when it commenced and had not served seven full years, provided, that is to say, that he had not renounced his claim to be set free at the end of his seven years' service, according to Exodus 21:5-6. We have no right to expect this exception to be expressly mentioned here, because it did not interfere with the idea of the year of jubilee. For whoever voluntarily renounced the claim to be set free, whether because the year of jubilee was still so far off that he did not expect to live to see it, or because he had found a better lot with his master than he could secure for himself in a state of freedom, had thereby made a voluntary renunciation of the liberty which the year of jubilee might have brought to him (see Oehler's art. in Herzog's Cycl., where the different views on this subject are given).
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