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American Tract Society Bible Dictionary


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This word sometimes denotes a man who voluntarily dedicates himself to the service of another. Thus Joshua was the servant of Moses; Elisha of Elijah; and Peter, Andrew, Philip, and Paul were servants of Jesus Christ. The servants of Pharaoh, of Saul, and of David, were their subjects in general, and their court officers and counselors in particular. The Philistines, Syrians, and other nation were servants of David, that is, they obeyed and paid him tribute. The servants of God are those who are devoted to his service and obey his holy word.

In its primary sense, the word usually means in the Bible either a hired servant, or one whose service was the property of his master for a limited time and under various restrictions. Joseph is the first whom we read of as sold into bondage, Genesis 37:27,28 . The households of some of the early patriarchs contained many servants, who were apparently treated with kindness and justice; the highest trusts were sometimes confided to them, and they might inherit their master's estate, Genesis 14:11-16 15:2-4 24:1-10 . They shared the religious privileges of the household, Genesis 17:9-13,27 18:19 , and were not transferred to other masters.

At the establishment of the Hebrew commonwealth, involuntary servitude was everywhere prevalent; and so far as it existed among the Jews, Moses sought to bring it under the restrictions demanded by religion and humanity. The mildest form of bond-service was that of a Hebrew in the house of another Hebrew. He might become bound to this service in various ways, chiefly through poverty, Exodus 21:7 Leviticus 25:39-47 ; to acquit himself of a debt he could not otherwise pay, 2 Kings 4:1 ; to make restitution for a theft, Exodus 22:3 ; or to earn the price of his ransom for captivity among heathen. This form of service could not continue more than six or seven years; unless, when the Sabbatical year came round, the servant chose to remain permanently or until the Jubilee with his master, in token of which he suffered his ear to be bored before witnesses, Exodus 21:2,6 25:40 . The Hebrews servant was not to be made to serve with rigor, nor transferred to any harder bondage; he had an appeal to the tribunals, a right to all religious privileges, the power of demanding release on providing a pecuniary equivalent, and a donation from his master at his release, Leviticus 25:47-55 Deuteronomy 15:12-18 . Compare also 2 Chronicles 28:10,11 Nehemiah 5:1-13 Jeremiah 34:8-22 . The law likewise provided for the deliverance of a Hebrew, who was in bondage to a resident foreigner, Leviticus 25:47-54 .

From the heathen around and among them, especially from their captive enemies and the remains of the Canaanites, the Hebrew obtained many servants. These were protected by law, Deuteronomy 1:16,17 27:19 , and might become proselytes, attend the festivals, enjoy religious instruction and privileges, Exodus 12:44 Deuteronomy 12:18 29:10-13 31:10-13 . The servant who was mutilated by his master was to be set free, Exodus 21:26,27 ; the refugee from foreign oppression was to be welcomed, Deuteronomy 23:15,16 ; and kidnapping or man stealing was forbidden on pain of death, Exodus 21:16 Deuteronomy 24:7 1 Timothy 1:10 .

Roman slavery, as it existed in the time of Christ, was comparatively unknown to the Jews. The Romans held in bondage captives taken in war, had purchased slaves. Their bondage was perpetual, and the master held unquestioned control of the person and life of his slaves. Yet large numbers were set free, and in many instances Roman freedmen rose to the highest honors.

The allusion of the Bible to involuntary servitude, imply that it is an evil and undesirable condition of life; yet the bondman who cannot obtain his freedom is divinely exhorted to contentment, 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 . Meanwhile the Bible give directions as to the mutual duties of masters and servants, Ephesians 6:5-9 Colossians 3:22 4:1 Titus 2:9 Philippians 1:1-25 1 Peter 2:18 ; and proclaims the great truths of the common origin of all men, the immorality of every human soul, and its right to the Bible and to all necessary means of knowing and serving the Saviorthe application of which to all the relations of master and servant, superior and inferior, employer and employed, would prevent all oppression, which God abhors, Deuteronomy 24:14 Psalm 103:6 Isaiah 10:1-3 Amos 4:1 Malachi 3:5 James 5:4 .

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of the topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859.

Bibliography Information
Rand, W. W. Entry for 'Servant'. American Tract Society Bible Dictionary. 1859.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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