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People's Dictionary of the Bible


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Servant. This word is frequently used in our version of both Testaments, when "slave" would have been much more fitting. Joshua was Moses' attendant, Exodus 24:13; Exodus 33:11—clerk or secretary we might in modern language say—it being understood that the designation in the last-named passage does not define Joshua's age. But the words ʾebed, implying "laborer" in Hebrew, and doulos in Greek, are spoken of slaves. It does not at all follow, because the Mosaic law and the Christian dispensation found slavery existing in the world, and made regulations for it, that God approved the system of one man's holding another as his property. Laws have to deal with persons as they are, in order to make them what they ought to be. The kidnapping or unlawful stealing of men for slavery was branded as a capital crime. Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7; 1 Timothy 1:10. Slaves among the Hebrews were of two general classes: I. Hebrews; II. Non-Hebrews. I. Hebrews. There were three ways by which a Hebrew might become a slave: 1. Poverty. He might sell himself in default of payment of debt. Leviticus 25:39. 2. Theft. When he could not pay the amount required. Exodus 22:1; Exodus 22:3. According to Josephus, he could only be sold to a Hebrew. 3. Parents could sell their daughters as maid-servants, but they were ultimately to be their masters' concubines. Exodus 21:7. There were three ways by which the servitude might end: 1. When the debt or other obligation was met. 2. When the year of Jubilee had come. Leviticus 25:40. 3. At the conclusion of six years of service. Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12. Indeed no servitude could last longer than six years. The owner was expressly forbidden to "rule over him with rigor." Leviticus 25:43. Nor was he suffered to go away empty, but must be furnished liberally out of the flock, out of the floor, and out of the wine-press. Deuteronomy 15:14. A slave might even marry a daughter of his master. 1 Chronicles 2:35. In the case of a female Hebrew slave, there was not the release at the end of six years: but if marriage with the owner or his son did not take place, she was not to be sold to a foreigner, but "he shall cause her to be redeemed," i.e., he should return her to her father or find her another Hebrew master, or else free her absolutely. Exodus 21:7-11. When Hebrews became the slaves of non-Hebrews, they might be redeemed or redeem themselves, or else go free at the year of Jubilee. Jewish Hebrew slavery terminated at the captivity. II. Non-Hebrews. They were mostly captives made in war from the neighboring tribes, but besides were purchased of dealers. Leviticus 25:45; Genesis 14:14; Ecclesiastes 2:7. This sort of slavery survived the captivity, but was opposed by the Pharisees. Thirty shekels seems to have been the average price of a slave. Exodus 21:32. Slaves were protected against violence; for if they lost an eye or a tooth from rough handling they got their liberty. Exodus 21:26-27. To kill one was murder. Leviticus 24:17; Leviticus 24:22. They had full religious privileges, since they were circumcised. Genesis 17:12.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Rice, Edwin Wilbur, DD. Entry for 'Servant'. People's Dictionary of the Bible. 1893.

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Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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