In Numbers chapter 20 the Hebrews are complaining to Moses that he has brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness. You see, even though they had been slaves in Egypt, the Hebrews were used to having certain things. There they had lived in houses, not tents. There was plenty of water to drink via the Nile River. And one thing they brought up a lot was the food. The Hebrews missed the pomegranates of all things. Egypt had those. The wilderness only had manna from heaven, practically fed to them by God. The point is, they missed the land of Egypt were they had been slaves, because from their point of view life had been better back there than out here with Moses. They missed their home, their food, and their stuff. Which brings me to my point about slavery.
One of the common attacks against Christianity is the belief in slavery. It is right there in the Bible; slaves honor your masters. Five times actually; Ephesians, twice in Colossians, Timothy and Titus. One could make the point that these passages also instruct masters on how slaves are to be treated, the verses not many southern preachers were reading in the 1800’s. My main contention, however, is that our concept of slavery is NOT what was going on in the Bible. Biblical slavery was not based on race. In the Bible, slaves were not even exactly property. Often times it was more like serving a contract. Slaves lived at home with their families, were not beaten within an inch of their lives, and even managed the master’s estate in some cases. Yes there is slavery in the Bible. But not the chattel slavery of the American deep south, circa 1860.
What Southerners did to slavery was unheard of anywhere else in the world, or at other times in history for that matter. Southern slaves were often barely kept alive, nearly froze (or did freeze) in the winter, and eventually were breed to create the next generation of slaves. Families were separated, slaves sold at auction after being inspected like horses, and any child born to a slave was automatically the property of the slave owner. This is not, is not, is not what was going on in any of the Bible stories with slaves. In Numbers 20 and other places during the Exodus story the Hebrews wanted to return to their slavery in Egypt. They missed it. Joseph was a “slave” belonging to Potipher, but he was lord of his whole house and all of his finances. Some Bible translations even use the term bond-servant instead of slave in the New Testament. Perhaps this better creates the right image in our minds. The relationship is a bond, or contractual agreement, between two parties.
Watch the movie “Ben Hur.” Yes it’s 4 1/2 hours long, but there’s a lot of gospel in that fiction. Ben Hur has a slave that he hasn’t seen in like 3 months. He’s been away trading with Africans and Asians on the caravan routes. He has spent Ben Hur’s money doing Ben Hur’s business, and even comes back with presents for the family he bought with his own money. There were instructions in the Old Testament law about what to do with a slave that had served his time of bond, but wished to stay. Probably at no time in the Old South did any slave want to stay and keep slaving away for the master. Slavery in the Bible is not the slavery of the American Civil War era. That evil is just so ingrained in our consciousness still today, that we cringe at any mention of slavery in the Bible or elsewhere.
Class dismissed; study, there might be a quiz.