Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Deuteronomy 15:12–18

Deuteronomy 15:12–18: Freeing [Israelite] servants


The world being what it is, the LORD knows that Israelites are sometimes going to fall on hard times, and they may be forced to sell themselves into slavery to their fellow Israelites. However, Israelites are not to remain permanent slaves to other Israelites—unless they want to—and, in this passage, Moses hands down rules for freeing slaves.

  • Israelites who become servants to fellow Israelites are only to remain in servitude for a maximum of six years; in the seventh year, they are to be set free.
    • When a “master” (my term, not the text’s) releases his servant, he is not to “send him away empty-handed” (verse 13); he is to provide for him, to help him get started as a free man. After all, the “master” has obviously been blessed by the LORD, if he can afford to have a servant, so he should share that wealth with the man.

      Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today. (verses 14–15)
  • If a servant doesn’t want to leave his master, in the seventh year, he isn’t forced to. The master can take an awl, and push it through the servant’s ear lobe, into the door of his house. The servant will then be a servant for life.
    • The same rule applies for maidservants.

The Israelite “masters” are not to begrudge the fact that they have to give up their servants:

Do not consider it a hardship to set your servant free, because his service to you these six years has been worth twice as much as that of a hired hand. And the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. (verse 18)


I find myself wondering, when I read these rules, how often in the Israelite history—if ever—these rules were followed. Did Israelite servants really get freed after six years of service? I’ll never find the reference, but I’m sure I remember one of the prophets berating the Israelites for not freeing their servants, according to these rules—so I know that it didn’t always happen. But I’m wondering if if ever happened!

And even if Israelite servants were freed, according to these rules, did their masters supply them with livestock, and grain, and wine, as prescribed here? Maybe I’m just cynical, but I find myself doubting it…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

(...Nehemiah 5...)