Slavery is a subject that creates a world of opposition and criticism of the Bible. I know that I am inviting abuse by wading into these waters. Some who land on this page probably came looking for a fight! Many atheists and Bible-haters love to lampoon and rail against belief in the God of the Bible for reasons like the slavery that seems to appear in it.
But there’s a problem. What we see written we proudly assume we see clearly. It’s possible that there are few subjects so misunderstood as slavery in the Bible. We read what the ancients wrote and then assume it means what we mean when we use those words and concepts today. But often this is simply not correct.
I’m not mainly trying to win over atheists with this series of posts. And I don’t really expect to change the mind of those who come here looking to demean and argue. But I do want to help sincere readers and learners, especially those who read the Bible and love the God of the Bible. Many of you are probably very much like me. You think, believe, and even feel that you have a real relationship with a very real and living God. And you believe that the Bible is not only God-blessed and God-inspired, but is true and carries ultimate authority for what we are to believe as Christians.
But you have sometimes stumbled over some difficult portions in the Bible. You may have been tempted to even conclude that the Bible gets some things wrong. Slavery in the Bible (and especially in the Old Testament) is one of those stumbling stones for many sincere people. My main reason for doing this series is to help you see some things that our culture and history tend to obscure from us. Namely, rather than a stumbling block, the larger context and message related to this issue in the Bible can become something that actually increases your awe and respect for the Bible and it’s message. I hope (and expect) that what you will learn will actually fuel your worship of God and increase your confidence in the truth and dependability of the Bible.
Let me begin with several admissions. Though I have an earned Master’s degree from a respected (and accredited) Bible College, I am NOT a Hebrew scholar. I don’t pretend to be. I may share some details about various Hebrew words and customs as we go along, but understand that I depend upon the hard work done by real scholars and historians. I use the help of Bible dictionaries, Lexicons, atlases, commentaries, etc..
Secondly, I am biased when it comes to God, His nature, and the Bible. I am already deeply persuaded that He has faithfully revealed Himself in the Holy Bible and in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. I have seen enough, learned enough, and experienced enough, to have become fully convinced that God is as He has revealed Himself in the Bible and in Jesus to be. And He is gloriously holy and good. God is no longer on trial in my life or in my thoughts.
I do not make the last point to shame anyone who is still trying to figure all this out. Or to deny that there might come a point later in my life that through unexpected circumstances I might find myself questioning God about something. Rather, I say it to simply admit that there are many things in my life that I am no longer objective about. There are people, places, and things that I have come to deeply know and love and accept. Though I regularly find more reasons to feel this way about them, I don’t “need” more reasons. I have more than enough data to have made up my mind.
Well, you may still have God on trial in your life, or more specifically the Bible. Through these posts I hope to relieve you of the burden of unanswered questions about the slavery we see in the Bible. God is not a cruel tyrant, but is more generous and holy than anyone can imagine.
In the next post we will begin dealing with the biblical data: Care and Concern for the Poor in Old Testament Israel. Stay tuned.