The first thing we need to note when dealing with this objection is that we in the west have an image of what slavery is. That image is the race based, antebellum slavery that existed in this country. In this system, slaves were not seen as human beings. They were property to be used as their owner saw fit. There were no protections for them under the law. In fact, they weren’t even considered human. It was a truly shameful chapter in this country’s history.
What’s An Ebed?
The word translated as “Slave” in our modern renditions of the Bible is “ebed”. A more accurate translation of the word would be “servant” or “employee”. The reason laws governing the use of these servants were put into the Bible was to prevent abuse of the arrangement, and to regulate a less than ideal solution to the poverty problem.
Did Ebed’s Have Rights?
In contrast to the slavery practiced in this country, ebed’s had rights and were not seen as less than human. They were typically working off a debt by way of manual labor. This service was entered into voluntarily. And unlike the southern practice of slavery, the ebed’s would be released at the end of 6 years of service.
At that point, an ebed could chose to stay in the service of his employer if he chose to do so (and many did). They contributed to the household, and in many cases were treated as part of the family. This would often be a welcome circumstance for those living in poverty, as the family would provide them with accommodations as well as a wage.
So as you can see, the practice of keeping indentured servants in the Old Testament is not an exact correlation to American Slavery of the 1800’s. Significant and notable differences are present that should dissuade us from making the comparison between the two institutions.
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