Biblical Principle #266: Israel’s Law for Acquiring Slaves

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Under the Law of Moses, God gave Israel guidelines for owning slaves.


Like all ancient cultures, slavery was an acceptable aspect of Israelite culture. However, as part of the Law of Moses, GOD gave specific instructions for the selection, care, protection, and release of slaves.

Acquiring Slaves

44 As for the male and female servants you may have from the Gentiles around you, from them you may buy male and female servants. 45 Moreover you may buy some of the children of sojourners dwelling among you, and some of their families with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your possession. 46 You may also distribute them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a permanent possession. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not overwork him with labor.

Leviticus 25:44-46 OSB

Slaves Seeking Asylum

15 You shall not deliver a servant to his master, who coming from his master attaches himself to you. 16 He shall dwell with you, he shall dwell among you where he shall please; you shall not afflict him.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16 Brenton LXX Third Revised Edition

Seven-Year Release of Hebrew Servants

12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 But when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; 14 you shall supply him liberally from your sheep, wheat, and winepress. From what the Lord has blessed you with you shall give to him. 15 For you shall remember you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you from that place; therefore, I command you this thing. 16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, because he is well off with you, 17 then you shall take a small awl and pierce his ear at the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has worked the yearly wage of a hired servant in serving you six years. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do.

Deuteronomy 15:12-18 OSB

Release to Include Family

1 “Now these are the ordinances you shall set before them: 2 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. 3 If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his lord gave him a wife, and she bore him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her lord’s, and he shall go out by himself. 5 But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my lord, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his lord shall bring him to the judgment seat of God, and also to the door, or to the doorpost, and his lord shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

Exodus 21:1-6 OSB

Release of Women Slaves

Special provisions were made for women servants who were sold into slavery:

7 And if anyone sells his daughter as a domestic, she shall not depart as the maidservants depart. 8 If she be not pleasing to her master, after she has betrothed herself to him, he shall let her go free; but he is not at liberty to sell her to a foreign nation, because he has trifled with her. 9 And if he should have betrothed her to his son, he shall do to her according to the right of daughters. 10 And if he take another to himself, he shall not deprive her of necessaries and her apparel, and her companionship with him. 11 And if he will not do these three things to her, she shall go free without money.

Exodus 21:7-11 Brenton LXX Third Revised Edition

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