Isn’t Slavery in the Bible? [Part 3]

By Kerwin Holmes, Jr.

“If a man has sexual intercourse with a woman who is a slave designated for another man, but she has not been redeemed or given her freedom, there must be punishment.  They are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed.  However, he must bring a ram as his restitution offering to the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting.”   -Leviticus 19:20-22

You may have noticed that in our last discussion of slavery in the Torah, that I deliberately skipped over Exodus 21:7-11.  And if you have been really astute while we have been putting the God revealed in the Bible on trial, then you also realized that I focused on the male slaves even with the verses found in Deuteronomy 15:12-18, particularly focusing upon the egalitarian application of this law in the same verses but particularly in verse Deuteronomy 15:17.

And if you are aware of how these laws work, then you will see that concerning the female slaves Exodus and Deuteronomy contradict one another.

Or do they…?

What we will see is that the implications of these two provisions for female slaves are actually very different.  Let’s go in their order of appearance in the Torah, look at how they were used, and then create a full cohesive Torah reading from them both.

Exodus 21:7-11 tells that if a man sells his daughter as a slave, then she is not to go automatically free as the male slaves do after the end of the 6th year of service.  Of course, when reading this we have to remember that the legal forms of selling were voluntary…and in this case it specifically denotes a parental figure volunteering a daughter into another man’s service.  But why?  Well, we must read on to see how this service differs.  In verse 8, there is the stipulation that if she is displeasing in some way, that the man must allow her to be redeemed or to be purchased from bondage.  This redemptive process is described in Leviticus 25:47-55.  The redeemer in Leviticus 25 was a relative of the impoverished (usually a man) who had the inherited responsibility of cancelling another relative’s debts by 1) having enough funds to cover the debt and still live without becoming impoverished and 2) being nearest in relation to the impoverished person in question.  The person is so impoverished that he or she is not ready to live on their own after the 6 years are up.

But this section differentiates between the “foreigner” and the “Israelite,” meaning that the foreigner here isn’t an Israelite, but rather one of the Semitic people in the area.  The Israelites were to sell themselves to these people under the terms of Israelite law, length of service=payment.  Therefore, the price was to be counted to the Year of Jubilee, the year at the end of 7 Israelite freedom cycles (each lasting 7 years),  or the 50th national year marker.  The Israelites were never to fall into the depraved slavery system of their neighbors, but they belonged to God and, even when sold to other nations close by, were to be guarded by one another according to Israelite law against harsh treatment until they were redeemed.

Therefore, they are allowed to serve until the Year of Jubilee since (assuming) that they did not wish to be permanent slaves and hence members of the master’s family.

Theologian’s Note:

By the way, do you see what role the redeemer takes in this position?  Do you see how the redeemer is needed where the slave is doomed to a debt of servitude that he or she cannot possibly pay…and how the redeemer is a close relative of the enslaved?  Keep this in mind for later.

But why would the woman be unable (or unwilling) to join the owner’s family…and why would she still be in need?  Exodus 21:8 says that if the man isn’t pleased with the woman, that she must be set free without being sold because he acted treacherously toward her, and even must be bought back at full price (redemption).  What is going on here?  Why was she given to him?

The answer is in verse 9“Or if he chooses her for his son, he must deal with her according to the customary treatment of daughters.”  

Chooses her for his son?  According to the customary of the treatment of daughters if it involves the owner’s son?  This is obvious.  This was an arranged marriage wherein the woman is promised a husband at the end of her servitude, whether the owner himself or the owner’s son.  In that way, she would be guaranteed entrance to the owner’s family and she would not be expected to be released on the appointed 6 year period.  She was a bride to be…an engaged woman.  And she was taking time to experience life in the household that she was destined to join, as well as making sure that her new family would be able to provide for her. *She also was to be treated by the new family and the man of the house exactly as the society would expect the family and the man of the house to treat their daughters– the same goodwill and caring love.*

A lot was at stake whenever a father released his daughter to be married.  He needed whatever assurance he could get that she would be well provided for.  With that in mind, the law given in Deuteronomy 15:12-18 makes sense as an overarching law in the slave codes.  Were these laws articulate and complicated?  Yes.  And thank God that they were (literally, thank God).  Were these laws written so to be in the best interest of all of the persons involved?  Yes.  And thank God that they were (literally, thank God).  So then, that settles it.

But waitaminute.  What about that one law that we see cited on atheist websites all of the time?  The one allowing for the raping of a female slave without the rapist being punished in any severe way?  Let me find the site…

Wow.  I can’t find it.  I hope that that guy  repented then.  Still, here is the alleged verse, Leviticus 19:20-22.  Of course, the verse used here is not for rape (which the HCSB decided to translate correctly here fortunately).  But this was rather a provision for the instances when a woman was put into this condition, but was seduced to be with another man and fell to this temptation.  But why isn’t the man forced to marry her, or at best put to death for adultery (in this case sleeping with a promised woman)?

UPDATE: Found it, unfortunately,

The case is given.  The woman was not free, as all other brides were.  *Her marital status was most likely not of her own doing, nor was it obligatory to her since if the man diminished the rights of the woman in any way (according to the same Torah) she could leave him without blame. Unlike the case for freed women, this woman had not accepted the marriage in the same way as a free woman would have (see Genesis 24 and the ability of Rebekah in the story, specifically verses 5-8). Genesis is the very first book of the Torah, by the way. The Law of Moses includes and builds upon it.*

She had entered into an arrangement in the form of a pledge, which put her in a social bind should her groom mistreat her or unnaturally delay their wedding (her transformation from bride to wife), which is assumed.  But, nonetheless, there was an expensive financial expense charged to the other man involved, the one who committed this adultery to the special case.  You may even add (because there is no reason not to) that the man charged in the adultery could then be held liable to marry the woman then after their sin. *This can be seen to be another crucial point: under the Mosaic Law this was not considered to be adultery.*

But note: this guilt offering bears striking resemblance to the guilt offering described in Leviticus 5:15.  Hmm.  Maybe Leviticus 19:20-22 differs so much because it is assumed that the man did not know that the woman was betrothed or even that she was a slave.  From what we have seen so far about the slavery of the Torah, both circumstances would have been possible.

By the way, Leviticus 19:29-30 expressly forbids a father to sexually exploit his daughter for economic gain.  So that shuts that door *for economic exploitation* as far as arranged marriages go…and any other things that could be claimed by those who want to accuse God of hating humanity or being unjust. *Very ideally, this is located in the same section of the Law in question.*


No.  The slavery in the Torah is not sexually exploitative in the least.  Thank God.

*[UPDATE] September 2, 2017*


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