By Kerwin Holmes, Jr.
“There was a servant of Saul’s family named Ziba. They summoned him to David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” “I am your servant,” he replied…[The king said to him] “You, your sons, and your servants are to work the ground for him, and you are to bring in the crops so your master’s grandson will have food to eat. But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, is always to eat at my table.” Now Ziba had 15 sons and 20 servants.” -2 Samuel 9:1; 9:10 (elipsis and brackets added by me)
So…let me tell you something. So far, we have demonstrated that the Torah is a whole lot more intricate and specific than many of us have thought. Here we are already at Post 4 of this series, and boy have we covered ground. You have enjoyed your position as a spectator in this court from the introduction, you have been made to understand that the legal form of slavery in the Torah was voluntary from all parties involved. You have even seen the clear purpose for this slavery, as a financial parachute and safety net for people fallen on hard times, but also a way for them to keep producing for themselves and their society so as to still have a livable trade and to not become burdensome and turn Ancient Israel into a welfare state (which is every Socialist and Capitalist nightmare). You even saw how rich persons could not exploit this system by refusing to hire the poor and indebted and letting them wallow in their debts: all debts were cancelled at the end of the 7 year national marker of Israel, so the rich had an incentive for finding workers among the poor. Everyone wins.
Now here comes the scandal.
Notice how there is no law preventing the slaves themselves from owning slaves? Mhmm. And some of them actually did. See the quoted verses from 2 Samuel at the very introduction of this article that you are reading.
If you are also following the Life of David Series, then you know that King Saul who came before David came from a very wealthy family. And Ziba, Saul’s slave, had become a permanent slave to remain in Saul’s family. Hence, when David being the present king over Israel (or prince if we consider God’s terms for the office), calls for anybody in Saul’s family who have survived, Ziba the slave is included in that category. And lo and behold, Ziba also cashed in on the bountiful trade goods that Saul had enjoyed while he lived. Ziba had 15 sons, an incredible number for inheritance and for economic stability, and 20 slaves of his own, another testament to Ziba’s wealth. In short, Ziba the Israelite slaves was rolling! He was doing better than many of us do working 9 to 5 jobs in America! And as if that didn’t do it justice, in a twist of some politicking that we will cover later on in the Life of David Series, Ziba ends up inheriting half of Mephibosheth’s inheritance on top of his own riches. Ziba was a very blessed man.
Does this sound like the American slavery? No…that would be both an insult to history and to God (who is still sitting on trial here, mind you). And with slaves being able to prosper like this, then it’s no wonder in addition how a man could come to not recognize that a woman he may have taken as free was actually a promised woman to another man via slavery (see this post for that).
What is the recurring theme of this Biblical slavery from the Torah? It’s simple. Upward mobility for everyone!
You know, this “slavery” is looking more and more unlike slavery the more that we look into it. That is why in any historical, cultural, and theological (where the two combine) study, cultural context and language is clutch.