Slavery in Ancient Israel – Part Three (Conclusion)
In Part 2 we learned that slavery was for the benefit of the poor and was voluntary. We also learned that it was the last resort for the impoverished, and that before the poor had to sell themselves into servitude, God had made many provisions for their care.
In this post we’ll look at the issue of daughters being sold as slaves by their fathers ( Ex. 21:7–11).
If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do. (vs. 7)
We must remember that the Middle East of 4,000 years ago was a tough place to live. Difficult decisions had to be made in order to ensure the survival of a household. One such decision would be to “sell” a daughter either to payback a debt and/or to ensure her survival by joining her to a wealthy family. Although “sold,” they were not slaves, which is why they were not released after seven years like the men were.
If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. (vs. 8)
These girls were purchased to be secondary wives (concubines), which was a common practice at the time (Gen. 16:3, 22:24; 30:9, 36:12; Judges 8:31). If, however, she displeased her husband, he had to allow her to be “redeemed” (Lev. 25:47-54) either by herself or by a family member. He cannot sell her to foreigners, for they would not recognize her rights under Israelite law.
If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. (vs. 9)
If the master is purchasing her to be a bride to his son, he must treat her like a daughter and accord her with the associated respect and honor.
If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. (vs. 10)
If the husband takes another bride, he must still provide for her as he previously had, including conjugal rights.
If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (vs. 11)
Finally, if the husband fails to meet his responsibilities in caring for her, he must release her without gaining any compensation in return.
We see in the above passages laws put into place to help a family survive and to help a poor girl better her lot in life by marrying into a wealthy family. Moreover, we see that the laws are actually for the protection of the girl and disallow any type of exploitation.