Slavery in the Bible: Prophetic, Not Problematic
There are many unbelievers who see the laws concerning slavery in the Bible and try to use them as justification for continuing in unbelief. Those who attack the Biblical laws conflate the slavery of America with the slavery in Israel at the time of Moses’ giving of the Law, thereby committing the fallacy of equivocation when arguing against Scripture. Their argument against the Bible not only is rendered impotent by its clear committal of the fallacies of equivocation and anachronism, however, but also by its failure to grasp the prophetic nature of the laws. Christ is foretold not only in the explicit prophetic utterances of men like Isaiah and Zechariah. Christ is throughout the Old Testament contained in type and shadow, and no less so in the declaration of the law from Mount Sinai. Consider, for instance, the law concerning slaves given in Exodus 21:1-6. God declares:
“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.”
This law, although it is to be taken literally, foretells Christ’s role as the obedient slave who was pierced by his master because he loved his wife, children, and master. Let us look at this in more detail.
The master/slave relationship mentioned here portrays the relationship as one in which the master is wholly beneficent and the servant loves him. There is no hint of conflict between the master of the house and the slave.
2. Six Years of Service/Seventh Year is Freedom
The seven years here represent the completion of one’s duties as a slave. The six years of service correspond to the six days of creation and six days of vocation. The seventh year corresponds to God’s resting from his creative labors in Genesis 1-2; it also corresponds to the Sabbath day of rest given to Israel in the ten commandments. The slave is here presented as one who has fulfilled the required length of service for a slave. The slave has, in other words, fully met the demands of the law.
3. The Bride Given to the Slave
Note that the slave who has been married by his master is free to leave, but if he loves his wife and children and master he can stay forever. The slave, having met the demands of the law (i.e. he has labored for six years), is free to leave, but he is also free to stay. If he leaves, however, he cannot stay with his loving master, loving bride, and the children who bear his image. Here we see that although the slave is as free as the master is, he chooses to become a servant for the sake of his bride, his children, and his perpetual love for his beneficent master.
4. He Must be Pierced
Lastly, the slave who wants to stay under his master’s roof with the wife and children his master has provided for him, this slave must be pierced by his master if he wants to stay. Having fulfilled the law of six years of service, the slave can voluntarily give up his freedom and be pierced is for his bride, his children, and his master. It is the master who must pierce the obedient slave who has fulfilled the law. It is the bride and her children who are not left without a head of the family, and husband of the bride. This slave gives up his freedom and is pierced by his master in order to remain with his master and bride and children, the Scripture says, forever.
If the picture is not abundantly clear, then it is our own fault for having clouded spiritual sight. Who is this slave who fulfills the law? Christ who became a servant (Phil 2:4-11). Who is this slave who loves his master and never wants to depart from his presence? Christ our Lord God (John 10:17). Who is this husband and head of the house who is pierced by his master for his bride’s sake, as well as for the sake of their children? Christ who is the husband and head of the church, whom he calls his bride and the children whom God has given him (Heb 2:10-18 & Eph 5:22-33).
The law of God contains Christ in type and shadow. The laws concerning slaves and their masters, therefore, in some way or another also do. As demonstrated above, the unbeliever’s complaint against the Bible giving certain laws for slaves and their masters is not only fallacious, committing the fallacies of equivocation and anachronism, but are also spiritually dead, blind to the Christ of whom all the Old Testament Law and Prophets speak so clearly.
Soli Deo Gloria