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BIBLIOTHECA SACRA, NO. XLIX.
AMERICAN BIBLICAL REPOSITORY. NO. CI. JANUARY, 1856. ARTICLE I. THE HISTORICAL AND LEGAL JUDGMENT OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES AGAINST SLAVERY. By George B. Cheever, D. D., New York. [Concluded from Vol. XII. p. 770.] Patriarchal establishments of Isaac and Jacob. Lepsius has noticed the great personality of Abraham, and what he calls the non-prominent activity of Isaac. The contrast is indeed striking; and the only interval in which we behold, in his circumstances, the patriarchal greatness and prosperity of his father, is the period of his sojourn in the land of the Philistines, recorded in the 25th chapter of Genesis. But Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac (25: 5); and the account given of him some twenty years after Abraham's death, is as follows: "The Lord blessed him, and the man waxed great, and went forward and grew until he became very great; for he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants" (26:12— 14). Here the appellative for the greatness of his household is the Hebrew , the verbal from * ?s, signifying the whole body of his domestics, or of those in his employment, including, of course, the herdsmen and well-diggers. Compare Vol. XIII. No. 49. 1 (Job 1: 3) the description of Job's very great household, sr r n:n rnas. There is no intimation of slavery, nor any approximation thereto, in Isaac's family or jurisdiction. From him the same gifts of inheritance descended with the right of the first-born to Jacob, in whose family the patriarchal dominion and opulence passed from one person to twelve, in the Constitution of the Jewish State. During the sojourn of Jacob with Laban, there is no change of manners, no introduction or appearance of any form of slavery. Jacob himself is said to have served Laban for wages; he was Laban's servant as well as his son-in-law; and it is said that " the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maid-servants and men-servants" C'TJS} rrtncri (Gen. 30:43). These went with him, when he fled from Laban; they were his irnas, his patriarchal establishment, when he met Esau, and sent messengers to his brother, saying: " I have oxen and asses, flocks, and men-servants, and womenservants (Gen. 32:5). But his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, are described as his immediate family, and are set apart by themselves,— the handmaidens with their children, and Leah with hers, and Joseph and Rachel (Gen. 33: 6, 7). After a favorable interview with Esau, he travels on slowly, with his flocks and herds, to Succoth and Shalem, and erects an altar. But here at Shechem was perpetrated that murderous outrage, by the sons of Jacob, in the sacking and spoiling of that city; remembered by the Patriarch, with a solemn curse, upon his dying bed. After destroying the males of the city, "all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives, took they captive." There is no account of the final disposition made of these unfortunate captives; but in this infamous transaction we have the first intimation of any possibility of the possession of servants, by violence and fraud, among the descendants of Abraham. Among the heathen nations, captivity in war was one of the most common modes by which men became slaves; but in the history of Abraham we see the patriarch refusing to sanction such a transaction by his example. When he had conquered those heathen marauders who took Lot captive, the king of Sodom proposed that Abraham should give him the persons, and take the goods to himself, dividing thus the spoil between them, on grounds easy to be guessed at from our knowledge of the morals of the Sodomites. But Abraham declared that he would enter into no bargain with him, neither for goods nor persons: from a thread to a shoelatchet he would take nothing. Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre the Amorite, might make what terms they pleased, but he himself would take nothing. Jacob's abhorrence of the conduct of his sons is marked: he denounced the whole wickedness of the murder and captivity of the Shechemites, and was beyond measure distressed by it. He seems to have made it the occasion of a religious reformation, commanding his household, and all that were with him, to put away the strange gods that were among them, and be clean (Gen. 35:2). Thus Jacob returned to the habitation of Isaac his father, who died in Hebron at the age of one hundred and eighty years, and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. "And Esau took his wives and his sons and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, irva rvWartywjj, and all his substance which he had gotten in the land of Canaan, and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob; for their riches were more than that they might dwell together, and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle" (Gen. 36: 6, 7). Here the expression irva rvidBj-ia is clearly synonymous with w» in the description of the households of Isaac and Job; it comprehends domestics and dependents, the born in the house, ""^V? , and the hired servants, and all whose time and services, in a limited or definite apprenticeship, were bought with money of the stranger. The blessing of a birth-right conferred in itself no superior authority upon one brother over the other; but Isaac's peculiar blessing upon Jacob, on the occasion recorded in Gen. xxvii., made Esau tributary to his brother, as unexpectedly to Isaac as to himself; for the arrangement had been quite the reverse, but for Rebecca's deceit and Isaac's blindness. "Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee" (Gen. 27: 29). There was the solemnity of a divine inspiration or compulsion in this, for Isaac felt that he could not revoke or change it; yea, and he shall be blessed, in spite of his stratagem and our disappointment. Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants (Gen. 27: 33, 37). The expression for servants is s^—^;, so that an unscrupulous advocate for the divine right of slavery might much more plausibly find it here, in the blessing upon Jacob, than in the curse upon Canaan. But the nature of this domination is instantly denned, and the definition applies to both transactions. "By thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass, when thou shalt have dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck." Here a national subjection was meant, and not a personal servitude. Captives in War. That the divine reprobation rested upon the custom of making slaves out of captives taken in war, is manifest from many passages. God never permitted it among the Jews themselves, when there were two kingdoms in conflict, and among other nations it is not unfrequently presented as a sin and misery, the result of a marked retributive providence. Among heathen nations it was a custom to dispose of the captives taken in war by casting lots for them. This was the fate endured by some of the Jews themselves, who were thus disposed of, in some cases, for the most infamous purposes conceivable (Joel 3: 3). They have cast lots for my people, and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink." It was thus that the cities of Egypt were laid waste, and the inhabitants carried captive. No Amon is mentioned in Nahum, and it is stated that "they cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains" (Nahum 3: 10). In the prophecy of Obadiah, the Edomites are threatened of God for their violence against the Israelites, and for standing aloof when the heathen carried them away captive, and foreigners entered their gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem (Obadiah xi). They are also accused of " standing in the crossway to cut off those that escaped," and of " delivering up those that remained," and it is declared that, as they had done to others, so should it be done unto them (Ob. 14:15). In the same manner, the tribes and inhabitants of Tyre and Zidon, and of the coasts of Palestine, are arraigned, and assured of God's vengeance, because they had sold the children of Judah and the children of Jerusalem to the Grecians, that they might be removed far from their border (Joel 3: 6). For this iniquity, God declares: "I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off, for the Lord hath spoken it" (Joel 3: 8). As a direct testimony of God in regard to the sinfulness of such a traffic, these passages are very important. The being sold in bondage is presented as one of the most terrible judgments of God upon a guilty nation. The same judgment is threatened against the sinful Hebrews themselves (Deut. 28: 68), as the climax of all the curses pronounced against them for their sins: "Ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you;" ye shall be tossed to and fro for sale, as so many cattle, with the shame and the misery of being so despised and abhorred that no master will be willing to buy you. The despotism of such a dominion, even when it was in some measure lightened, and God began to redeem them from it, is graphically set forth in the confession, prayer, and covenant of Nehemiah and the people, returning from their captivity. "Behold we are servants this day in the land thou gavest to our fathers, and it yieldeth much increase to the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins; also, they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle at their pleasure, and we are in great distress" (Nehemiah 9: 36, 37).