Does the Bible Promote Slavery?

There’s a passage in Leviticus 25 that refers to Israel taking permanent slaves for themselves once they enter the land of Canaan. At first glance, it’s kind of a disturbing passage, seeing that the Lord Himself is telling Israel to own slaves. But a closer look reveals there’s more to the story than the Lord promoting the enslaving of a people.

I recently ran across a blog where the author attempts to show the Bible and its precepts to be outdated, absurd, and even hateful by citing difficult scriptures from Leviticus, such as the one about slavery from chapter 25. The author’s argument is actually about homosexuality and goes something like this:

Christians like to cite Leviticus 18 for God’s view on homosexuality. But what else does Leviticus say? In chapter 25 Leviticus actually promotes slavery. Since Leviticus promotes something as barbaric and hateful as slavery, can we really listen to what Leviticus says about other things, including homosexuality?

The author attempts to paint the picture that Leviticus (and the entire Bible in general) is an absurd and outdated book, and because Christians like to cite Leviticus for God’s view on homosexuality, Christians are as out of touch with reality as Leviticus is.

The unfortunate thing about the whole situation is, I would venture to say that an exceptionally small number of Christians would even be able to attempt a decent answer to this scripture-wrangling. I wonder how many Christians could even find Leviticus in their Bibles, let alone offer an intelligent answer to this argument.

So I decided to do a little digging of my own to find out if there is more to the story. Turns out there is more to the story than what this blog author is letting on.

To understand the passage in question, it would be helpful to look at the actual wording:

"And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have--from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property." Lev. 25:44,45

Who are these people? Whose land is this? And why is God bringing Israel into this land to possess it, when there are already people there? Isn’t it an injustice in itself that God is taking someone else’s land and giving it to Israel?

The land that God was giving to Israel belonged to the Canannites, the Amorites, the Jebusites, and a whole host of other “-ites.” And as it turns out, these people were up to their necks in exceptionally perverted sexual practices. Note what God says of these people in Leviticus 18:

“According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.” (v. 3)

“Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants.” (v. 24, 25)

We need to understand that God was judging the people of this land for their sin. We also need to understand that each of us is responsible before God for our own actions. If we choose to follow after unrighteousness, God will take action sooner or later. In today’s society we think we can do whatever we want because we are accountable to no one. This simply is not true.

What exactly were these people doing to warrant God’s judgment? All we need to do is look at the context of the verses cited above to get an idea. Leviticus 18 prohibits several types of sexual relationships (not just homosexuality). God is telling Israel they are not to have sex with:

Their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, step-brothers, step-sisters, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, mothers and daughters (you can’t have sex with a woman then go have sex with her daughter), their neighbors’ wives, people of the same gender, and animals. You’re also not supposed to have sex with a woman who is having her period.

So many people say the Bible’s prohibition of homosexuality is absurd, but what about the prohibition of all these other sexual acts? Is the prohibition of bestiality absurd? Is the prohibition of having sex with grandchildren absurd? Is the prohibition of having sex with your own dad absurd? Then why is the prohibition of homosexuality absurd?

There’s one other practice of the people of Canaan I’d like to look at. Leviticus 18 refers to not letting their descendants “pass through the fire to Molech.” Why is this such an abominable practice?

This is a reference to sacrificing children to a god named Molech, or Moloch. The people of that land, who were engaging in all those perverted sexual relationships were also burning their children alive in sacrifice to their god, Molech. The image of Molech was hollow so a fire could be built inside. Molech’s arms were stretched out, and when it was extremely hot, they would place their children in Molech’s arms until they would die.

These are the inhabitants of the land that God was judging. What we need to understand about the slavery passage from Leviticus 25 is that, if we continue long enough in following after unrighteousness and abominable practices, much like the Canannites, judgment (which may include slavery) will ensue.

People get the idea that slavery and racism are very closely linked. In some cases they are, but the Bible does not promote this type of slavery. Nowhere in Leviticus does it say that Israel is allowed to take slaves of the Canaanites because they are an inferior race. Remember that Israel had just been delivered from centuries of slavery in Egypt. If you look closely in Leviticus 18, you’ll see that it doesn’t matter what your nationality is, if you follow after unrighteousness, destruction and slavery will be your reward:

“You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit [any] of these abominations…lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that [were] before you.” (v. 26, 28)

If you know Israel’s history, you know that actually happened to them during the divided kingdom era to Israel first (with Assyria judging them), and Judah second (with Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon judging them).

What scares me about all of this is, the United States is starting to look like this. We are allowing abominations listed in Leviticus 18, such as homosexuality and adultery (yes, taking your neighbor’s wife is just as wrong as homosexuality). We even allow our children to pass through the fire to Molech (our god is named “Convenience” and the fire they pass through is called abortion). If we don’t get our act together soon, we’re headed for destruction and slavery as well.

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