Leviticus 25:46 (KJV):

And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.

The verses 44 to 46 are concerned with slavery. I was wondering if by Israelite brethren the verse referred to servitude of those who had no debts within Israel and hence no reason to be a bondservant. Therefore a kind of illegal, forced, sinful slavery.

Is this correct? I find it difficult to comprehend why an Israelite who had a debt would be treated any differently from a foreigner in the same position.

1 Answer 1


A clue is provided to us in Lev 25:55 which states "for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God."

An understanding of the historical customs surrounding conversion may also be helpful. Lawrence J. Epstein writes

God was conceived in very early Jewish thought as a national deity, protecting the Israelites in their land, aiding them in their fights, freeing them from hunger, and generally providing for the nation's sustenance. ... God was seen as the exclusive Lord of the Israelites; they could worship no other deity and God would protect no other people.

As such, only by being Hebrew could you enjoy the benefits brought by following Yahewh. This did not exclude the foreigner however. Again, Epstein writes:

While there were no 'conversions,' many non-Israelites joined the Israelite community, often through marriage or acceptance of the beliefs and practices of the community. In this sense, assimilation is the earliest form of conversion. Abraham and his descendants absorbed many pagans and servants into their group, greatly increasing the size of the Israelite people. ... Some ...wished to join the Israelites. Such people were given a new status, as gerim (Hebrew for "strangers"). A ger would be taken to the holy mountain and there render the necessary sacrifices.

Gerim often assimilated into the Israelite people by intermarriage. For instance, pagan women who married Jewish men automatically adopted their clan, and thus their religious views. The marriages that resulted were seen as positive because pagans would turn from idolatry to God through such marriages.

The gerim were permanent residents, but did not own land. All non-Israelites who joined a family or tribe were to be given equal rights and equal responsibilities, although the participation in religious rituals developed in stages. The Israelites were enjoined to love the gerim, for the Israelites had been gerim in Egypt.

Presumably then, after adopting Israelight nationality and religeon, a foreigner was no longer different than their new Israelite bretheren and were entitled to the same rights to not be a slave.

This then is no different than Salvation - it is a right available to everyone, but only through fully adopting Yahweh as your God.

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