This question is also related to Leviticus 25:44-46 and exodus 21:4. Could foreign children be born into slavery in Israel (like the children of Hebrew servants), or would they be made slaves if their city was conquered and they were taken as plunder like in Deuteronomy 20:14? The key takeaway from these verses is; were foreign children forced into Israelite slavery? If not, then what did they do for the Israelites in these situations?

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1 Answer 1


First to understanding parts of the Mosaic law such as slavery, it is necessary to understand Jesus' statement "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed ..." The Law wasn't given to Moses in a vacuum. We see that in such things as the Code of Hammurabi. But, parts of the Law were given to Moses to teach the people of Israel how to deal with the culture of their day. For example, eye for an eye put a limit on vengeance, when people shouldn't take vengeance.

In the culture of that day children of captured enemies were taken as slaves:

Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. (2 Kings 5:2, ESV)

Women taken in captivity often became wives. They had multiple. Divorce in Deut. 21:14 delt with women taken in captivity. If they divorced them, they had to set them free and couldn't sell them as slaves. (Why does God allow husbands to let go of their wives in Deuteronomy 21:14?)

Slaves taken as children were often treated well but as second-class sons and daughters. For example, Abraham initially had a servant as his heir:

But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Gen. 15:2, ESV)

Thus, God gave the people of Israel directions to deal with the culture they lived end. They had enough trouble following those directions. The hardness of a heart conformed to culture was hopeless in following a higher ideal.

Some of Jesus' statements about the Law of Moses:

Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (Matt. 19:8, ESV)

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matt 5:17, ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt. 5:38–39, ESV)

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36–40, ESV)

Paul's statement:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom. 13:8–10, ESV)

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Gal. 5:14, ESV)

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