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"Besides, the duration of that servitude, both in regard to theft and insolvency, was, at the longest, expressly limited to six years. For thus it is written: If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years shall he serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing, Nay, respecting those who had been sold for debt, it is, in another place, enacted, When thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away emply: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy wine-press: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.* How different all this from the laws relating to slavery in the West India islands! It is evident, therefore, that the servitude to which any of Abraham's natural posterity were exposed, was not, properly speaking, slavery; and much less was it similar to that which is endured by many thousands of Negroes in our sugar islands.
The state and circumstances of certain Gentiles among the ancient Hebrews, now claim our con sideration; because the situation of those Heathens, and the Mosaic law respecting them, afford the most plausible argument that can be deduced from the Scripture, in favour of West India slavery. Relative to this case the law of Jehovah says: Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the Heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land. On this divine statute it † Lev. xxv. 44,45,
* Exod. xxi. 2. Deut. xv. 12-15.
may be remarked, that it did not require, but only permit, the Israelites to purchase Heathens for a lower degree of servitude than that in which any Hebrew might be employed. That is, if they held bond-servants at all, those meanest of servants must be had from among the Gentiles.-This law did not warrant the Israelites to go by sea or land to a far-distant country, as the slave-merchants now do, to purchase their fellow-creatures for servitude; but ordered, if they made any such purchase, that it should be either of the strangers who sojourned among them, or of the petty hea then states that were around them.-The bondservice permitted by this law, could not, with the least appearance of reason, be so understood by the Hebrews, as to think themselves warranted to exercise oppression and cruelty upon their Gentile servants; because, to treat strangers of any description in that manner, was most expressly and repeatedly forbidden.* So far was divine law, relative to the treatment of either males or females in a state of servitude, from authorising an offended master to exercise cruelty upon their persons, that its language is, If a man smile the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake. And if he smite out his man-servant's tooth, or his maid-servant's tooth, he shall let him go free for his tooth's sake. Again: He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death-Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger as for one of your own country;
* Exod. xxii. 21. xxiii. 9. Lev. xxv. 35. Deut. x. 17, 18, 19, xxiv. 14, 15, 17. xxvii. 19. Ezek. xxii. 7.
† Exod. xxi. 26, 27.
for I am the Lord your God.* How essentially different is this from the British Colonial laws, respecting the treatment of slaves!
There is great reason to conclude, that the divine permission which is under our notice, was limited to the remains of those Canaanitish nations, the extermination of which had been consigned to Israel. To this conclusion we are led by the following considerations--Divine law, as already observed, was far from authorising the chosen tribes to visit distant continents, in order to cap ture or to purchase their fellow-creatures, either for their own use, or to barter with other nations; making commerce in the human species an established article of their trade, which, to our immortal infamy, is now the case with us. No: the attention of the Israelites, respecting the instance of Jehovah's pleasure, was directed to the neighbouring Gentile states, and to them only.—Though the natives of Gentile nations in general, when residing among the Israelites, were denominated strangers, and though none of them were to be treated with cruelty; yet the Mosaic laws did not consider them as all on a level, or as equally intitled to the benevolence of the Hebrews. For while God permitted some of those aliens to be purchased and placed in the state of bond-servants, which was expressly prohibited, with regard to any Israelite; he required, in the very same chapter, that others of them, if oppressed with poverty, should experience all that compassion which was due to the descendants of Abraham, when in a similar situation.. Respecting this particular, the law was, If thy brother be waxen poor, * Lev, xxiv, 17, 22.
and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee.* Hence arises no small degree of presumptive evidence, that none but strangers of the Canaanitish race were to be purchased for bond-servants.-It does not appear that the Israelites were warranted by their Eternal Sovereign, to carry their arms into distant countries, except when those countries were the aggressors. Their commission to invade, to subjugate, or to destroy, was limited, if I be not under a great mistake, to the flagitious inhabitants of that land, which, by a divine grant, had been expressly consigned to Abraham and his posterity. It is natural to conclude, therefore, that the law which authorised the descendants of Abraham to purchase fellow-creatures of the heathens around them for bond-servants, had its operation limited to the remains of those Canaanitish nations.— The history of the Gibeonites is, if I mistake not, perfectly conformable to this view of the case. Those Hivites constituted a part of the Canaanitish nations whom God had ordered to be subdued. Alarmed with apprehensions of impending ruin, they, by an act of deception, made a league with Israel, preserved their own lives, and were permitted to dwell among the chosen people: but, às an expression of resentment against their disingenuity, and as a mark of their being part of those nations against whom the severity of punishment had been denounced, they were placed in a state of inferiority, and occupied in mean employ+ Joshua ix.
* Lev, xxv. 35.
ments.* We find, however, that when Saul had treated their posterity with cruelty, the divine anger was roused; and God was offended with David for not having avenged that cruelty in a more early part of his reign.†-We have another instance much to our purpose, in the reign of David's illustrious successor, of whom it is thus recorded, All the people that were left of the Amorites, Hittites, Perrizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, which were not of the children of Israel; their children that were left after them in the land, whom the children of Israel also were not able utterly to destroy, upon those did Solomon levy a tribute of bond-service unto this day. But of the children of Israel did Solomon make no bond-men: but they were men of war, and his servants, and his princes, and his captains, and rulers of his chariots, and his horsemen. Whence it appears, that bond-service among the ancient Hebrews was not contrasted with the natural rights of humanity, as in the case of West India slavery; but with military services, and with honourable employments in the state. No; the lives even of the Canaanitish people were not, by cruel bondage, rendered a burden to them: for though, in a comparative sense, they were slaves, and excluded from respectable stations; yet they were under the protection of divine law, and enjoyed the rights of men, though not of citizens. An essentially different situation, therefore, from that of the Negro Slaves in our plantations!
As the case of those Canaanitish Heathens is * Joshua ix. .11 Kings ix. 20-22.
+ 2 Sam, xxi.