| || |The Berean Expositor Volume 44 - Page 195 of 247 Index | Zoom | |
pp. 229 - 235
It was demonstrated in the previous article that O.T. servitude was a humane and
merciful system and very often a blessing in disguise. All systems however may be
abused, and it must be allowed that there were those Hebrews who took advantage of
being a master over another man. Cruelty is a sin not confined to the heathen of the O.T.
but being found even among those of the Lord's inheritance. Provision was therefore
made for such cases as would come to light:
"If a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he
shall be surely punished (avenged)."
"If a man smite 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" (Exod. 21: 20, 26).
In addition to this, the willful murder of a servant was treated under the general law
affecting all under the laws of Israel (Lev. 24: 17, 22). But the passage which is of
most interest under the circumstances, is Deut. 23: 15, 16, which deals with what has
been called the "fugitive-slave law":
"Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master
unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose
in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him."
Such a passage as this might well come into the Apostle's mind when Onesimus, the
runaway slave, came to him. A great difference however existed between what was
behind the O.T. injunction and Paul's present experience. Referring to the passage in
Deuteronomy, The Imperial Bible Dictionary says:
"When a servant escaped from his master, the law presumed that he had good reason
for fleeing, and therefore forbade anyone on whose protection he might throw himself to
deliver him up to his master. He was to remain with the person in whose house he had
taken refuge . . . . . It is obvious that the effect of such a law must have been to stimulate
masters to treat their servants with all possible kindness and consideration."
Things were very different under the system of slavery in Paul's day. Bishop
Lightfoot commenting on this, first contrasts the slaves among the Jews, who `formed
only a small fraction of the whole population', with the vast masses held in Greece and
Rome. Referring to the latter he continues:
"And these vast masses of human beings had no protection from Roman law. The
slave had no relationships, no conjugal rights. Cohabitation was allowed to him at his
owner's pleasure, but not marriage. His companion was sometimes assigned to him by
lot. The slave was absolutely at his masters disposal; for the smallest offence he might
be scourged, mutilated, crucified, thrown to the wild beasts" (Epistle to Philemon).
One can well imagine, under such a system, how Onesimus, having stolen from his
master, would flee to the metropolis to escape detection and punishment (possibly death).