The Historical And Legal Judgment Of The Old Testament Scriptures Against Slavery -- By: George B. Cheever

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 012:48 (Oct 1855)
Article: The Historical And Legal Judgment Of The Old Testament Scriptures Against Slavery
Author: George B. Cheever


The Historical And Legal Judgment Of The Old Testament Scriptures Against Slavery

George B. Cheever

In this investigation, the words, or periphrastic expressions, employed for servants and bond-servants, servitude and bondage, first claim our attention. Not a little is depending on their history and usage. The modern definition of the word slavery cannot, with the least propriety or truth, be assumed as the meaning of the word used for servant or bond-servant in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The ordinary word for servant is עֶבֶד. The verb עָבַד, to labor, constitutes the root. The primary signification of the verb has nothing to do with that afterwards attached to the noun, but is independent, separate, generic. It is an honorable meaning; for labor is the vocation of freemen, or was so before the fall, when the father of mankind was put into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it, and to till the ground; to work upon the ground, to cultivate it. The first instance of the use of the verb is in Gen. 2:5, There was not a man to till the ground, לַעֲבדֹ, to labor upon it, to cultivate it.

So in Gen. 3:23, The Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground, from whence he was taken; לַעְבדֹ, to work upon it.

So in Gen. 4:2, Cain was a tiller of the ground, עֹד, a man working the ground; that was his occupation.

Also, Gen. 4:12, in the sentence of Cain, the same word is made use of, the verb in the second person, when thou tillest the ground, תַעְבדֹ.

The generic signification of the word, and the only signification possible in primeval society, is that of labor, work, personal occupation. The same universal meaning is in the commandment, Six days shalt thou labor, תַּעְבדֹ, Ex. 20:9.

In process of time comes the secondary meaning, with the idea included of laboring for another; that additional idea constitutes, indeed, the secondary meaning. At first it is only the idea of working for another willingly, or for a consideration, for wages;

as might be done by brothers and sisters, or other bloo...

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