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blood of Ham or of Canaan in his veins, as is any one, who, of all his slaves, may be the most
“guilty of a skin Not colour'd like his own; and
for such a worthy cause Doomed and devoted as his lawful prey."
With no more success, and with scarcely less of propriety, would a serious attempt be made, to identify the Congoes or any tribe of Africa, with Cain, the son of Adam, than with Canaan, the son of Ham !
We have before remarked, that the first allusion in the Scriptures to the subject of slavery, is found in that prophetic malediction. But the language of Noah would have been unintelligible, and therefore without effect as a rebuke for the offence, which was the occasion of its being uttered, if both he and his sons had not known of the existence of some mode of servitude, previous to the deluge. Who, then, it may be asked, were, in all probability, the first slave-holders ? Were they of Seth and Enoch, the ancestors of Noah ? Among whom would slavery have begun so naturally, as among the descendants of him, whose hands were crimsoned with the fraternal blood of righteous Abel ?. It certainly did not commence with the curse of Noah. And whence did it come, but from that "corruption" which so dreadfully abounded, when “the earth was filled with violence ;?! “ and it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart ? " Whence also came polygamy and divorce ?
The same essential spirit of "corruption" and " violence" was manifested among the descendants of Noah, before the living witnesses of the deluge could have ceased from the earth. And if the truth could be known, we have little doubt, that the first or the most responsible name for example and authority, in the reappearance of the custom or institution, would be that of Nimrod, a grandson of Ham, who "began to be a mighty one in the earth,” and was the prototype of all the Nebuchadnezzars and Napoleons, great and small, that have since arisen, to scourge their fellow men.
He is said to have been “a mighty hunter before the Lord; and the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” (Gen. x. 9, 10.) His name is from a Hebrew word, which signifies " to be disobedient, perverse, to rebel.” And the Targum, on 1 Chron. i. 10, as quoted in a modern commentary, says of him,~" Nimrod began to be a mighty man in sin, a murderer of innocent men, and a rebel before the Lord.” The Jerusalem Targum says, “ He was mighty in hunting, (or in prey,) and in sin before God; for he was a hunter of the children of men in their
languages; and he said unto them, Depart from the religion of Shem; and cleave to the institutes of Nimrod.” The same view is taken of him, in other ancient commentaries.
66 And the word, which we render hunter,” says one of the most learned of English expositors," signifies prey, and is applied in the Scriptures to the hunting of men, by persecution, oppression and tyranny. See Jer. xvi. 16; Lam. iii. 52 ; Prov. i. 17, 18; Zeph. iii. 6. Hence it is likely, that Nimrod, having acquired power, used it in tyranny and oppression.”
As men departed from the worship of the true God, they appear to have also departed from love to one another. Practices and customs were introduced and established, which were too congenial to their selfish passions and propensities, not to be extensively adopted by those, who had the power and the opportunity. As idolatry prevailed, man would depreciate in the estimation of his fellow man, and no just ideas of his standing and his worth, as "made after the similitude of God," would have influence or even be conceived, but in very sınall measure and within very narrow limits.
In such a state of society, if society it can be called, which, in the early ages after the deluge, existed in the countries watered by the Euphrates and the Tigris, it is not surprising, that captives in war should have been held in bondage ; and that the rank of the mighty or the opulent should be estimated in part by the number of their men-servants and maid-servants. Neither is it at all unaccountable, that men who “ feared God," "and through faith, wrought righteousness,” like Abraham and Job, should have so far conformed, as it would seem that they did, to what appears to have been the universal custom, in the larger households of Mesopotamia, Arabia, Egypt, and all other lands, during the age which is commonly known as the patriarchal.
The Man of Uz"was the greatest of all the men of the east.” Whether the men-servants and maid-servants of his “very great household,” were slaves, it might not be found easy to show by such kind of proof, as would be demanded by the rules of legal evidence. The original terms, like our own word “servant,” may or may not have denoted bond-men and bondmaids. But all the circumstances render it highly probable, that very many in his household were “bought with his money,” or were “born in his house," as were the servants of Abraham, and were held by him as a part of his estate, somewhat as the serfs of Russia and Poland, or as those in servile tenure under the feudal law of the Middle Ages, who might be " annexed to the manor," or might be “annexed to the person of their lord, and be transferable from one to another.” Of his feelings towards them, his recognition of their natural rights,
and his conscientious endeavors to treat them, as a man who would always " do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God," -a most honorable testimony has been recorded, as if none could have the effrontery to gainsay it, although the language of his own lips : “If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maid-servant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up? And when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? DID NOT HE THAT MADE ME IN THE WOMB MAKE HIM? AND DID NOT ONE FASHION WOMB?” (Job xxxi. 13-15.)
The mode of life of the Man of Uz may be very well illustrated, by that which is still seen in that of a rich and powerful Arabic Emîr or Sheik. It was, doubtless, intermediate between the nomadic pastoral life, and the settled manner of organized communities like ours. Very much the same was that of Abraham, who may have lived before him, or, as is quite probable, in the same age.
Some of the servants of the patriarch, perhaps the most, were received as presents; as those given him by Pharaoh and Abimelech. (Gen. xii. 16 ; xx. 14.) Many were “born in his house.” But a part may have been “ bought with his money." (Gen. xviii. 13.) Whether any of these were bought of third persons, who were traffickers in men, as merchandise, is much doubted by some, and is denied by others, who, on the contrary, believe that he bought none, except by their own choice, or for their own benefit. That any of the patriarchs ever sold any of their servants, does not appear at all probable, from any thing which is found in their history.
During the great famine in the days of Joseph, a multitude of the Egyptians were glad to sell their lands and themselves for bread.
In those early times of lawlessness and rapine, the poor and defenceless among the nomadic and idolatrous tribes of Palestine and Arabia, would often find the temptation very strong to seek refuge in a home like Abraham's. The perso
The personal liberty surrendered might be much less than the value received. The price paid might be more a gratuity than a compensation. In our own country it is undoubtedly true, that slaves have sometimes been purchased in mercy to them; and not in the least for the advantage of the purchaser. And emancipated slaves, who have not known how to use their freedom was not abusing it,” or who have been disappointed in their hopes, have sometimes returned to their master, and implored him to receive them again, and permit them to be as they were before he gave them their liberty.
The comparative state of the bond and the free, in respect to means of improvement and enjoyment, nineteen centuries be
fore Christ, must not, in the nineteenth century after Christ, be summarily decided by our own conception of the value of personal liberty, or by the common acceptation of the terms “ bond,” and “free,” in the languages and literature of the most enlightened Christian nations.
That which costs money, is not always money, either in name or reality. A right of property may be claimed in the labor or service of a fellow-man; and his service may have the form and designation of bond-service ; while yet he is not regarded as “goods or chattels," or as “a beast of burden,” but as truly a man, in whom is “the spirit that goeth upward," and not “the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth."
What we know of Abraham's religious care of his household, forbids us to believe, that he could ever have looked upon any of his servants, as if mere things, or as like "the brutes that perish." They shared in all his religious privileges. They
' received the same seal of the covenant of promise. They were members of his family. He could confide in them, and trust arms in their hands, as if his own children. One was the steward of his house, and for a time was the heir apparent to the whole estate. Another was brought into a relation, which was accounted by himself and others, as next to the nearest.
With such facts as these before us, how can we doubt, that Abraham could have responded most cordially to the words of the Man of Uz: “ Did not he that made me in the womb make hiin? and did not one fashion us?” As he considered the liabilities of bond-servants among idolaters, he might also have responded to those other words, from the same lips, when the grave was so fervently desired, as the place," where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary be at rest; the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppres
The small and the great are there ; and the servant is free from his master.” (Job iii. 17-19.)
But what now if God, who "seeth the end from the beginning,” and has adapted his moral government to men, as they are in their imperfections, errors and sins, was pleased to enter into covenant with Abraham, recognizing his existing relations to his household, without forbidding the continuance of any of them ; what if that covenant of promise, while extending forward and expanding through all coming time, was announced in terms and with provisions, which were exactly suited to affect, in the happiest manner, those existing relations ; suppose also, that those terms and provisions were in direct anticipation of that peculiar state of things, in which Abraham's descendants were led out of Egypt, to form and sustain a theocratic commonwealth,-is it a just or safe conclusion, that all those
relations of the patriarch may be considered right, in all circumstances, and agreeable to the divine will, among all nations and in all ages ?. And if Abraham could have “ washed his hands in innocency," are modern slave-holders to feel that they can do likewise !
Who will contend, that the patriarchal system, in any of its distinctive features, was designed to be permanent ? And can the example of the patriarchs, in the matter of bond-service, be any more a direction of duty, or a sanction of allowance to us, as Christians or as citizens, than their example in the relations of marriage ? Would it be Christian, would it be right—if not prohibited by the laws of the land,- for a man now to take more wives than one, and as many as he should please ? And where is the record or the proof of any intimation to the patriarchs, that bond-service is any more consistent with the natural rights of man, and the highest good of the race, than polygamy or concubinage is, with the original constitution of family order? The most, as it appears to us, that can be made of bond-service in the families of the patriarchs, as a precedent or apology for modern slave-holding, is, that the relation of master and slave may not be always, and in all imaginable circumstances, an actual wrong, or a real sin.
In regard to slavery, as found among the Hebrews, after the giving of the law, it is of great importance to bear in mind what has been already suggested, respecting the universal prevalence of the custom or institution. So far as can be ascertained, there had as yet been no ordinance in any kingdom or state, abolishing or restricting it. “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Moses found his brethren slave-holders, as well as themselves in hard bondage to the Egyptians. (Ex. xii. 44.) If, then, slavery was not entirely prohibited, any more than polygamy and divorce at will, by the statutes of the Hebrew commonwealth, can it be said, that it was so authorized as to warrant slave-holding in Christian America? We believe not.
In each of the two tables of the moral law, there is a specific reference to men-servants and maid-servants. The terms are such as would have a full signification, if no bond-servants had been allowed in Israel. We must suppose, however, that servants of this class were really contemplated, and for reasons which illustrate the righteous and beneficent character of the fundamental principles of the sacred code of God's covenant people.
The Ten Commandments, although containing the essential rules of moral duty, which are applicable to all the race, to the end of time, were yet given in a form of words, specifically