***DISCLAIMER***The following is far from an exhaustive post. Instead, it makes a best effort to answer the question.
Recently, someone asked me about how Leviticus 25:42-46 differs from human sex trafficking. What follows is the person’s question followed by my response.
Hello. I am asking this question that concerns a rather controversial topic within the Bible: Buying slaves from foreign nations and how the foreign slaves were treated. The passage I am talking about is Leviticus 25:42-46. It says you can make them slaves for life and give them to your children. A lot of atheists say that this is even equivalent to human sex trafficking. Can you please explain why God allowed this to happen and how this is different from human sex trafficking, please? Thank you for your time and God bless.
First, it should be noted that what an atheist says about the Word of God does not hold much water. After all, these people (who are of the natural man) cannot understand the things of God, for they are foolishness to them (1 Corinthians 2:14). As a result, it is expected for atheists to twists God’s Word to make it say something it does not say.
Second, it is important to understand that the Bible is not about us. Jesus Christ, when speaking to the Jews, said the following in John 5:39-40 (NASB), “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” The Scriptures testify about Jesus Christ. While the Bible is definitely for us and for our betterment, not every passage is either about us or to us. In fact, Leviticus 25:1-2 clearly states that the LORD is speaking to Moses. Specifically, the LORD is giving Moses instructions to give to the people of Israel. Clearly, this passage is not about us. Instead, it was written to a specific people at a specific time.
In context (starting at verse 35 of chapter 25 and going all the way to verse 55), the passage reads as follows (I have bolded the text in question for emphasis):
‘Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. 36 Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. 37 You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. 39 ‘If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. 40 He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. 41 He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. 42 For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale. 43 You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God. 44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you.45 Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have]produced in your land; they also may become your possession.46 You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.
47 ‘Now if the means of a stranger or of a sojourner with you becomes sufficient, and a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a stranger’s family, 48 then he shall have redemption right after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him; or if he prospers, he may redeem himself. 50 He then with his purchaser shall calculate from the year when he sold himself to him up to the year of jubilee; and the price of his sale shall correspond to the number of years. It is like the days of a hired man that he shall be with him. 51 If there are still many years, he shall refund part of his purchase price in proportion to them for his own redemption; 52 and if few years remain until the year of jubilee, he shall so calculate with him. In proportion to his years he is to refund the amount for his redemption. 53 Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight. 54 Even if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of jubilee, he and his sons with him. 55 For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
The passage gives clear direction on what is to be done by the people of Israel if a “countryman of yours” becomes poor (vv. 35-55). As for the key verses in question (vv. 42-46), those verses are not permitting severe rule over the countrymen. Instead, it is permitting the sons of Israel to acquire the male and female slaves from the pagan nations around them (v. 44). Furthermore, “it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession” (v. 45). The verse is stating the sons of Israel may gain acquisition of the “sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among” them in addition to those who are of the families with them. These same people may even be given to the sons of the sons of Israel (v. 46). You will notice that the aforementioned provisions are far from mandatory. Instead, they are simply permissive in nature.
As for the passage’s relation to human sex trafficking, the aforementioned passage differs from human sex trafficking greatly. One must understand that human sex trafficking, by definition (according to the article), occurs via “threat or use of force, fraud, deception, or coercion, or the giving or receiving of unlawful payments for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.” When looking at the passage in Leviticus, one can easily conclude that severe rule is strongly prohibited. Furthermore, nowhere in the passage is force, fraud, deception, coercion or unlawful payments permitted. Instead, the passage lists things that are permitted to happen (but not required). However, they do not involve the unlawful and evil things that take place in human sex trafficking.
Finally, in regards to the specifics of God’s design for slave reform (i.e., why He allowed this to happen), that is something one may need to ask Him when in heaven. After all, His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). Given the frequent references to God’s reverence in the passage in Leviticus, it could be that this type of slave reform was God’s design due to His reverence. One would need to be a born-again believer to be able to ask Him such a thing in heaven.