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Chapter 6 - Slavery
Prior to the Industrial revolution and the advent of technology most of the work that was accomplished in the world was through muscle power. While most modern perceptions of slavery today come down to us from imagery extending from the book 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' (a fictional story intended to inflame abolitionist passions), actual slavery throughout history was very diverse.
If a person had no family to support him and owned no assets like land, he only had his own labor to exchange for food, clothing, and shelter. Warfare often brought people to circumstances of destitution. Being a captive of a conquering army and sold as a slave could be seen as a kindness if the alternative was starvation or execution for banditry.
We can get a little insight into the world of slavery by considering the word 'dispensation' That Paul uses to refer to the work Jesus had given him.
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: - Ephesians 3:2
The Greek word 'oikonomia' is translated dispensation. We get the word 'economy' from it. The root is 'oikos' meaning house. The idea is that a house was the business center of the family. There was no commuting to a suburban residence. The chief steward would 'dispense' monies, materials, tools, and assignments to the servant staff for their daily work.
While the ownership of the property remained with the family, everyone (including slaves and servants) were invested in the economic survival of the family enterprise. Living together also created a bond of familiarity that can seem difficult to imagine today.
In a non-technological world, those who are incapable, unwilling, or unable to own and administer property only have their labor to exchange for sustenance. In a way, slavery and servant-hood could be considered the employment as well as the welfare system of the ancient world.
Like any other human activity, there were abuses. However, it is not in one's best interest to harm someone upon whom you depend. Satan was able to take these living arrangements and use them to foster resentment on the part of those who serve and entitlement on the part of those who were served. By polarizing people Satan often gets two groups of people for him to manipulate.
Some of the diversity of slavery can be seen in the consideration of two types of slavery. Barracks slavery practiced by some Romans was a sort of attempt at an 'industrial' approach to using human labor. It was similar to the plantation approach to growing cotton in southern America in the 18th and 19th centuries. It had many inefficiencies some of which came from the 'family' type arrangements the slaves would seek out for themselves.
A second type would be the serfdom in Europe of the middle ages. This system made greater allowance for slave family formation but still had them under the authority of those who owned the land. Frequently there was kindly administration from Christian land owners who sought to follow biblical injunctions;
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. - James 5:4
As the medieval ownership class abandoned Christianity, it became apparent that slavery and serfdom were impractical as it placed burdens of provision for the non-productive on the land owner. The new secular class of land owners saw payment of wages only for work done as a more profitable use of labor. This was also manifest with the institution of sharecropping. The laboring classes were then left to fend for themselves in regard to food, clothing, and shelter.
Slavery and serfdom were essentially the way employment was handled in most of history. This was largely due to a lack of mobility that tied people to the land and the region where they were born. There were upheavals such as war and famine that could force mobility. However, for the most part people remained where they were born and the circumstances of their birth determined their future.
Like rulership, slavery was fairly easy to corrupt. Both offer power over others from which comfort and ease can be extracted. The bible calls riches 'deceitful'. One reason is that like having control over others, we start to think that we are self-sufficient, entitled, and superior. We become distant from God and vulnerable to manipulation by Satan.
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