“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … to proclaim good news to the poor … liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, ESV).
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The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution freed three million people from physical slavery over 150 years ago. Yet, today an estimated 25 million people in the world live in modern day slavery. Their lives of indignity are a powerful testimony to the need for the end of such global activity.
The Walk Free Foundation has worked to identify the number of people abducted into such slavery. The Gallup Group and the International Organization for Migration work to locate and determine their fate.
Some of their findings show:
● 64 percent of all enslaved persons are trafficked into forced labor, 19 percent are sexually exploited and 16 percent are part of state-sponsored slavery.
● The most common forced activities are domestic work, construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.
● More than 50 percent of men and women in forced labor exploitation are held using debt bondage, (1) with the number increasing to 70 percent in the industries listed above.
● The 2014 report, focusing on profits from this, estimate forced labor profits total $42 billion annually, while sexual exploitation earned $99 billion.
● Modern slavery is most prominent in Asia and the Pacific region, with the U.S. representing only about five percent of total human trafficking.
Slavery in the Scriptures
The Hebrew and Greek words for “slave” are also translated “servant” and “bondservant” (ebed, abad, shiphchah, amah, doulos, sundoulos, paidiske). Two kinds of slavery are described in Scripture: a servant or bondservant who was paid a wage, and enslavement without pay. In neither case was slavery associated with buying and selling individuals as property.
The term “slaves” in Ephesians 6:5, “Slaves, be obedient to your masters according to the flesh,” is better translated “bondservants” (RVIC Footnote). They were paid something: “Masters, render unto your bondservants that which is just and equal” (Colossians 4:1a RVIC). Paul gives clear instructions that Christian “masters” are to treat such people with respect and as equals. Their employment position did not affect their standing in Christ.
Paul listed slave traders among the worst sinners in 1 Timothy 1:10 (kidnappers NAS, menstealers RVIC). The Law of Moses was harsh against forced slavery: “He that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:16).
Liberty to the Captives
When Jesus began his ministry, he quoted the theme text from Isaiah, and said his ministry would bring “liberty to the captives.” His death as a ransom for Adam guarantees freedom for those held in physical bondage, and for those captive to a more fearful master, death. None — free or slave — can escape it. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). In Romans 8:19-23, Paul affirms that all creation will be delivered from slavery to death. Mankind is “waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God” — waiting, that is, for the “seed” of Abraham, the bride of Christ, to be completed and revealed in glory so that the promised blessings of life can begin flowing to the people.
Jesus, in the resurrection, will free all captives from slavery and Jehovah will make unto “all people” a “feast of fat things.” He will remove the “veil [ignorance and unbelief] … spread over all nations” (Isaiah 25:6-9). Knowledge of God will fill the earth. He will “swallow up death in victory.”
Then “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; And all … nations shall worship before thee … Jehovah … is the ruler over the nations” (Psalm 22:27, 28 RVIC).
(1) Debt bondage is a person’s pledge of labor or services as security for the repayment for a debt or other obligation, where there is no hope of actually repaying the debt. The services required to repay the debt may be undefined, and the services’ duration may be undefined (Wikipedia).