(This study is an expansion of the worship section in my book, “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality,” Fifth Estate Publishing, 2007)
After God told Israel about the Law of the Altar (Exodus 20:22-26), He introduced them to laws about property. Surprisingly to many people today, that included owning servants.
“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.” Exodus 21:1-11
God called Israel out of Egyptian slavery to serve Him. That’s certainly understandable. However, why didn’t God take the opportunity at the beginning of this new relationship with His people to do away with people owning slaves? That is one of the questions I hear most often about God from Christians and non-Christians. Why did He allow slave ownership to continue in Israel?
Let’s first get an historical perspective on slavery. Nothing is mentioned about slavery before the Flood. There was the godly line of Seth and the ungodly line of Cain. The first mention of a slave, or “servant of servants”, is in Genesis 9.
“So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. Then he said: ‘Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brethren.’ And he said: ‘Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem, And may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, And may he dwell in the tents of Shem; And may Canaan be his servant.”” Genesis 9:24-27
After the Flood, God spoke with Noah and his sons about the importance of human life: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” (Genesis 9:6) God also promised that He would never destroy “all life” by the waters of a flood. It was after that Noah began to be a farmer and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine from his vineyard and became drunk and was naked in his tent. Noah’s son Ham saw his father’s nakedness and told his brothers. That was to Ham’s shame. He could have kept what he had seen to himself, but he told his brothers. Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward into the tent and covered Noah’s nakedness. Their faces were turned away, so they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah woke and learned what his younger son had done, he cursed Ham’s son Canaan. The curse was that he would be “a servant of servants” to his brethren.
The Hebrew word for “servant of servants” is ebed and is found more than 800 times in the Old Testament. The word is used for slaves and servants, male and female. It comes from abad, which translates as “to work, serve, worship, subject to, enslaved.” That’s the same word God used for what Israel would do when released from slavery in Egypt – “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve [abad] God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12)
When did this slavery begin? Sometime after the Flood, the family of Noah and his sons traveled from the mountains of Ararat (Turkey) to the plains of Shinar (Iraq). They attempted to build a structure “whose top is in the heavens” and their purpose was to “make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:1-4) That did not meet with God’s approval.
“And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” Genesis 11:5-9
That confusion of what had been one language into many languages scattered the families of Noah into many directions. The most powerful of the family leaders was from the lineage of Ham and his son Cush. His name was Nimrod.
“The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtechah; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.’ And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city).” Genesis 10:6-12
Nimrod was a powerful leader of men and became a “mighty one” on the earth and a “mighty hunter before the Lord.” The Hebrew words for “before the Lord” are לפני יהוה and translate as “in the face of the Lord,” which carries the idea of being “in opposition” to the Lord. Nimrod was so powerful and well known in the ancient world that there was a famous saying about him – “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.”
After the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel, Nimrod established a kingdom that covered much of Mesopotamia and Assyria. His cities included Babel, Erech, Accad, Calneh in the land of Shinar, and Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen in the land of Assyria. Nimrod established his kingdom many years before God called Abram out of Ur, which was near Erech. The Hebrew prophet Micah prophesied about Israel’s future defeat of its enemies and mentioned Nimrod by name.
“They shall waste with the sword the land of Assyria, And the land of Nimrod at its entrances; Thus He shall deliver us from the Assyrian, When he comes into our land And when he treads within our borders.” Micah 5:6
1 Chronicles 1:10 states that Nimrod “began to be a mighty one on the earth.” Some translations read the verse as “the first powerful ruler on earth” (Complete Jewish Bible) and “the first to become a great warrior on earth” (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Here is a portion of our study about Nimrod from A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality (pages 482-83).
“The cities Nimrod built became the centers of worship for many gods (Annunaki) and Nimrod may have been the first “god” of ancient Mesopotamia. Many scholars believed King Nimrod was the model for the ancient god Nimrod of the Assyrian Palace of Khorsabad (located in Iraq). The ancient Babylonian god Bel Marduk was the patron god of Babylon and may have also been modeled after Nimrod. Ancient city-state kings were viewed as leaders, priests and representatives of the chief god of the community. Some scholars believed the ancient Sumerian gods Enki and Enlil were modeled after Nimrod as well as the Philistine god Dagon. The gods were immortal, but had human features and emotions. The belief in and search for immortality was possibly Nimrod’s largest legacy to the human race along with the development of the city states. Nimrod’s Mesopotamian kingdom eventually grew to include the Sumerian, Babylonian and Akkadian empires (modern day Syria and Iraq).”
The cities that were part of Nimrod’s kingdom were all known as centers for idol worship. Writing began in Mesopotamia more than 5,000 years ago and it is through ancient slabs and tablets that we learn about the polytheism of the people of Nimrod’s kingdom. Early gods were based on what impacted people: including the sun and moon, fire, water, and wind. Kings often presented themselves as gods and demanded worship. Many cities had their primary god, but would also worship regional gods they believed could bring them luck, protection, and good harvests. People were taught that the gods created humans to serve them. That included feeding and clothing them, so people made images of the gods that could be fed and clothed. That process of “serving” the gods was an entrance into the concept of being a “slave” to the gods. Service to the gods also included service to those who ruled in the name of the gods. Rulers, through the power of physical, mental, and spiritual force, were able to demand service from their subjects.
Nimrod’s kingdom grew large on the backs of slaves, as did other kingdoms of the time. In the next part of our study, we’ll learn more about the beginning of slavery and how it impacted God’s chosen people.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”