Part 1 of 2
The Constitution of the United States of America is said to be based on the Judeo-Christian ethic. But before there was a “United States,” and before there was a Constitution as such, there was slavery. This institution is discussed in the Jewish Scriptures (the First or “Old” Testament), as well as in the Christian Scriptures (or Second or “New” Testament). Both testaments make up the complete Bible, the most popular and most translated book in human history. And though slavery is older than the United States and its Constitution, the Bible is older than slavery.
But the slavery mentioned in the Bible is a far cry from the satanic, demonic, indescribably wicked slavery perpetrated by Europeans and Euro-Americans against Africans and their scions. Unimaginably, these same Whites called themselves “Christians” (or followers of Christ) though the Bible gives no evidence that the Lord himself would do anything remotely close to what White slave capturers and White slave owners did to helpless Black men, women and children. The question before us now is: Does the Bible speak of a remedy for the blatantly illegal, incredibly atrocious, and utterly amoral transatlantic slave trade? In a word, yes. But before the details are laid out, we need to examine what the Hebrew Bible (or “Old Testament”) says about slaves under the Mosaic Law. (Next week I’ll discuss what the “New Testament” says.)
Surprisingly, while the Bible does indeed discuss slavery, it is not at all the brutal slavery that this country was built on. “The Law protected slaves from brutalities,” says one Bible dictionary. “A slave was to be set at liberty if mistreatment by the master resulted in the loss of a tooth or an eye. As the usual value for a slave was 30 shekels (compare Ex 21:32), his liberation would have meant considerable loss to the master and, therefore, would have served as a strong deterrent against abuse.”
Slaves even enjoyed certain privileges normally reserved for God’s chosen people, the Children of Israel. “Certain privileges were granted to slaves by the terms of the Law,” our source continues. “As all male slaves were circumcised (Ex 12:44; compare Ge 17:12), they could eat the Passover, and slaves of the priest could eat holy things. (Ex 12:43, 44; Le 22:10, 11) Slaves were exempted from working on the Sabbath. (Ex 20:10; De 5:14) During the Sabbath year they were entitled to eat of the growth from spilled kernels and from the unpruned vine. (Le 25:5, 6) They were to share in the rejoicing associated with the sacrificing at the sanctuary and the celebration of the festivals.-De 12:12; 16:11, 14.” But what about those who were illegally enslaved with receiving pay for their labor? Do these deserved reparations?
What may be surprising to many is that there is a particular Scripture that strikes right at the heart of the matter of reparations. Critics say that what has essentially made the United States the only current Superpower is basically free labor. They say that this great palatial nation was built on the unrighteousness of the illegal slave trade, and that its upper rooms of the Senate and Congress are built on injustice since many of them were slave owners themselves. Well, the Scripture that seems to directly address the issue of reparations is found at Jeremiah 22:13. Note what it says as translated in the New International Version of the Bible: “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.”
Though African slaves were not granted citizenship at the time for reasons of expediency, they in actuality became “African Americans” as soon as they sat foot on what was to become their new “home.” While the Atlantic Ocean became the watery grave for countless millions of Africans who were to become human chattel for White slave owners, the blood, sweat, tears, and urine of 25 million “African American” slaves drench the soil that is America. You can’t get more American than that. And, like the Scripture says, they have “worked for nothing.” They were not ‘paid for their labor.’
A short time after Jeremiah penned his words, the prophet Ezekiel, presumably under inspiration, broached the subject of reparations, even going so far as to identify the absence of it with “injustice,” just as did Jeremiah. In detailing the positive outcome and responsibilities of the wicked one were he to repent, Ezekiel was given the following instructions by Jehovah God himself: “And when I say to the wicked one: ‘You will positively die,’ and he actually turns back from his sin and carries on justice and righteousness, and the wicked one returns the very thing pledged, pays back the very things taken by robbery, and actually walks in the very statutes of life by not doing injustice, he will positively keep living. He will not die. … Justice and righteousness are what he has carried on.”-Ezekiel 33:14-16.
Yes, in righting his wrongs “by not doing injustices,” the one who was at one time characterized as “wicked” had to ‘pay back’ (or, give ‘back pay’?) “the very things taken by robbery.” The United States government would have to ‘pay back’ to the descendants of slaves what it took by robbery from African slaves if there truly is to be any semblance of “liberty and justice for all.”
Long before the inspired prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel inked these thoughts, the prophet Moses, in speaking to employers, went so far as to say that, not only should a worker be paid, but, “You must not keep a hired worker’s salary all night until morning.” (Leviticus 19:13, The Holy Bible: New Century Version) The salary of Black folks has been held overnight, as it were, for nearly 146,000 mornings or 400 years!
Interestingly, when one Israelite owed another because of having wronged him, the former had to pay the latter. If the wronged Israelite, for some reason (such as sudden death), were unable to receive the payment, a close relative could. (Numbers 5:6-8) The New World Translation calls this “near relative” a “receiver of reparation,” and then says that it was generally “the nearest male relative.” (See Reference Bible footnote for Numbers 5:8) African Americans living today are the ‘nearest relatives’ to African slaves who have died. Furthermore, it was under this same Law of Jehovah as mediated through Moses that expressly stated that slaves, even legitimate ones, were not to leave empty-handed. As the reference work quoted earlier states: “When granting a Hebrew slave his freedom, the master was to give him a gift to assist him in getting a good start as a freedman. (De 15:13-15).”
Clearly, reparations are owed African Americans for the illegal and ungodly enslavement of their forefathers and foremothers according to the “Old Testament” or Hebrew Bible.