witnessed God's testimony against oppression in the plagues of Egypt—the burning blains on man and beast—the dust quickened into loathsome life, and swarming upon every living thing—the streets, the palaces, the temples, and every house heaped up with the carcases of things abhorred—the kneading troughs and ovens, the secret chambers and the couches, reeking and dissolving with the putrid death—the pestilence walking in darkness at noonday, the devouring locusts, and hail mingled with fire, the first-born death-struck, and the waters blood, and last of all, that dread high hand and stretched-out arm, that whelmed the monarch and his hosts, and strewed their corpses on the sea. All this their eyes had looked upon,—earth's proudest city, wasted and thunder-scarred, lying in desolation, and the doom of oppressors traced on her ruins in the hand writing of God, glaring in letters of fire mingled with blood—a blackened monument of wrath to the uttermost against the stealers of men. No wonder that God, in a code of laws prepared for such a people at such a time, should light up on its threshold a blazing beacon to flash terror on slaveholders. "He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death." Ex. xxi. 16. Deut. xxiv. 7. God's cherubim and flaming sword guarding the entrance to the Mosaic system!
The word Gānăbh here rendered stealeth, means the taking what belongs to another, whether by violence or fraud; the same word is used in the eighth commandment, and prohibits both robbery and theft.
The crime specified, is that of depriving somebody of the ownership of a man. Is this somebody a master? and is the crime that of depriving a master of his servant? Then it would have been "he that stealeth" a servant, not "he that stealeth a man." If the crime had been the taking an individual from another, then the term used would have been expressive of that relation, and most especially if it was the relation of property and proprietor!
The crime is stated in a three-fold form—man stealing, selling, and
- Jarchi, the most eminent of the Jewish Commentators, who wrote seven hundred years ago, in his comment on this stealing and making merchandize of men, gives the meaning thus:—"Using a man against his will, as a servant lawfully purchased; yea, though he should use his services ever so little, only to the value of a farthing, or use but his arm to lean on to support him, if he be forced so to act as a servant, the person compelling him but once to do so shall die as a thief, whether he has sold him or not."