"You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him." (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)As we say earlier, the Jews were required to watch after and return anything which they might find that belonged to their neighbor. "You shall not see your countryman's ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman." (Deuteronomy 22:1) The scriptures over and over validates the right of personal property. A person's property belongs to them and to take it, or to hide it when it is found, is the very definition of stealing. God commands us to respect the property of others and to return to them whatever might have been lost by them.
What is at issue in this scripture is whether or not a master's "slave" is his "property". God makes a distinction between the "ownership" of human souls that the owning of other forms of "property". Human slaves are not to be perceived as "property" and as such, should a slave escape his master, he was not to be returned to his former "owner" but left to live among those to whom he escaped, in what every place he should please.
In the early history of my country, there was a law called the "Fugitive Slave Act" which required runaway slaves to be returned to their owners. Even if the slave should make their way into a "free state" they were required by federal law to be returned to their "slave state" and to their master. Slaves were property and as such must be returned to their lawful owners. Even the rulings of our Supreme Court in that time validated and upheld these views and established the "justness" of such laws. The fate of fugitive slaves became a contentious issue between the north and south and was a contributing factor to the war between the states. How much pain, misery, and death could have been avoided had this godly principal been universal in the hearts of men, that men and women cannot and should never be taken as property.
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