Does the Bible teach that it’s Ok for daughters to be sold into slavery??

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Whew!  What in the world is this saying??  We indeed must take this into context and study it more intently.

The immediate context previous to this text is indentured servitude, where a man could “sell” himself as a slave to a fellow Israelite if he was poor (also reiterated in Deut 15).  This was God’s system so that there would be no poor among them.    He would work for his fellow Israelite with strict rules regarding how he was to be treated, and on the seventh year he would go free with his family (Ex 21:2-6).  This created a system where there would always be work (Deut 15:7-11) and no one would be poor without excuse.   He was also to be treated reasonably well as we see in the rest of chapter 21.

But if a man had a daughter, things were different.  If the family was poor and needed money, they could not just send her off to work like a slave and come back on the 7th year (Ex 21:7).  Instead they could give her away in marriage to an interested suitor (v. 8) where there was a dowry. This ensured that the woman was to be cared for in a family system that had enough, and that the family could be cared for with the dowry.  Even today the dowry system exists in many cultures and it has its benefits.

But if the new husband found her to be bad or evil (the meaning of “displeasing” in the text v. 8), then he was not to divorce her and give her away to someone else for a dowry of his own.  That would be evil as already he is “acting treacherously” towards her.  But the family could get their daughter back and return the dowry as she was found to be bad/evil.

If the man got her as a wife for his son, then the man must deal with her as full rights and provisions of a daughter.  He is not to deal with her any other way.  She has the full privileges of family.

And if the man (or his son presumably) takes another wife, in no way was to reduce his care for her.  He is to make sure she has equal food, clothing and marital rights as the first wife.  If he does not provide fully in these areas to her, she is free to leave and return home and the family is under no obligation to return the dowry money.


God desired that there be no poor among the Israelites (Deut 15).  For the man he could “sell” himself to work for another Israelite for 6 years and in the 7th year go free.  In the US this is the same as someone joining the military for 4 or 8 years.

“The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 2 Thess 3:10

While the dowry system and arranged marriages are uncomfortable to those of us not familiar with them, there are many benefits.  Love grows through commitment greater than wild emotions.  Also it made sure that both families are cared for in mutually respectful and mutually invested ways.  Both families sacrificed and both families benefited.

While these texts are startling at first glance, we can see the hand and provision of God.  Strict rules were in place so that both parties were treated fairly.  And through them both families were mutually cared for.

And while we don’t need to institute the dowry system and arranged marriages, there is something to be said about makings sure that everyone has the ability to work so that there is no excuse for being poor.