Everyone was supposed to free their male and female Hebrew slaves. No one was supposed to keep a fellow Judean enslaved. 1
|NET © Notes||
1 tn Heb “after King Zedekiah made a covenant…to proclaim liberty to them [the slaves mentioned in the next verse] so that each would send away free his male slave and his female slave, the Hebrew man and the Hebrew woman, so that a man would not hold them in bondage, namely a Judean, his brother [this latter phrase is explicative of “them” because it repeats the preposition in front of “them”].” The complex Hebrew syntax has been broken down into shorter English sentences but an attempt has been made to retain the proper subordinations.
sn Through economic necessity some of the poorer people of the land had on occasion to sell themselves or their children to wealthier Hebrew landowners. The terms of their servitude were strictly regulated under Hebrew law (cf. Exod 21:2-11; Lev 25:39-55; Deut 15:12-18). In brief, no Hebrew was to serve a fellow Hebrew for any longer than six years. In the seventh year he or she was to go free. The period could even be shortened if the year of jubilee intervened since all debts were to be canceled, freedom restored, and indentured property returned in that year. Some see the covenant here coming in conjunction with such a jubilee year since it involved the freedom of all slaves regardless of how long they had served. Others see this covenant as paralleling an old Babylonian practice of a king declaring liberty for slaves and canceling all debts generally at the beginning of his reign (but also at other significant times within it) in order to ingratiate himself with his subjects.