The use of “forced labor” (Heb., mas) was evidently quite common in Bible times, with conquered peoples frequently being constituted slaves. (De 20:11; Jos 16:10; 17:13; Es 10:1; Isa 31:8; La 1:1) As slavish forced laborers, the Israelites, under the immediate oversight of Egyptian chiefs who tyrannized over them, engaged in building the storage places of Pithom and Raamses. (Ex 1:11-14) Then, upon entering the Promised Land, instead of following through on Jehovah’s command to drive out all the Canaanite inhabitants of the land and devote them to destruction, the Israelites forced them into task work, slavish labor. This had the bad effect of luring Israel into the worship of false gods. (Jos 16:10; Jg 1:28; 2:3, 11, 12) King Solomon continued levying the descendants of these Canaanites, that is, of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, for slavish forced labor.—1Ki 9:20, 21.
At times, Israelite workers were drafted to meet an emergency or to complete a special project that could not be delayed indefinitely. Issachar, according to the words of his dying father Jacob, was to be subjected as a tribe to this type of forced labor. (Ge 49:15) Solomon conscripted 30,000 men of Israel for his temple-building operations. Nevertheless, these were not constituted slaves, for they served in shifts of 10,000 a month in Lebanon and thus were able to spend two months at home and a month at the work. But it appears that considerable resentment built up against the conscripting of Israelites for forced labor. When Rehoboam did not agree to lighten the heavy yoke Israel bore under the rulership of Solomon and subsequently sent Adoram (Hadoram, Adoniram) to them, the Israelites stoned Adoram, who must have been quite advanced in years then, since in David’s time he had begun to serve as overseer of those conscripted for work.—2Sa 20:24; 1Ki 4:6; 5:13, 14; 12:14, 18; 2Ch 10:18.
Laziness could easily get an Israelite into debt and in time force him to sell his inheritance and also himself into slavery. Hence the proverb: “The slack hand will come to be for forced labor.”—Pr 12:24.
See COMPULSORY SERVICE.