The Theology of Work: Work in the Torah

The Theology of Work: Work in the Torah

Is work simply a means to creating prosperity, a task to be rushed through only for its benefits? Or is work part of the created order, a divine commission for man? “The Theology of Work” examines the Scriptural teaching and finds that, ultimately, work directs us to the central theme of Jesus Christ. This article begins by examining work in the Torah, the five books of Moses.

Work in Genesis

The very first reference to work appears in Genesis 1:1 – God created the heaven and the earth. We then read that God sanctified the Sabbath day as the day in which He stopped working. Surprising, continuing through the Old Testament, careful readers will find that God never actually stopped working!

God continually refers back to his works, such as the destruction of the Egyptians (Exodus 14:31) and His aid for His people Israel (Exodus 34:10). The Psalmist mentions the works which God did in previous generations (Psalm 44:1) and calls on God to continue working in his own day (Psalm 119:126). Indeed, several passages in the Bible go so far as to refer to the work of God’s hands (Psalm 92:4). If such passages teach us anything, they reveal the dignity of labor, sanctified by the example of God himself.

Genesis 2:15 states, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The time-frame of this verse is crucial. God does not give this work to man after the fall, when sin is already in the world, but before the fall – before weeds, thorns, or thistles have started to mar God’s creation. The significance of this passage is obvious – work is not a distortion of the created order, an unfortunate consequence of sin, or a by-product of the fall. Work is an integral part of a perfect world.

The fall of man radically altered the nature of work. Instead of being a pleasant and enjoyable task, it is characterized by sweat, thorns, thistles, and a curse. While few Americans are still involved in farming, the principle of a curse remains true today. Whether plowing a field in the heat or attending boring conference calls in a cubicle, work often involves drudgery rather than enjoyment. Certain people do enjoy their jobs immensely, and nearly everyone can find some enjoyment in their job – echoing back to the pre-fall beauty of work – but that enjoyment is rarely the defining characteristic of work.

After the antediluvian world was destroyed in the great flood, Noah immediately sacrificed to the Lord. Significantly, his next major action was to plant a vineyard, representing the precedent of work in the days following the flood.

Work in the Mosaic Covenant

While Christians are not under the Law of Moses, there is no doubt that work figures prominently in that covenant. While many people remember that Israel was commanded to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” we often forget the command, “six days you shall labor, and do all your work” (Exodus 20:8-9).

This positive command to work is found throughout the Torah. “Six days you shall do your work” (Exodus 23:12); “six days you shall work” (Exodus 34:21); “six days shall work be done” (Leviticus 23:30); and “six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Deuteronomy 5:13).

The glorious promises of Deuteronomy indicate God’s use for man’s work. It would be through man’s work that God would bring blessing on his chosen people. Moses said, “The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands.” (Deuteronomy 28:12). Later he added, “The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground” (Deuteronomy 30:9). God’s blessing does not fall on the idle man; it is on the man who is working.

Far from being irrelevant to the subject, the Torah lays a solid foundation for the Theology of Work. Sanctified by divine example, work was an integral part of the perfect creation and, even in an altered form, remains God’s design in a fallen world.