Theology of Work and Old Testament


The earth is the Lord’s. like a manual labourer, God ‘makes’, ‘forms’, ‘builds’, and ‘plants’. God has to ‘rest’ from this work (Gen 2: 2ff). After the seventh day, God does not stop working (Is 5: 12; Ps 28: 5). “The firmament proclaims God’s handiwork” (Ps 19: 2).

All though human work is taken for granted as merely a normal human activity, Saul ploughed, David was a shepherd, and the rabbis were gainfully employed. The Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) allows six days of work, but commands a day free from work for humans and their animals (Ex 20: 8, 11). Even though manual work deadens the mind, it maintains God’s handiwork and is necessary for the community (Sir 38: 1-9, 24-34). God inspires the temple builder and instructs the farmer (Ex 35: 20 – 36: 2; Is 28: 23-29). In the field of medicine, “God’s creative work continues without cease” (Sir 38: 1-9).

The Old Testament evaluation of work is mixed. The ‘image of God’ has dominion over creation (Sir 17: 3ff; Ps 8: 7). But idols are fashioned by human crafts (Is 44: 9ff). By God’s blessing, honest toil yields abundant fruit and leads to wealth, while idleness produces disgraceful poverty (Ps 65; 127; 128; Is 65: 20-23; Deut 28: 11ff; Prov 10: 4ff; 12: 11).

“To cultivate and care for” the garden is the task given by God before the Fall, and hence work should not be understood as a punishment for sin (Gen 2: 15). After the Fall, however, work is laid under a curse which has cosmic as well as human bearing: the world will not yield, and human toil is marked by sweat (Gen 3: 17-19; 4: 12).

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