At Work & Theology 101

What Does Exodus Teach About Calling?

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Does God give special callings to particular kinds of work? If so, does that make everyone else’s work less meaningful? Exodus 31 can help us with answers to these questions.

When instructions are given to Moses for building the tabernacle, he receives specific information about two categories of men. The first category contains those who are inspired by the Holy Spirit for a particular task.

In Exodus 31:2–5, Moses writes that the craftsman Bezalel has been “filled with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship” for a set of skills helpful in building the tabernacle. Exodus 31:6 indicates that a second man, Oholiab, was also inspired for the same task.

The second category of men is described in the second half of Exodus 31:6. God says,

And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you.

This category contains everyone else outside of those specially inspired for their work. There were those who were inspired by God through the Holy Spirit to design a place of worship and superintend its construction. Then there was everyone else who would actually build it.

Regarding the first category, these men were given the privilege of a special calling, much like the prophets and writers of scripture. William Messenger refers to this special calling as a “direct, unmistakable command from God to take up a particular task.”

Bezalel and Oholiab were both given the gift to transmit special revelation. They were to design the ornaments of the tabernacle in such a way that people would be pointed toward God.

The second category of people is much larger and much more analogous to contemporary Christians. This is because people like Bezalel and Oholiab who have special callings are rare. In an article posted at the Theology of Work Project, Messenger explains,

If by “calling,” we mean a direct, unmistakable command from God to take up a particular task, job, profession or type of work, then calling is very rare in the Bible. No more than a hundred or so people were called by God in this sense. Aside from these, very few people in the Bible received an individual call to a particular kind of work from God. This strongly suggests that a direct calling from God to particular work is also rare today.

What can we learn from this second category of men in Exodus 31:2-6? Although they weren’t given the special calling Bezalel and Oholiab received, God had uniquely created each one of those individuals with the ability to support themselves and to contribute to the Kingdom.

Exodus 36:1–2 tells us that those who had the ability were to do their labor, and contribute their skill, as their heart moved them:

So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded. Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work.

Each person contributing to the building of the tabernacle was already a skilled craftsman, because God had given them that skill. Like these craftsmen, we have a secondary calling to use the skills God has given us, even if we don’t have a special calling like Bezalel and Oholiab.

What skills has God given to you? When you are looking for your vocation in life, look first to what skills God has given you. What are you good at? If you are already in a particular vocation and you find yourself doing well at some aspect of your job, you should appreciate the fact that it is God that gave you that ability.

We can find real meaning in our work by recognizing what abilities God has given us, then maximizing our opportunities to use those abilities. Giving God the credit for skills, and understanding that whatever we do should be for his glory, will help us go the rest of the way to finding real meaning in our vocations.

What skills and abilities do you have? How can you maximize them to find fulfillment in your work? Leave your comments here

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  • Jim Price

    Thank you Mr. Spencer for a thoughtful blog. Anything we can do to call attention to the divine purpose of work, is helpful. Still in our complex modern culture, the lines do get blurred. Since our county, now has liquor by the drink, several of the young people who are servers in the “better” restaurants are in effect also, bar tenders. A friend, who works for a large cable company feels conflicted because he knows that a great many questionable programs go out over his network, including pornography. Another works at a cigarette manufacturing plant. He tells me that he feels guilty but is afraid that he could not support his family from the other jobs available to him. Keep talking to us about the work environment.

  • Andrew Spencer

    Thank you for your encouraging comment! I hope to address the topic of good vs. bad careers in a future post. In the meantime, there are a few things to think about with regard to our jobs.

    1. If my job is inherently immoral or involves something
    explicitly sinful (e.g., prostitution, fraud, lying, etc.) then I should stop
    today.

    2. If my job violates your conscience, as in the cases that
    you suggest (e.g., making cigarettes, or serving alcohol), but that is not
    explicitly forbidden by Scripture, then I should find another opportunity, even
    if it means taking a pay cut.

    However, there is an important ethical principle at play here, and that is the concept of secondary guilt. We are responsible for what we do; we are not responsible for how people respond to what we do. This is true in what we buy and where we work. For example, if I buy gas from the closest gas station to my house and the owner of that station uses his profits to commit a crime, then I am not morally responsible for that crime simply because I bought gas.

    With relation to this, Deuteronomy 24:16 reveals that we are
    each accountable for our own sin not the sin of others.

    Martin Luther wrote: “Even though no one fulfills his station [job] without sin, yet God’s word is so great that our station remains pure and holy.” In other words, it isn’t our job that is sinful most of the time, it is the way that we do our jobs.

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