Theology 101

What Does the Book of Exodus Teach Us About Work?

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Exodus, like several other books in the Bible that I have discussed in previous articles, is full of references that help to form foundational principles of our theology of work. It contains some great illustrations that show the connection between God’s presence and human work which I have discussed in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession. Let me share some excerpts here to paint a picture of what you will find as you explore this essential OT narrative.

God as a Worker

The first thing I observed in this book is that God is a worker, which gives work intrinsic value.

Let us start with God the Father. In Exodus 15:11, we see that there is no one like God, who works wonders for his people. Later in Exodus 34:10, we read that God expresses his covenant love and faithfulness to Israel. He will do awesome work for them. And he does.

God’s Presence and Human Work

There are multiple references to what I call “Immanuel labor,” a biblical connection between God’s presence and human work.  There are two huge illustrations of this concept:

  • Moses: He asked God, “Who am I that I should go?” God replied, “I will be with you.” God’s presence was more important than Moses’s qualifications (Ex. 3:10-12).
  • Tabernacle: The detailed construction of the tabernacle would require a variety of skilled craftsmen. Their work would enable the priests to serve as God required so that he would dwell among them (Ex. 25:8–31:11).

Exodus 32:7 is a thought-provoking verse that neatly links the two basic ideas that God is present in our work and human beings are coworkers with God. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt” (Emphasis mine). I find what God said somewhat humorous. Clearly, they were not Moses’s people; they were God’s people whom He delivered from Egypt. And yet, because God said it, both perspectives were true.

The Israelites did belong to God. They also belonged to Moses. The Lord did indeed deliver them, but he used Moses to accomplish it. This indicates that God saw Moses as his coworker. God’s presence with Moses at the burning bush, on Mount Sinai, and through the desert as he led the people day and night enabled Moses to take responsibility for the mission and play a critical role in their deliverance.

Next, I would like to highlight the ordinary men and women God called and equipped to build His tabernacle in the book of Exodus. This is one of the greatest illustrations that link human work to God’s presence. Gene Veith in his book, God at Work, insightfully declares that this key OT narrative is “the first explicit treatment of the doctrine of vocation in the Bible.”

Exodus 25:8–31:11 lays out God’s detailed instructions to Moses regarding the design and construction of the tabernacle, its components, and the priests’ attire. It tells us a great deal about a theology of work. Building this portable temple would require a variety of skilled craftsmen who were empowered by the very Spirit of God. The results of their work would enable the priests to serve as God required so that he would dwell among them. (I invite you to read more about this fascinating story in an article that I wrote concerning these Spirit-filled construction workers.)

At the end of this narrative, this collection of supermen and superwomen completed the project as described by Exodus 39:32-42. The Israelites would experience many blessings as a result of their Spirit-filled efforts as coworkers with God. The last chapter of the book of Exodus tells us that after the tabernacle was completely set up and operational, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34). God’s presence was directly linked to their work.

Thorns and Thistles

Exodus gives us a wealth of illustrations of how work was impacted by sin. The book also shows how God was present with his chosen people while they were struggling in the workplace.

In Exodus 1:11-14, we see that the Egyptians treated the Israelites poorly as their slaves, making their lives miserable with forced labor. And yet in spite of their suffering, God continued to bless them, and they multiplied because of his covenant faithfulness. God was very much present with his chosen ones. “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Ex. 3:7-8).

Later on, in Exodus 5:4-19, we read that the Israelites’ desire to hold a festival for God resulted in much more stressful conditions and unreasonable deadlines. The slave drivers and foremen in charge changed their work environment as a punishment, which meant they had to work harder. They were forced to gather their own straw instead of having it brought to them, but they had to make the same amount of bricks. Eventually, God delivered them from slavery.

The Arts From a Biblical Worldview

In Exodus 25–31, God lays out detailed plans for His tabernacle, a portable sanctuary where ge would “dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). The specifications for the tabernacle, its furnishings, decorations, and attire for the priests included all kinds of artistic materials, including precious metals and stones, colored yarns, fine linen, goat hair, ram skins, hides from sea cows, and wood. This communal art and construction project required a host of skilled and Spirit-filled men and women, which I discussed in chapter 7. It illustrates the power and purpose of excellent expressions of creative artwork that enhanced the Israelites’ ability to experience God’s presence.

I trust that this collection of passages from the OT book of Exodus was as inspiring to you as it was to me as I was beginning to understand these basic biblical principles about faith and work.

Editor’s note: This article was adapted from the author’s personal blog. Republished with permission.

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