What do the Minor Prophets Teach Us About Work?

(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

Yesterday morning, I was drawn to one of the minor prophets by a meme posted by a friend on Facebook. 

Over the past few years, I have learned to appreciate these smaller prophetic books.  Although they are filled with warning messages to the people of Israel and Judah, they always seem to come back to God’s covenant lovingkindness (hesed, in Hebrew), grace, and mercy.  They also point to a time known as “the day of the Lord”.  New Testament believers know this is when Jesus returns in glory to bring closure in the form of judgment for those who have not submitted to God’s rule and full restoration for His people.

Let me share some observations about work from several of the minor prophets that I quoted in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  I found key passages in Amos, Micah, Habakkuk, and Haggai.  I have also added some new material below based on what I have seen in these books that is relevant.  (Note: See previous articles I posted on my blog on the book of Ecclesiastes and the Psalms.)

The Minor Prophets take us into the work environment

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary (TOWBC) helps us to better understand the biblical context here.  “The unifying theme of these prophets is that in God there is no split between the work of worship and the work of daily life, nor is there a split between individual well-being and the common good.” 

Later, they write, “Despite the calamity the people are bringing upon themselves, God is at work to restore the goodness of life and work intended from the beginning . . The closing oracles of Joel, Hosea, and Amos illustrate this in explicitly economic terms.”  They cite Joel 2:24: “the threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.”  Finally, Hosea 14:7  describes  a time when “they shall flourish as a garden.”  Amos 9:14 declares, “I will restore the fortunes of my people.”

I found a great illustration of how God’s people can choose to respond to a work-related trial in Hab. 3:17–18.  The prophet declares, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”  It takes a strong faith to actively choose to recall God’s faithfulness in the midst of devastating losses at work or elsewhere.

This passage, of course, reminds me of Job’s attitude; “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21) and the exhortation to rejoice in our trials.  (See James 1:2.)

The Minor Prophets show us how God works through us

In 2015, during a robust independent study on the theology of work that I did to complete my seminary master’s degree, I was delighted to find so many illustrations of the connection between God’s presence and human work, which I call Immanuel labor.  The book of Haggai gives us one more great example.  

As the temple was being rebuilt, the word of Yahweh told Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, Joshua, the high priest, and the remnant of God’s people to be strong and to work, for He was with them (Haggai 2:4).  He reemphasizes God’s presence in the next verse, reminding them that He kept His covenant with His people and that it is His Spirit that remains among them (Haggai 2:5).  This pattern is repeated often.  When God calls His people to do a great work by faith, He reminds them that He will work with them.

The Minor Prophets call for fair business practices

The prophet Amos, who was not a prophet by trade but was a shepherd and caretaker of sycamore fig trees (Amos 7:14), had a few things that He was compelled to say about external righteousness.

R. Paul Stevens writes, “Amos railed against workplace injustice. . . Among the many things we learn from the ministry of this fiery prophet is that the gospel is not merely the gospel of personal salvation, but is a message that has profound implications for fair wages, workers’ rights, equitable interest rates, appropriate executive remuneration, reliable currency, and protection of property rights for the poor.” 

The Lord condemned the practice of buying and selling slaves in Israel (Amos 2:6, 8:6).  He also condemned unethical business practices, such as skimping on standard measures, greedily boosting prices, and using dishonest scales (Amos 8:5).  There may be opportunities for some of us to speak up, work toward, and demand changes in our own organizations when we find unrighteous conditions like these.

The TOWBC boldly states, “If God is not the god of our lives every day, then he is probably not actually our god on Sunday either.”  These words are hard, but good reminders of what true faith looks like.

The prophet Micah also provides a foundational statement of spiritual maturity in action.  “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  This commandment applies to all of God’s people.

The Minor Prophets give us a glimpse of an eternity of work without sin

In Micah 4:1-3, we read about the “last days” where many nations (i.e., Gentiles) will come to learn God’s Word and worship.  The prophet also sees world peace, where men have turned their weapons into farm tools.  This passage is nearly identical to Isa.2:2-4.  Ben Witherington, in his book, Work, observes:

Isaiah does not envision a massive work stoppage.  What he envisions is a massive war stoppage, if we may put it that way.  The point of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is so that the weapons of war may be turned into the tools of work. . . His vision of shalom, well-being, peace, is not of a workless paradise, but of a world at peace worshiping the one true God and working together rather than warring with each other. 

I trust that this compilation of verses from the minor prophets was helpful to see the various aspects of work that are addressed throughout Scripture, which should help us to better integrate our faith at work.

(Note: I invite you to read a similar article to this one regarding what the book of Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, and the Gospel of John have to say about work.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published over 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

What do the Psalms Have to Say About Work?

(Note: This article was posted on the Coram Deo blog and published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

I thought it might be helpful to provide a brief summary of some of the observations about work from the Psalms that I have compiled in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  (Note: I had done this in a previous article I wrote on the book of Ecclesiastes.  Click here to read it.)

The Psalms show us God as a worker

We know that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and then rested from His work (Gen. 2:2-3).  David declares that God’s work is reflected in His creation (Ps. 19:1.)  (See also Ps. 102:25.)

Moreover, God continuously works now to sustain His creation.  Psalms 65:9–13 describes how God provides water, vegetation, and animals for His people through His care over the land He gave them.

Psalm 104:10-31 highlights in much greater detail all of the things that God provides for His people.  In addition to what was mentioned above, he adds wine and oil, trees to build homes, temples, and other buildings, the moon and sun to mark off the seasons, and the sea which contains much food.

Additionally, in Ps. 111:2-7, we observe that God works to show His grace, mercy, providence, power, and faithfulness.  In Ps. 143:5, David ponders all of the work that God has done throughout His own life.  His deep understanding and experiences give him hope, causing him to continue to trust in Him.

The Psalms take us into the work environment

Throughout Ps. 107, we see God’s people stressed out by changes to the work environment.  Some were looking for work.  They wandered in the desert (vv. 4-5).  God delivered them by providing for their needs in His unfailing love (vv. 6-9).  Others made their living on the water.  Storms at sea brought fears of losing personnel, boats, and goods (vv. 23-27).  God delivered them by stilling the storm and bringing them to shore (vv. 28-32).  In spite of these difficult situations that were beyond their control, God’s never-changing covenant love, faithfulness, and protection got them through.

Psalm 128:2 mentions one of the many blessings of those who fear the Lord and who walk in His ways.  The writer states, “You will eat the fruit of your labor.”  This was written after or during a time of exile, when pagan nations swooped in and literally ate the produce that Israel had worked for.  Once Israel returned to the land, they could enjoy the crops they raised.  In general, what I see here is that job satisfaction seems to be a divine by-product of long, dedicated efforts.  I know that it is for me.

The Psalms bring us into God’s presence

The divine attribute I write about most often is God’s omnipresence.  It is essential to my theology of work.  There is a biblical connection between God’s presence and human work that I call Immanuel labor.  I will discuss how this is illustrated below.  Here, though, I want to highlight what the Psalms teach us about the presence of God, and how that will sustain us through every aspect of our work.

The Bible passage that most believers think of with respect to this idea is Ps. 139:7–10, which says:

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  (Italics mine.)

Although these verses highlight God’s supernatural ability to be anywhere, David wants us to see this aspect of God’s character as not merely an objective reality but something he personally feels.  He says things like “you are there” (twice in verse 8), “your hand will guide me,” and “your right hand will hold me fast.”  These words describe that God is there in David’s midst, which gives him peace, security, and hope.  God has been, is now, and will continue to actively lead him every step of the way.

David states elsewhere, “You will fill me with joy in your presence” (Ps. 16:11).  (See also Ps. 84.)

Grudem, in his Systematic Theology instructs, “When the Bible speaks of God’s presence, it usually means his presence to bless.”  He boldly declares, “To be in his presence, to enjoy fellowship with him, is a greater blessing than anything that can be imagined.” 

The 23rd Psalm, especially v. 4, highlights David experiencing God’s presence when he needs it most. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  Having felt the nearness of God when I walked through my own shadow of death as I have lost family members over the years, I know exactly what he means.

The Psalms show us how God works through us

In Ps. 8:6-8, we see that God created Adam and Eve for the purpose of sustaining and expanding His creation, entrusting them and us with the daunting task of ruling, subduing, and caring for what He had made.  This corresponds with the creation or cultural mandate as it is described in Gen. 1:26-28.

One of the ways God meets the entire spectrum of human needs is through the work of humans. 

Psalm 127:1 confirms this concept. “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”  The main point is that if we are not on God’s side, we are wasting our efforts. We can also see that the Lord ultimately is the one who provides for us (builds our houses) and protects us (gives us security).  And yet, God generally uses people as His coworkers to do the actual building and to stand guard over the city.

Let me close with an appropriate benediction, as we have reflected on how God is a worker who is present with us and works through us to love our neighbor. “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us; yes, establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17).

(Note: I invite you to read a similar article to this one regarding what the book of Ecclesiastes, the Minor Prophets, and the Gospel of John have to say about work.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published over 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Graduating into a New Work Environment

(Note this article was written for and published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)

It’s graduation time again.  After a long four- or five-year struggle (or longer), much of which was unexpectedly accomplished virtually, college students will finally come to the end of their academic journey and receive those coveted bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees.  Now what?

I was asked to consider writing an article from a biblical viewpoint that is addressed to new college graduates who are entering a radically changed work environment, one that has been altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic that we have experienced for the past 15 months.  I have a positive message that is grounded in biblical truth and orthodox theology, and will offer some practical suggestions.

What is new?

This COVID-19 environment in which we find ourselves has brought drastic changes to the workplace.  College seniors have traditionally counted on large face-to-face job fairs.  However, most of these have been cancelled.  This has caused an almost exclusive use of technology-based job searches followed by video-teleconference job interviews.  Job offers often include 100% teleworking or hybrid schedules. 

To illustrate one of the radical changes that may be here for a while is “Zoom towns”.  I just read that some employees who work virtually are choosing to live where they want to, instead of having to live close to their job.  Some workers are even taking their families to resort towns or vacation spots.

When I graduated from college a number of decades ago and entered into my chosen field of math education, I did not need to learn how to teach high school students over Zoom.  Now, college graduates from nearly every field of study from art, business, architecture, engineering, research, medicine, advertising, marketing, finance, among many others, may not have the luxury of working on a daily basis in a physical workplace alongside their boss, their coworkers, or their subordinates.  

What new skills do I need to succeed?

In response to the many changes to the work environment that I listed above, you will need to develop some essential skills to survive and thrive.  Let me offer three practical suggestions:

  • Be flexible.  Don’t be surprised by job offers where you will work in a virtual or hybrid situation; you may not have to relocate, so you will have to decide where to live.
  • Be independent.  You may be required to engage supervisors, coworkers, and clients in a virtual-only environment much of the time, and get still get projects done on time.
  • Be fluent.  Develop competency in seamlessly using a variety of different forms of communication as required of your employer: written, verbal, face-to-face, and virtual.

What has not changed?

Even though there are many aspects of the work environment that have changed since COVID-19, some permanently, I would be remiss if I did not remind new graduates of what has not changed. 

God has not changed.  (See Ps. 55:19.)  His eternal attributes as revealed throughout Scripture, such as His presence, mercy, grace, and sovereignty, when properly understood, will greatly impact our view of work.  We read in Heb. 13:8, “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  When we keep in mind how God is always present and in control of our circumstances, we can get through any trial.

Throughout Ps. 107, we see God’s people stressed out by changes to the work environment.  Some were looking for work.  They wandered in the desert (vv. 4-5).  God delivered them by providing for their needs in His unfailing love (vv. 6-9).  Others made their living on the water.  Storms at sea brought fears of losing personnel, boats, and goods (vv. 23-27).  God delivered them by stilling the storm and bringing them to shore (vv. 28-32).  In spite of these difficult situations that were beyond their control, God’s never-changing covenant love, faithfulness, and protection got them through.

How can I work as unto the Lord in this environment?

Here are three appropriate biblical/theological responses to God’s unchanging attributes:

  • Learn to rest in God’s presence as you work as unto Him.  Know that He will place you where He needs you to be at just the right time, in order to glorify Himself and meet your needs.
  • Develop a vision for how God can use the skills He gave you in the workplace.  As you work in His presence, He will work with, in, and through you to meet the full spectrum of human needs.
  • Resolve to pursue relationships with other Christians and nonbelievers on your team, even if they are far away.  Your boss, coworkers, and customers all have needs that you can meet.

The last bullet is an important point.  Building a virtual network of coworkers will be a challenge without having the opportunity to grab a bite to eat at lunch or after work.  The Apostle Paul struggled with working virtually. He writes to his clients who are geographically dispersed, “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (Col. 2:5). The Apostle John was also frustrated by the limitations of working virtually as he taught the church; see 3 John 13-14.

You will have to be intentional to get to know people better as opportunities are available.  As you do so, God will open doors for you be able to love your neighbor in a number of practical ways.

I also strongly encourage you to be intentional to develop close relationships with more mature Christians in a local church wherever you settle, who can help keep you grounded in your faith.

I trust that some of these biblical and practical ideas will be an encouragement to those who need it.  Looking for and finding a rewarding career after graduation will always be a spiritual journey for the Christian.  It is in times like these, even in a pandemic, that we learn for ourselves that God is faithful.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 60 articles posted on this blog have been published over 120 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.