(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.
About the author:
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.