There is no dispute about God’s imperatives regarding the workplace. Human dignity in the workplace is an essential belief in the Abrahamic traditions. Indeed, over and again we find Godself at work: at work in creation, at work in redemption, at work in the lives of God’s people. So its clear when Pharaoh exploits and humiliates the Israelites how completely counter to God’s intentions this is. As was Solomon’s terrible treatment of the kingdom workers building temple, palace, and empire for a man who practiced forced labor and systematic theft of wages. So bad was Solomon’s treatment of the worker that God himself was forced to intervene, ripping the kingdom from the hands of Solomon’s descendants.
The record is not kind to Solomon, “King Solomon conscripted forced labor our of all Israel, the levy numbered 30,000 men…. (1 Kings 5:13-15).” In chapter 12 we see the kingdom divided over this precise point: economic injustice, labor rights, fair treatment of the worker, wage theft. How have we missed this story for so long?
Nehemiah too tells the important story of how God’s people pushback against economic injustice. You remember the story: coming out of exile God’s people begin the long, hard work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and city. The upper class begins to steal the vineyards and fields of the people, the currency of the day. But Nehemiah, God’s ordained faith leader, said “We are forcing our sons and daughters to be slaves,… we are powerless, and our fields and vineyards now belong to others…The thing you are doing is not good (Nehemiah 5:5,9).”
No! This thing you are doing, stealing wages, oppressing the poor, forcing labor; “is not good.” Indeed! Throughout the scriptures of the Abrahamic traditions you find that the beating heart of God is justice. The liturgies of the ancients are filled with the reframe “justice and righteousness,” justice and righteousness make their way into history, prophets, writings, commentaries and sermons. God, says the prophet, “loves justice (Isaiah 61:8).”
From “Do not steal” (Exodus 20:15) to “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6),” support for the worker is clear.
- Jeremiah 22:13 “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbours work for nothing, and does not give them their wages.”
- Deuteronomy 24:1-5 You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.”
When the Abrahamic traditions define the ideal Person, the person we are all to strive to be, they introduce us to the character Job, who is in the incarnation of justice. Listen in to Job 29:11-17
I delivered the poor who cried,
and the orphan who had no helper.
13 The blessing of the wretched came upon me,
and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
my justice was like a robe and a turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind,
and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy,
and I championed the cause of the stranger.
17 I broke the fangs of the unrighteous,
and made them drop their prey from their teeth.
According to Eugene Peterson, we find the dignity of work throughout the NT story as well. “Jesus occasionally shows up in synagogue or temple, but for the most part he spends time in the workplace. 27 times in the gospel of John Jesus is identified as a worker. ‘My Father is still working, and I am also working (John 5:17). Work doesn’t take us away from God, it continues the work of God.”
In his greatest sermon Jesus mentions justice 6 times. Jesus tells us we’re blessed if we hunger for it & blessed to be hated for it. He tells us to strive for it more than anything else in our life and cautioned to have more than the religious leaders of his day who tithe but neglect the weightier matters of justice.
Seems pretty important to the guy we call “Lord.” In a blog earlier this week called “My wages are being stolen,” commenters accused me of being a communist, having never read my Bible, advocating for the overthrow of Texas industry, and hating Jesus. Why? Because I talked about pursuing justice. But if Jesus loved it, shouldn’t I?
The work of justice is long, but exciting. That’s why I’m here, to ask you to join the cause, and to equip you for the work of justice. It requires bravery and courage, an understanding of the issues and a willingness to be public. But the most essential element is much simpler than that. The work of justice ultimately demands only one thing from you: that you believe God.