Moses completes the creation narrative in Genesis 2. In some ways, it is a re-telling of Genesis 1. It offers a bit of a different but complementary view of the creation story. It focuses on the creation of humanity in particular.
Called to work – Genesis 2:15 – God singled out humanity to partner with Him in the tending of His garden. The words “work” and “take care of” – are personal words. God was calling Adam to a personal relationship with Him. His work (the Hebrew word for worship as well) was directly related to His walk with God. To “take care of” is the Hebrew word for “keep” – like “keep” the Commandments.
So – in this verse, Adam receives a commission from God to be an active participant in God’s creation as one who works (worships) and cares for (keeps). Notice this commission occurs prior to the sinfulness of humanity in Genesis 3. Certainly after the Fall of Man, work has the potential to be drudgery and painful (Genesis 3:17-19). However, in its original setting, work is spoken of by God in personal and relational terms.
This verse complements Genesis 1:28 where God commands the first humans to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Again, human beings, still in their innocent state, are given meaningful responsibilities by their Creator. So, the creation narratives end – and God has placed human beings in the midst of His creation; they are created in His image with the opportunity and responsibility of partnering with Him in managing and overseeing His handiwork. Notice verse 25 of Genesis 2 – they had no shame. What a beautiful picture of paradise: humans in harmonious relationship with God, humans in harmonious relationship with each other and human beings in harmonious relationship with creation.
Now we fast-forward many years into the story of human beings. The first 11 chapters of Genesis recount the general story of humanity. While it is an incredible story of God’s will manifested on the canvas of His creation, it is also a sordid tale of human brokenness and rebellion. Finally, God chooses to intervene in this drama and implement a great plan of redemption. In Genesis 12, he chooses Abram (Abraham) and his family to be the vehicle of promise for all humanity. Through this one family, all the world will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Now the human story is told through the lens of this one family’s experiences with God.
After years of multiplication and growth, God’s people were forced to leave their homeland and flee to Egypt for food during a great famine. Several hundred years pass and His people found themselves in bondage in the land of the Pharaohs. The book of Exodus records the story of God’s deliverance and the beginnings of a new nation. By the time we come to Exodus 20, the era of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) is over and Israel is on its way back to the Promised Land. Moses is now the leader of God’s people and they are a new, fledgling nation.
At this point, God chooses to reveal Himself and His expectations for His people as they prepare to live in the land given to Father Abraham. They had spent years in isolation as slaves in Egypt. They would be a free people in Canaan. What would God ask of them? How were they to govern themselves and protect themselves? How were they to treat Him? How were they to treat each other?
God offers a glimpse of His expectations in Exodus 19:3-6. Israel was destined to be a “treasured possession, kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). God was going to use these people to receive His revelation of Himself and join Him in His purposes for the entire world. What a privilege!
In the beginning of His self-revelation to His people, God decides to give Israel a summary statement of His expectations for them. We read this statement in Exodus 20. Truly, this is one of the landmark passages in all of the Old Testament. We know this summary expression from God as The 10 Commandments. And, thanks to Cecile B. DeMille and Charlton Heston, we have some vivid images of what it must have been like when it happened!
As we read through The Ten Commandments, we discover that God was concerned about His relationship with His people and their relationships with each other. This succinct statement is an amazing, far-reaching and holistic expression that has influenced countless generations since the day it was uttered on Mt. Sinai!
We won’t take the time to address all of the commands from God. With respect to our topic, we will look closely at the 4th Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). Normally (and rightfully so), we spend most of our time reflecting on this particular commandment with our attention fixed on the meaning of the Sabbath. Without question, the reverence of the Sabbath will become a centerpiece in Judaism (even to this day!). For Christians, our reverence and respect for Sunday is directly connected to the establishment of a day of worship in the life of ancient Israel.
However, germane to our subject (work), is the connection God makes between the working life of Israel and His example as a worker! Notice God did not instruct Israel to expect a life of leisure in the Promised Land. He did not portray Canaan as a land of “fun in the sun.” Instead, He implores them to work for six days per week! Only one day was to be the day of rest, contemplation, thanksgiving and worship.
God institutes a weekly rhythm that coincides with His original work week. Israel was to engage in meaningful work for 6 days each week. However, just as He rested on the seventh day, they were to rest on the 7th day. This allowed them to sanctify each week and acknowledge their Creator each week in their normal work routine. The observance of the Sabbath each week gave them the perspective and insight to consecrate the other six days of the week as well. God was recognized as the One who gave them the ability to work those six days in the first place!
Here is the insight for us as we construct our Theology of Work. God has designed us to “feel at home” when we are working. Not only is work not a sign of The Curse, it is a part of God’s original plan for us as human beings. His expectation for our labor is even included in The Ten Commandments!
Pastor Timothy Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan offers this helpful insight:
“Work is so foundational to our makeup, in fact, that it is one of the few things we can take in significant doses without harm. Indeed, the Bible does not say we should work one day and rest six, or that work and rest should be balanced evenly—but directs us to the opposite ratio. Leisure and pleasure are great goods, but we can take only so much of them. If you ask people in nursing homes or hospitals how they are doing, you will often hear that their main regret is that they wish they had something to do, some way to be useful to others. They feel they have too much leisure and not enough work. The loss of work is deeply disturbing because we were designed for it. This realization injects a deeper and far more positive meaning into the common view that people work in order to survive.”
-Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor, pp. 37-38
As we come to the end of this monumental prophetic book, God gives Isaiah a glimpse of the new age to come. It will truly be an age of blessing. Notice the promises that encourage Israel – they will not be occupied by foreign powers (65:22), they will not be a people of misfortune (65:23) and peace will reign even in the animal kingdom (65:25). Israel longed for this day of blessing.
Some Israelites referred to this era as the Messianic Age. The Messiah would come and usher in this time of renewal and rest. God would be present among His people in ways that had not occurred since the days of the Patriarchs and Moses. Long gone would be the days of Assyrian, Philistine and Babylonian prowess. The day would come when Israel would be restored and the land would be blessed.
Here is the interesting insight that speaks into our conversation — notice the language used about this blessed age and how it communicates the value of work. Focus in on verses 21-23 of Isaiah 65. Remember this is the era of the new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1). Notice in verses 21-23 – people will be building, planting and enjoying the work of their hands.
God seems to be communicating that the original design He has for His creation will be restored in the new age. This includes human beings at work! Our work will be meaningful, significant and rewarding!
In other words, we won’t be sitting on clouds in eternity, listening to quiet harp music and dropping our fishing lines into the lakes of heaven where the fish are always biting! Heaven will not be this eternal, meaningless experience where we will be bored after a few years of leisure! No – the text indicates that God has plans for us that connect more deeply to our design as human beings. We will have an opportunity to experience an eternity of meaningful life that is more blissful and significant and fulfilling than we could ever imagine. It includes an eternity of productivity!