When Work Becomes Lord

Ben Van Arragon

Read: Exodus 1:6-14

So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service. (vv. 13-14)

In his memoir Twelve Years a Slave, African American carpenter Solomon Northup, who was born free but later bound into slavery, describes years of exacting toil with virtually no rest. Northup and his fellow slaves received only a half day off each year. They were part of a system that reduced human beings to commodities, and reduced human work to a mechanism for economic growth.

In the book of Exodus, God’s people belong to a similar system. God’s rescue of the children of Israel is literal liberation from slavery. But it is also liberation from an existence that has been reduced to material productivity. In her essay “Why Work,” Dorothy L. Sayers writes, “It is only when work has to be looked on as a means to gain that it becomes hateful; for then, instead of a friend, it becomes an enemy from whom tolls and contributions have to be extracted.”

We are not slaves. But work easily takes ownership of us. When our primary focus is gaining and growing material wealth, work becomes a merciless master. And life becomes bitter. The God who came down to rescue the Israelites from Egypt came down to rescue us. Jesus restores work to its original good purpose: exercising our God-given gifts, and offering back the riches God has invested in us. —Ben Van Arragon

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for rescuing us from our spiritual slavery and redeeming our work.