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Holman Bible Dictionary


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The terms of employment or compensation for services rendered encompass the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words. Their usage in the text applies to commercial activities and labor service, as well as judgmental recompense for one's actions in life.

In a mixed economy of agriculture and pastoralism without coined money, wages often included little more than meals and a place of employment (Compare Job 7:2 ; John 10:12 ). Still, a skilled shepherd, like Jacob, might receive a portion of the flock and thus begin his own herd (Genesis 30:32-33 ; Genesis 31:8 ; and legal texts from both Assyria and Babylonia). No fixed wage was set for farm laborers. They may have received a portion of the harvest (John 4:36 ), or, as in Matthew 20:1-8 an agreed upon daily wage. By law, these landless workers were to be paid at the end of each day for their efforts ( Leviticus 19:13 ; Deuteronomy 24:14-15 ). Texts mention enough instances of fraud, however, to suggest that this group was often cheated out of their wages (Jeremiah 22:13 ; Malachi 3:5 ; James 5:4 ).

Kings hired mercenary troops to fight their wars (Judges 9:4 ; 2 Samuel 10:6 ) and employed skilled laborers, along with slaves and unpaid draftees, to build and decorate their palaces and temples (1 Kings 5:6-17 ; Isaiah 46:6 ; 2 Chronicles 24:11-12 ). The services of priests (Judges 18:4 ). Malachi 1:10 ) and the advice of elders (Ezra 4:5 ; 1 Timothy 5:17-18 ) were obtained for gold or silver at fees to match their abilities. The authority of prophets could also be purchased. Balaam, for example, was paid “fees for divination” in exchange for his cursing of Israel (Numbers 22:7 ), and Shemaiah was hired by Sanballat to trap Nehemiah with a false prophecy (Nehemiah 6:10-13 ).

Theological usage of these terms promises God's reward for the faithful (Genesis 15:1 ) and proper recompense for His people Israel (Isaiah 40:10 ; Isaiah 62:11 ). His justice also ensured that the reward of the unrighteous was equal to their crimes (Psalm 109:20 ; Romans 6:23 ; 2 Peter 2:15 ). See Commerce ; Economic Life ; Slavery.

Victor H. Matthews

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Wages'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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