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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Labor

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(properly עָבִד, abad', to work, Gr. ἐργάζομαι; also עָמִל , amal', to toil, Gr. κοπιάω; and other terms). From Genesis ii, 15 (where the same word עָבִד is used, A. V. "till"), we learn that man, even in a state of innocence, and surrounded by all the external sources of happiness, was not to pass his time in indolent repose. By the very constitution of his animal frame, exercise of some kind was absolutely essential to him (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:12). In Genesis 3:19, labor, in its more rigorous and exhausting forms, is set forth as a part of the primeval curse, " In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread;" and doubtless there is a view of labor which exhibits it in reality as a heavy, sometimes a crushing burden (compare Genesis 35:16). But labor is by no means exclusively an evil, nor is its prosecution a dishonor (comp. Psalm 103:23, 24). It is the prostration of strength, wherewith is also connected the temporary incapacity of sharing in the enjoyments of life, and not labor itself, which constitutes the curse pronounced on the fallen man. Hence we find that, in primitive times, manual labor was neither regarded as degrading nor confined to a certain class of society, but was more or less prosecuted by all. By the institution of the Sabbath, moreover, one seventh of man's brief life was rescued from labor, and appropriated to rest of body and to that improvement of the mind which tends to strengthen, invigorate, and sustain the entire man. (See SABBATH).

Labor was enjoined on all Israelites as a sacred duty in the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:9; Deuteronomy 5:13); and the Bible entertains so high a respect for the diligent and skilful laborer, that we are told in Proverbs 22:29," Seest thou a man skilled in his work, he shall stand before kings" (comp. also ibid, 10:4; 12:24,27). Among the beautiful features which grace an excellent housewife, it is prominently set forth that " she worketh willingly with her own hands" (Proverbs 31:13). With such an honorable regard for labor, it is not to be wondered at that when Nebuchadnezzar carried the Jews away into captivity, he found among them a thousand craftsmen and smiths (2 Kings 24:14-16; Jeremiah 29:2). The ancient rabbins, too, regarded manual labor as most honorable, and urged it upon every one as a duty, as may be seen from the following sayings in the Talmud: "He who does not teach his son a craft is, as it were, bringing him up to robbery" (Cholin, 105); "Labor is greatly to be prized, for it elevates the laborer, and maintains him" (Chagiga, 5; Nedarim, 49, b; Baba Bathrc, 110, a). (See HANDICRAFT).

The Hebrews, like other primitive nations, appear to have been herdsmen before they were agriculturists (Genesis 4:2; Genesis 4:12; Genesis 4:17; Genesis 4:22); and the practice of keeping flocks and herds continued in high esteem and constant observance as a regular employment and a social condition (Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11; Amos 7:14; Luke ii, 8). The culture of the soil came in course of time, introducing the discovery and exercise of the practical arts of life, which eventually led to those refinements, both as to processes and to applications, which precede, if they do not create, the fine arts (Genesis 26:12; Genesis 33:19). Agriculture, indeed, became the chief employment of the Hebrew race after their settlement in Canaan; it lay at the very basis of the constitution. both civil and religious, which Moses gave them, was held in great honor, and was carried on by the high as well as the humble in position (Judges 6:11; 1 Samuel 11:5; 1 Kings 19:19). No small care was bestowed on the culture of the vine, which grew luxuriously on the hills of Palestine (Isaiah 5:2; Isaiah 5:5; Matthew 21:33; Numbers 13:24). The vintage was a season of jubilee (Judges 9:27; Jeremiah 25:30; Isaiah 16:10). The hills of Palestine were also adorned with wellcultured olive-gardens, which produced fruit useful for food, for anointing, and for medicine (Isaiah 17:6; Isaiah 24:13; Deuteronomy 24:20; Ezekiel 27:17; 1 Kings 4:25; Hosea 14:6-7). Attention was also given to the culture of the fig-tree (2 Kings 21:7; 1 Chronicles 27:28), as well as of the date-palm (Leviticus 23:40; Judges 1:16; Judges 4:5; Judges 20:33; Deuteronomy 34:3), and also of balsam (Genesis 43:11; Ezekiel 27:17; Ezekiel 37:25; Jeremiah 8:22). (See AGRICULTURE).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Labor'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/l/labor.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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