In retelling the events of Israel’s early history and God’s giving of the law, Deuteronomy vividly portrays the importance of work to the fulfillment of God’s covenant with his people. The overarching themes of the book are the need to trust God, to obey his commandments, and to turn to him for help. To abandon any of these pursuits is to fall into idolatry, the worship of false gods of our own making. Although these themes may initially sound abstract or philosophical, they are enacted in concrete, practical ways in daily work and life. When we trust God, we give him thanks for the good things he gives us the ability to produce. We recognize our limitations and turn to God for guidance. We treat others with respect. We observe a rhythm of work and rest that refreshes both ourselves and the people who work for our benefit. We exercise authority, obey authority diligently with an accurate sense of justice, and we exercise authority wisely for the common good. We limit ourselves to work that serves, rather than harms, others and that builds up, rather than destroys, families and communities. We make generous use of the resources God puts at our disposal, and we do not confiscate resources belonging to others. We are honest in our dealings with others. We train ourselves to be joyful in the work God gives us and not to envy other people.
Each day gives us opportunities to be thankful and generous in our work, to make our workplaces fairer, freer, and more rewarding for those we work among, and to work for the common good. In our own way, each of us has the opportunity—whether great or small—to transform ourselves, our families, our communities, and the nations of the world to eradicate idolatrous practices such as slavery and exploitation of workers, corruption and injustice, and indifference to the lack of resources suffered by the poor.
But if Deuteronomy were nothing but a long list of do’s and don’ts for our work, the burden on us would be intolerable. Who could possibly fulfill the law, even if only in the sphere of work? By God’s grace, Deuteronomy is not at its heart a list of rules and regulations but an invitation to a relationship with God. “Seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul” (Deut. 4:29). “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deut. 7:6). If we find that our work falls short of the picture painted by Deuteronomy, let our response be not a grim resolve to try harder, but a refreshing acceptance of God’s invitation to a closer relationship with him. A living relationship with God is our only hope for the power to live according to his word. This, of course, is the gospel Jesus preached, and it was rooted deeply in the book of Deuteronomy. As Jesus put it, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). It is not an impossible list of demands, but an invitation to draw close to God. In this he echoes Moses: “O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 10:12).