Conclusions to the Twelve Prophets
The Book of the Twelve Prophets brings a unified perspective on work to a diversity of times and situations in the life of Israel. At all times they demonstrate that God is at work in the world, ready to bring about the best for his people, if they will only keep his covenant. Before the exile, the prophets challenge the elites of Israel about their use of power and their faithfulness in worship. Their constant theme is that no worship is acceptable to God unless it is accompanied by economic and political justice, for God does not recognize a split between the work of worship and the work of daily life. He does not accept that some may prosper while doing nothing for the common good and for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.
Israel’s failure to work/worship as God commands leads to the national catastrophe and exile in Babylon. During the exile, the prophets call the people to confront their failures, and in doing so discover that even in the worst of times they had the opportunity to be faithful. Again, their faithfulness is seen as much in their work as in their worship. Those who work only for selfish interest are no better off than those who worship idols. Indeed, by elevating work and the resultant wealth to ends in themselves, work in this fashion is idolatry. But those who work justly, according to God’s covenant, will find that even in the worst circumstances God is present in their work, bringing joy and fruitfulness.
After the return from exile, the prophets challenge Israel to maintain godly priorities as they re-establish themselves in the land and rebuild it from a place of desolation. Once more, economic development, just commerce, government that provides for the common good, and work in the service of others form the basis of true worship. Everyone is called to work in cooperation with God and the community of faith towards the peace and wellbeing that God longs for in his creation.
This is still our call today as much as it was in ancient Israel. In the Hebrew ordering of the Old Testament, which Christians also observe, the Book of the Twelve Prophets has the last word before the pages of the New Testament open. Thus they point towards Jesus, who came to fulfill the hopes of the prophets for abundant life in every sphere of human activity, including work, and in doing so brings into being the promise God made to Zechariah, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity” (Zechariah 1:17).