How a Single Hebrew Illuminates God’s View of Work, Worship, and Service

You have very likely heard of languages that have several words to describe different aspects of a single English word. A common example is how there are many words in Greek to describe “love.”

But there are examples of the opposite as well, where a single word contains a depth and richness for which there is not a single word in English usage.

The Hebrew word “avodah” is such an example. And this rich Hebrew word highlights God’s view of Work, Worship, and Service that inspire the work of Missional Enterprise.

Avodah (sometimes written Abodah) and the root verb avad appear throughout the Old Testament and are translated into a handful of English words. Consider these examples:

  • Genesis 2:15 (NIV) The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work (avad) it and take care of it.
  • Exodus 1:14 (NIV) They made their lives bitter with hard labor (avodah) in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work (avodah) in the fields; in all their hard labor (avodah) the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.
  • Exodus 8:1 (NIV) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship (avad) me.
  • Exodus 12:31 (NIV) During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship (avad) the LORD as you have requested.
  • Exodus 34:21 (NASB) “You shall work (avad) six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest…”
  • Joshua 24:14-15 (NIV) [14] “Now fear the LORD and serve (avad) him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped (avad) beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve (avad) the LORD. [15] But if serving (avad) the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve (avad), whether the gods your forefathers served (avad) beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve (avad) the LORD.”

As Austin Burkhart describes in an article for the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics:

The Hebrew word avodah jointly means work, worship, and service. The various usages of this Hebrew word found first in Genesis 2:15 tell us that God’s original design and desire is that our work and our worship would be a seamless way of living.

Patrick Lai, in his book Workship: Recalibrate Work and Worship (reviewed in a previous M3 Weekly edition), spells out the implications of the depth of meaning contained in the word avodah:

. . . this means that service, work and worship are one concept in God’s mind. God receives work as worship done unto Him. Put simply, work is worship; or at least it is designed to be in God’s eyes.

Finally, we can see a commonality between the three key facets of meaning in the word avodah (Work, Worship, and Service) and the three Great Mandates of scripture:

May God richly bless and strengthen us as we grow in avodah, especially in our enterprises.

Verse of the Week:

Let’s make this proclamation from Joshua 24:15 our prayer and commitment this week:

“ . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve (avad) the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

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