[Originally published 5 Sept 2011, updated 1 Sept 2014]
If people don’t have to work, then why is it called Labor Day?
Doug Larson said, “If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day Weekend.” It seems that Labor Day is an excuse for gas stations to raise their prices. One Facebook friend told me she went to work one morning, and that afternoon the gas station she passed raised their price by 23 cents!
Labor Day is often considered the “official” end of summer by many. It used to be that most schools in the US didn’t start until after Labor Day, and so it was one last chance to do stuff outdoors before cold weather set in.
Labor Day’s Origins
An interesting tidbit is that the first Labor Day observance, even though it wasn’t yet an official holiday, in 1882 in New York City was actually on a Tuesday instead of Monday.
Of course, the real reason for Labor Day is to recognize the trade and labor unions, and this was especially important in the 1800s when corporate greed swelled to such a level that violent protests and riots broke out over unfair treatment of workers. It was a reaction to the Pullman Strike in 1894. The Pullman Palace Car Company cut wages and eventually laid off workers during the economic distress of 1893. George Pullman owned the entire town, including the lodgings and the stores. However, Pullman did not lower the rent or the prices in the stores in spite of layoffs and cut wages, and the workers finally had enough and organized a strike in protest.
Other unions joined in the strike in sympathy, refusing to switch Pullman rail cars. This effectively shut down operations of the Pullman factories, and other businesses boycotted Pullman as well. Unfortunately, the strike did not end peacefully, but it was broken up by the US Marshals and US Army. These actions made President Grover Cleveland very unpopular, and so he signed the bill creating Labor Day into law as an act of appeasement towards union labor. However, it did not work, and the political fallout of the time resulted in a realigning of the three political parties.
You know, no matter what you might think of unions in the present economic and political environment, they once were a necessity to stand against the greed of business owners who sought to take advantage of their workers. In the extreme case of the Pullman situation, the workers were slaves to the company, which owned everything around them. When they were laid off or wages were cut, they fell behind in their rent payments and thus were continually indebted to the company.
Let’s take a look at Ecclesiastes 5:8-9. Unfortunately, this is not a new thing where the poor are oppressed, and it often takes extraordinary measures to break the oppression. Ecc 5 might seem sort of cynical, as it is a sad commentary on human affairs. Overall, it points out that those who are oppressing are doing it to their own hurt, but it also explains how they get away with it. The Holman Christian Standard Bible puts Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 this way:
8 If you see oppression of the poor and perversion of justice and righteousness in the province, don’t be astonished at the situation, because one official protects another official, and higher officials [protect] them. 9 The profit from the land is taken by all; the king is served by the field.
You see how corruption affects all levels of society. It is practically a given in any hierarchical organization, in fact, for human nature seeks to exert power over others.
God, however, intends something different, which we see in vv 18 – 20:
18 Here is what I have seen to be good: it is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. 19 God has also given riches and wealth to every man, and He has allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labor. This is a gift of God, 20 for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart.
God intends for man to work. Adam was given the job of tending the Garden of Eden. However, God also intends for man to enjoy the benefits that result from that labor. Oppression is not God’s idea. Economic servitude is not what God intends.
Jesus spoke a lot about money. It is often said that Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic. We are all familiar with the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30, but remember that each servant was given a different amount. Furthermore, each earned a different amount. The harder you work, the greater your abilities, then the greater is the expected return and greater is the reward. Some people might not view this as fair. However, is it unfair that the harder and smarter you work the greater you receive?
The person who is diligent, the person who can plan out, the person who does not spend all their time in idleness and the person who deals honestly with employer and employee alike should go far, should enjoy the fruit of their labors and should give thanks to God for their opportunities. After all, what really separates us from others in third world nations other than opportunity?
Isn’t that why our hearts should go out to those who are less advantaged? There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous that goes, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Did you choose to be born in blessed country with majestic mountains and fields of grain? Did you plan out who your parents would be? I don’t think so.
God’s “Labor Day”
Does God have a “Labor Day”?
Well, it might be a stretch, but if you remember that a day with God is a thousand years, then I think the point can be made that there will be a time when peoples’ righteous endeavors will be rewarded. With the fall holy days coming upon us very soon, it is very appropriate to think about the breaking of the bonds of oppression and having the ability to enjoy the fruits of your labors. In one sense, God’s Feast of Tabernacles is celebrating the breaking of oppression, only it is a celebration that looks forward to that time rather than looking back upon the event.
Physical human beings will enjoy a prosperity that has previously been unknown on this planet. Adam was told his punishment would be thorns and thistles and that he would eat his bread by the sweat of his brow. In contrast, we see Millennial prophecies that tell us the sower will overtake the reaper because the fields will yield so much.
The prophet Micah in chapter 4 verse 4 tells us how God views the laborer. And, what of those who labor? How will they be treated? Micah 4 shows us that during the Millennium, those who labor will indeed be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Micah 4:4 says:
4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.
The preceding verse points out that this will be people from every nation. That is absolutely symbolic of something very grand! At first, it might seem unrelated, but I’d like you to recall the passage in John 1:47 where Jesus met Nathanael with the greeting “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Jesus further told Nathanael that He saw him sitting under the fig tree. This is what people did in order to read and reflect upon the Scriptures with the leaves blocking the sunlight. When Jesus referred to angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, He was referencing Jacob’s dream in Ge 28, sometimes called “Jacob’s Ladder”. It is very likely, although not specifically stated, that Nathanael was reading and/or reflecting upon this very passage just before Jesus met him.
Enjoying the Fruit of Your Labors
How do we use God’s blessings? Nathanael used God’s blessings in order to further his education about God’s Word. God’s Law often referred to using God’s blessings to give to the poor, the widow and the Levite. God’s Law talks about freeing slaves and cancelling debts during the Jubilee Year. Yes, we are to enjoy God’s blessings, but these all point to a very real truth. The truth is that the greatest way to enjoy God’s blessings is to share them with others.
The Apostle Paul quoted Jesus in Acts 20:35, saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” It is a true blessing indeed if you can share with others what God has graciously given you.
As it so often happens, I had this message written out, and I thought I had all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted, but then something happened to remind me of an important fact: You cannot out-give God.
He has infinite resources, and just when you think you’re at the end of your rope, He will find a way to reach out to you and remind you He cares. Obviously, we are not infinite, and I will caution everyone that we are to be good stewards of all He has given us. However, we are to also emulate Him. If He freely gave to us, then who are we to not do the same within the constraints He has put upon us? And, if we only have a little, then we are to be faithful with a little. Of course, that is true when we talk of offerings as well.
We hopefully are planning already for how much we can give during the holy days, whether it is to stuff into an envelope to encourage others to come to the truth or to set aside to take a brother or sister who needs encouragement out for dinner and fellowship. Whatever we do with our second tithe income, it needs to honor the God Who blessed us with an income.
Thank God every day that you have an income, because in this world you never know for sure if either the job or your health will be there tomorrow.
Are You Looking Forward to It?
So, will there be a day where human beings can labor and not have the fruits of that labor simply taken from them? Will there be a day where they can not only enjoy the fruits of that labor but have enough to give to others so they also can partake of God’s blessings freely? It seems obvious to me that this will come to pass and that we are to look forward to this time of plenty and prosperity, where mankind will not oppress one another in order to receive greedy gain.
Are you looking forward to God’s “Labor Day”?