Job: The Good Boss
The 31st chapter of Job is his defense of himself against his friends who insist that he must be some kind of horrible sinner to have God punish him so. In the 13th through the 15th verses Job defends himself as an employer.
“If I have denied justice to any of my servants, whether male or female, when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account? Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?”
March 25, 1911. Downtown Manhattan, New York City, just east of Washington Square. The Asch Building – ten stories high. On the top three floors, five hundred workers, mostly women and girls, were busy sewing blouses, called shirtwaists back then. Most of them were immigrants and jobs like this were all that were available to them. They worked 55 hour weeks for very little pay. These places were called sweatshops.
At 4:30 on that afternoon, a fire broke out on the 4th floor. There were not enough fire exits. Some of the doors were locked to keep workers from sneaking out for a breath of fresh air. The building did not burn down. But there was heat and there was smoke. There was also panic. That day 146 of those workers died.
Some were crushed because they were the first down narrow staircases only to run into locked doors as others piled on top of them. But most of the dead had simply jumped to their deaths. Witnesses on the ground had to leave the area, unable to stand any longer the sound of bodies thudding onto the pavement.
The owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were found innocent of any crime during the criminal trial. They had good lawyers and there was a pro-business and anti-immigrant sentiment in America in those days. However, at the civil trial in 1913, they were found negligent and had to pay the families of the victims $75. The insurance company paid Blanck and Harris $60,000 more than the actual value of the property loss, supposedly to compensate for losing so many employees — $400 per employee. Anyone with even a modicum of a conscience or sense of decency would recognize this as pure exploitation and a gross injustice. The workers certainly would have cause for grievances.
In the passage form Job, he claims that nothing like this would ever happen on his watch. He provided for his employees. He cared for his employees. He did not exploit them. Job was a nomadic herdsman. We should not picture him and his family living in some luxurious mansion while his workers lived in huts or tents.
Job would have lived in a tent not that much different than the tents of the herdsmen he hired. Job ate mutton cooked over a fire. His workers ate mutton cooked over a fire. For entertainment Job sat around a campfire and sang songs and swapped stories with friends and family. His workers sat around campfires singing and swapping stories with friends and family. The large herds were his, but his lifestyle was not that much different from those whom he paid wages.
Envision Job as a patriarch, a father figure to his family and to all who worked for him. He knew their names and he knew their stories. They relied on him for wages, food, clothing, and shelter. He wrote the rules and administered justice among his people.
“They have no grievance against me as their benefactor. I have always protected them, provided for them, and treated them fairly. I have never looked down on them as being inferior. I respect them as children of God.”
This is in accordance with Scripture. From the Law of Moses, Deuteronomy 24:14-15. “Do not take advantage of a worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is an Israelite or is a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and they are counting on it. Otherwise, they will cry out to the Lord and you will be guilty of sin.”
From the Prophets, Isaiah 3:15. “What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?”
From Paul, I Timothy 5:18. “Workers deserve their wages.”
From Jesus himself, Luke 10:7. “Stay there eating and drinking whatever they give you for workers deserve their wages.”
As Christians we are supposed to be the champions of those who have it hard, who lack the means and the power to compete. It is the worst of sins to ignore or even worse to exploit those who are weak and easily oppressed.
Look to Jesus as our example. He gave up the glory of heaven to come to the earth to save us even though we are immensely morally and intellectually inferior. He chose not to ignore our plight, but he humbled himself, giving himself up, even to the point of the cross. He saw in us – inferior sinners all – something of great value. Someone with potential. Someone worth loving.
We should gratefully respond by seeing something of great value – even in the least of us.