A silhouette of a weary farmer, bent over his plowed field under the scorching sun, encapsulating the biblical concept of toil and the laborious nature of work.

What Does Toil Mean In The Bible?

The concept of toil is an important one in the Bible that sheds light on the human condition and our relationship with God. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: in the Bible, toil refers to difficult or exhausting labor resulting from the curse placed on the ground after Adam and Eve sinned.

In this comprehensive article, we will examine the biblical concept of toil in detail. We’ll look at the various Hebrew and Greek words translated as “toil” and how they are used throughout Scripture. We’ll also explore key passages about humanity’s toilsome existence as a consequence of the Fall, how toil and work are related, positive examples of toil, and the hope of an end to fruitless toil in God’s restored kingdom.

The Meaning of Toil in the Old Testament

The Hebrew Word `Amal’

The Hebrew word most often translated as “toil” in the Old Testament is `amal’. This word conveys the idea of hard work, labor, or great effort resulting in weariness or exhaustion. In Genesis, God places a curse on the ground after Adam and Eve’s disobedience, saying man will labor painfully to grow food from the earth (Gen 3:17-19).

The concept of toil as difficult, wearying work traces back to humanity’s expulsion from Eden.

Toil as a Consequence of the Fall

After the Fall in Genesis 3, toil becomes part of the human condition. Where abundance once flowed freely, sustenance can now only be obtained through backbreaking, repetitive work. The ground itself resists and pains man as he struggles to survive (Gen 5:29).

This concept of toil as a curse continues throughout the Old Testament. It is seen as the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, a reminder of paradise lost.

Yet the Bible also recognizes toil as part of God’s design. Meaningful work existed even before the Fall, as Adam was given the task to cultivate and guard the garden (Gen 2:15). The difference was work had not yet become burdensome drudgery.

After the curse, occupations that were once joyful turned into hardship and chains.

Toiling Under Oppressive Labor

The Bible contains many examples of people forced into hard labor by oppressive powers. The Egyptians subjected the Israelites to harsh service and ruthless labor (Exod 1:13-14). Wars led to captives being forced into slave labor, like the Ammonites made to serve King David (2 Sam 12:31).

Prisoners of war constructed the temples of Solomon (1 Kings 9:15).

We also see those in poverty struggling to survive through repetitive, menial jobs. The book of Proverbs depicts the helpless among society reduced to hard labor for little pay (Prov 16:26). Ecclesiastes paints a grim image of the poor toiling constantly while the rich hoard wealth (Eccl 4:7-8).

Those in need became so desperate they sold themselves or their children into slavery.

Clearly, biblical authors recognized the extreme burdens of oppressive labor conditions. They contrast powerfully with God’s ideal for meaningful work and the fair treatment of laborers. Toil has deeply impacted human existence – both as a consequence of humankind’s rebellion from God, and when exploited by the powerful against the weak.

Website References URL
Bible Study Tools – Toil Definition https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/toil/
Bible Gateway – Toil Verses https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=toil&version=NIV

Toiling in the New Testament

The Greek Word Kopos

The Greek word kopos is used several times in the New Testament to refer to labor, work, or toil that is tiresome, difficult, and exhausting. It conveys the idea of working to the point of exhaustion. For example, Paul used this word when referring to his missionary labors (1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 4:11).

John used it to describe the difficult work endured by the believers in Ephesus (Revelation 2:3). So kopos refers specifically to wearying toil or laborious work.

Toil in Jesus’ Ministry

Although Jesus did not have to labor and toil like humanity, during His earthly ministry He underwent great exertion, fatigue, and hardship in order to fulfill His mission. He traveled extensively, taught for hours on end, had compassion on the crowds following Him, and devoted Himself tirelessly to prayer – often rising early in the morning or continuing late into the night (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12).

His ministry involved great physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual labor.

Jesus knew His purpose was to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10), which necessitated selfless sacrifice and toil on behalf of others. As His followers, we are called to take up our cross and follow His example of serving through difficult labor for eternal purposes (Matthew 16:24).

Enduring Hardship and Persecution

The New Testament letters were often written to encourage believers who were facing persecution for their faith in Christ. Paul and other apostles frequently exhorted their fellow Christians to patiently endure mistreatment, emphasizing the blessings of salvation that made any earthly troubles pale in comparison.

For example, Paul reminded the Romans that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). He encouraged the Corinthians by explaining that their “momentary troubles” were achieving for them “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

So while the Christian life does involve toil and hardship at times, the suffering is temporary and light compared to the “far greater and eternal weight of glory” awaiting all who faithfully follow Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Through Him, we find strength to not only endure troubles but to rejoice and be thankful in the midst of them, keeping an eternal perspective (Colossians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

The Purpose and Value of Work and Toil

Toil as Part of God’s Mandate for Humanity

The Bible makes it clear that human beings were created to work. Genesis 2:15 states that God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to “work it and take care of it.” Even before the fall into sin, work was part of God’s perfect design for human life.

However, after the fall, work also became difficult and tiring – what we often refer to as “toil.” Genesis 3:17-19 describes how the ground became cursed because of sin, causing Adam’s work to become laborious. Nevertheless, toil remains part of God’s mandate for humanity.

Examples of Positive Toil

Despite the challenges of toil, the Bible provides many examples of fulfilling and meaningful work. For instance, God called Noah to the enormous task of building the ark, a project that likely involved decades of grueling labor (Genesis 6:13-22). Yet Noah persevered and completed his mission.

centuries later, Nehemiah led the Jewish people in the painstaking work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, often facing external opposition (Nehemiah 4). And the Apostle Paul tirelessly traveled the Roman Empire spreading the gospel, usually supporting himself through manual labor like tentmaking (Acts 18:3).

These stories demonstrate that, when done in faith and obedience to God’s calling, even difficult toil can be incredibly purposeful and rewarding. As Paul told the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).

Reward and Rest from Fruitful Labor

The Bible also recognizes that productive work deserves wages and rest. In the Old Testament, God commanded that servants be paid their wages promptly (Deuteronomy 24:14-15) and that even animals get a Sabbath rest from labor (Exodus 20:8-10).

Jesus said “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7) and promised rest for the weary (Matthew 11:28-30). Revelation 14:13 declares that those who die in the Lord will find blessed “rest from their labor.”

Therefore, while toil itself has value, so does enjoying the fruits of that toil. Ecclesiastes encourages people to find satisfaction in their work (Ecclesiastes 2:24, 3:22). And per a 2021 Gallup poll, approximately 90% of American employees feel engaged by their jobs.

So despite work’s challenges after the fall, people still find great purpose and fulfillment in fruitful labor.

Longing for Rest from Fruitless Toil

Ecclesiastes on the Futility of Toil

The book of Ecclesiastes contains some of the strongest statements in the Bible about the frustration and futility of work. The author (traditionally believed to be King Solomon) repeatedly describes the emptiness of toil and chasing after riches and pleasure.

For example, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:3-4). The teacher in Ecclesiastes sees work as a meaningless cycle of striving that does not ultimately satisfy our souls.

Toil as Part of the Curse

Frustrating work and laborious toil entered human existence at the Fall, when God cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17-19). Ever since then, work has been exhausting, unfulfilling, and tainted by the thorns and thistles of the curse.

Our work so often seems futile because it was subjected to futility—creation itself was put in bondage to corruption because of human sin (Romans 8:20-21). The curse affects all of our work and fills it with grief and struggle.

Restoration from the Curse in the New Heavens and Earth

The hope held out in the Bible is that the Curse and all its effects will one day be completely reversed. God promises that there will come a time when His people will find perfect rest and satisfaction in their work.

When Christ returns to rule in the New Heavens and New Earth, “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (Isaiah 65:21). Instead of frustrating, empty toil, God’s people will engage in meaningful work that brings joy and fulfillment.

The Curse will be no more. “No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22:3). What a glorious day that will be!


As we have seen, while toil is often associated in Scripture with the frustrating results of the curse from Genesis 3, the Bible also presents a vision of meaningful and God-honoring work that will one day be rewarded with eternal rest. Through Christ, our toil can take on new purpose and value.

And we live in hope of the elimination of futile toil and the reign of fruitful labor to the glory of God.

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