Wages (usually some form of שָׂכִר, sakar, "to hire" [especially in the Hithpael, Hag 1:6, to "earn wages"], chiefly שָׂכָר, sakur [Ge 31:8; Ex 2:9; Eze 29:18-19; elsewhere "hire," "reward," etc.], and מַשַׂכֹּרֵת, miskdreth [Ge 39:15,23,23; "reward," Ru 2:12]; also פּעלָּה, peillah [Le 19:13; "reward," Ps 109:20], work [as elsewhere mostly rendered]; μισθός [Joh 4:36, elsewhere "reward" or "hire"], pay; ὀψωνιον [Lu 3:14; Lu 6:23; 2Co 11:8; "charges," 1Co 9:7], strictly rations), according to the earliest usages of mankind, are a return made by a purchaser for something Of value — specifically for work performed. Thus labor is recognised as property, and wages as the price paid or obtained in exchange for such property. In this relation there is obviously nothing improper or humiliating on the side either of the buyer or the seller. They have each a certain thing, which the other wants, and, in the exchange which they in consequence make, both parties are alike served. In these few words lies the theory, and also the justification, of all service. The entire commerce of life is barter. In hire, then, there is nothing improper or discreditable. It is only a hireling-that is, a mercenary, a mean, sordid spirit — that is wrong. So long as a human being has anything to give which another human being wants, so long has he something of value in the great market of life; and whatever that something may be, provided it does not contribute to evil passions or evil deeds, he is a truly respectable capitalist, and a useful member of the social community. The scriptural usage in applying the term translated "wages" to sacred subjects-thus the Almighty himself says to Abraham (Ge 15:1), "I am thy exceeding great reward" — tends to confirm these views, and to suggest the observance of caution in the employment of the words "hire" and "hireling," which have acquired an offensive meaning by no means originally inherent in themselves, or in the Hebrew words for which they Stand (30, 1, 8, 32, 33). SEE HIRELING.
The earliest mention of wages is of a recompense, not an money, but in kind, to Jacob from Laban (Ge 29:15,20; Ge 30:28; Ge 31:7-8,41). This usage was only natural among a pastoral and changing population like that of the tent-dwellers of Syria. Burckhardt mentions a case in Syria resembling closely that of Jacob with Laban — a man who served eight years for his food, on condition of obtaining his master's daughter in marriage, and was afterwards compelled by his father-in-law to perform acts of service for him (Syria, p. 297). In Egypt, money payments by way of wages were in use, but the terms cannot now be ascertained (Ex 2:9). Among the Jews wages in general, whether of soldiers or laborers, are mentioned (Hag 1:6; Eze 29:18-19; Joh 4:36). The only mention of the rate of wages in Scripture is found in the parable of the householder and vineyard (Mt 20:2), where the laborer's wages are set at one denarius per day, probably fifteen cents, a rate which agrees with Tobit 5, 14:where a drachma is mentioned as the rate per day, a sum which may be fairly taken as equivalent to the denarius, and to the usual pay of a soldier (ten asses per diem) inn the later says of the Roman republic (Tacituis, Ann. 1, 17; Polybius, 6:39). It was perhaps the traditional remembrance of this sum as a day's wages that suggested the mention of "drachmas wrung from the hard hands of peasants" (Shakspeare, Jul. Caes. 4:3). In earlier times it is probable that the rate was lower, as until lately it was throughout India. In Scotland we know that in the last century a laborer's daily wages did not exceed sixpence (Smiles, Lives of Engineers, 2, 96). But it is likely that laborers, and also soldiers, were supplied with provisions (Michaelis, Laws of Moses [ed. Smith], § 130, 2, 190), as is intimated by the word ὀψώνια, used in Lu 3; Lu 14, and 1Co 9:7, and also by Polybius, 6:39. The Mishna (Baba Mefsia, 6:1, 5) speaks of victuals being allowed, or not, according to the custom of the place, up to the value of a denarius, i.e. inclusive of the pay.
The law was very strict in requiring daily payment of wages (Le 19:13; De 24:14-15); and the Mishna applies the same rule to the use of animals (Baba Metsia, 9:12). The employer who refused to give his laborers sufficient victuals is censured (Job 24:11), and the iniquity of withholding wages is denounced (Jer 22:13; Mal 3:5; Jas 5:4). SEE SERVANT.