5 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
James 5:1-9 (NASB)
The letter of James was written sometime in the mid-forties AD. The author is believed to be James (Ya’akov) the half-brother of Yahshua who became a prominent leader of the Church headquartered in Jerusalem where he lived. The letter of James was written to Jews who were addressed as “the twelve tribes who are (were) dispersed abroad (i.e. the Roman Empire countries around the Mediterranean Sea) (Jas. 1:1).
James – The Teacher
James’ style of writing is much like a prophet who was bold, forceful and challenging. His letter contains short subjects which are very much to the point and piercing to the heart and mind. Some believe his letter to be a commentary on a Torah portion called “K’doshim” meaning “holy or separated people.” The Torah portion is found in Leviticus, chapters 19 and 20.
The main topics James addresses are the following:
- Trials; temptations and the role of the Word (Torah) – Chapter 1
- The sin of partiality; good actions are the outcome of true faith – Chapter 2
- Managing the tongue; the manifestation of true wisdom – Chapter 3
- Worldliness and the call to purity; criticism of brethren; planning without consulting Yahveh’s will – Chapter 4
- The rich oppressing and using the poor; various exhortations and counsel – Chapter 5
James – The Prophet
When James addressed the rich in Chapter 5, he called out as the prophet Amos, “Therefore thus says Yahveh of hosts, the Lord, “There is wailing in all the plazas, And in all the streets they say, ‘Alas! Alas!’ They also call the farmer to mourning And professional mourners to lamentation.” (Amos 5:16). The words “come now” are the Hebrew equivalent “hoi!,” that is, alas! The words express woe and lamentation in the sense of crying out to solemn attention because of the severity and the certainty of Yahveh’s judgments upon the unbelieving rich who are mentioned.
James had spoken with firmness to the rich and called them to “weep and howl.” These are words used by prophets and found in prophetical sections in the Old Testament (e.g. Isa. 13:6; 14:31; Ezk. 21:12; 30:2). James does not call them to cry out in repentance, but his words were delivered to certain people as a warning that they were under the imminent judgment of Yahveh. He indicated to them that “miseries,” (hardships, trouble, distress, destruction) was “coming upon” them. The words in Greek are in the present middle voice, meaning that the “miseries” were very close at hand, and were already in the process of coming upon them. The Hebrew equivalent for the Greek term is “sho’ah,” meaning destruction, devastation. Yahshua had predicted these “miseries” to come, “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Lk. 6:24-25)
As James singled out these rich, he drew their attention to their sin of “idolatry,” which was covetousness (Col. 3:5). All that they had accumulated to themselves, their power, prestege, pride, pleasure and possessions were, from James’ point of view, already destroyed (Jas .5:2, 3). Yahshua once told a parable to a crowd gathered around Him to warn them to “be on guard against every form of greed…” (Lk. 12:15). He spoke of a land of a rich man that had become very productive. The rich man reasoned to himself that his best plan was to expand by building better and greater buildings with the thought in mind that he would live a life of ease and enjoy his prosperity. However, he unexpectedly encountered his appointment with death. He died a very wealthy man, but he was spiritually a pauper, and was bankrupt towards his God (Lk. 12:16-21). He now had to give an account of his life.
In like manner, James addressed the rich of his generation with the thought that they had been spending all their time storing up their possessions and treasures on earth “for the last days” (Jas. 3:5), or more accurately “in the last days,” which to them was a very familiar phrase whose meaning they fully understood. These days had been prophesied during the time of Moses (Dt. 34:29). James alarmingly said they had an appointment for “a day of slaughter” (Jas. 5:5). The sins of these particular people that James called to account, besides their living in selfish luxury, was abuse and cruelty to their field workers. They were guilty of withholding their wages, which was contrary to what they knew the Torah teaches (Dt. 24:14, 15; Lev. 19:13). But like the blood of Abel whose blood cried out from the ground for vengeance (Gen. 4:10), so these laborers who worked their fields cried out, and their cries reached the ears of “the Lord of Sabaoth” (Jas. 5:4). “The Lord of Sabaoth” is literally, Yahveh Tzova’ot. The first, the Sacred Name of God, Yahveh, and the latter “Tzeva’ot” meaning “hosts,” that is, “Commander of the armies of Heaven.” It is a military name-title combination describing the One ready to do battle against His enemies. James had written earlier in his letter concerning the unholy alliance of those who dabble in the fallen world system and yet want to be in fellowship with God. James strongly rebukes them saying, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’?” (Jas. 4:4-5).
The final sin addressed by James was the sin that Yahshua lamented over concerning the city of Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her” (Lk. 13:.l34), and who was guilty of the “righteous blood shed on earth” (Mt. 24:35). James uses two judicial action words to describe their crime, “you have condemned and put to death (killed) the righteous and he does not resist you” (Jas. 5:6). They were guilty of the very sin the religious hierarchy and political leaders committed against Yahshua (Acts 4:27).
James – The Exhorter
James tones his voice and spirit down to the level of a loving father who tenderly addresses his children. He appealed to them to be “longsuffering” (Jas. 5:7). The word is used to denote holding out long under pressure; to bear up; to endure. The word suggests action instead of passivity. It was a term used in connection with trial and tribulation or hardship. Transposing the word “longsuffering” would be “suffering long” instead of giving up in defeat.
James encourages his readers to “hold out” and bear up under their suffering until a certain day. That Day was “until the Coming of the Lord (Yahshua).” The rigid application of the laws of language, inference and grammatical analysis invites us to understand that James believed that the “Coming of the Lord and Savior and King” was as near as a “farmer who waits for his precious produce of the soil” to be harvested at a ripened time as he depends on the Heavenly Father who “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 4:45).
Again, James, as a father, instructs his children simply and encouragingly stating, “You too be patient (longsuffering),” that is, to bear up in injuries, troubles, oppressions, etc. As a child is encouraged to be brave and courageous, so James assertively tells his readers to “strengthen your hearts,” literally to be “firm-hearted; stout-hearted.” Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), writer and speaker, who wrote the famous song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” wrote in a sermon “Going Up To Jerusalem,” “Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, pray for powers equal to your tasks.”
James exhorted his readers to be strengthened in their inner being in the midst of their trial, persecution and difficult circumstances. The Apostle believed and understood and expected the soon coming Yahshua. He repeated, in different words, this expectation by saying, “Strengthen your hearts, for the Coming of the Lord is near.” The rule of grammar and logic explains that the word “near” is to be interpreted and enforced exactly as it reads, and furthermore, interpreted by what was in the mind of the author when these thoughts were written.
The difficult circumstances the believers were experiencing at the time gave rise to “complaint” or groaning and grumbling against one another, and James repeated what he had already stated earlier in his letter. However, he addressed the issues of “speaking against one another” in a slanderous, disparaging way; “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the Law and judges the Law; but if you judge the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge of It. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (Jas. 4:11-12). Sha’ul (Paul) warned his readers not to try Yahveh’s longsuffering, “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” (I. Cor. 10:10)
James’ command to not complain came with a caution “so that you yourselves may not be judged.” Yahshua, in the Sermon on the Mount, taught, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Mt. 7:2). The Apostle James ends his exhortation in this verse with the identical thought in mind, namely, of judgment coming from One “Lawgiver Who is able to save and to destroy.” James’ words, “the Judge is standing right at the door” imply both certainty and suddenness of judgment, with the sense of nearness. This nearness is as when Yahshua said to the church of Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev, 3:20)
It is evident from the exposition of these Scriptures the generation of the First Century believed that the Coming of Yahshua was very near, and they were confidently expecting His return to relieve them from the many distresses that had come upon them in many forms. Clearly, James’ use of key words and phrases give credence to the belief of the imminent Coming of Yahshua to judge their Land and people for the breach of Yahveh’s Covenant, but also to bring deliverance to the faithful. The words and phrases; “Alas! (come now), “weep and wail“, “miseries coming“, “consume your flesh like fire“, “in the last days“, “Yahveh Tzeva’ot“, (Lord of Sabaoth), “day of slaughter“, “death of righteous“, “coming of the Lord“, “the Lord is near“, “the Judge is standing at the door” are all indicators pointing to a time in the historical past, during the lives of the First Century believers in which a great and violent upheavel of a spiritual, social and political nature took place — the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
General MacArthur addressed the Salvation Army, December 12, 1951 with these words: “History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Rev. 3:22)
“May Yahveh bless you and keep you, may Yahveh make His face shine on you and show you His favor, may Yahveh lift up His face towards you and give you Shalom.”Google+