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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

James 4

Verses 1-17

Denunciation of Greed and Love of Pleasure

1. Lusts] better, ’pleasures.’

2. ’You eagerly desire something which another has and you have not. This unregulated desire may lead to hate and even murder (cp. Ahab, 1 Kings 21), but even so your covetous desires go on; they grow by what they feed on. Still you have not got your desire. Then comes the wholesale murder of unjust war; and yet you are unsatisfied, because you try to get things for yourselves, instead of asking God for them.’ The chief difficulty of this passage lies in the words ’ye kill.’ It has been argued that the words as they stand are out of place, and that the early Christians of St. James’s time could not have been guilty of murder. It has been suggested that the true reading is a word translated ’ye are envious.’ But, (1) while a Christian in these first days might not have been guilty of actual murder, he might well have given way to those feelings of hate which lead to murder (’Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer,’ 1 John 3:15); and, (2) the Epistle was not meant exclusively for Christian Jews. In the Jewish society of St. James’s day murder was frequently the first means by which a man sought to gratify his desires (Mark 15:7; Acts 21:38; Acts 23:14). With a passionate people like the Jews there was always a danger of a sudden attack and murder.

4. Adulterers and adulteresses] RV ’adulteresses’ (without ’adulterers and’), meaning, of course, those who have forsaken God. The thought is very common in the OT. (Isaiah 57:3-9; Jeremiah 3:20; Ezekiel 16 Hosea 2). It is also found in Matthew 12:39. The metaphor of the Church as the bride of Christ occurs in Ephesians 5:22 and other passages of the NT.

5. The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy] better, ’God’ longeth eagerly for the spirit that He planted in us.’ St. James is here alluding to several passages in the OT. rather than quoting accurately. The thought is found in Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24. ’God is a jealous God, but His jealous love is very different from that of man. It shows itself in the good gift of more grace. He longs that the spirit of man should be drawn more closely to Him, and become like Him.’ The above is the best rendering of a disputed passage. Others translate, ’The (Holy) Spirit which He made to dwell in us yearns for us.’ But there does not seem to be any specific reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in this passage.

7-12. Duty to God—humility, sincerity, repentance. Duty to man—to live in love, and refrain from slander and fault-finding.

8. Double minded] Notice the recurrence of the keynote struck in James 1:8.

9. Heaviness] better, ’dejection.’

11. When a man speaks against his brother he is practically condemning the Law of Love, and thus arrogating to himself the office of a judge. In criticising that Law he is virtually criticising the divine Lawgiver.

13-C. James 5:6. Stern denunciation of the presumption and tyranny of the rich. From the Old and NT. it may be gathered that, on the whole, wealth was misused by the Jews, and that therefore the ’mammon of unrighteousness’ was an occasion of sin and a terrible temptation. St. James’s teaching about wealth is put in a brief, uncompromising form, without limitations or exceptions. The possession of riches is regarded as a danger. But that a Christian might possess wealth, if only he recognised that he was a steward of it (Luke 16:1-12), is clear from passages like 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Zac-chæus (Luke 19:1-9) and Joseph of Arimathæa (Matthew 27:57) were both rich, and both disciples.

13. Such a city] RV ’this city.’ The presumption rebuked is that of the rich (? non-Christian) Jewish merchant who travelled for purposes of gain.

14. What is your life? It is even a vapour] RV ’Ye are a vapour.’

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on James 4". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.