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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

James 5

Verse 1

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

Go to now - Come now: to call solemn attention.

Ye rich - who neglect the true enjoyment of riches, which consists in doing good. James intends this address to rich Jewish unbelievers, not so much for themselves as for the saints, that they may bear with patience the violence of the rich (James 5:7), knowing that God will speedily avenge them.

Miseries that shall come, [ eperchomenais (G1904)] - 'that are coming upon you' unexpectedly and swiftly; namely (James 5:7) primarily, at the destruction of Jerusalem; finally, at the Lord's visible coming to judge the world.

Verse 2

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

Corrupted - about to be destroyed through God's curse for your oppression, whereby your riches are accumulated (James 5:4). Calvin, Your riches perish, without being of use either to others or even yourselves; for instance, your

Garments are moth-eaten in your chests. Referring to Matthew 6:19-20.

Verse 3

Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

Is cankered - rusted through.

Rust ... witness against you - in the day of judgment; namely, that your riches were of no profit, lying unemployed, so contracting rust.

Shall eat your flesh. The rust which once eat your riches shall then gnaw your conscience, accompanied with punishment which shall prey upon your bodies forever.

As ... fire - not with the slow process of rusting, but with the swiftness of fire.

For the last days - ye have heaped together, not treasures, as ye suppose (cf. Luke 12:19), but wrath against the last days. Rather, 'In the last days (before the coming judgment) ye laid up treasure' to no profit, instead of seeking salvation (see note, James 5:5).

Verse 4

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Behold - calling attention to their sin crying for judgment.

Of you kept back. Not as Alford 'crieth out from you.' The 'keeping back of the hire' was, on the part OF the rich, a virtual "fraud," because the poor workmen were not immediately paid. The phrase is 'kept back of you;' implying virtual, rather than overt, fraud, James refers to Deuteronomy 24:14-15. Many sins "cry" to heaven for vengeance which men take no account of, as unchastity and injustice (Bengel). Sins peculiarly offensive to God "cry" to Him. The rich ought to have given freely to the poor: their not doing so was sin. A still greater sin was not paying their debts. Their greatest sin was not paying the poor, whose wages is their all.

Cries of them - a double cry: both that of the hire and that of the labourers hired.

The Lord of sabaoth. Here only in the New Testament. In Romans 9:29 it is a quotation. Suited to the Jewish tone of the letter. It reminds the rich, who think the poor have no protector, that the Lord of the whole hosts in heaven is avenger of the latter. He is the "coming Lord" Jesus (James 5:7).

Verse 5

Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

'Ye have luxuriated ... and wantoned.' [ Etrufeesate (G5171), luxurious effeminacy; espataleesate (G4684), wantonness and prodigality.] Their luxury was at the expense of the defrauded poor (James 5:4).

On the earth - the same earth, the scene of your wantonness, shall be that of the judgment coming on you: instead of earthly delights, ye shall have punishments.

Nourished your hearts - i:e., glutted your bodies like beasts to your heart's desire: ye live to eat, not eat to live.

As in a day of slaughter. So C. But 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, omit "as." Ye are beasts which eat to their heart's content on the day of their slaughter, unconscious it is near. The phrase answers to "the last days," James 5:3, which favours there, "in," not "for."

Verse 6

Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

Ye have condemned ... the just. The aorist [ katedikasate (G2613)], 'Ye are wont to condemn, etc., the just.' Their condemnation of Christ, "the Just" (Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52; Acts 22:14), is the prominent thought. All the innocent blood shed is included, the Holy Spirit comprehending James himself, called "the just," slain in a tumult. See 'Introduction.' Compare the "righteous (just) man," James 5:16. The righteousness of Jesus and His people peculiarly provokes the ungodly great of the world.

He doth not resist you. The very patience of the just is abused as an incentive to bold persecution, as if sinners may do as they please with impunity. God doth 'resist [ antitassetai (G498), as here] the proud' (James 4:6); but Jesus, as man, "opened not His mouth:" so His people are meek under persecution. The just seem destitute of help: none dares resist you, oppressors. But the day will come when God will resist [ antitassetai (G498), set Himself in array against] His people's foes.

Verse 7

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

Be patient therefore - As judgment is so near (James 5:1; James 5:3), ye can afford to be "long-suffering" [ makrothumeesate (G3114)], after the example of the unresisting just one (James 5:6).

Brethren - contrasted with the "rich" oppressors, James 5:1-6.

Unto the coming of the Lord - when the trial of long-suffering waiting shall cease.

Husbandman waiteth for - i:e., amidst toils and delays, through hope of the harvest. Its 'preciouness' (cf. Psalms 126:6, "precious seed") will amply compensate for all the past. Compare Galatians 6:8-9.

Hath long patience (suffering) for it - `over it,' in respect to it.

Until he receive - `until it receive' (Alford). The receiving of the early and latter rains is not the object of his hope, but the harvest, to which those rains are the preliminary. The early rain fell at sowing time, about November or December; the latter rain, about March or April, to mature the grain for harvest. The latter rain that shall precede the spiritual harvest will probably be another Pentecost-like effusion of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 2:23,28-32 ).

Verse 8

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Patient - `long-suffering.'

Coming ... draweth nigh, [ eengiken (G1448)] - hath and is drawn nigh: a settled state (1 Peter 4:7). We are to live in a continued expectancy of the Lord's coming as always nigh. Nothing can more 'stablish the heart' amidst troubles than His coming realized as at hand.

Verse 9

Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

Grudge not, [ stenazete (G4727)] - 'Murmur not;' literally, 'groan:' a half-suppressed complaint of impatience and harsh judgment. Having enjoined long-suffering in bearing wrongs from the wicked, he now enjoins a forbearing spirit as to offences from brethren. Christians who bear the former patiently, sometimes are impatient at the latter, though less grievous.

Lest ye be condemned. 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate [ kritheete (G2919)], 'judged,' referring to Matthew 7:1. To 'murmur against one another' is virtually to judge, and so become liable to be judged.

Judge standeth before the door - referring to Matthew 24:33. It ought to be translated here, as there, 'doors.' plural. The phrase means 'is near at hand,' (Genesis 4:7, which the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem explain, 'thy sin is reserved unto the judgment of the world to come:' cf. "the everlasting doors," Psalms 24:7, whence He shall come forth). The Lord's coming to destroy Jerusalem primarily; ultimately, His coming visibly to judgment.

Verse 10

Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

The prophets - especially persecuted, therefore especially 'blessed.'

Example of suffering affliction, [ kakopatheias (G2552)] - 'of evil treatment.'

Patience, [ makrothumias (G3115)] - 'long-suffering.'

Verse 11

Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

Count them happy (Matthew 5:10). Which endure. 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate [ hupomeinantas (G5278)], 'which endured' trials in past days, like the prophets and Job. Such, not those who 'lived in pleasure and wantonness on the earth' (James 5:5), are "happy."

Patience, [ hupomoneen (G5281)] - 'endurance:' answering to [ hupomeinantas (G5278)] "endure." Distinct from [ makrothumia (G3115)] "patience" (James 5:10): long-suffering. He reverts to the subject, James 1:3.

Job. He was therefore a real, not an imaginary person; otherwise his case would not be an example at all. Though he showed impatience, he always returned to committing himself wholly to God, and at last showed a perfect spirit of enduring submission.

And have seen (with your mental eyes). So 'Aleph (') [ eidete (G1492)]. But A B [ idete (G1492)], 'see also,' etc.

The end of the Lord - which the Lord gave. If Job had much to "endure," remember also Job's happy "end." Hence, learn, though much tried, to 'endure to the end.'

That - or [ hoti (G3754)] 'for.'

Pitiful, and of tender mercy, [ polusplangchnos (G4184) refers to the feeling; oiktirmoon (G3629), to acts]. His pity is shown in not laying on the patient endurer more trials than he is able to bear; His mercy, in giving a happy end to them (Bengel). God sees graces beneath, where we see only the surface imperfections: He takes into account the severity of his people's trials.

Verse 12

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

But above all - as swearing is utterly alien to Christian 'endurance.'

Swear not - through impatience, to which trials may tempt you (James 5:10-11). In contrast stands the proper use of the tongue (James 5:13). Referring to Matthew 5:34, etc.

Let your yea be yea - do not use oaths in everyday conversation: let a simple affirmative or denial be enough to establish your word.

Condemnation - judgment of "the Judge" who "standeth before the door" (James 5:9).

Verse 13

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

Afflicted, [ kakopathei (G2553)] - 'evil treated:' "suffering affliction" (James 5:10).

Let him pray - not "swear" in rash impatience.

Merry - in mind.

Sing psalms - of praise, as Paul and Silas did in prison.

Verse 14

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

Let him call for the elders - not some one, as Romanists interpret it, to justify their extreme unction. The prayers of the elders over the sick would be much the same as though the whole church which they represent should pray (Bengel).

Anointing him with oil. The usage which Christ committed to His apostles was afterward continued with laying on of hands, as a token of the highest faculty of medicine in the Church; as we find in 1 Corinthians 6:2 the Church's highest judicial function. Now that miraculous healing is withdrawn, to use the sign where the reality is wanting, would be unmeaning superstition. Compare other apostolic usages, now discontinued, 1 Corinthians 11:4-15; 1 Corinthians 16:20. 'Let them use oil who can by their prayers obtain recovery for the sick; let those who cannot do this, abstain from the empty sign' (Whittaker). Romish extreme unction is administered to those whose life is despaired of, to heal the soul: James' unction was to heal the body. Cardinal Cajetan ('Commentary') admits that James cannot refer to extreme unction. Oil among the Jews (see Talmud, Jerusalem and Babylon) was used as a curative agent (Luke 10:34). It was also a sign of divine grace. Hence, it was an appropriate sign in miraculous cures.

In the name of the Lord - by whom alone the miracle was performed: men were but the instruments.

Verse 15

And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

Prayer. He does not say the oil shall save: it is but the symbol.

Save - not, as Rome says, "save" the soul, but "the sick;" as the words, "the Lord shall raise him up," prove. So [ sesooken (G4982)] 'made (thee) whole,' Matthew 9:21-22.

And if he have committed sins - for not all who are sick are so because of special sins. Here it is one visited with sickness for special sins (1 Corinthians 11:30-32).

Have committed, [ ee (G5600) pepoieekoos (G4160)] - be in a state of having committed sins; i:e., be under their consequences.

They - or it: his having committed sins shall be forgiven him. The connection of sin and sickness appears in Isaiah 33:24; Matthew 9:2-5; John 5:14. The absolution of the sick in the Church of England refers to sins which the sick man confesses (James 5:16) and repents of, whereby outward scandal has been given to the Church; not to sins in their relation to God, the only Judge.

Verse 16

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, read 'Confess, THEREFORE,' etc.: not only in sickness, but universally.

Faults, [ ta (G3588) paraptomata (G3900)] - your falls, in relation to one another. 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, read [ hamartias (G266)] sins. Matthew 5:23-24; Luke 17:4 illustrate the precept.

One to another - not to the priest, as Rome insists. The Church of England recommends in certain cases. Rome compels confession in all cases. Confession is desirable in case of:

(1) wrong done to a neighbour;

(2) when, under a troubled conscience, we ask counsel of a godly minister or friend how to obtain God's forgiveness and strength to sin no more or when we desire their intercessory prayers ("pray one for another"): 'confession may be made to any who can pray' (Bengel);

(3) open confession of sin before the church, in token of penitence. Not auricular.

That ye may be healed - of bodily sicknesses: also that, if your sickness be the punishment of sin, the latter being forgiven on intercessory prayer, "ye may be healed" of the former: also, that ye may be healed spiritually. Effectual, [ energoumenee (G1754)] - intense: not "wavering" (James 1:6) (Beza). 'When energized' by the Spirit, as those were who performed miracles (Hammond). This suits the Greek collocation and the sense. A righteous man's prayer is always heard in some form; his particular request for another's healing will be granted when energized by a special charism of the Spirit. Alford, 'Availeth much in its working.' The "righteous" himself shuns "sins" or "faults," showing his faith by works (James 2:18).

Verse 17

Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

Elias was a man subject to like passions as we. It cannot be said that he was so raised above us as to afford no example to common mortals.

Prayed earnestly - literally, prayed with prayer: Hebraisms for intensely (cf. Luke 22:15). Alford is wrong in saying Elias' prayer that it might not rain 'is not even hinted at in the Old Testament.' In 1 Kings 17:1 it is plainly implied, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." His prophecy of the fact was according to a divine intimation given to him in answer to prayer. In jealousy for God's honour (1 Kings 19:10), being of one mind with God in abhorrence of apostasy, he prayed that the national idolatry should be punished with a national judgment, drought, if haply it might bring them to repent: on Israel's profession of repentance he prayed for the removal of it, as is implied in 1 Kings 18:39-42: cf. Luke 4:25.

Three years ... - Compare 1 Kings 18:1, "the third year;" namely, from Elijah's going to Zarephath (1 Kings 17:9): the prophecy (James 5:1) was probably about five or six months previously.

Verse 18

And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Prayed again, and - i:e., and so. Mark the connection between the prayer and its accomplishment.

Her fruit - her usual due fruit, heretofore withheld for sin. Three and a half years is the time also that the two witnesses prophesy, who "have power to shut heaven that it rain not" (Revelation 11:3; Revelation 11:6).

Verse 19

Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

The blessing of reclaiming an erring sinner by mutual counsel and intercessory prayer (James 5:16).

Do err, [ planeethee (G4105)] - 'be led astray.'

The truth - the Gospel.

One, [ tis (G5100)] - 'any.' Everyone ought to seek the salvation of everyone (Bengel).

Verse 20

Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way

Let him (the converter) know - for his encouragement.

Shall save - future. The salvation of the converted shall be manifested hereafter.

Shall hide a multitude or sins - not his own, but of the converted [ kalupsei (G2572) (active voice) requires this]; Proverbs 10:12 (cf. note) refers to charity 'covering' the sins of others before men; James to one's effecting by another's conversion that that other's sins be covered before God-namely (Psalms 32:1), by making the convert partaker in Christ's atonement for the remission of all sins. Though this hiding of sins was included in "shall save," James expresses it to mark the greatness of the blessing conferred on the penitent through the converter's instrumentality, and so incite others to the same good deed.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on James 5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.