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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
James 5

 

 

Verses 1-6

James 5:1-6. From the merely careless rich James turns to the actively oppressive, the fellows of those whom he lashes in James 2:6 f. For him, of course, the prophetic "Day of the Lord" was more assured and more definite than to the Jews he addressed; he had in thought the apocalypse of Mark 13, which was to receive a first fulfilment in the fall of Jerusalem. Even Jews of the Dispersion would feel many reflex effects of that catastrophe.

James 5:2 recalls Matthew 6:19. There was a kind of fuliginous vapour arising from the Dead Sea which "rusted" even gold, and this may have suggested the figure. "For a testimony unto you" is the figure of Mark 6:11. The dust of the city there is to be "witness" that the apostles have brought it their message; the "rust" of selfishly hoarded gold is similarly "witness" at the Judgement of the misuse of the stewardship of wealth. "This night is thy life required of thee," is the message to these rich worldlings. "The hire (Luke 12:20) . . . kept back by you crieth out"—it is another mute witness, like the rust; cf. the stones in Luke 19:40, Habakkuk 2:11. On the OT title Yahweh Sebâ'ôth, see 1 Samuel 1:3*. "You fattened yourselves in a day of slaughter," like sheep grazing greedily an hour before the butcher comes. So follows the climax of the indictment. It may well be based on the magnificent passage in Wisdom 2, especially 20. That for James "the righteous one" was pre-eminently Jesus (Acts 3:14) does not affect the wholly general reference of the term. It was indeed a special title of James himself, and occurs in Hegesippus's story of his martyrdom. "He doth not resist you," echoes Isaiah 53:7; cf. especially Matthew 23:35.


Verses 7-11

James 5:7-11. "Patience" in James 5:7-8; James 5:10 is different from "endurance" in n, Hebrews 12:1 f.; it is the opposite of "short-temperedness" or "impatience." The farmer does his work and then can only wait for a harvest which he can do nothing to hurry. The "Coming of the Lord" is a phrase appropriating to Yahweh—and in Christian language to Christ—a term almost technical for royal visits. (With our new knowledge of the "profane" use of the word, mg. becomes misleading.) The "former rain" follows the sowing, the "latter" comes just before the corn ripens. This epistle belongs to the period when all Christians still believed in the imminence of the Advent (contrast 2 Peter 3:4, written perhaps two generations later); and even among Jews, as the apocalyptic literature shows, such a belief could readily find acceptance. "The Lord" is a title which Christian writer and Jewish reader would understand differently. The latter would equally fail to trace the source of James 5:9 (Matthew 7:1), and the personality of the expected Judge (Matthew 25:31 ff.) who is "at the door" (Mark 13:29). The examples chosen to encourage faithful men are almost enough alone to show that James writes to Jews; the higher example of Hebrews 12:2 f. is in his heart, but must not yet be set down with the pen. When the Sauls to whom he writes have become Pauls, they will understand.

James 5:11 suggests a Beatitude, "Blessed are they that have endured to the end, for they shall be saved" (Mark 13:13). Job's "endurance" lies in the persistence of his trust in God (cf. Job 13:15); for "the end," cf. Job 42:12—it proved that "God worketh all things for good with them that love God" (Romans 8:28, cf. mg.).


Verse 12

James 5:12. A disconnected maxim, warning Jews against a very prevalent sin, and again directly quoting the unnamed Master (Matthew 5:34 ff; cf. Matthew 23:16-22). The Quaker-like self-control which makes "Yes" or "No" carry more weight than a whole string of oaths, is a virtue not inappropriately commended after that of "patience." "Before all things" is not a relative phrase; a warning to guard the sacredness of God's Name, and avoid the "condemnation" of the Third Commandment, is declared to be among the first things. Probably mg. is right, as the words are so close to Matthew 5:37. Our Lord's own habit of doubling a word for emphasis is well exemplified in His characteristic "Amen, Amen" in Jn. (e.g. John 13:20).


Verses 13-18

James 5:13-18. The key to this hard passage seems to lie in the climax, the example of Elijah, who in 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:41 ff., is not said to have prayed for drought or for rain. His "prayer" is in the phrase "before whom I stand"—a life in the Presence, bringing with it an instinctive knowledge of God's will; cf. Amos 3:7. The "elders," therefore, of a faithful "congregation" may expect a Divine impulse prompting them to ask for physical recovery when God wills it; we may also believe that such united prayer is a real instrument in God's hands, just as much as the application of remedies like oil (cf. Isaiah 1:6, Luke 10:34). "The prayer of faith," of an instinctive and unquestioning "conviction," becomes a curative agency by the mysterious power that links mind and body, the power which Jesus used in His miracles of healing. Forgiveness and physical healing are joined here as in the story of Mark 2:1-12. The assurance that the faithful community may expect such guidance was learned by James from the Lord Himself (Matthew 18:19 f.). A primary condition of this mutual help was frankness and free confession of faults "one to another" (not to one superior individual), that prayer might be definite and intelligent. "A good man's inspired (lit. ‘inwrought') supplication has mighty power." Prayer, then, is not our asking God for something we think we need, but the establishment of unhindered contact of the human will and the Divine—the completion of an electric circuit, as it were, which can exert immense power. And the best of it all is that such a cosmic force is not reserved for "supermen," as we might think Elijah to be. Stress is laid on his having been "a man of the same nature as ourselves"—the power is for us all, if we will "only believe" (Mark 5:36). That the drought of 1 Kings 17 f. lasted three and a half years was an inference from 1 Kings 18:1, found also in Luke 4:25.


Verse 19

James 5:19 f. These concluding words return to the thought of James 5:16. How great a thing it is to bring back to the truth one who has strayed from it! "Understand [see mg.] that he who has brought a sinner back when he has lost his way will save a life out of death, and ‘cover a multitude of sins' (Proverbs 10:12)." It is true to James's whole view of belief and conduct; to lose the truth—"what is genuine in belief" (see on James 5:13)—endangers the ethical power of that truth. Truth, if held with heart as well as head, is an anchor to keep the ship from drifting down the rapids into the abyss of wrong-doing (cf. Hebrews 2:1). Many have strangely thought the teacher's own "life" intended. Jesus teaches us that we can only "save our lives" by "losing" them; it is only when self-forgetfulness is complete that self-preservation is assured. It is very unlike James and the NT to assert that successful preaching can atone for the preacher's sins; contrast 1 Corinthians 9:27.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on James 5:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/james-5.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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