James 1-5 Come now you rich weep and howl for the miseries are coming

From James 1-5


Are you rich or poor? If you are rich, James has a strong message of warning to you today. Rich people who exploit the poor will come under judgment. James tells his poor brothers to wait for the coming of the Lord. To be patient. Then they will receive better times.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

James’ letter meanders around a bit. There does not seem to be much of a logical sequence of thought. He doesn’t have much good to say about the rich though. Today’s passage is one example.

[1] Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. [2] Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. [3] Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. (Jas 5:1-3)

James statements would come as a bit of a shock to anyone who was rich. However I suspect from what he says he assumes his audience is primarily poor.

Firstly, because there are miseries coming upon them. I assume the apostles expect good things to happen to their believing audiences, not bad miseries like this.

Secondly, because the corrosion of their gold and silver is ‘evidence’ against them. James believes they will be judged negatively.

[4] Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. [5] You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. [6] You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. (Jas 5:4-5)

James speaks about the rich withholding the wages of those who were working for them. They have become rich by exploiting the poor. Righteous people have died because the rich have robbed them of their deserved wages and they have died of hunger. The ‘wages’ cry out to the Lord telling him of the injustice that is happening. In their own luxury they have fattened their hearts for the day of slaughter. Getting fat was a sign of wealth and prosperity. A fattened calf was the best of the flock. Fattened animals were sacrificed and offered to the Lord (1 Ki 1.9,19,25; Ps 66.15; Amos 5.22).

[7] Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. [8] You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (Jas 5:7-8)

James has condemned the rich. Now he encourages his brothers in light of what he just said to the rich. The rich he was condemning aren’t really part of his audiences, they are not his brothers.

In light of the coming judgment on the rich, James exhorts his audience to wait for the coming of the Lord. Then they will receive what they need (‘rain’) and probably the rich will be punished.

For Believers

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Click to enlarge

Sometimes it seems like the rich get all the benefits of this world at the expense of the poor. James foresees a better future for his poor brothers.

The passage should warn those of us who are rich to be mindful of the plight of the poor. How are we treating them. Have we become rich at their expense. Clearly we should evaluate how ethical our employment is. We should also consider what we put our money into as well.

If you feel oppressed by the rich. Wait for the coming of the Lord. He sees all things and when He returns he will hold everyone to account.

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