by, Jun 30th 2012 at 02:08 PM (314 Views)
'A Stron Word Of Warning'
The pivot from the end of chapter four to the start of chapter five is very important to catch. It is masked by the misleading chapter and verse markings that were never in the original manuscripts. In the original, 4:13-5:6 is all one paragraph and is a description of one main thought. But, in many translations this is broken up into several thoughts, and so the unity of James on this issue is lost:
'Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.'
The diaspora had been good to many of the Jews. They started in Babylon and the Persian empire as captives, but grew wealthy. God had told them, through Jeremiah, to settle down, raise families and make a living; He would watch over them and then return them to the land when the seventy years were up. However, when it came time to go back, the rich stayed and only a few of the teeming Jewish enclaves in the Persian Empire left. If you read Esther with the thought of myriads of well to do Jewish communities thriving within the Empire, you can see how Haman might have felt intimidated; it was not just a few Jews skulking around the Persian Capital.
When Alexander conquered the Persians, the Jews found favor with him. When he built Alexandria, he dedicated a whole quarter to Jewish settler. This quarter grew and thrived, gaining influence and strength, along with the hate of the gentiles who viewed the Jews with disdain. The Jewish merchant was a familiar figure in the Empire when the Romans took over and established themselves as the newest power in the East. By the time of James, the Jews were, like the rest of the Roman Empire, divided into the rich and the poor. A thriving Jewish merchant class was to present it's own problems for the growing, emerging Jewish/Christian communities.
As you can see, James makes a very damning picture of the greedy whose only thought is to move around and acquire riches at any cost. It is the boasting that raises it to a sinful level; the arrogance of the Rich Fool who thought he had it all, but in the end faced judgment and lost even his very soul. James has condemned this from the very start, '...the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.' As James says 'while he goes about his business' which is what the Rich Fool is doing in enlarging his barns to hold a wealth that will last him for a life time of self indulgence.
Within the New Testament writings, we have a group that is representative of this merchant class, the Pharisees, along with the ruling Saducees, and all their scribes and lawyers. The incident in John 2 of Jesus cleansing the temple, driving out the money changers and sellers, is a good example of the clash between a business enterprese gone wild and what God wanted from His people. The ruling class had a monopoly on the money that could be used for temple tithes, and the animals that could be used for sacrifices. They had purchased all the local supplies, and then sold them back to the pilgrims at exorbitant prices. If the pilgrims happened to bring their own animals they still had to pass a rigid inspection by the same ruling elite that sold their wares in the temple; I am sure you can see how unbiased those inspections were. It was against this, and what it was doing to the true worship in the temple, and during the festival that Jesus launched His protest against.
You can just stop and imagine the machinations that went into setting up such a temple concession stand, and the kind of 'entrepreneurial' spirit that eagerly jumped into such a business deal. I am sure that when they bought up all the sheep and animals around Jerusalem to sell back, that they gave everyone a 'good deal'. It should be noted that the Synoptic Gospels place a cleansing just after Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem on 'Palm Sunday', as we call the day. The juxtaposition of His entry into Jerusalem, and then driving the money changers and seller out of the temple to make it more of a house of worship is a powerful one to begin His final week before His crucifixion. But, there is one other incident, during that final week, that is also telling.
It is against this type of mind set that James is protesting. He is demanding an accountability before God of all that is done in the name of 'tomorrow' and 'future expansion of business profits'. The whole fourth chapter breaks into three parts, each condemning arrogance in it's various practices. First, there is the arrogant grasping after the lusts and pleasures of the world. Then, there is the arrogant condemnation of others, the judgment that would condemn others and deny any worth. Finally, there is the sheer arrogance of 'time', that they will just continue to pile up more and more reachs as they make boastful plans; the Rich fool found out that this does not work, much to his woe. It is on this slippery slide, that James pivots and places the condemnation squarely where it belongs, as he shouts in the first six verses of chapter five.
These verses read like a condemnation of the people described in chapter four, which indeed they are. James encourages them to 'weep and howl' for the coming judgment. The greek words for 'weep and howl' sound like a kind of wailing when they are spoken. The idea has parallels in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 13:6 we have a picture of the inhabitants of Jerusalem wailing at a coming judgment; it is the Babylonians whom God will bring down on Jerusalem and the onlookers will wail, be seized with fear, stagger and unable to do anything. That is the picture that James is painting. Then, he goes even farther.
In verses two and three, He describes their riches, what they have striven so hard for, as rotting and being consumed by rust. Normally, gold and silver are not consumed by rust, but James describes the horror of their riches just rotting away before their very eyes. Even worse, that same 'rust' will consume their very flesh and will serve as a witness against them in the Day of Judgment. Dante, in his 'Inferno', describes the inhabitants of hell as being not only consumed by their sins, but their sins describe the kind of punishment they face for all eternity. James, graphically, describes the rotting, rusting filth that is, that arises from their riches, and will condemn them!
It is with this image, that I want to leave you for now. I am drawing out this description because of exegetical reasons. From a reading of James, I believe that he is now warning against a coming judgment; one that will fall upon those who have misused and abused what God gave them and destroyed the community that God had built up. James is not writing from an Ivory Tower. He is living in the midst of this, and is fighting to keep alive what Jesus died and rose for, a people and a community that are called to live a holy life; even in the face of all the rotteness and greed that is pressing in upon them. We might wish to prayerfully consider any modern day parallels.