James 5:1
Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come on you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(1) Go to now, ye rich.—As in James 4:3, it was “Woe to you, worldly,” so now “Woe to ye rich: weep, bewailing”—literally, howling for your miseries coming upon you. Comp. Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 14:31; Isaiah 15:3, where (in the LXX.) the same term is used;—a picture word, imitating the cry of anguish,—peculiar to this place in the New Testament. Observe the immediate future of the misery; it is already coming. Doubtless by this was meant primarily the pillage and destruction of Jerusalem, but under that first intention many others secondary and similar are included: for all “riches certainly make themselves wings” and fly away (Proverbs 23:5). Calvin and others of his school fail to see in this passage an exhortation of the rich to penitence, but only a denunciation of woe upon them; in the sense, however, that all prophecy, whether evil or good, is conditional, there is sufficient room to believe that no irrevocable doom was pronounced by “a Christian Jeremiah.”

James 5:1. The unbelieving Jews, being exceedingly addicted to sensual pleasure, and very covetous, were of course grievous oppressors of the poor. Wherefore, to alarm these wicked men, and, if possible, to bring them to repentance, St. James, in the first paragraph of this chapter, sets before them, in the most lively colours, the miseries which the Romans, the instruments of the divine vengeance, were about to bring on the Jewish people, both in Judea and everywhere else, now deserted of God for their crimes, and particularly for the great crime of murdering the Just One, Jesus of Nazareth, their long-expected Messiah. So that, being soon to lose their possessions and goods, it was not only criminal, but foolish, by injustice and oppression to amass wealth, of which they were soon to be stripped. In this part of his letter the apostle hath introduced figures and expressions which, for boldness, vivacity, and energy, might have been used by the greatest tragic poet. See Macknight. Go to now — Or, come now, ye rich men — The apostle does not speak this so much for the sake of the rich themselves, as of the poor children of God, who were then groaning under their cruel oppression. Weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you — Quickly and unexpectedly. The miseries of which he speaks were those which our Lord had pointed out in his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, and in which this apostle foresaw they would soon be involved; miseries arising from famine, pestilence, and the sword. These fell heaviest on the Jews in Judea. But they extended also to the Jews in the provinces. The reader who desires to see a particular account of these calamities, may read Josephus’s history of the Jewish war, where he will find scenes of misery laid open not to be paralleled in the annals of any nation. And as these were an awful prelude of that wrath which was to fall upon them in the world to come, so this passage may likewise refer to the final vengeance which will then be executed on the impenitent.5:1-6 Public troubles are most grievous to those who live in pleasure, and are secure and sensual, though all ranks suffer deeply at such times. All idolized treasures will soon perish, except as they will rise up in judgment against their possessors. Take heed of defrauding and oppressing; and avoid the very appearance of it. God does not forbid us to use lawful pleasures; but to live in pleasure, especially sinful pleasure, is a provoking sin. Is it no harm for people to unfit themselves for minding the concerns of their souls, by indulging bodily appetites? The just may be condemned and killed; but when such suffer by oppressors, this is marked by God. Above all their other crimes, the Jews had condemned and crucified that Just One who had come among them, even Jesus Christ the righteous.Go to now - Notes, James 4:13.

Ye rich men - Not all rich men, but only that class of them who are specified as unjust and oppressive. There is no sin in merely being rich; where sin exists peculiarly among the rich, it arises from the manner in which wealth is acquired, the spirit which it tends to engender in the heart, and the way in which it is used. Compare the Luke 6:24 note; 1 Timothy 6:9 note.

Weep and howl - Greek: "Weep howling." This would be expressive of very deep distress. The language is intensive in a high degree, showing that the calamities which were coming upon them were not only such as would produce tears, but tears accompanied with loud lamentations. In the East, it is customary to give expression to deep sorrow by loud outcries. Compare Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 14:31; Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 16:7; Jeremiah 4:8; Jeremiah 47:2; Joel 1:5.

For your miseries that shall come upon you - Many expositors, as Benson, Whitby, Macknight, and others, suppose that this refers to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and to the miseries which would be brought in the siege upon the Jewish people, in which the rich would be the peculiar objects of cupidity and vengeance. They refer to passages in Josephus, which describe particularly the sufferings to which the rich were exposed; the searching of their houses by the zealots, and the heavy calamities which came upon them and their families. But there is no reason to suppose that the apostle referred particularly to those events. The poor as well as the rich suffered in that siege, and there were no such special judgments then brought upon the rich as to show that they were the marked objects of the divine displeasure. It is much more natural to suppose that the apostle means to say that such men as he here refers to exposed themselves always to the wrath of God, and that they had great reason to weep in the anticipation of his vengeance. The sentiments here expressed by the apostle are not applicable merely to the Jews of his time. If there is any class of men which has special reason to dread the wrath of God at all times, it is just the class of men here referred to.

CHAPTER 5

Jas 5:1-20. Woes Coming on the Wicked Rich: Believers Should Be Patient unto the Lord's Coming: Various Exhortations.

1. Go to now—Come now. A phrase to call solemn attention.

ye rich—who have neglected 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 (Jas 5:7), knowing that God will speedily avenge them on their oppressors [Bengel].

miseries that shall come—literally, "that are coming upon you" unexpectedly and swiftly, namely, at the coming of the Lord (Jas 5:7); primarily, at the destruction of Jerusalem; finally, at His visible coming to judge the world.Jam 5:1-6 Wicked rich men are warned of God’s impending judgment.

Jam 5:7-11 The brethren are exhorted to patience, after the

example of the prophets and of Job,

Jam 5:12 to abstain from swearing,

Jam 5:13-15 to pray in affliction and sickness, and sing psalms

in prosperity,

Jam 5:16-18 to acknowledge mutually their faults, and to pray for one

another,

Jam 5:19,20 and to endeavour to reclaim sinners.

Go to now: see Jam 4:13.

Ye rich men; he speaks to them not simply as rich, (for riches and grace sometimes may go together), but as wicked, not only wallowing in wealth, but abusing it to pride, luxury, oppression, and cruelty. Against these, either as looking on them as incurable, or upon supposition of their impenitency, he denounceth God’s judgments; and that whether they were unconverted Jews, vexing the believing Jews; or Gentiles, oppressing the Christian Jews; or Christians in profession and name, who yet were so vile in their practice, as to condemn and kill the just; and that they might more speciously do it, to draw them before the judgment-seats, &c.

Weep and howl; to denote the extremity of the calamities coming upon them, in which they should not only weep like men, but howl like wild beasts: see Jeremiah 4:8 Micah 1:8 Joel 1:10,13.

For your miseries that shall come upon you; or, are coming upon you, to signify the certainty and nearness of them. The miseries he means may be both temporal and eternal.

Go to now, ye rich men,.... All rich men are not here designed; there are some rich men who are good men, and make a good use of their riches, and do not abuse them, as these here are represented; and yet wicked rich men, or those that were the openly profane, are not here intended neither; for the apostle only writes to such who were within the church, and not without, who were professors of religion; and such rich men are addressed here, who, notwithstanding their profession, were not rich towards God, but laid up treasure for themselves, and trusted in their riches, and boasted of the multitude of their wealth; and did not trust in God, and make use of their substance to his glory, and the good of his interest, as they should have done:

weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you; meaning, not temporal calamities that should come upon them at the destruction of Jerusalem, in which the rich greatly suffered by the robbers among themselves, as well as by the Roman soldiers; for the apostle is not writing to the Jews in Judea, and at Jerusalem; but to the Christians of the twelve tribes scattered in the several parts of the world, and who were not distressed by that calamity; but eternal miseries, or the torments of hell are intended, which, unless they repented of their sins, would shortly, suddenly, and unavoidably come upon them, when their present joy and laughter would be turned into howling and weeping.

Go {1} to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

(1) He denounces utter destruction to the wicked and profane rich men, and such as are drowned in their riotousness, mocking their foolish confidence when there is nothing indeed more vain than such things.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 5:1. That here the same persons are meant as in chap. Jam 4:13, and not others, has already been observed on that passage: by ἄγε νῦν, the ἄγε νῦν of that passage is again resumed.[214]

οἱ πλούσιοι] see chap. Jam 1:10, Jam 2:6-7; the expression is not to be taken in a symbolical, but in its literal meaning (against Lange).

κλαύσατε ὀλολύζοντες κ.τ.λ.] κλαύσατε is not here to be understood, as in chap. Jam 4:9, of the tears of repentance (Estius, Hornejus, Laurentius, de Wette, and others), for there is no intimation of a call to repentance. Correctly Calvin: falluntur qui Jacobum hic exhortari ad poenitentiam divites putant; mihi simplex magis denuntiatio judicii Dei videtur, qua eos terrere voluit absque spe veniae.[215] James already sees the judgment coming upon the rich, therefore the call κλαύσατε; that for which they should weep are the ταλαιπωρίαι which threatened them.[216]

The imperative is not here used instead of the future (Semler: stilo prophetico imperat, ut rem certissimam demonstret, flebitis; Schneckenburger: aoristus imperativi rem mox certoque eventuram designat), but is to be retained in its full force. The imperative expresses not what they will do, but what they shall even now do, because their ταλαιπωρίαι are nigh. The union of the imperative κλαύσατε with the participle ὀλολύζοντες is not an imitation of the frequent combination of the finite verb with the infinite absolute of the same verb in the Hebrew (Schneckenburger), since here two different verbs are united together (de Wette, Wiesinger); also ὀλολύζειν has not the same meaning as κλαίειν, but, as expressive of a more vehement affection, is added for the sake of strength. ὀλολύζειν frequently in the O. T., Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 14:31; Isaiah 15:3 (ὀλολύζετε μετά κλαυθμοῦ), and in other places, and indeed chiefly used in reference to the impending divine judgment (Isaiah 13:6 : ὀλολύζετε, ἐγγὺς γὰρ ἡμέρα κυρίου). Calvin: est quidem et suus poenitentiae luctus, sed qui mixtus consolatione, non ad ululatum usque procedit.

ἐπὶ ταῖς ταλαιπωρίαις ὑμῶν] for your miseries, i.e. the miseries destined for you, namely, the miseries of the judgment; see Jam 5:3 : ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις; Jam 5:7 : ἡ παρουσία τοῦ κυρίου. Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Mill, Benson, Michaelis, Stier, Lange, Bouman refer this to the then impending destruction of Jerusalem; they are so far right, as the destruction of Jerusalem and the last judgment had not as yet been distinguished in representation;[217] but it is incorrect to refer it to the judgment itself, rather than to the miseries which will precede the advent of Christ; or with Hottinger, to find here only a description of the inconstancy of prosperity.

ταῖς ἐπερχομέναις] not sc. ὑμῖν (Luther: your misery which will come upon you; so also de Wette, Lange, and others), but the impending, already threatening miseries; comp. Ephesians 2:7.

[214] Whilst de Wette, Wiesinger, and others understand by the rich here addressed Christians, Stier has correctly recognised that such are here addressed “who are outside of the Christian church,” namely, those already mentioned in chap. Jam 2:6-7, who practise violence on you, the confessors of the Lord of glory. His remark is also striking: “To them James predicts as a prophet, and entirely in the style of the old prophets, the impending judgment.”

[215] “Wiesinger indeed concedes the point to Calvin, but only in words; for “the design of James, as in the case of the prophets of the O. T., is certainly nothing else than that of moving them by such a threat if possible yet to turn.” If James has this design in these words, he has certainly not indicated it.

[216] That James by this intends the end of the Roman Empire (Hengstenberg), is proved neither from the Epistle of Peter, nor from Revelation 18, nor from any other indications in this Epistle.

[217] Wiesinger: “The question whether James thought on the destruction of Jerusalem or on the advent of Messiah is an anachronism; for to him both of these events occur together.”Jam 5:1. Ἄγε νῦν: See above Jam 4:13.—κλαύσατε ὀλολύζοντες ἐπὶ ταῖς ταλαιπωρίαις ὑμῶν ταῖς ἐπερχομέναις: according to the original prophetic conception these “miseries” which were to overtake the wicked, were to come to pass in the “Day of the Lord,” i.e., during the Messianic Era; this belief became extended during the development of ideas which took place during the two centuries preceding the Christian Era. Whatever the reasons were which brought about the belief, it is certain that the expression “those days” came to be applied to a certain period which was immediately to precede the coming of the Messiah; without doubt a number of prophetical passages were regarded as suggesting this (see below). The descriptions given of these “days,” which are to foretell the advent of the Messiah, belong to apocalyptic conceptions; in their general outline the “signs” of these times are identical. Prophetical passages such as the following laid the foundation: “The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is laid up in store. The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him …”; then, on the other hand, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death …” (Hosea 13:12-14); again. “… The day of thy watchmen, even thy visitation, is come; now shall be their perplexity. Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide … for the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother … a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Micah 7:4-6); another characteristic which played a great part in the later apocalypse is contained in Joel 2:10 ff., “the earth quaketh before them; the heavens tremble; the sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.… Cf. Zechariah 14:6 ff.; Daniel 12:1, etc., etc. Throughout the immense domain of apocalyptic literature these themes are developed to an enormous extent; they are familiar to us from the Gospels, Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13:14-27; Luke 21:9-19. In Jewish literature references to them also occur with frequency; this period is called the time of “travail,” and more specifically, the “birth-pangs,” or “sufferings” of the Messiah—Cheble ha-Meshiach, or Cheblo shel Mashiach, see Pesikta rab., xxi. 34; Shabbath, 118a; Sanhedrin, 96b, 97a, etc., etc. See further Oesterley, The Doctrine of the Last Things, chap. 7. The great diffusion and immense popularity which the apocalyptic literature enjoyed makes it certain that the writer of our Epistle was familiar with the subject; the “miseries,” therefore, referred to in the passage before us may quite possibly have reference to the sufferings which were to take place in the time of travail preceding the actual coming of the Messiah.—ὀλολύζοντες: only here in the N.T., but fairly frequent in the Septuagint, Isaiah 13:6; Joel 1:5; Joel 1:13; Jeremiah 4:8, etc.; in the first of these passages the connection is the same as here, … ἐγγὺς γὰρ ἡμέρα κυρίου, and see Luke 6:24, “Woe unto you rich …,” which is strongly reminiscent of the verse before us.Ch. James 5:1-6. Warnings for the Rich

1. Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl] The words are nearly the same as those we have met with before in ch. James 4:9, but there is in them less of the call to repentance, and more of the ring of prophetic denunciation. The word for “howl,” not found elsewhere in the New Testament, is found in three consecutive chapters of Isaiah (Isaiah 13:6, Isaiah 14:31, Isaiah 15:3), which may well have been present to St James’ thoughts.

for your miseries that shall come upon you] Literally, that are coming upon you, in the very act to come. The context points to these as consisting not merely in the cares and anxieties that come in the common course of things upon the rich, but in the special troubles that were to usher in the advent of the Judge. Historically, the words had their primary fulfilment in the woes that preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, but these were but the first in the series of “springing and germinant accomplishments” which will attain their completeness before the final Advent.Jam 5:1. Οἱ πλούσιοι, ye rich men) [who have neglected the true enjoyment of riches in doing good, Jam 5:2-3.—V. g.] In the writings of the prophets, foreign nations are often addressed by apostrophe, although the prophecy would not come into their hands, but to the Jews. Under the same figure, the apostle speaks of the rich, though he does not so much write to the rich themselves, who are destitute of faith, as to the saints, that they may be induced to bear with patience the violence of the rich, Jam 5:7.—ταλαιπωρίαις, miseries) This was written a few years before the siege of Jerusalem.—ἐπερχομέναις, coming upon you) unexpectedly and swiftly.Verses 1-6. - DENUNCIATION OF THE RICH FOR

(1) GRINDING DOWN THE POOR AND KEEPING BACK THEIR WAGES;

(2) LUXURY;

(3) MURDER.

The whole section resembles nothing so much as an utterance of one of the old Jewish prophets. It might almost be a leaf torn out of the Old Testament. Verse 1. - Go to now (see on James 4:13). The Vulgate there has ecce; here, agite. Ye rich men (see on James 2:6). Weep and howl, etc.; cf. James 4:9, but note the difference of tone; there, more of exhortation; here, more of denunciation. Ὀλολύζοντες: only here in the New Testament, but several times in the LXX., in passages of which the one before us reminds us; e.g. Isaiah 10:10; Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 14:31; Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 23:1, 6, 14. Miseries. Ταλαιπωρίαις: only again in Romans 3:16 (equivalent to Isaiah 59:7); frequent in the LXX. Go to

See on James 4:13.

Weep and howl (κλαύσατε ὀλολύζοντες)

Lit., weep, howling. The latter is a descriptive word, ol-ol-uz-o. Only here in New Testament, and denoting a more demonstrative and passionate expression of grief than weeping.

Miseries (ταλαιπωρίαις)

Only here and Romans 3:16. See on be afflicted, James 4:9.

That shall come upon (ἐπερχομέναις)

Present participle. More correctly, as Rev., that are coming.

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