Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come on you.…
I. THE COMING OF JUDGMENT. "Weep and howl" — weep, and do it in this open, violent manner, with loud, bitter cries of distress — do it wailing, shrieking, howling as was, and still is, so customary among the Orientals in times of mourning. Lament thus "for," or over, "the miseries that shall come upon you" — more exactly and impressively, "which are coming on," are already even now impending. These miseries were not simply those which in all circumstances the love and abuse of money entail, but specially, and in addition to them, the temporal judgments which were about to visit the guilty parties in this instance. They were to be the peculiar objects of vengeance; their treasures were to be rifled, their possessions wrenched from them, and stripped bare, they were to be subjected to hardships, all the heavier because of the pleasures once enjoyed and the losses thus sustained.
II. THE COMMENCEMENT OF JUDGMENT. "Your riches are corrupted" either their possessions of all kinds, these being afterwards spoken of in detail, or, as distinguished from what follows, those hoarded stores of grain, fruits, and other provisions, in which the wealth of Orientals largely consisted. To the latter the term "corrupted" could most properly be applied. They were rotting, perishing. "Your garments are moth-eaten." In eastern countries one of the most valuable possessions was a stock of costly clothing, a number of dresses, wardrobes filled with a great variety of articles of apparel. They were moth-eaten — a way in which articles of dress, when long kept and little used, are often wasted, destroyed. "Your gold and silver is cankered" — rusted, corroded. The original word implies that it is so not partially, but entirely — as it were through and through its whole substance. This does not take place in regard to silver and gold as it does to iron and steel; but they are spoken of as undergoing the change to which metals generally are subject; and there is that which corresponds to it n their case, for they get discoloured, blackened, tarnished, wasted, corrupted-looking. "And the rust of them shall be a witness against you" — literally, "shall be for a testimony to you" — "and shall eat your flesh as it were fire." In the moth-eaten garments, the cankered silver and gold, their sin no doubt appeared, but appeared in the judgments which had followed it, for in that process of destruction which had commenced there was the avenging hand of God visible. This is the prominent thing — the punishment already begun. The very objects on which they prided themselves, which they made an idol of, were smitten; and n every hole of the cloth, every spot on the money, there was a sign of the consumption that was coming on themselves, of the destruction that was impending over them, the servants of the mammon of unrighteousness. There was a testimony in their wasted, blackened stores — a testimony borne to the worm that dieth not, and the fire that cannot be quenched. "Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days." Treasure has been understood here in the figurative sense of a store of wrath, vengeance to be opened and emptied at the time mentioned. But it is obviously to be taken literally, and as referring to their material riches as detailed in the preceding verses. The "last days" are those introducing and issuing in the season of judgment which was approaching — the last days of the Jewish Church and nation, and, in many cases of the individual persons themselves; for what multitudes were then to perish by the sword, by famine, by disease, by captivity? They had gathered wealth for a season like this, when they could not enjoy it, could not retain it — when it was to become the prey of the rapacious invaders, or of the more needy and desperate of their own countrymen. But the literal translation of the original is "in the last days" — they had heaped treasure together, not for, but in the period thus designated. These days were already upon them — the days were begun, and hastening to their terrible close; and it was at a season like that, one fitter far for repentance and reformation, one calling them to break off their sins by righteousness, to prepare for impending judgment by turning to the Lord — one specially imposing on them the obligation to lay up treasure, not on earth but in heaven, where no moth or rust can corrupt, and where no thieves can break through and steal — it was then that they devoted their efforts to the gathering of riches, the storing of fruits, garments, and the precious metals. Here was the deepest guilt, here the most reckless, unprincipled infatuation.
III. THE CAUSES OF JUDGMENT.
1. Injustice. The wages of the workman should be paid honestly and punctually. To withhold it is a flagrant wrong, and such a wrong was committed by the rich men whose conduct the apostle is here denouncing. They kept it back "by fraud." And in various ways may such fraud be perpetrated. The master may not pay at all the stipulated and earned wages. He may receive the service without remunerating the servant. Or he may make unjust deductions from the amount which has been agreed on. He may take advantage of his position and power, and on certain pretexts give less than was bargained for by the other party. And what is still more common, he may beat down the price of labour, and pay for it most inadequately. He may turn to account the competition which prevails and the necessities of the poor, so as to get work done for greatly less than its proper value. This hire, dishonestly retained, is represented by James as crying. Yes, from the coffers where it was treasured up, a loud, piercing call for vengeance rose to high heaven. Often, often, the oppressed are not listened to on earth, however just their claim and urgent their pleading. But they are heard in heaven. Here their cries are said to have "entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth." He was able to vindicate the cause of the defrauded reapers who groaned and supplicated. He could call to account, and overwhelm with destruction, those who trampled on their dependents, and set all human law and right at defiance.
2. Luxury. "Ye have lived in pleasure" — that is, in a self-indulgent, sumptuous, effeminate manner. In the qualification, "on the earth," there is an implied contrast with another region, where vengeance was stored .up, and their portion was to be one of want and misery. "And been wanton." This word conveys to us the idea of lewdness, lustfulness; but what is intended here is luxuriousness, voluptuousness. It does not necessarily involve indulgence in gross excesses, in coarse and degrading impurities. It intimates that the persons were devoted to earthly enjoyments, and regardless of expense in procuring them, for the term is expressive of extravagance, wastefulness. "Ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter." They have satiated, pampered their hearts, for there were seated the tastes and appetites which they gratified; there the craving for, and the sense of satisfaction, repletion, as they fed and dressed, fattened and adorned their bodies. And they had been doing this "as in," or simply, "in a day of slaughter." They were on the brink of destruction. God was about to draw His glittering sword and smite them in His anger. And yet in these circumstances they disregarded all warnings and signs; they revelled and wantoned as if they were perfectly secure. They were sunk in brutish insensibility. It was thus with the antediluvians: for they did eat and drink, they were married and given in marriage, until the flood came and took them all away.
3. Violence — violence going the length even of blood, of murder. Stephen was the first of a band of early martyrs whom the Jews, in the malignant unbelief, had put to death for their adherence to the gospel. The holiness, the righteousness of these victims of fanatical fury, instead of saving them, had excited the rage and drawn down the vengeance of their adversaries. "And he doth not resist you" — not only or chiefly because of a want of power, but because of the meekness of his character, his patience, endurance, long-suffering. He submits to your murderous violence. He commits his cause to God, and allows you to do your utmost, striving to exhibit the spirit of his crucified Master. And this made their guilt the greater. Their cruelty was the less excusable. It had no provocation.
Parallel VersesKJV: Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.