On Friday, we looked at James’ rebuke of the wicked wealthy. Today, we’ll see what sins caused them to deserve that reprimand.
Jam. 5:4-6 Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. (5) Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. (6) Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
The Hire of the Labourers
It was common in Bible times for wealthy landowners to hire day laborers to harvest their crops.
Mat. 20:1-2 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. (2) And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Under Old Testament Law, these workers were to be paid for their work at the end of the workday.
Lev. 19:13 Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
God didn’t consider their delay a clever business practice – He called it sin. God also warned employers that their workers would cry to Him.
Deu. 24:14-15 Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: (15) At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
It wasn’t just that these rich men delayed to pay, but that they did so by fraud. They may have denied their original agreement. Perhaps they claimed the workers weren’t productive enough. Maybe they just put them off with excuses and promises. Whatever their methods, it was still sin.
Finally, James warned that “the Lord of Sabaoth” would hear the cries of those who had been defrauded. The Lord of Sabaoth could be translated “Lord of Hosts,” or “Lord of Armies.” The obvious implication is that God would act on what He heard and be the defender of the poor.
Lived in Pleasure
God’s next criticism of the wicked wealthy was about how they spent their money. They lived in pleasure. God isn’t against pleasure, but that its supposed to be a spice sprinkled on life, not the main course. We are to find pleasure in serving God. We are to enjoy what He gives us. But this phrase is the translation of a single Greek word:
G5171 (troo-fah’-o) to indulge in luxury: – live in pleasure. (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries)
This conveys the idea of devoting yourself to pleasure. James said they were wanton. They never said no to themselves. When James said they lived “as in a day of slaughter,” he was talking about times of celebration among the Jews. Great feast were part of the religious life of Israel two or three times a year, but these people partied every day. They were living that old 70s song that said, “I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day.”
Killed the Just
On top of all their other sins, James said the wicked wealth “condemned and killed the just.” I think he is probably referring to their use of the legal system to unjustly prosecute the innocent. The example of Naboth’s vineyard (1Ki. 21) comes to mind. King Ahab wanted a parcel that was Naboth’s family land to use for an herb garden. Naboth refused, and Jezebel arranged for false witnesses to lie about him so Naboth would be killed and Ahab could grow his herbs:
1Ki. 21:11-16 (11) And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who were the inhabitants in his city, did as Jezebel had sent unto them, and as it was written in the letters which she had sent unto them. (12) They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people. (13) And there came in two men, children of Belial, and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died. (14) Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead. (15) And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give thee for money: for Naboth is not alive, but dead. (16) And it came to pass, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
In our day, rich folks are still working the courts to take advantage of the little guy.
How Are You Doing?
- Are you holding on to the hire of the laborers? Even if you don’t have employees, people and businesses work for you. Do you pay your bills on time? If the power company provided you will electricity all last month, you need to pay them when the bill comes due.
- Are you living in pleasure? We live in a pleasure-oriented culture. We feed and entertain ourselves like royalty. When is the last time you said no to something you wanted? (I’m not talking about saying no because you can’t afford it. The folks James condemned could afford to live in luxury, but it was still wrong.)
- Are you condemning the just? You may not hire a hit man, or bribe a judge to get rid of someone who has gotten in your way, but you can still be guilty. Did you take credit for someone else’s idea at work so you’d get promoted instead of them? Did you let someone else take the blame for your mistake so you wouldn’t look bad?
Read James 5:7-9 for tomorrow. Are you patient when you’re mistreated?