Today we finish our survey of the book of James. Tomorrow we’ll circle back around and begin studying the book a passage at a time. Here are my survey notes on chapter five.
Major Topics Discussed
- Condemnation of the wicked wealthy (v. 1-6)
- Saints called to patience (v. 7-11)
- Command to avoid oaths (v. 12)
- Commands to people in various situations (v. 13-15)
- The power of prayer (v. 16-18)
- The value of converting erring brothers (v. 19-20)
Words and Phrases to Look Up
- Corrupted (v. 2)
- Cankered (v. 3)
- Lord of Sabaoth (v. 4)
- Wanton (v. 5)
- A day of slaughter (v. 5)
Here are the definitions for these words from Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries.
Apparently a primary verb; to putrefy, that is, (figuratively) perish: – be corrupted.
As I suspected, this word doesn’t refer to moral corruption, like a corrupt politician, but of the deterioration of the wealthy person’s possessions.
From G2596 and a derivative of G2447; to rust down, that is, corrode: – canker.
Like corrupted above, this speaks of the coming decay of the rich man’s wealth.
Lord of Sabaoth
Of Hebrew origin ([H6635] in feminine plural); armies; sabaoth (that is, tsebaoth), a military epithet of God: – sabaoth.
This title reveals God as the Commander of heaven’s armies. This is an especially terrifying prospect to those who angered Him by defrauding their workers.
From spatale? (luxury); to be voluptuous: – live in pleasure, be wanton.
A day of slaughter
The words of this phrase are easy enough to understand. I jotted it down just to be sure it was talking about the slaughter of animals, not people. This refers to feast days where animals were slaughtered in celebration and sacrifice. The rich were living like every day was a holiday – a party.
Points of Interest / Research
- I noticed the use of “Go to now…” again (v. 1) as in (4:13).
- Here is another condemnation of the wicked wealthy. This must have been a big problem for James’ audience.
- “But above all things, my brethren, swear not…” (v. 12) seems strange here for a couple of reasons.
- I think it’s interesting that God commands a specific response to being merry (v. 13).
The first two points and the last one are just observations, so we’ll look at number three here.
Two things seem strange to me about this verse. The first is its emphasis. The opening phrase, “But above all things…” makes it sound like this is the most important thing James has said in his letter, or at least in this section. It doesn’t seem that way to me. When Peter used that phrase, it was about something that was of first importance:
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. (1Pe 4:8)
I’m not saying the issue of improper oaths isn’t important. It seemed to be a particular problem for the Jews and the Lord took time to address it in the Sermon on the Mount.
(33) Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: (34) But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: (35) Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. (36) Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. (37) But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. (Mat 5:33-37)
Matthew Henry offers this interesting insight:
“Some have translated the words, pro panto?n – before all things; and so have made sense of this place to be that they should not, in common conversation, before every thing they say, put an oath.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible)
I’m not sure I buy that, but I’ll have to investigate this more and pick it up when we get to chapter five in our passage by passage study.
The second oddity about this verse is that it doesn’t seem connected to anything around it. As I was researching this, I found that Dr. Adam Clark shares my confusion:
“What relation this exhortation can have to the subject in question, I confess I cannot see. It may not have been designed to stand in any connection, but to be a separate piece of advice, as in the several cases which immediately follow.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible)
Some commentators have called James’ letter the Proverbs of the New Testament because of his practicality and the way he moves rapidly from topic to topic. So I guess it could be just a freestanding verse. I’ll dig a little deeper when I come back to this passage.
Read over James 1:1-4. Find out what you can background of the book. Then interpret and apply the passage.