From: A Torah Commentary on James 1-2 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2014
Old Testament Precedents
Invoking of Explicit Old Testament
Quotations to Justify His Teaching:
2:8: Love of neighbor. James reminds his readers that they “fulfill [ATP: live by] the royal law” when they obey the scriptural command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The CEV may be paraphrasing the intent but it is surely an accurate paraphrase, “It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves.”
[Page 467] This fundamental love command--so often considered as uniquely a New Testament innovation--is firmly rooted in the teaching of the Torah. Indeed, it is found in the book of Leviticus, a book that is far more often associated with ritual teaching rather than moral instruction.
In Leviticus 19:18 the teaching is not only found but, in part, love itself is defined--though in the negative sense of avoiding evil to others rather than the positive one of supportive acts toward them: To accomplish this, loving our neighbor is contrasted with taking “vengeance” and bearing a “grudge.” Love, in other words, excludes such destructive and harmful behavior and attitudes.
The New Testament also stresses this prohibitive nature of true love (Romans 13:9),
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall
not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You
shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up
in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans
It would be useful to notice the verses coming before the admonition in Leviticus 19 that clearly show that the injunction was to have a general impact on all forms of behavior rather than be applied in as narrow a manner as possible. In other words it was to be interpreted in a fashion that made it most beneficial to others rather than restricted to as small a range of life as possible,
[Humanitarian concern for your neighbor:] 9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.
[Honest treatment of your neighbor:] 11 You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.
[Not abusing God’s name to hide mistreatment:] 12 And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
[No stealing from others in any form:] 13 You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.
[No gratuitous insults:] 14 You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
[No favoritism in any direction:] 15 You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.
[No stirring up of strife:] 16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
[Page 469] [No hatred and no commission of sin because of them either:] 17 You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.
[It is in this lengthy context of just treatment of our neighbor—note the repeated use of the term “neighbor”--that we reach the commandment James invokes:] 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Hence love must affect behavior or it is not true love, just as James argues that faith must affect conduct or else it is not adequate faith. Jesus defined the Torah command of love as one of the two most fundamental of the entire Old Testament system, second only to one’s obligation to God (Mark -31). Note how Jesus Himself invokes that teaching and treats it as of abiding validity and importance.
Some have considered Leviticus a far better text for James’ purpose than , “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”
However 19:15 is about making judicial style judgments; verse 18 is about one’s general frame of mind regardless of whether formal verdicts of judgment are involved or not. Hence it serves as a broader and better foundation for the argument that James is making—that love should ground our behavior toward anyone and, surely implied, under all circumstances.
[Page 470] In
a context of a Jewish
This is both true and blatantly misleading. In the context in which James is using it, he is talking about their fellow Jewish Christian: For this epistle comes way early in the church’s history and is specifically written to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (1:1). That makes them Jews ethnically Neighbors in the same original sense as Leviticus.
Furthermore in regard to the original context, as in James, the underlying message is clearly intended to include “you can’t mistreat or ignore the needs of your co-religionists just because he or she is such.” Hence we have a double relevance in James’ appeal to the passage.
Even in just an Old Testament context, this direct application specifically to Jews still remains a limitation without any great significance. In a country intended to be exclusively Jewish who else would be your neighbor? It is addressed in a way that is relevant to the expected reality and not to some fictitious theoretical world they hoped would not exist.
[Page 471] Even in this “Jewish world,” it was still recognized there would be non-Jews—not presumably dominant but because no place in the world has ever been a totally sealed vacuum. People come and they go over any extended period of time. Hence the very same chapter enjoins love on Gentiles who are temporary residents, “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).
The GW, in language closer to how we would express the idea, “Foreigners
living among you will be like your own people.
Love them as you love yourself, because you were foreigners
Here the commandment for love is explicitly demanded even though he is not part of your people: he is a “stranger” and you once were too. Is there not an undercurrent in the passage that Jesus would develop--of treating others as you wish(ed) you yourself were treated (Matthew 7:12)? How much they would have valued such generosity of spirit in the days they themselves were the outsiders!
Jewish Interpretations of the Love Command
No doubt there were those who restricted the love commandment to just Jews. The famous medieval scholar Maimonides writes,
But as to the Gentiles, with whom we have no war, and likewise to the shepherds of smaller cattle, and others of that sort, they do not so plot their death; but it is forbidden them to deliver them from death if they are in danger of it. For [Page 472] instance, “A Jew sees one of them fallen into the sea; let him by no means lift him out thence: For it is written, ‘Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of their neighbour;’ but this is not thy neighbour.
From some source I have now misplaced,
I gained the following appropriate commentary, “Unfortunately for him this gets
him off the hook only in regard to the love commandment of , but leaves him stark naked in front of
the Gentile orientated love commandment in . Especially since letting that
Gentile drown was just the kind of contemptuous treatment the Jews in
But there was another stream of interpretation besides that of Maimonides—one far more radical than the limited reach he placed on . That was to apply it to anyone and everyone that a person comes in contact with.
Both the great first century rabbi Hillel and the famous philosopher Philo were attributed the saying, “Do not do to anyone what you would hate to have that person do to you.” This has been regarded as a capsule summary of what—at least in part—Leviticus and 34 are intended to cover. Hence it has been concluded that, “ ‘To anyone’ shows that, whatever the original meaning of ‘neighbor’ and ‘alien’ in Leviticus 19, later Jews understood that God commanded them to show love to all humanity.”
Actually Hillel’s version, in full, read a little differently, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour; that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary [Page 473] thereof; go and learn it.” Rendering the beneficiaries of this attitude as “anyone” easily opens the door to the deduction quoted above; working from the rendering “neighbor” provides some dodging room. For one is required to make a decision as to just who is a neighbor—a point that the parable of the Good Samaritan was intended to teach.
: The commands against both adultery and murder both come from God. The lesson drawn by James is that since both originate from the same source of authority, that one who faithfully observes one prohibition can never be free to violate the other. The same all powerful figure stands equally behind both.
Both of these instructions come from the Ten Commandments (Exodus -14), though, unlike James, in that context the reference to murder comes before that of adultery. In the later repetition of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy -18 the same reversal is maintained.
: “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” This quotation from “scripture” comes in only a slightly different form in Genesis 15:6, “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness [ATP: the result was credited to him to obtain Divine approval].” The belief referred to is the belief that God would fulfill His promise that Abraham’s descendants through Sarah would be as numerous as the uncountable stars of heaven (verse 5)—a promise seemingly destroyed if he actually carried out the sacrifice. The same Genesis text is also used by Paul (Romans 4:3).
[Page 474] James invokes the passage to prove that it was a combination of intellectual faith and active faith--“works” that grew out of it--that both carried out and verified that earlier embracial of faith (James: “fulfilled”). In that original context he had not had any children by Sarah and he was gaining in age. It seemed impossible it would occur. But he had faith anyway for the Lord gave His word.
The same occurs in regard to sacrificing Isaac, his promised child by Sarah. It took vast faith that God could still fulfill the promise even if the son were to perish. The offering of his only son could hardly have been a more difficult “work” to ever be demanded!
Genesis 15:6, though describing what happened years earlier than this, was applicable to the sacrifice because Abraham again proved that he truly and fully believed the Lord would do whatever He promised. No matter how impossible it seemed.
Interestingly, Paul introduces the same text but uses it to hammer home the first half of the equation, that of the faith standing by itself—which it effectively does since the patriarch was also being asked to believe something else that was “impossible,” that at his advanced age that he could still father a child and that at his wife’s advanced age she would be able to successfully bear it:
20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was [Page 475] accounted to him for righteousness.” 23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4).
: Abraham “was called the friend of God.” Oddly enough, this description is nowhere found in the Hebrew form of the book of Genesis, which chronicles Abraham’s life and character. In Genesis we have Yahweh rhetorically asking Himself, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?”
The first century Jewish philosopher-theologian Philo quotes the text this way, “Shall I hide [this] from Abraham my friend?” The “standard” Septuagint Greek of Genesis has it “Abraham my servant.” But Philo’s version argues that the substitution of “my friend” was not unknown in first century manuscripts and that, therefore, it is far from inconceivable that James utilizes the description he does of Abraham because of its presence in the manuscripts he utilized.
Although this reason is quite possible, its usage seems even more likely to arise from the fact it had become such a widespread portrayal of Abraham’s special status in God’s sight, that anyone might use it without special reference to any specific text.
[Page 476] The wording is used outside Genesis in such a manner that it sounds as if it had become a standard description regardless of at what point it originated. It was invoked as grounds for God’s intervention in behalf of the nation. Jehoshaphat prayed publicly before the assembled nation, “Are you not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?” (2 Chronicles 20:7).
Note that His plea for Divine intervention to stop the massive invasion
force coming his way is rooted in the special relationship of
From the other side of the relationship with Deity, God Himself cites these two reasons in explanation for intervening against their alien enemies, “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend” (Isaiah 41:8). God remembered that bond long after Abraham had gone to the grave and it continued to influence God’s behavior toward his descendants.
It should be remembered that the only person in the Hebrew Bible who is given the appellation “friend of God” was Abraham. It carries with it the obvious connotation of a special closeness that others did not share. (Not even Moses is described as God’s “friend!”)
One would not go wrong in seeing in the terminology an intertwining of the elements of loyalty and dependability since the first is proved by the demonstration of the second. Jesus told His disciples, “You are My friends if you do what I command you” (John ). And Abraham met that pre-requisite in regard to the Father: commanded to leave his homeland he did. Commanded to offer his only son, he did.
And in offering his only son, Abraham provided a vague but powerful foreshadowing of the Heavenly Fathering offering His Son on the cross. They shared, if you will, a “commonality” no other human ever had with the Father.
How Old Testament Concepts Are
Repeatedly Introduced and Woven
into the Heart of His Argument
2:1-4: When the poor are not respected in the church assembly one is guilty of partiality and evil judgement. The contrast is between how a well-to-do individual will be treated and a poor person, both—it is often thought—previously unknown to the members of the congregation. The logic of the criticism, however, would be the same if known to the congregation and even members of it.
The text describes the wealthy person as wearing “gold rings”
(2:2). The plural points to exceptional
wealth. Some have speculated that the
text may hint that the person enjoyed equestrian status--the second highest
rank in the
A play on words is found in these verses: they were not literally sitting in judicial judgement upon the poor. (For a consideration of that possibility, however, see the Problem Texts chapter.) Instead they were making a personal (and biased) judgement of the relative value or disrepute of an individual based upon the kind of criteria that all knew should be abhorrent to any impartial court of law. Why then should they contaminate their private values with attitudes that were out-of-order in a formal setting?
The need for absolute neutrality in decision making is stressed in public decision making in Deuteronomy 1:17, “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s. . . .” They were not even to permit nationalistic bias against the foreigner to prevent ruling in that person’s behalf (verse 16). As a matter of course, following this mind frame prohibited bribe taking, a prohibition that is made explicit in other places (Deuteronomy 16:19).
James’ censure of “judging” individuals on the basis of their clothing echoes Jewish rabbinic tradition about legal judgments not being done on such a basis,
Commenting on Deuteronomy 16: 19 R. Ishmael says: “If before a judge two men appear for judgment, one rich and another poor, the judge should say to the rich man: ‘Either dress in the same manner as he is dressed, or clothe him as you are clothed’ ” (Dt. R. Shofetim, V, 6). In another place the instructions read: “You must not let one stand and the other sit” (Sifra, Kedoshim Perek, 4, 4).
The demand for absolute impartiality is presented this way in Leviticus 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” Or as the New International Version puts it, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” The God’s Word translation is wordier but develops the point well, “Don't be corrupt when administering justice. Never give special favors to poor people, and never show preference to important people. Judge your neighbor fairly.”
Why? Obviously because God had commanded it! But also because such impartiality reflects God’s own inner nature. Jehoshaphat demanded judges reflect this principle as part of his campaign to restore the land to God’s favor,
4 So Jehoshaphat dwelt at
[Page 480] In Proverbs, the concept of fair judgment is broadened into a general life-principle as found in James. Proverbs 24:23-25 develops it at length, “These things belong to the wise: It is not good to show partiality in judgment. He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’ him the people will curse; nations will abhor him. But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.”
The frame of reference is no longer the judicially wrong but the broader moral category of the “wicked” in general. Nor is he speaking of what is peculiarly Israelite in nature. Rather he is speaking of what other contemporary peoples would also have recognized as evil behavior: Note how he argues that those who praise the character of the “wicked” will be condemned not just by the Jewish people but even by those of other “nations” who learn of it.
In light of its textual context, the misjudgment condemned in Proverbs 18 is of exactly this nature, calling good bad and looking for ways to justify behavior that is deeply repugnant,
Proverbs 18:1 A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment. 2 A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart [i.e., his own preferences and desires]. 3 When the wicked comes, contempt comes also; and with dishonor comes reproach. 4 The words of a man's mouth are deep waters; the wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook. 5 It is not good to show partiality to the wicked, or to overthrow the righteous in judgment. 6 A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calls for blows. 7 A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul (Proverbs 18).
2:5: God had “chosen the poor” who “love Him” to be spiritually rich and to receive rewards from Him. It isn’t that the poor had some peculiar moral character unique to themselves. (Also see our discussion of 5:1 under Problem Texts.) This is seen by James limiting those “poor” to that minority who actually “love” God. It was a sociological reality of his day that the overwhelming bulk of the population was either poor or near-poor. Hence the statistical odds were that the bulk of those who served God would come from that socio-economic background.
Yet there remained something to be praised nonetheless. Of all the people in the world, they had the most reason to wring their hands in despair and bitterness and give up hope. The fact that those who loved God had not done so revealed that there was a depth of character in them that even the worst life-situation had not destroyed.
The theme of God’s respect for the poor comes out in various Old Testament texts. Specific reasons are given why the poor should be interested in God in spite of their lowly earthly status. To begin with, He hears their prayers--their lack of earthly status hinders it not in the least, “He shall regard the prayer of the destitute, and shall not despise their prayer” (Psalms 102:17). “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard” (Psalms ).
[Page 482] He
is their protector: Isaiah reassures the people that “the Lord has founded
In a similar vein Job 5:15-16 speaks of how God saved “the needy” from
“the mouth of the mighty and from their hand,” giving them “hope” for the
future. Here the oppressors are pictured
with the imagery of hungry and vicious animals who will eat them alive. Reasons not needed. They are simply there and available and they
can get away with it.
Not only can God deliver them, there is a flip side to this: He can act against these foes, even destroy the danger itself. “He will bring justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of the needy, and will break in pieces the oppressor” (Psalms 72:4). Returning to the oppressed element of society in verses 12-14, a further reason for intervention is given, “precious shall be their blood in His sight” (verse 14). In the context of the ultimate Messianic intent of this Psalm, it applies to what Jesus would do on His Father’s behalf in dealing out justice to the unjust.
The original context is that of Solomon, however, “A Psalm of Solomon. Give the king your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son” (2:1). Although the “s” in “son” is properly capitalized for the ultimate reference is to the Messiah, the immediate reference is to the royal writer of the psalm and his offspring—that they might rule justly and apply God’s “judgments” to the people, including protecting the oppressed poor.
Those who are well blessed are actually working in their own long-term interests in helping the needy—God remembers them in their own time of distress. The need for help most likely arise from facing unscrupulous foes and from the danger of severe diseases and death. Even the prosperous face human and disease parasites who as readily “feed” off of them as well as anyone else who is vulnerable. Regardless of income strata or personal prestige no one can ever be free of such dangers. Hence the Psalmist writes,
1 . . . Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. 2 The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies. 3 The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness; You will sustain him on his sickbed. 11 By this I know that You are well pleased with me, because my enemy does not triumph over me. (Psalm 41)
41:1: “deliver him” = “rescue him” (GW)
41:2: “preserve him and keep him alive” = “protects and preserves them (NIV)
41:3a: “strengthen him” = “support(s) him” (GW, NET)
41:3b: “sustain him” = “restore(s) him/them” (ESV, GW, NIV); “heal him” (Holman) and “completely heal him” (NET)
[Page 484] Why God is interested in the poor. It surely begins with the fact that they are part of His creation just as much as the richer and He retains an interest in all of His creation. The Proverbist reminds his readers that, “The rich and the poor have this in common, the Lord is the maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2).
Job stresses the fact in these words, “Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15). We may have gained far more temporal blessings than they, but we share an identical Father. How can we treat our “brother” with contempt without showing contempt for our shared Father as well?
In addition there is the fact that He wishes them to understand and accept His message—it is not just for their “betters.” Zechariah speaks of how he broke his staff in the eyes of the people () so that “the poor of the flock, who were watching me” would recognize that his message “was the word of the Lord” (verse 11). (Some translations prefer to insert the type of poor that was involved, the sheep herders.) ( To cast needless obstacles in their path would actually be encouraging them to sin.
The broadening of the concept of “poor” into a moral class of the righteous: The evidence of Isaiah. In Isaiah 29 we seem to see a shift to a different definition of poor and that dual usage—monetary and humble--seems clearly intended to allow the text to apply to both judicial/justice situations as well as confrontations over competing standards of behavior,
19 The humble also shall
increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in
the Holy One of
The “poor” and the “humble” are equated in verse 19, showing that financial lack is not all that is under consideration; it is those who have a good moral attitude, “humble” enough to recognize that the world does not revolve around them and that they have no more right to be arrogant and spiteful than those who abound in the world’s goods. Hence “poor” takes on moral attitudes rather than just monetary poverty.
Those who represent real or potential intimidators are warned that they will ultimately be crushed. “The terrible one,” “the scornful one,” and “all who watch for iniquity” (i.e., for opportunities to do it or to cast aspersions for misconduct real or imagined)--those are the ones God will come down on (verse 20).
These are individuals who will take “a word” you speak and blow it so out of proportion or out of the context you intended, that that you are transformed into a terrible “offender.” They transform the guiltless into the guilty. Those who teach publicly against moral evil would not escape their attacks (verse 21), utilizing such dishonorable maneuvers.
[Page 486] The “gates” mentioned were typically where groups met to discuss things in general and, specifically, to hold judicial meetings; to “reprove” in such a context, could easily refer to allegations in court. But the previous correlating of “humble” and “poor” argues that the text was actually—or, at least additionally--intended to cover other settings as well, any censure of any improper conduct given anywhere.
What more likely public place (other than the synagogue) would such matters be likely to be openly discussed? The modern parallel would be some organized or informal meeting of a number of people who share the same goals and hopes, but are at a point where nothing is on their formal or informal “agenda.” In that setting virtually anything can and will be brought up.
In either judicial or discussion settings, those who were unwilling to accept God’s moral standards would “turn aside the just by empty words” (verse 21). There is always some way to defend anything. Virtually no behavior lacks its defenders; in the modern world it often comes down to it’s their “right” to do it—as if the lack (or presence!) of legal censure determined what is moral and what is immoral! It doesn’t take a law on the books specifically prohibiting child murder to make it wrong, does it?
The broadening of the concept of “poor” into a moral class of the righteous: The evidence of Amos. Amos 5 seems to even more clearly refer to the poor at the gates as those who advocate moral right as well as being the targets of legal judgment,
10 They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks uprightly. 11 Therefore, because you tread down the poor and take grain taxes from him, though you have built houses of hewn stone, yet you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink wine [Page 487] from them. 12 For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: Afflicting the just and taking bribes; diverting the poor from justice at the gate. 13 Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, for it is an evil time. 14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the Lord God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken. 15 Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Note how “the just” and “the poor” are equated in verse 12 and how the powerful wicked have general contempt for whoever wants proper moral standards to be met (verse 10). The situation is so bad that it does no good to cite God’s law and doing so may only inflame their rage and heighten their wrath on you (cf. verse 13). A nautical allusion may well explain the advice to be silent: There’s a time to “batten down the hatches” and ride out the storm because you are powerless to change the situation. He does not say that this is always the case but simply asserts that there are times when prudence should outweigh boldness.
The direct subject is, as commentators note, that of judicial hearings held at the gate of a city (Deuteronomy ; Ruth 4:1-2 are examples where the usage is especially clear). The reference to “diverting the poor from justice at the gate” (Amos ) is surely confirmation of that kind of setting.
Billy K Smith and Frank S. Page note that, “ ‘One who reproves’ translates a participle that can refer to a judge who decides the case, but the context here suggests that it is either a plaintiff who has been wronged or an advocate of right (cf. Isaiah 11:3; 29:21; Job 13:3; 32:12).”
[Page 488] Yet it is hard to believe that the prophet was speaking only of judicial settings. Did the poor suddenly stop being poor because they were no longer before a court; did their humility suddenly evaporate because they were no longer before judges? Hence we seem required to regard the equating of poverty and humility in the same person as ongoing qualities that would persist in all situations.
2:5: A reward for those who love Him. In the previous section we emphasized the “poverty” that characterized those James was addressing. Here we wish to shift the emphasis to the remainder of the statement, of how God rewards those who love Him. In James the specific reward mentioned is that of the kingdom (2:5). In the Torah, blessings were promised to those who loved God, but it was a love--like in James--that expressed itself not merely in words but in obedience.
For example, in the Ten Commandments Divine “mercy” is promise “to
those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:6). God did not chose them for His people because
of their vast number since they “were the least of all peoples” comparatively
speaking (Deuteronomy 7:7)--but to carry out the oath to their ancestors by
bringing them out of
Hence being His people was not a blank check to set on their bottoms and think there was nothing more to do. Rather it imposed a sacred obligation to act upon their “chosenness” and conform themselves to the Divine will.
[Page 489] Likewise Deuteronomy 11:13 similarly links love and obedience together with, if you will, a super glue that keeps one from legitimately trying to separate the two: “And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,” then and only then are Divine blessings promised to them in their new land (verses 14-15).
Hence active love was not a detachable item. You could not use love as an excuse to avoid living up to His commandments. You proved love by doing what He said. If one can not separate the two in relationship to God’s love and law, how much more scornful He must be of those who use human “love” as an excuse to avoid Divine “thou shalt nots!” If, by a distortion of “love” we violate God’s will, can we truly say we love Him? As it has been said: Words are cheap; actions far harder.
2:6: Oppression of the poor by the rich and through the courts. It is uncertain whether James intends to imply that the desired judicial verdict has been purchased through money or influence. Even in cases where courts attempt to be fair the wealthy have time to spin out a case and to bring the best legal talent to bear; the poor do not. In such an unequal contest the poor usually lose even when fairness and equity would be on their side. It is a “legal” manipulation of the judicial system. The mentality that does this, however, would be unlikely to hesitate at outright bribery--if it were deemed necessary and the risks were modest.
[Page 490] A phenomena found in some third world countries is the direct use of violence by the wealthy (either directly or through their paid agents)—actions that are targeted at the person or property of the poor. It is referred to in Job 20:19, which discusses people who had “oppressed and forsaken the poor” and how “he has violently seized a house which he did not build.” Isaiah refers to how the rulers had “plunder[ed]” the poor and mentions their vineyards in particular. The implication presumably is that they had seized crops that did not belong to them and over which they had no rightful claim.
The poor were disposable commodities. They could be physically destroyed if they excessively got in the way. Psalms 37:14 refers to those who used “the sword” in order “to cast down the poor and needy” and to slaughter them
Psalms 10 provides a vivid word picture of the unscrupulous powerful who take any advantage they can find of the poor, to strip him of what little he may have--even of life itself,
2 The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor; let them be caught in
the plots which they have devised. . . . 7 His mouth is full of cursing and
deceit and oppression; under his tongue is trouble and iniquity. 8 He sits in
the lurking places of the villages; in the secret places he murders the
innocent; his eyes are secretly fixed on the helpless. 9 He lies in wait secretly,
as a lion in his den; he lies in wait to catch the poor; he catches the poor when
he draws him into his net. 10 So he crouches, he lies low, that the helpless
may fall by his strength. 11 He has said in his heart, “God has forgotten; He
hides His face; He will never see.”
[Page 491] This man is not an atheist for the cynicism “God has forgotten” implies that Someone exists who can forget. What both this and the closing words have in common is the conviction that (1) He won’t hold it against you (hence “God has forgotten”) and (2) he doesn’t really care (“He hides His face; He will never see”). In other words, it’s a no-lose situation for the aggressor: If God doesn’t see the action, it doesn’t matter; if He does see, it still doesn’t matter because nothing is going to be done about it.
The usually unstated reasoning behind such conduct is that wealth and might make right and any one without such assets must be worthless. One deuterocanonical work describes the rationalization this way, “Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow or regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless” (Wisdom of Solomon -11, NRSV).
: The one who shows no mercy will be judged without mercy. Much of the prophetic teaching reflects this mind frame: time and again we read of merciless oppressors who “devoured” the people and their wealth; hand-in-hand with such denunciations are the warning that God will act extremely harshly against them because of their oppression. Hence we have life without mercy resulting in punishment without mercy.
[Page 492] (Barring repentance, a
subsidiary theme of such condemnations of evil:
cf. Ezekiel 33:11, “Say to them: ‘As
I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure
in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.
Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why
should you die, O house of
The same point of reaping one’s own lack of generosity is found in the parable of the debtor, in which an individual who is forgiven a vast fortune refuses to show mercy to a man who owes only a little (Matthew 18:23-35). The flip side of the concept is explicitly stated in Psalms 18:25, “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful. . . .”
Both the positive and the negative sides of the concept of judgement are found in the words quoted of Solomon in 1 Kings 8:32, “Then hear in heaven, and act, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, bringing his way on his head, and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness.”
“Bringing his way on his head:” “bringing down on their heads what they have done” (NIV); “bringing back to him the consequences of his choices” (ISV); “condemn the guilty person with the proper punishment” (GW).
Today we might call it “the chickens coming home to roost.” The brothers of Joseph recognized a form of justice in the false accusations being made against them. Had they not sold their selling their brother into slavery over his protests?
21 Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning
our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and
we would not hear, therefore this distress has come upon us.” 22 And
Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin
against the boy;’ and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is
now required of us.”
In spite of their past behavior, the “Egyptian”—actually their brother years later—conspicuously avoided giving them the full punitive restitution they had earned, though he did manage to scare them half to death. Even so, still a modest “return” on their ill will, however.
One other example. This one a mistaken judgement: Eliphaz was convinced that the disasters that had come upon Job were the result of showing no mercy,
“4 Is it because of your fear of Him that He corrects you, and enters
into judgment with you? 5 Is not your wickedness great, and your iniquity
without end? 6 For you have taken pledges from your brother for no reason,
and stripped the naked of their clothing. 7 You have not given the weary
water to drink, and you have withheld bread from the hungry. 8 But the
mighty man possessed the land, and the honorable man dwelt in it. 9 You
have sent widows away empty, and the strength of the fatherless was
crushed. 10 Therefore snares are all around you, and sudden fear troubles
you. (Chapter 22)
Eliphaz functions as a warning not to assume that every case of disaster coming upon a person is the result of their own sin. Some are; some aren’t. Job’s sterling life did no good when calamity hit. It became a vast trial of faith and strength. But he was successful in enduring it and, when it was over, greatly rewarded for the difficulties he had undergone.
[Page 494] He worked from a sound principle but misapplied it: you ultimately do reap what you sow. But that doesn’t justify you applying the principle negatively to a specific person unless you have your facts straight and injustice has been done. Eliphaz was content to assume the worst. Far too many people remain that way.
: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” There are two basic questions to be faced here. The first is: How does mercy triumph over condemnatory judgement in regard to other mortals. We will suggest in the Problem Texts chapter that this is done, in part, by our behavior showing others that we can demonstrate a practical, down-to-earth idealism that they would not expect from us. We live above their expectations, changing their judgment of us.
The same psychology would surely have been present in the Old Testament era as well. The commandments, for example, to protect the property of one’s neighbor and to treat with dignity the resident foreigner, imposed demands of mercy that needed to be exercised when one might well--rightly or wrongly--wish the worst for that person because of past encounters.
The second question is: How does mercy triumph over condemnatory judgement from God? The short answer is changing how we behave and seeking forgiveness. Which results in God abstaining from punitive actions against us.
[Page 495] David pleaded in Psalms 51:1, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.” This was simultaneously an admission of sin and a plea for its removal on the basis of Divine mercy. In obtaining it, mercy would triumph over the condemnation that would otherwise be received.
But the warning is also given that this did not represent some kind of
“blank check”--that one would not be permitted to get away with using it to
continue in the same course. The
But lest Divine mercy and patience be misunderstood, the warning is immediately given that the consequences of not seeking mercy were grievious indeed: “by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (verse 7). People have often been horrified by this, taking “visiting the iniquity” as implying “passing on the moral guilt.”
It need only have the more limited meaning of “visiting the sinful consequences” to following generations. On the other hand, if one is raised without moral values, one is highly likely to pass on to the next generation that same lack of standards until a generation breaks the pattern by discovering that there is an elevated alternative to it. A call to holiness. A call to our full moral potential rather than our deepest degradation.
Continued mercy was conditional upon rejecting one’s worst instincts and it was stressed that this was an ongoing reality rather than one imposed strictly upon some one [Page 496] particular generation. Psalms 103: “17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, 18 to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.”
Here we find that the mercy would be available to every generation but that it was also only for the obedient that Divine mercy triumphed over Divine wrath.
2:15-16: Need for concrete action to help the ill-clad and the hungry. The person is described as “naked” (). The Greek word covers the gauntlet from literal nakedness to having only undergarments and a person is extremely unlikely to wait until either of these extremes before seeking help! Hence it probably has the implication of inadequately or poorly dressed, perhaps even in mere “rags.” Regardless of the exact level of need, the person’s situation was beyond uncomfortable into the area of personal embarrassment and clear privation.
Just as the lack of needed clothing () currently exists so does the lack of the edibles necessary for survival: The individual in need lacks the required “daily food” (); i.e., he or she lacks even that day’s need. A more moderate meaning is that they have an unreliable food supply. It varies so much from day to day that an adequate amount can not be relied upon every day. Either way, the need is either literally immediate or almost literally so.
The topic then is not some theoretical need that may arise in the future, but one that is currently existing. Not in some far away country, but in front of one’s own eyes.
[Page 497] To say “no” to such individuals (however verbally disguised the refusal) would have outraged both the devout Jewish traditionalists and the humanitarian instinct in the bulk of Gentiles as well. Perhaps the example was chosen for that very reason: lesser illustrations might be quibbled with. This one cut to the quick.
This was especially true of those well acquainted with the Torah and other writings of the Old Testament. Proverbs 21:13 warns that God will treat us the way we treat others, “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard [ = ‘not be answered: ESV, GW, Holman, NASB, NIV].” That is not necessarily a threat of poverty; it could refer to any of the crises of life that come our way and which threaten to overwhelm us. Death, disease, financial loss, anything and everything. But in whatever form it takes, our lack of mercy will not be forgotten.
Hence those who have the ability to help others have the obligation to do so. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it with you” (Proverbs -28). Ability creates a moral obligation.
In Isaiah 58:6-7 this prompt helpfulness is pictured as the kind of “fast” (self-denial) that God expects from His people, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Only if one acts this may will one’s “righteousness” be acknowledged by God (verse 8). Likewise one will be able to confidently call out to God for help in prayer, knowing that He will answer (verse 9).
[Page 498] Job goes on at length—not just
in passing—to stress that if he had not routinely treated the vulnerable and
needy in a constructive, helpful manner, Divine vengeance would deserve to come
upon him. And be fully justified,
31:16 If I have kept the poor from their desire, or caused the eyes of the widow to fail, 17 or eaten my morsel by myself, so that the fatherless could not eat of it 18 (but from my youth I reared him as a father, and from my mother's womb I guided the widow). 19 If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or any poor man without covering. 20 If his heart has not blessed me, And if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep. 21 If I have raised my hand against the fatherless, when I saw I had help in the gate. 22 Then let my arm fall from my shoulder, let my arm be torn from the socket. 23 For destruction from God is a terror to me, and because of His magnificence I cannot endure (Job 31).
: The “oneness” of God. James’ reminder to his readers that even
demons are monotheists (though it will do them no good), refers to that central
Jewish doctrine of the Old Testament that repudiated the validity of polytheism
at its roots. As Deuteronomy 6:4 words
it, “Hear, O
There is not a multiplicity of really existing deities, there is only one. Isaiah 44 has Him reminding Israel that this was a long-standing claim, that He had both made in the past and continued to make in the present. Furthermore it was an assertion that there could be no rival: He was the “first” God to be and simultaneously “the last.” Seeking spiritual refuge anywhere else was, therefore, inherently futile,
Thus says the Lord, the King of
Verse 6 impresses upon the audience the pivotal importance of God through the “titles” He deserves and through His self description. Allen Ross sums up the implications of these descriptions in this manner,
The passage begins with the claims of Yahweh for absolute authority
as the one true God. As is typical of this section of the book, the prophet
introduces Him with names and epithets: “Yahweh, the King of
Redeemer, Yahweh of Armies.” [Page 500]
It would take some time to explain fully all these titles, but the
exposition will at least have to capture the point of each one. The first one is
“Yahweh,” the personal name of the covenant God. The second one, “the
Redeemer,” shows how the Lord delivered His people from sin and bondage.
Each of these first three has been used by the prophet before; but the next
one is new to these oracles—“Yahweh of Armies.” It is often translated
“Lord of hosts.” It indicates that Yahweh has at His disposal all armies,
terrestrial and celestial. . . . It means that God has the resources to carry out
anything He desires or decrees. . . .
Now Yahweh speaks to reveal Himself: “I am the first and I am the
last, and beside Me there is no God.” This exclaims His exclusive
sovereignty: He begins everything and He ends everything, He is the Creator
and He will be the Judge. But He also is eternally present . . . the eternal I
AM. The New Testament will use similar motifs for our Lord Jesus Christ:
“I am the alpha and the omega.” He is the beginning and the end, the full
revelation, the final authority, the Living Word. Such expressions attest to
His eternality as well as His sovereignty over everything.
Jehovah had proved His claim to being the exclusive true Deity during the Exodus by means that should have made denial an absurdity—but didn’t,
32 For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? 34 Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, [Page 501] according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God; there is none other besides Him. 36 Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire (Deuteronomy 4).
He worked miracles in
Earlier in the address Moses had used this type of evidence to show that God should never be represented in fashioned form and worshipped: the very fact that He had clearly manifested Himself in non-tangible form abundantly proved that the One True God simply did not exist in the form of temporal beings (Deuteronomy 4:15-20).
to the Old Testament
Abraham’s offering of his son as a sacrifice (-24) is described in detail in Genesis 22. The offering of one’s offspring as a literal sacrifice to the gods was not uncommon in that time period. For Yahweh to make such a demand, however, was extraordinary in itself for it had never been done before.
From the standpoint of obedience it was extremely difficult for the two obvious reasons presented in verse 2 of Genesis 22: (1) the young man was his “only son” and at Abraham’s advanced age there was hardly likely to be another; and (2) he “love[d]” his son--an attitude we take as natural but which does not always occur in a parent-child relationship.
The sacrifice had proceeded to the point that Isaac lay bound on the alter (verse 9) and Abraham had raised the knife to act (verse 10). Only at that point does the text tell us that an angel intervened and ordered him to stop (verses 11-12). At that point, a ram caught in a nearby thicket became the substitute sacrifice (verse 13).
As the result of the willingness to sacrifice his most cherished “possession” (for lack of a better term), God reaffirmed His promise that he would have numerous descendants (verses 16-17) and that through his descendants “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (verse 18).
[Page 503] Rahab’s hiding of the Israelite spies (-26) is recounted in detail in Joshua 2. Neither James nor the Old Testament account is prudish: both bluntly concede that she was a harlot. Today, in places where illegal, brothels and “independent” prostitutes operate outside the law; in places where they are legal, they operate on the edge of the social acceptability (who wants to live next door?).
Even in the ancient world, it is extremely unlikely that many wives liked the necessity of living near such a “home” however legal and openly utilized it might be. Hence there would tend to be a “social distance” even in that historical context.
In either case, the home of an openly acknowledged prostitute was a
place where strange men could come and go and little attention be paid to
them. In the crowded urban conditions of
the city of
Somehow their presence became suspected and at this point even gold would not normally outweigh the danger to her own life from the angry authorities. Yet Rahab still risked her life to hide them until they could safely escape. The reason, as described in the text, was her confidence that the Israelites would successfully triumph over the existing native powers (verses 9-11). Not only did this manifest faith in the outcome, her behavior manifested faith in the honor of the spies themselves, for their pledge of protection was all that she had to rely on.
As an outsider--a non-Jew--Rahab served as a useful example to ethnic Gentile Christians (whether proselytes to Judaism or direct converts to the new faith) to illustrate the rewards that could accompany faith. But to Jews themselves, she functioned as evidence that ethnicity had never counted for as much to God as faith in Him and His willingness to fulfill His promises.
 For example, Roy Gane, The NIV Applications Commentary: Leviticus, Numbers ([N.p.]: Zondervan, 2004. e-book edition utilized: 2011), unnumbered page.
 Quoted by Charles Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the
 As quoted by E. P. Sanders, “Jesus and the First Table of the Law,” in The Historical Jesus in Recent Research (Sources for Biblical and Theological Study, Volume 10), edited by D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight ([N.p.]: Eisenbauns, 2005), 226, who also notes that it is attributed to a third party as well.
 W. H. Bennett, The General Epistles: James, Peter, John and Jude, in the Century Bible commentary series (Edinburgh: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1901), 162.
 For a variety of ancient examples, see Deppe, 37.
 A concept elaborated on by the unknown author of “Why
Was Abraham Called ‘the Friend of God’?” (1994), part of the (Australian)
 See the discussion of this point in Laws, 99-100.
 For an interesting discussion of the possibility, see Ibid., 98-99.
 William Dyrness, “Mercy Triumphs Over Justice: James and the Theology of Faith and Works,” Themelios 6.3 (April 1981), 16. At: http://www.biblical studies.org.uk/pdf/themelios/james_dyrness.pdf. [June 2012.]
 The NKJV marginal comment notes that “poor” is the reading of the traditional Massoretic text as well as the Vulgate, but that the Septuagint opts for “Canaanites.” The New American Bible and the NRSV both render the term “sheep merchants” though with no attempt at justification. Since the prophet received wages from them (verse 12) it does make a certain inherent sense that since he had functioned as a shepherd (verse 7) that these would be the owners of the sheep.
[Page 506]  For a case that “keep silent” is a misunderstanding and misinterpretation see Hanok ben-Isaak, “Is It Time for the Wise to Remain Silent? (Amos 5:13). First posted March 2009. At: http://jewsandjoes.com/is-it-time-for-the-wise-to-be-silent-amos-513.html. [March 2014.] He argues that the context shows, “It simply cannot mean that ‘the wise keep silent,’ but instead: ‘the wise are put to death’ for it is an evil time.”
Billy K. Smith and Frank S. Page seem at war with themselves, insisting that “the righteous could not keep silent” but then provides two different (and reasonable) explanations of why they would keep silent! (New American Commentary: Amos, Obadiah, Jonah [Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1995], 105.)
 Smith and Page, 102.
 See the discussion in Laws, 120. Cf. Bratcher, 27.
 Stulac, 109.
 Sidebottom, 43.
 Cf. the alternative translation pointing in this direction of Bratcher, 27.
Ross, “Dead Idols or the Living God—Isaiah 44:6-23.”