Many have suggested that this chapter refers to the time leading up to and the subsequent sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans. I don’t believe this is the case as in James 1: 1, it makes it clear he is directing this message to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. I think it is a prophecy, but one which has its fulfillment at the very last days.
The first six verses deal with the judgment that is to come upon the corrupt rich. This warning should be clear that the rich here are not being attacked because they are rich but because they have failed in their leadership and responsibilities. The great howling and weeping from these rich people is not repentance but sorrow because of what is happening to their wealth. They just do not realize that their wealth must be used for good purposes, for the benefit of mankind, not for hoarding. Yet, the hoarding is going to be the prime witness against them and there is nothing their wealth can do to help them to escape the judgment.
Verse 4 is interesting, “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud…” Deuteronomy 24: 14 should be read in conjunction with this, “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.” Let’s for a moment examine what has happened in our Israel lands, particularly over the last half-century. First, the financial structure of the lands, that is banking, investment dealers, along with government sympathies, have permitted corporate takeovers that have resulted in monopolies and oligopolies to the extent that it permits the men and women behind them to control almost every facet of society. And what decisions are these men and women making outside of pricing matters that place an undue strain on people. Well, downsizing has killed the jobs of countless thousands; free trade agreements with non-Israelite countries have closed one manufacturing plant after another as industries have moved offshore; and workers are paid exactly what it takes to keep them, not a penny more. In the last decade, the unscrupulous rich behind corporate power have transferred millions of jobs offshore to take advantage of cheap labour and the pace is accelerating. All the while, government is sitting idling by.
Verse 5 warns these unscrupulous men and women that their love of luxury, pleasure and extravagant living is just fattening them up for the day of slaughter (or the day of judgment). And why, because as verse 6 says, “ye have condemned and killed the just: and he does not resist you.” But what does this really mean. The Apocrypha Book of Ecclesiasticus Chapter 34: 21-22 clarifies this for us, “The bread of the needy is their life: he that defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood. He that taketh away his neighbour’s living slayeth him; and he that defraudeth the labourer of his hire is a bloodsheddar.” So now you will see why I emphasized those words “in thy land” in the above paragraph. These passages in Ecclesiasticus clearly relate to those who so casually kill millions of jobs in the Israel nations by sending them overseas and thereby forcing occupants of those jobs to seek welfare or take menial replacement jobs.
In verses 7-11, the Apostle now turns to counseling those who are being oppressed. He is not suggesting action but patience. He relates it to a farmer patiently waiting for the harvest. He basically says, “don’t get caught up in any fray or grumble, so you yourself don’t get judged.” And he emphasizes, “the judge [Jesus Christ] standeth before the door,” another indication this is a latter day event. In verse 12 he counsels not to bind ourselves to any oath, let our word be yes for yes and no for no, otherwise we will be judged for it.
James imparts further advice through verses 13-18 to ease suffering and he urges prayer, singing a psalm and if a serious illness, for the church to be called for prayer and anointing with oil. It is clear that the oil may be of simply therapeutic value for it is the Lord who shall answer to a prayer of faith, subject always, of course, to His Will.
Then, in verse 17, James employs the example of Elijah, perhaps a man very much like ourselves, but how his prayers brought forth both the drought and its end three and a half years later. According to Wycliffe the prayers of Elijah and the time element is not mentioned in the Old Testament but for James to employ it I believe has great significance. Let’s look at 1 Kings 17:1, “And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these days, but according to my word.” These last words suggest that there must have been sufficient rain to keep the populace alive but the drought would have been extremely damaging. In terms of pinpointing a time frame, it cannot be done with James’ reference to the three and a half years, but I believe it must be a prelude to the judge “already being at the door.”
It’s interesting that Malachi 4: 5 references Elijah, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:” Perhaps some of you will recall my mention of the late Bible scholar Charles Hurst’s thoughts on Elijah’s return. In one of our last conversations, he surmised that since Christ came in a body of flesh and blood the first time around and was proclaimed by John the Baptist, also a fleshly body, that on the second occasion when He will return in all His Glory in His Resurrection Body, He will be announced by a prophet with a resurrection body, namely Elijah. He also suggested that since John the Baptist began his ministry six months before Jesus’, then Elijah could well precede Christ’s Second Coming by six months.
In any event, the three and a half years window that James mentions has to be of great importance. Perhaps it’s this; Elijah’s prayers brought forth drought, but probably enough rain for sustenance. James’ three and a half years might well bring drought of another sort, a spiritual drought. Yet, as there was enough rain for survival, surely God will provide the truth to exist in some quarters at least, perhaps through organizations like this.
Verses 19-20 represents opportunities that we Christians must keep prominently in mind. Quoting Knox for clarity we read, “My brethren, if one of you strays from the truth, and a man succeeds in bringing him back, let him be sure of this; to bring back erring feet into the right path means saving a soul from death, means throwing a veil over a multitude of sins.”
My friends, when you see how God’s Word is being moulded to fit today’s wicked world, when you look at thinker changers like the DiVinci Code, media presentations denigrating Christ, theologians embracing evil, then you know we may already be in a spiritual drought. I think you will agree, we have a big job to do. May God give us the strength and protection to do it!
(Thanks to Wycliffe, Knox and my Bible study group for their wisdom)