Wednesday, June 12, 2013

James 5:1-11 - The Vengeance of the Lord of Hosts on Behalf of the Poor and the Oppressed

James 5

James 5:
Now listen, you rich people,
 weep and wail because of the misery
that is coming on you.

God is awesome.

God is the King of Glory.

David calls God the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.

God is supreme over all creation. The Earth belongs to God, and everything in it. The world is his, and all who live on it (Psalm 24).

The Psalmist commands that all the gates of the kingdoms of the Earth be opened wide, so that the King of Glory may come in.

That’s our God. The LORD of hosts.

Psalm 19 says that the heavens never stop declaring the glory of God. All of creation cries out the character and nature and being of the Sovereign King. All of creation has heard it. We are without excuse.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
   refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
   making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
   giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
   giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
   enduring forever.
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
   and all of them are righteous.
 They are more precious than gold,
   than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
   than honey from the honeycomb.
(Psalm 19:7-10)

God’s judgments, God’s commands, God’s words, they are precious. More precious than gold. More desirable than honey. That is the God we serve.

Our Just Judge

Our Sovereign King

Our Merciful Saviour

The Bible calls God Yahweh Tsabaoth, The LORD of hosts. This name calls God  high commander over all the hosts of all the armies of the Earth. God is High King over all the power in creation, High King over all the armies of Heaven. 

God is the LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.

Yahweh Tsabaoth -  Jesus Christ - Our King.

Scripture says that after Jesus ascended into Heaven,

God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Phil 2:9-11)

King of Kings. Lord of Lords.

How foolish we are, that we would ever be so tempted as to trade in the precious word of our God, for a bag of silver in this world.

How can we be distracted from the sweet dripping honey of the Gospel and eternity for a bowl of thin soup in this temporal existence.

But this is exactly how James describes the life lived by those distracted by the riches of this world.

James 5:1-6
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Like stupid cattle that don’t even know that the food they are gorging themselves on today will be worthless tomorrow when they are put to death, so are the lives of the arrogant rich. It’s all vanity. Chasing after wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

The cries of the oppressed have reached the ears of Yahweh Tsabaoth – The LORD of Hosts. This is a dire warning. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed (Psalm 103:6). Those who choose to seek a life of pleasure and self-indulgence rather than submission to the King of Kings will be judged rightly for their sin. God hears the cry of the oppressed. From the blood of Abel crying out from the ground, to the banished Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness. From  the Israelites in slavery, to the oppressed and persecuted Christians by the wealthy and powerful of first century Palestine.

There may always be a powerless oppressed in this lifetime, but never doubt that the cries of their distress are heard by YAHWEH Tsabaoth. God will avenge them. God is the God who works righteousness and justice for the oppressed widow, and orphan, slave, and foreigner. A dire warning to all who would dabble in the affairs of this world – God will avenge.

The LORD of Hosts is a Just Judge. 

God's Judgment of the Arrogant Rich

Moses’ law says in Deuteronomy 24:15:

You shall give him (your worker) his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin.

This is exactly as it says in James 5:4. The cries of the oppressed workers will reach the LORD of hosts. God hears the cry of the oppressed. God will avenge them.

Malachi 3:5
“Then I will draw near to you for judgement. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

Scripture lists unjust payment of a labourers’ wages with sorcery and adultery. Jesus did not mince words when he said in Luke 6 (verse 20),  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” but (in verse 24) “…woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” In Luke 18 (verses 24-25), Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Do we think Jesus was kidding? How do we so easily whitewash this away? How do we so easily treat these words of Jesus as though they do not apply to us who claim to follow him?

We are the richest people on Earth. I would not make a case for scripture saying that having wealth itself is outright sin. But let us not fool ourselves. The treasure of this world is kindling. Don’t play with fire. Don’t make friends with the world and an enemy of God (James 4:4).

So, what does the LORD of Hosts condemn in this passage? God condemns the rich for covetousness, oppression, hedonism, and persecution of the righteous.

1. Covetousness (Hoarding) or 
Avarice (Reprehensible Acquisitiveness)

James 5:2-3
Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

The wealth of those days was is food, clothing, and precious metals. They’ve stored food so long, it’s rotted. Their clothes are so many and unused that they are bug food. Their gold and silver are corroded. Their incorruptible metals . . . are corroded. In the original language, this verse means that they’ve literally “rusted through – top to bottom”.

Do not be foolish. There is not one thing that will last for all eternity. For those who put their trust in the permanence and incorruptibility of their gold and silver, the Sovereign King says, “No, even this will be destroyed. And if Gold and Silver, how much more shall be the impermanence of your very flesh.” In the previous chapter, our very lives are described as a “vanishing vapour” (James 4:14). Our lives are a breath in the nostrils of God. The Judge is coming. Do not fatten yourself for a slaughter.

Romans 2:5
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

Matthew 6:19-20
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

2. Oppression

James 5:4
Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

The Landowner needs the labourer’s work as much as the labourer needs his paycheque. But the owner has the power. The migrant worker may have no way to seek justice for himself, but all that is done in secret will be brought to the light.

God commands us to give to the poor, graciously and mercifully. How great a sin is it to hold back the wages of the poor, which they earned and is rightly theirs? The cries of the oppressed are heard by the LORD of Hosts.

3. Hedonism

James 5:5
You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.

This lifestyle is condemned even if it doesn’t oppress others. Jesus tells a parable in Luke of a rich hedonist who happily trusts in his own wealth and prosperity as though pleasure is the total of his life’s purpose. Jesus describes the hedonist as saying to himselfself, “Self, you have plenty of money laid up for yourself for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God says to the hedonist, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” 
(Luke 12:19-20 – paraphrased)

                More hopeful is Jesus’ parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). In this story, a child asks for his inheritance from his father while he is still alive. He takes it and immediately begins spending all his new wealth on debauchery and empty pleasure. But when his money runs out, the child repents and returns to the father, who receives him with open arms and a party.

                For those trapped in empty hedonism, pray that your wealth runs out before your life does. There is still time to repent of your arrogance. Your loving father waits to receive you back.

4. Persecution

James 5:6
You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Most translations say "the righteous one" or "the innocent" (singular), leading many scholars to interpret this as meaning Jesus himself, equating murder of the poor with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the only person ever called "innocent" in this way (Acts  3:14; 7:52; 22:14). This is harmonious with the account of Saul's conversion, when Jesus tells Saul that he takes personally Saul's persecution of Christians, as though he were persecuting Jesus himself (“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” - Acts 9:4; 22:7), In Matthew’s fifth discourse, Jesus tells a parable of judgment at the end of days, when the mercy shown or denied the least of the people in the world is taken as mercy or oppression toward Jesus himself. Jesus offered no resistance to his crucifixion, and the rich oppressor's treatment of the poor is taken by the Lord Almighty as the same guilt as if they were treating Jesus the same way.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:7)

When the poor are oppressed, their cries reach the LORD of Hosts. When the righteous are persecuted, it is the King of Kings himself who is persecuted. And he will avenge. The Christians James is writing to have been pushed from the urban centres and from their homes to the countryside because of persecution (James 1:1-2). If we take the verse as a double meaning, referring also to these scattered oppressed, we must continue to consider this suggestion that they do not resist, especially considering the undeniable instruction to resist that James gives in the last chapter.

There are two Greek words for “resist”. This verse’s “resist” in Greek (Strong's number 498 - antitássomai) literally means organized, military resistance with intention of violent action. Followers of Jesus are taught to only resist non-violently (The Sermon on the Mount contains examples, such as standing firm and turning the left cheek to someone who slaps you, rather than cowering in fear).  This does not mean, therefore, that it is somehow ideal or righteous to not resist evil. When James instructs us to resist the devil in the previous chapter (James 4:7), he uses a Greek word (Strong's number 436 - anthistēmi) meaning active, direct resistance to the demonic spirit of injustice in the world. We make no mistake that followers of Jesus do resist injustice done toward themselves and others, but our resistance is always done in such a way that we honour the image of God even in the oppressor, humbly offering the opportunity for them to repent of their sin, even as we resist them in it.

Followers of Jesus do resist evil, evil persons, evil action, evil systems. We may do so nonviolently, but we are by no means passive, and there is nothing holy in acting so. On the contrary, the dramatic confrontation in this passage shows us that it is acting on the side of God's justice and righteousness to actively and intentionally resist in this lifetime, even to death.

Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
(Also see Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:27)

The cross was an instrument of torture reserved explicitly for insurrectionists against the empire, not just everyday criminals. When Jesus said "take up your cross and follow me", the symbol of such had not yet become a religious one as we know it today. Those hearing him say it would not have applied it to him, as he had not yet been executed upon one. Therefore, "take up your cross and follow me" would more likely be heard by a first century Palestinian in this way:

"As I am resisting the unjust, violent, occupying forces of the evil Roman Empire, so should you. Give up your demand for a comfortable life, and live the hard road of resistance, the consequences of such behind you wherever you go, and continue to do so until you die at the hands of that empire you resist."

While I believe that Jesus and the early gospel writers do intend more by this sentence than the above paraphrase, it is good for us to consider the original context in which it was heard. Jesus did not shy away from suggesting that our life of discipleship is contrary to the authorities of this world.

(For more on resistance to injustice, I recommend my recent post on James 4:4-10 - Romantic Radical Resistance.)

The Patient Resistance of the Faithful Oppressed

James 5:7-8
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Be patient! Patience here literally means to hold back, stay your hand, don’t retaliate violently. Why?

Because God is a Just Judge

He is Sovereign King

He is a Merciful Saviour

The judgment of the Lord is compared to harvest time. Don’t rush it! His timing is perfect. Our hope is in Jesus.

James 5:9-10
Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.

Our Just Judge is waiting eagerly to avenge! Don’t compare your experience to others (he’s less oppressed than me). Trust in Jesus. To the arrogant rich’s avarice, we offer patience. To their oppression, we answer with endurance. What did the prophets endure?

Hebrews 11:36-40
Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Why do we patiently endure, though we resist?

Because the LORD of HOSTS is

Just Judge

Sovereign King

Merciful Saviour

James 1:2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

God has a greater intention for us than we see in the temporary. His plans are perfect. We do not assert our will. We trust in our Sovereign King.

James 5:11
You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The patience of JOB

Though he lost everything, Job did not curse God (Job 1:11, 22).  When Job lost everything. He questioned God. God questioned him. Between Job 38:4 and 41:34, God questions Job 184 times, each time affirming that Job is a subject of God’s Sovereign will. But after all of God’s questions, God restored Job with twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).

Job 41:34
And the Merciful Saviour gave him everything back that he lost.

The LORD of Hosts. is Just Judge.

Sovereign King.

Merciful Saviour

Matthew 5:11-12
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Blessing is not based on a reaction to an external circumstance. Blessing is an objective and unalterable state derived from the approval and reward of the Almighty God.

                To the arrogant rich, in the midst of your avarice, your hedonism, your corruption, your selfishness, as you persecute and oppress the poor and marginalized: your day will come. There will be a reckoning. The Just Judge will require vengeance for your sin, and has taken account of your oppression as persecution toward himself.

                For those who are oppressed, be hopeful as we resist in faith on this side of eternity. God’s Kingdom is here, and we will see it come in fullness. Whether we see vindication on this side of eternity or in the world to come, either way, the Master Avenger hears our cries, and will bring justice and righteousness for us all.

All Glory to God.


Click the above image to read the entire series from James