The Coming of the Lord, part 2

James shifts focus in verses 7ff. The previous section was directed toward the rich of the world who are not Christians. The rest of the epistle is addressed to “my brothers” (v.12, 19) or simply “brothers” (v.7, 9, 10). As is characteristic of this epistle, the pastoral heart of James is evident as he exhorts and encourages his brethren to patience (7-12) and prayer (13-20).

James 5.7-12

7Be 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.

8You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

9Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

10As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

11Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

12But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Concerning Grit (7-8)

Exhortation (7a). “Therefore” points us back to the preceding context about the mistreatment from the rich and the miseries in store for them. Since all these things “are coming” upon them, that is, since judgment is coming for the rich from the Lord of Hosts, God’s people (“brothers”) must “be patient.” Brave perseverance is what James is calling his brethren to. The word itself (Gk. makrothumesate) carries the idea of having a “big thermometer” – in other words, withstand the heat of persecution when it comes. Why be patient? The Lord is coming and he will bring deliverance to the righteous.

The Lord is coming to execute judgment upon the wicked also. We, in the religious realm, often speak of the “coming of the Lord” as though it is a one time event. Indeed, Robertson in his commentary notes that what is in view here is the second coming of Christ. On the contrary, Scriptures often speak of the coming of the Lord and you can read about the many times God has come in judgment (Psa 22.19, on enemies; Psa 50.3; Isa 13.9, on Babylon; Isa 19.1, against Egypt; Isa 26.21, inhabitants of the earth (not final judgment); Jer. 4.13, against his people Judah and specifically Jerusalem; et al.). Here is another instance of God coming in judgment on the wickedness of man in history. Granted, the word used here (Gk. parousias) can be used in connection with the final coming of Christ. Jesus Himself used it to speak of judgment coming in history upon wicked men, specifically upon Jerusalem (see Matthew 24.3, 27, 37, 39). Perhaps James has this same coming judgment in mind (i.e. AD 70). James saying that the coming of the Lord is “at hand” or “near” (v.8b) only works to support the idea that this judgment coming would happen soon, even during the lives of those first century readers of this letter.

Example (7b-8a). James points his readers to a very common and relevant example of patience from the agrarian culture. The farmer plants his seed and “waits for the precious fruit of the earth.” Expectation and anticipation are coupled in this example of the farmer. Time must pass before the crop which is useful to beast and man can be reaped following the early and late rains. Although “rains” is not in the text, the implication is heavy that what are in view are the rainy seasons in late Autumn and early Spring (Moo 168). In the farmer is an example of patience. The seed of divine judgment has been planted. These Christians are waiting for the harvest of deliverance to come from the Lord. In the same way the farmer is patient for his crops, “You also, be patient.”

Encouragement (8b). With the pastoral care of a shepherd James offers another word of encouragement. “Establish your hearts” while you wait for “the coming of the Lord” which is “at hand.” These Christians are to firmly ground their faith in anticipation of the coming judgment. Earlier James addressed the man wavering in faith who prays and how this individual is “unstable in all his ways” (1.8). Here is the opposite of this unstable one. A heart that is established is a stable heart, strengthened by grace (Hebrews 13.9). Since the Lord’s coming is so near, these Christians need to firmly adhere to the faith. Adam Clarke captures the nearness factor perfectly when he writes, “He is already on his way to destroy this wicked people, to raze their city and temple, and to destroy their polity for ever; and this judgment will soon take place.”

Concerning Grumbling (9-11)

Exhortation (9). A cleaver way of understanding the imperative in verse 9 is as follows: Do not grudge that you be not judged. If grudge takes its archaic meaning of “murmuring” then this captures the thrust of James’ exhortation to his brethren. The connection of this command to the preceding context seems to be that grumbling because of unjust circumstances is the opposite of patient endurance of trials and mistreatment. The question is why these Christians were grumbling (or complaining) against one another? Perhaps after a long day of injustice from the rich, they would come home to friends and family or come into the assembly and take out their frustration on those around them. Another idea is that these brethren were complaining to their brethren about how bad they were mistreated. Or maybe these Christians were blaming each other for their persecution. Whatever the reason, these Christians were complaining and grumbling against (lit. finding fault with) one another and James has to say cut it out.

Why stop your complaining? “So that you may not be judged.” The judgment of God is at hand and very near, so near in fact that James says “The Judge is standing at the door.” Whether the “standing” is a perfect or imperfect tense verb can be debated by scholars, but the fact of a very real and immanent judgment from the Judge is undeniable. There is no doubt that James is very deliberate in the language he uses to exhort his brethren. It conjures up images of Israel murmuring in the wilderness and alludes to the question of Abraham: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18.25). If that were not enough, perhaps a verse of the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 is alluded to also. God knew His people would grumble against Him in the wilderness and “the time when their foot shall slip” was going to come (verse 35). Therefore Moses says, “The Lord (i.e. YHWH) will judge his people” (32.36, NIV). Over and over God is pictured as Judge of those who grumble. How much more will He judge those who grumble against their own brethren?

Examples (10-11). Two examples of patience are used by James to further strengthen his case and to encourage his brethren to cease and desist in grumbling against one another. These examples are intended to be instructive, like a copy used for imitation. First, he points to the prophets who endured suffering (physical pain and hardship) yet were patient (same word as verse 7, 8). They spoke “in the name of” (Gk. en to onomati) the Lord and were mistreated. Perhaps a contrast is painted here: these Christians are maltreated over their work in the world but the prophets were maltreated over their work in the Word. Yet the prophets did not grumble but entrusted their souls to their faithful God. They remained steadfast in their faith and mission. James reminds his brethren of what he has already written about earlier in the epistle (1.12; see also Daniel 12.12) about the beatitude of the steadfast. Those remaining steadfast enjoy the bliss of God.

Second, James points his readers to Job. Like the prophets he remained steadfast during severe trials. Up to this point, James has spoken of “patience” (Gk. makrothumia). Now he writes concerning the “steadfastness” (Gk. hupomone) of Job. There are those who find subtle differences between these terms. Lenski says the former is patience when people abuse us and the latter is brave perseverance under things which distress us. Moo says the former is long-suffering with a loving attitude toward others and the latter is a strong and determined attitude with which we face difficulty. Perhaps there is a difference but it would seem James uses them somewhat interchangeably, almost as synonyms. Nevertheless, Job presents an interesting case for steadfastness. Did he not grumble against God concerning his affliction? While he did complain, Job never renounced God nor abandoned his faith. He clung to God and continued in hope.

No doubt this was a familiar example for James says, “You have heard.” Not only that, James says, “You have seen the purpose of the Lord.” Seen here is used in the sense that God has shown it through His revealed word. The “purpose” (or end) of the Lord has to do with how he dealt with Job, that is with compassion and mercy. Most commentators point to the end of Job (42.12-13) where the property and family Job lost is restored to him and long life is granted to him. “Certainly, James does not mean that patience in suffering will always be rewarded by material prosperity; too many examples , the Old Testament (Jeremiah!) and the New, prove this wrong” (Moo 172). Rather he seeks by this allusion to the Old Testament character Job to encourage and assure his readers “the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (see Exodus 34.6; Psalm 103.8).

Concerning Giving Your Word (12)

Verse 12 is clearly a restatement or at least an allusion of the teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5.33-37). James reminds his readers of what Jesus has said which seems to indicate that this teaching (if not the passage itself) was evidently present to James’ thoughts. Coming out of Judaism which taught “a man might swear with his lips, and annul in his heart; and then the oath was not binding” (see Clarke concerning Rabbi Akiba), these Christians were perhaps a bit hasty in their oath taking. So prevalent was swearing in the Jewish culture (and the Oriental culture in general) that Aben Ezra says, “Men swear daily countless times, and then swear that they have not sworn!” (Pulpit Commentary 70) Though Jesus’ teaching was available, either these Christians were lax in keeping His word or had not been instructed concerning oaths. Perhaps like Peter the night Jesus was betrayed these Christians had relapsed into behavior of their former life (see Matthew 26.72, 74). James leaves them without excuse. The oath taking usually involved invocation of a divine being or in this case invoking heaven or earth or some other oath to execute judgment upon a person if the statement or obligation made were not true or kept. James says not to do this. Burton Coffman notes, “It was a common sin of that day to punctuate ordinary conversation with all kinds of imprecations and oaths used as a device for establishing credibility.” Instead, Christians should be so truthful that when they say “yes” or when they say “no” there is no need for an oath or swearing or “pinky promise” – Christians keep their word. To fail to keep your word is to fall under the judgment of the Judge.

How this fits in context is difficult. Adam Clarke is outright in saying he cannot figure out why this is here and prefers to think of it as separate and final advice for James’ readers. Robertson likewise states there is no connection to the preceding context. That this verse is connected with the previous context of attitude, behavior, and demeanor of those looking forward to the coming of the Lord is certain – “above all” coupled with de (Eng. but or and) indicates this.[1] Since swearing or making oaths is so foreign to the enduring and patient Christian, it is “above all” to be avoided, especially in light of the Lord’s teaching. Just because a Christian has turned to the one true and only God does not give him/her the right to invoke God in oaths and somehow strengthen your word. It doesn’t work that way. Rather, because a Christian has trusted in the only true and living God, he should speak truth to all, especially in light of the coming of the Lord.

[1] There are those who see pro tanton de as introductory of the end of the epistle, similar to Paul’s “finally” (Gk. loipon) in his epistles or Peter’s “above all” (Gk. pro tanton) in 1 Peter 4.8.

One thought on “The Coming of the Lord, part 2”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: