Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
This gets back to what it means to be rich in the first century. Back then, the rich generally did not come by it honestly. So, James gives them an alarming warning.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!
This time, James details how their riches are corrupted. Their gold and silver came from the sweat of others. Even so, they weren’t content to garner profits honestly—instead cheating their workers.
Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
But justice is coming. The Greek word transliterated as Sabaoth (Σαβαώθ, Sab-a-oath) literally means armies. James is warning them of their ultimate fate at the hands of the heavenly host. This is what Jesus was talking about when he explained the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13.
“…the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.” — Matthew 13:39b
Then James wraps up this point with a grotesque forecast—“you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.” It’s amazing that James would use such harsh language. He has to be talking to people that would read this letter.
His bold admonishment of them reflects authority—and an expectation that they would listen.
While this tongue lashing is only directed at a few of his readers, it’s important for all to ponder. Every one of us is fantastically wealthy (and blessed) compared to even the richest people in the first century.
Just consider what their teeth must have looked like. The only dental treatment they had was extraction. And there was no modern toothpaste and nothing even approaching the cleaning power of a modern toothbrush. Soap had been invented, but was mainly used for washing things, not people. Yuck.
But modern blessings are not, in and of themselves, wrong—and this passage explains that.
What matters is attitude. You can have a bad attitude with little wealth or a good attitude with great wealth. James lights into the ones who “have heaped up treasure in the last days.”
That last one is direct lack of faith. It reflects trusting in stored treasure instead of in God.
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These weekday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. Saturdays' by Matt Richardson. Subscribe here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community
The weekly study guides, which include questions for discussion or meditation, are here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.