This week we quickly recap James’ thoughts on our money, and especially how our money causes us to mistreat those less fortunate than we are.
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
Ill Gotten Gain
We have been discussing what God wants from us in regard to the wealth He may have blessed us with. Our theme previously was the idea that God does not simply want us to to hoard and amass wealth for it’s own sake. God blesses us with riches for specific uses. If God has blessed us this way, it is because He has something He wants us to be doing with that money.
Not only does God care what we do with our money, God cares how we GET our money. Specifically here James is speaking to those who are amassing riches by exploiting and taking advantage of those less fortunate than them. Even more specifically, he is talking about building wealth by not paying people who had done and honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
Day labor was a very common thing during the days when James was writing this Epistle. During the busy days of farming, such as the sowing or harvesting season, it was very common for land owners to hire laborers to do the work they could not do themselves. It was also, unfortunately, common for these laborers to be cheated out of their fair wages. Here we see the reference is to the reaping, or harvesting season. The point there is that this was not an issue of a landowner merely not having the cash flow to pay his workers. The funds to pay were available, as the income producing product was right there being harvested. This was not a delay in payment, or a lack of cash flow. This was a deliberate, intentional default on payment. As the text says, this payment was “kept back by fraud.”
Furthermore, God was, and is not, pleased by this type of economic gain. God has heard the cry of those who have been cheated, and judgment is coming. Their cries have been heard by “The Lord of sabaoth.” This would be the Lord of hosts, or the Lord of the armies of Heaven. In our terms, these cries would have been heard by the Supreme Commander, or Commander in Chief. In other words, they have been heard by He who has the power to do something about it. This description of supreme power is given to reinforce the thought that judgment for this activity is forthcoming, perhaps even imminent.
The lesson here could be directed towards the exploitation of the poor. This is not all God has revealed to us on this topic.
Leviticus 19:13 Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
Deuteronomy 24:14,15 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: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
Jeremiah 22:13 Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work;
This lesson could be on God’s general displeasure with ill gotten gain.
Proverbs 1:19 So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.
Proverbs 10:2 Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.
There is vast relevance of this lesson to today. How often to we actually consider whether or not the ways we earn our money are ways which would be pleasing to God?
Race to Judgment
Here James continues his condemnation of how the rich have amassed their riches and how they have also mistreated their fellow man in the process. His language here takes a real leap in terms of its descriptiveness of what is happening.
This description of living in wanton pleasure is more than simply men enjoying a lavish, pleasurable lifestyle. What we see here is a description of men diving head first into a driven pursuit of pleasure. Not only does this describe a wanton pursuit of pleasure, but it describes the wanton pursuit of pleasure derived at the expense of others. This is serious business.
Ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Anyone who has any experience or knowledge of animal husbandry should easily see the connection which is being made here. What is done with animals destined to be slaughtered? They are always fed well and fattened up prior to that slaughter. Only in this case, the ones headed to slaughter are fattening themselves for their own slaughter!
Again, this speaks of the impending judgment coming to those to misuse their wealth. This seems to make the seriousness of this clear, as this is not a divine slap on the wrist which is coming; it is a slaughter in fact. God’s Word compares the slaughter of animals with the judgment of man on other places in His Word.
Isaiah 34:5-8 For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea. And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. For it is the day of the LORD’S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
Jeremiah 50:26,27 Come against her from the utmost border, open her storehouses: cast her up as heaps, and destroy her utterly: let nothing of her be left. Slay all her bullocks; let them go down to the slaughter: woe unto them! for their day is come, the time of their visitation.
Ezekiel 39:17-19 And, thou son of man, thus saith the Lord GOD; Speak unto every feathered fowl, and to every beast of the field, Assemble yourselves, and come; gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that ye may eat flesh, and drink blood. Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you.
As in past lessons. we could be looking at two different scenarios here. There is substantial discussion as to who exactly the wicked rich are James is addressing. Are they Godless non believers or are they believers seriously in rebellion against their God? It seems that the above language might strongly indicate these are non believers doing these things. They have been warned, admonished, and warned yet more again. Despite these warning, they continue their lifestyle choices and judgment is imminent and will be harsh.
What about us? If we are believers, do we listen to God’s Word? Do we listen to the chastisement He may deliver for our transgressions? Are we listening to God’s fair and repeated warnings to turn from these things and return to Him?
If non believers the same question applies. Are we heeding God’s repeated and earnest warnings to us concerning our lives? Are we answering God’s call to repent and believe, or face the judgement?
Killing the Poor?
We won’t tarry long with today’s devotional, as we seem to be wrapping up James’ description of the wicked rich he has been addressing.
It does seem, somewhat, to be a final nail in the coffin of the description of the downward spiral of these men James is speaking to.
Were these folks literally killing the righteous poor? It doesn’t seem to be necessarily a literal description of murder being committed here. But in light of what we have studied so far it seems to indicate a heart condition for sure. Let us recap some. These folks have been hoarding their money uselessly: they have exploited believers for their own gain; now we see a sense that, if necessary, they would even kill to maintain what they have.
Finally in this verse, we see a closing note that, despite all of this, the believers in question seem to not be resisting or striking back against their oppressors. In light of the direction James takes next, this seems important.
Let’s end with this thought. Of course, God knows all things; this is purely a hypothetical question. If Jesus walked in our home or office and asked to see our financial books, what would we feel? Would we just open them up for view or would we feel a need to hide them?