rich-banner_James 1.5

James 5:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

  1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl (5:1a)

James is calling for the rich to take heed to what follows.  In the above passage, James singles out the rich saying you rich weep and howl, in their need for urgency to take heed to his words. This is not because the rich are more sinful than others are. However, the rich have the greater temptation to let their earthly riches surpass their need for the incredible riches in Christ. The rich have more of a tendency to perceive that they have no need for God but can depend on the security of their wealth. James is warning them that they need to not be overly concerned about their riches in light of what is about to happen to them.

THE BOOK OF JAMESJames has already talked about the emotions of weeping and mourning in connection with repentance in chapter four. Now again, James uses these terms for the rich man as a means to say that they too need to repent due to what is about to happen to their riches that cannot save them. James tells them to take heed of the fact that they are to weep and to howl. The word here that James uses for weep means to wail and lament and is not just the shedding of tears but an outward expression of grief as if wailing over someone who has died. James also says the word howl means to shriek. The word also means to cry aloud as if one would cry aloud to a god. James adds that the reasoning for the weeping and howling is for the miseries that are about to come upon them.

for your miseries which are coming upon you. (5:1b)

James here now gives the reason as to why he writes to these rich that they were to weep and mourn for their miseries that were going to come upon them. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, James gives a great warning for these rich to repent because of the soon coming devastation upon their city. The rich with all their wealth and luxuries were thinking that they were secure with no fears. They felt that they could hide behind their wealth, and since they lived in the Great City of God in Jerusalem, nothing would ever happen to them. They feared little because their riches appeared to protect them from the difficulties of daily life.

However, they would find that the words of James would come true when the Roman army under the leadership of General Titus came into the city of Jerusalem and destroyed it. James wrote his book most likely about 62 C.E.

James wrote the letter to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.”[1]  (1:1) James is addressing the letter to his spiritual brothers, who should have been ‘holding their faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.’ (2:1; 5:7) In other words, he was writing to Christian congregations that were outside of Palestine. Much of the counsel offered throughout the letter comes from the Hebrew Scriptures, which does not necessarily mean the letter was meant for Jewish Christians alone. He made a reference to Abraham as being “our father,” similar to Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28-29, where Paul makes it clear that the true seed of Abraham is not determined by whether one is a Jew or a Greek. Therefore, James is addressing the “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:15-16), i.e., spiritual Israel, not some natural Israel.

Two years after James wrote his letter, the Christians living in Rome would receive the blame by Roman Emperor Nero for burning down much of Rome in 64 C.E., and a great persecution of Christians throughout the empire would be underway. Just six years later, in 70 C.E., the Roman General Titus would destroy the city of Jerusalem, and devastate the land of Judah. Over 1,100,00 Jews would be slaughtered, with an additional 97,000 being taken captive, many going into slavery in Egypt and others to Rome to be killed by beasts in the theaters. Therefore, obeying the counsel in the whole of James’ letter was paramount, but especially those who felt their wealth would protect them from the coming persecution. For example, the Roman General Cestius Gallus had come to Jerusalem in 66 C.E. to quash an uprising. He surrounded the city with Roman troops and was on the verge of taking it when he pulled away for some unknown reason. This left an open window for the Christians to recall Jesus’ words and act. (Matt 24:1-2; Lu 21:20-22) If the rich hesitated over their wealth, they would be there when Titus came back in 70 C.E. Yes, they need to flee the city, if lives were to be saved, even if it meant leaving possessions behind.

[1] Jewish people scattered throughout Gentile lands