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Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. (James 5:1)
Come now. James is here beginning a new subject, and he is dealing with another issue facing the Christians to whom he writes. If we remember back in 4:13, his readers were presumptuous in their confidence as to what the future held as they made their plans, which they stretched into a distant future. They were ignoring the uncertainty of Satan’s fallen world and human imperfection. They were not showing any evidence that they were utterly dependent on God as they should have been. The Greek phrase (ἄγω νῦν agō nun) come now, is intended to seize interest, something that we need to take notice of something wrong. Now, we are about to learn an example of why it is imperative to make God our primary consideration in all plans and to appreciate just whose world we are living in at this moment. Further, we need to consider the fallen, imperfect humans in Satan’s world, who are alienated from God and mentally bent toward evil, possessing a treacherous heart, seeking to do wrong, and having no Christian conscience to retrain them.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl.
James is calling for the rich to take heed of what follows. In the above passage, James singles out the rich, saying you rich weep and howl in their need for urgency to heed 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 tend 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 not be overly concerned about their riches in light of what is about to happen. James is not talking about all rich men, just those who are unjust and oppressive. As we know, there is no sin in being rich, nor in becoming rich. Sin exists when wealth, the riches, replace God, and it exists when there is a love of money. Sin also exists when the manner in which the wealth is acquired, maybe by skirting taxes, being dishonest, or setting aside Christian responsibilities. Riches can alter the figurative heart into unjust ways. And remember, the heart is already treacherous as it is. It can impact how wealth is used and how it is made.
James has already talked about the emotions of weeping and mourning in connection with repentance in chapter four. Again, James uses these terms for the rich man 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 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 (ὀλολύζω ololuzō) means to shriek, and the word also means to cry aloud as if one would cry aloud to a god. This is expressive of intense, profound distress. This language is intensive to a great degree, revealing that the disasters coming upon them were not only such as would give way to tears, but those tears would come with thunderous expressions of grief. It was common to express deep sadness and distress in the Middle East by loud outcries. (Cf. Isa. 13:6; 14:31; 15:2; 16:7; Jer. 4:8; 42:2; Joel 1:5) Mourning was expressed vocally by weeping and disfiguring their physical appearance and fasting or otherwise refraining from normal activities. Wailing or loud and bitter crying might come with the weeping – 2Sa 1:11, 12; Es 4:1.
For your miseries which are coming upon you. James here now gives the reason 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. With all their wealth and luxuries, the rich thought 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. This letter is just four years before the major Jewish uprisings. And note that most Christians in this region were Jewish at this time. The Roman army assaulted Jerusalem and its temple starting in 66 C.E., under General Cestius Gallus. The temple was the “holy place,” and the abomination was the Roman army “standing where it ought not to be.” As for the “desolation,” this came in 70 C.E. when General Titus of the Roman army completely desolated Jerusalem and its temple. Specifically, what was this “abomination”? Moreover, in what sense was it “standing in the holy place”? – Matthew 24:15.
James wrote the letter to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” (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 addresses 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 from Roman Emperor Nero for burning down much of Rome in 64 C.E. 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. Another 97,000 would be taken captive. Many went 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, again, General 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 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 needed to flee the city if lives were to be saved, even if it meant leaving possessions behind.
 Jewish people scattered throughout Gentile lands
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