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Look, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of armies. (James 5:4)
Behold, the wages of the laborers who harvested your fields. In the previous verses, the sin spoken of by the apostle was the rich man who was hoarding his wealth. So, here it is exposed that the sinner has gone even further by withholding the wages from the laborers who have contributed to his wealth. Note that the term “laborer” herein is not referring to some big commercial company that provides services for others but rather to the man seeking out extra work, known as doing odd jobs, to care for his family. The phrase ‘who harvested your fields’ is used in a general sense for all labor. Therefore, what James mentions here, the harvesting of the field, while more specifically tied to property ownership, applies to all kinds of labor. How are the wages being withheld today in the modern world? You have many wealthy people who underpay laborers simply because they can when it is in their hand to do otherwise. In Chile, at present, the minimum wage is 2,100 Chilean pesos ($2.50 an hour) when the cost of living is the same as most of the United States of America. You have trillion-dollar companies that move their business to other foreign, impoverished lands for inexpensive labor. Even on a personal level, when we as individuals hire a laborer to mow our yard, work on our car, repair something in our home, we should give them their due, not what some government has determined the minimum wage.
Which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you. The laborer is to do the work that the wealthy man would have otherwise had to have done for himself. The wealthy man may go his entire life, never doing any sort of labor himself personally. The amount the wealthy man pays the laborer is nowhere near a fair and just wage for the work he has done, or what would have had to be paid for a big commercial company to do so. This is how the wealthy man hoards his money today by underpaying so much less that it is almost equal to modern-day slavery. If the wealthy man paid a fair and just wage, in many cases, it would not even affect his family’s lifestyle. He withholds fair wages because he can, which makes him a fraud, an oppressor of man, a modern-day slave master. The Greek word here used (ἀποστερέω apostereō) is to cheat someone, to deprive someone of something they are rightfully owed. 1. defraud, cheat, rob, steal (Mk 10:19; 1Co 6:7, 8); 2. deprive of, deny, withhold, cause someone not to possess something (1Co 7:5; 1Ti 6:5; James 5:4), note: there may be overlap between 1 and 2. The fraud is holding back what is fair and just, hoarding the rightful wages, the just payment owed. He is evading, neglecting, refusing to do the humane thing. The laborer is (κράζω krazō) crying out to God for justice. His cries go to God in heaven.
Here is the actual crime, as it is not as if the wealthy had earned their riches through wise business practices but instead had done so by fraudulently withholding to from their workers. Again, think of those earning minimum wages today because they live from one paycheck to the next, and having just one withheld could cause their entire world to crumble. Now, imagine that minimum wage was a mere $2.50 an hour. In ancient times, the laborer was paid at the end of each day, and the wages were barely enough for food and housing to get through the next day. Therefore, to withhold his pay was one of the greatest crimes that one could commit, literally life and death. (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14–15; Jer. 22:13) Both Jesus and Paul made it very clear that “the laborer deserves his wages.” (Lu 10:7; Rom. 4:4; 1 Tim. 5:18) This stolen money of the wealthy is worthless in the end, as it will only serve as a witness to their crimes before God. – See Malachi 3:5.
And the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of armies. Whether servants of God or not, these workers are crying out over their miscarriage of just. Jesus heard the cries of the harvesters and came to the aid of the oppressed. As it is, he does not forget, and when he returns, all will be held accountable. The Mosaic Law stated, “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin.” (Deut. 24:14-15) The Almighty will not let the injustices of the wicked go unanswered forever. The day is coming when the lovers of money will be held accountable for their wrongs. (See Genesis 18:20) Into what great danger the ones who have deprived the day workers of their money by dishonest means find themselves!
The cry of the oppressed and the wronged have been going to God from all over the earth for some 6,000 years. Right now, mankind is learning the object lesson that they were not designed (created) to walk on their own, but instead to be under the sovereignty of God, with relative freedom and free will. God does step into humanity at times in order to offset whatever Satan is attempting to undermine his will and purposes. However, for the most part, this object lesson of suffering is done without his fixing every wrong. God hears, and he knows, and there is a Day coming in which he will vindicate the oppressed who have been wronged, and he will judge the one who has oppressed. We can be certain that this verse covers in a general sense the abuser and the abused of any sort, and this Scripture condemns it. It is contrary to Christianity. God is recording every detail, and he will continue to offset what needs to be done at this time. The rest will be taken care of when Jesus returns. In the meantime, the church and individual Christians can help the oppressed if it is within their power to do so.
The Lord of armies. Jehovah of armies: (יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֣וֹת Jehovah tsebaot) literally means an army of soldiers or military forces (Gen. 21:22; Deut. 20:9). The expression is found 285 times, with some deviations, in the Scriptures. The prophetic books, especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, have the most occurrences. It is also used figuratively, “the sun and the moon and the stars, all the armies of heaven.” (Deut. 4:19) In the plural form, it is also used of the Israelites forces as well. (Ex. 6:26; 7:4; Num. 33:1; Psa. 44:9) However, the “armies” in the expression “Jehovah of armies” is a reference to the angelic forces primarily, if not exclusively. Paul and James, quoting from the Old Testament prophecies, used its equivalent (τὰ κυρίου σαβαὼθ ta kuriou sabaōth; “the Lord of armies”) in their writings. – Rom. 9:29; Jas 5:4; cf. Isa 1:9.