James - 5:1

1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming on you.

Verse In-Depth

Explanation and meaning of James 5:1.

Differing Translations

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Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
Go to now, ye rich, weep, howling over your miseries that are coming upon you.
Come, you rich men, weep aloud and howl for your sorrows which will soon be upon you.
Come now, you men of wealth, give yourselves to weeping and crying because of the bitter troubles which are coming to you.
Come now, you rich, weep and cry aloud for your miseries that are coming on you.
Act now, you who are wealthy! Weep and wail in your miseries, which will soon come upon you!
Listen to me, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming upon you!
Agedum nunc divites, plorate, ululantes super miseriis vestris quae advenient vobis.

*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.

Historical Commentaries

Scholarly Analysis and Interpretation.

Go to now. They are mistaken, as I think, who consider that James here exhorts the rich to repentance. It seems to me to be a simple denunciation of God's judgment, by which he meant to terrify them without giving them any hope of pardon; for all that he says tends only to despair. He, therefore, does not address them in order to invite them to repentance; but, on the contrary, he has a regard to the faithful, that they, hearing of the miserable and of the rich, might not envy their fortune, and also that knowing that God would be the avenger of the wrongs they suffered, they might with a calm and resigned mind bear them. [1] But he does not speak of the rich indiscriminately, but of those who, being immersed in pleasures and inflated with pride, thought of nothing but of the world, and who, like inexhaustible gulfs, devoured everything; for they, by their tyranny, oppressed others, as it appears from the whole passage. Weep and howl, or, Lament, howling. Repentance has indeed its weeping, but being mixed with consolation, it does not proceed to howling. Then James intimates that the heaviness of God's vengeance will be so horrible and severe on the rich, that they will be constrained to break forth into howling, as though he had said briefly to them, "Woe to you!" But it is a prophetic mode of speaking: the ungodly have the punishment which awaits them set before them, and they are represented as already enduring it. As, then, they were now flattering themselves, and promising to themselves that the prosperity in which they thought themselves happy would be perpetual, he declared that the most grievous miseries were nigh at hand.


1 - Many commentators, such as Grotius, Doddridge, Macknight, and Scott, consider that the Apostle refers at the beginning of this chapter, not to professing Christians, but to unbelieving Jews. There is nothing said that can lead to such an opinion: and if the two preceding chapters were addressed (as admitted by all) to those who professed the faith, there is no reason why this should not have been addressed to them; the sins here condemned are not worse than those previously condemned. Indeed, we find by the Epistles of Peter, and by that of Jude, that there were men professing religion at that time, who were not a whit better (if not worse) than many who profess religion in our age. Besides, it was not unusual, in addresses to Christians, to address unbelievers. Indeed, Paul expressly says, "What have I to do to judge them that are without?" That there were rich men professing the gospel at that time, is evident from James 1:10.

Go to now - Notes, James 4:13.
Ye rich men - Not all rich men, but only that class of them who are specified as unjust and oppressive. There is no sin in merely being rich; where sin exists peculiarly among the rich, it arises from the manner in which wealth is acquired, the spirit which it tends to engender in the heart, and the way in which it is used. Compare the Luke 6:24 note; 1-Timothy 6:9 note.
Weep and howl - Greek: "Weep howling." This would be expressive of very deep distress. The language is intensive in a high degree, showing that the calamities which were coming upon them were not only such as would produce tears, but tears accompanied with loud lamentations. In the East, it is customary to give expression to deep sorrow by loud outcries. Compare Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 14:31; Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 16:7; Jeremiah 4:8; Jeremiah 47:2; Joel 1:5.
For your miseries that shall come upon you - Many expositors, as Benson, Whitby, Macknight, and others, suppose that this refers to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and to the miseries which would be brought in the siege upon the Jewish people, in which the rich would be the peculiar objects of cupidity and vengeance. They refer to passages in Josephus, which describe particularly the sufferings to which the rich were exposed; the searching of their houses by the zealots, and the heavy calamities which came upon them and their families. But there is no reason to suppose that the apostle referred particularly to those events. The poor as well as the rich suffered in that siege, and there were no such special judgments then brought upon the rich as to show that they were the marked objects of the divine displeasure. It is much more natural to suppose that the apostle means to say that such men as he here refers to exposed themselves always to the wrath of God, and that they had great reason to weep in the anticipation of his vengeance. The sentiments here expressed by the apostle are not applicable merely to the Jews of his time. If there is any class of men which has special reason to dread the wrath of God at all times, it is just the class of men here referred to.

Go to now - See on James 4:13.
Weep and howl for your miseries - St. James seems to refer here, in the spirit of prophecy, to the destruction that was coming upon the Jews, not only in Judea, but in all the provinces where they sojourned. He seems here to assume the very air and character of a prophet; and in the most dignified language and peculiarly expressive and energetic images, foretells the desolations that were coming upon this bad people.

Go (1) to now, [ye] rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon [you].
(1) He denounces utter destruction to the wicked and profane rich men, and such as are drowned in their riotousness, mocking their foolish confidence when there is nothing indeed more vain than such things.

Go to now, ye rich men,.... All rich men are not here designed; there are some rich men who are good men, and make a good use of their riches, and do not abuse them, as these here are represented; and yet wicked rich men, or those that were the openly profane, are not here intended neither; for the apostle only writes to such who were within the church, and not without, who were professors of religion; and such rich men are addressed here, who, notwithstanding their profession, were not rich towards God, but laid up treasure for themselves, and trusted in their riches, and boasted of the multitude of their wealth; and did not trust in God, and make use of their substance to his glory, and the good of his interest, as they should have done:
weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you; meaning, not temporal calamities that should come upon them at the destruction of Jerusalem, in which the rich greatly suffered by the robbers among themselves, as well as by the Roman soldiers; for the apostle is not writing to the Jews in Judea, and at Jerusalem; but to the Christians of the twelve tribes scattered in the several parts of the world, and who were not distressed by that calamity; but eternal miseries, or the torments of hell are intended, which, unless they repented of their sins, would shortly, suddenly, and unavoidably come upon them, when their present joy and laughter would be turned into howling and weeping.

Public troubles are most grievous to those who live in pleasure, and are secure and sensual, though all ranks suffer deeply at such times. All idolized treasures will soon perish, except as they will rise up in judgment against their possessors. Take heed of defrauding and oppressing; and avoid the very appearance of it. God does not forbid us to use lawful pleasures; but to live in pleasure, especially sinful pleasure, is a provoking sin. Is it no harm for people to unfit themselves for minding the concerns of their souls, by indulging bodily appetites? The just may be condemned and killed; but when such suffer by oppressors, this is marked by God. Above all their other crimes, the Jews had condemned and crucified that Just One who had come among them, even Jesus Christ the righteous.

Go to now--Come now. A phrase to call solemn attention.
ye rich--who have neglected the true enjoyment of riches, which consists in doing good. James intends this address to rich Jewish unbelievers, not so much for themselves, as for the saints, that they may bear with patience the violence of the rich (James 5:7), knowing that God will speedily avenge them on their oppressors [BENGEL].
miseries that shall come--literally, "that are coming upon you" unexpectedly and swiftly, namely, at the coming of the Lord (James 5:7); primarily, at the destruction of Jerusalem; finally, at His visible coming to judge the world.

Go to now. The same expression is used in James 4:13. There it is a rebuke to those who haste to be rich; here to those who use riches wickedly.
Ye rich men. James looks beyond the church of his day to be his nation and to the church of after time.
Weep and howl. Because of coming judgments for your sins.
Your riches are corrupted. Even their riches in which they trusted are "corrupted," or spoiled. Much of the wealth of that period was in stores of various kinds which time or improper care would destroy.
Your garments are moth-eaten. The rich gathered great stores of garments, carpets, etc. See Matthew 22:11-12. These would be liable to be eaten by moths if not used.
Your gold and silver are cankered. Rusted from disuse. These metals do not literally rust, but do tarnish from long disuse. The idea is that they show they have been hoarded, not used.
A witness against you. The tarnish shows that you have hoarded instead of using.
Shall eat your flesh. They shall punish you, as though heated by fire and eating into your flesh. This hoarded wealth will curse the possessor.
Ye have heaped . . . last days. Instead of laying up treasure in heaven you have continued to pile up earthly treasure to the last, a matter of extreme folly. What James then thought of as "the last days," the end of his nation, country and Jerusalem, was close at hand.
Behold, the hire of the laborers. These rich men are censured for two sins; viz., the improper use of wealth, and the sinful acquisition of wealth. The Bible is everywhere the friend and protector of the laborer. To keep back the hire of the laborer is denounced everywhere. See Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14; Jeremiah 22:13; Malachi 3:5; Job 24:6.
The cries of them. Of the defrauded laborers. God will avenge them.
Ye have lived in pleasure. Have spent your wealth on your own pleasures.
Nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. The meaning is not entirely clear. Probably it is an allusion to the beasts which are fatted and feasted for slaughter and food. They were feasting and engaging in pleasure when the awful destruction was near.
Ye have condemned and killed the just. The murder of the Just One, Jesus, was the crowning sin of Israel which brought upon them destruction. It was the rich and influential, not the poor, who sought his death.
He doth not resist you. Compare Isaiah 53:7.

Come now, ye rich - The apostle does not speak this so much for the sake of the rich themselves, as of the poor children of God, who were then groaning under their cruel oppression. Weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you - Quickly and unexpectedly. This was written not long before the siege of Jerusalem; during which, as well as after it, huge calamities came on the Jewish nation, not only in Judea, but through distant countries. And as these were an awful prelude of that wrath which was to fall upon them in the world to come, so this may likewise refer to the final vengeance which will then be executed on the impenitent.

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