Warning Against Material Riches (James 5:1) ~ A Daily Devotion for March 6, 2014

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.” ~ James 5:1

Explanation of the Text: In this particular text, James uses what is called apostrophe, something James has done several times throughout his epistle. Apostrophe is the use of a dialogue with an imaginary audience in order to make a point to those who are present (or reading the letter). It is a condemnation to the rich, who appear to be unbelievers. James is addressing rich unbelievers who are not present here in order to make to make a point to those who are reading; he is offering encouragement that they may know  there is impending destruction coming to their oppressors.[1] This particular passage is a condemnation to the rich, but note that it is not condemning every rich person.

The passage begins with the phrase, ‘Come now.” The tone is very emphatic and admonishing, thus setting the tone for James’ particular address here. Therefore, it is not so much as a, ‘Come now’ but rather a ‘Come NOW!’

The terms ‘weep’ and ‘howl,’ although not common in the New Testament are found often throughout LXX. The terms were used in the Old Testament prophets “to describe the weeping and wailing of those suffering the Lord’s judgment (Isaiah 13:6; Jeremiah 8:23; Hosea 12:5; Joel 1:5).[2] The language of weep and howl and can be traced back to James 4:9 in which James is calling on sinners to come forth and repent of their ways, and turning away from the world and towards God instead.

Examination & Application of the Text: It is not that being rich is a sin, but it is the love of material things that is the sin. Ecclesiastes 5:10 notes, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. “The thirst for wealth is insatiable because it is a false god, and false gods cannot satisfy our desire for meaning or significance.”[3] As a result, instead of loving the world, one should cast off its deceptive wealth and put on the newness in Christ. The one who seeks after wealth will never be satisfied, always wanting more. It can be compared to drinking coffee in order to cure exhaustion.[4] It will always fall short and leave the person needing more. Therefore, the call is to come to God, mourning over sin (weeping and howling as James puts it). We should be mournful of the sin in our lives and the chasm is creates in having a relationship with God.


[1] Craig L. Blomberg & Mariam J. Kamell, James, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 220.

[2] Chris A. Vlachos, James, B&H Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, Ed. Murray J. Harris & Andreas J. Kostenberger (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2013), 158-159.

[3] Daniel M. Doriani, James, Reformed Expository Commentary (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 168.

[4] Daniel M. Doriani, James, Reformed Expository Commentary (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 168.

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