Various Admonitions in View of the Nearness of the Judgment.
Exhortation to the rich:
v. 1. Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
v. 2. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.
v. 3. Your gold and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
v. 4. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
v. 5. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter.
v. 6. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
To the remarks which the author has written concerning the rich in the first part of his letter he now adds an exhortation in which he calls upon them directly to consider their ways: Come now, you rich men, weep with lamentation over your calamities which are impending. He wants the rich people to take notice, to stop for a moment in their mad scramble for wealth. For even a superficial consideration of their actual position will take all self-satisfaction and pretended happiness out of their heart and mouth, and cause them, instead, to weep bitterly, unto howling, over the miseries and calamities which are drawing near them. It is a prophetic warning of great energy. See Luk_6:24.
The reason why the rich people, those that put their trust in the wealth of this world, will be reduced to a state of pitiful lamentation, is given by the apostle: Your wealth is rotting, and your garments are becoming moth-eaten. Men in that condition believe that their money, their riches, are secure against every contingency, for which reason they also place their full trust in that which their hands have heaped up. But it is in fact decaying, putrefying; their confidence is resting upon a rotten foundation. And their rich and costly clothes and garments, which they have gathered from all the countries of the earth, are becoming moth-eaten. Such is that in which they find their delight, transient, perishable, without lasting value, yea, more, valueless in the sight of God. See Mat_6:19-20. The same is said in the next sentence: Your gold and silver is rusted, and their rust will be a testimony against you and shall consume your flesh like fire; you have heaped up treasure in these last days. The apostle uses strong figurative language. All the money upon which they that will be rich are relying with such complete abandon is covered with filth; it belongs to the perishable goods of this world, all of which will eventually return to the dust and be consumed at the end. This dust or filth or rust will testify against them that they have put their trust in such decaying matter. Instead of satisfying the soul forever, the time will come when this dust and rubbish for which men sold their immortal souls will prove a torment to them, eating into their bodies with the everlasting fire of hell. For the charge stands against them that they heaped up riches for themselves in these last days of the world. They were not satisfied with the blessing which the Lord places upon honest work, with the necessaries of life, but believed themselves under the obligation of storing up, of gathering together, wealth, never resting, never satisfied.
The sacred writer now shows in what manner this heaping up of riches was largely done: Behold, the hire of the laborers that have harvested your fields, of which you have defrauded them, is crying out, and the cries of the harvesters have come to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. It is the ancient controversy between capital and labor which is here touched upon. The rich men hired the laborers for the purpose of harvesting the rich fields of grain which they should have looked upon as the blessing of the Lord. But after the workmen had performed their labor in storing the rich gifts of God's goodness, which incidentally brought new riches to the owners, the latter calmly ignored the fact that the wages were to be paid. It is the same complaint which has arisen thousands of times since, the wealthy owners of farms and factories withholding from the men that work for them the wages due them, while they themselves pocket a disproportionate gain, thus defrauding both their workmen and the public. If only capitalists and laborers both would but heed the warning that it is God who in such cases hears the crying of even the senseless creature, and that the moaning of those that are wronged comes to His ears! He is the Lord of Sabaoth, the King of the heavenly multitudes, the almighty God, the righteous Judge.
There is another accusation that must be brought: You have reveled on the earth and lived a life of dissipation; you have fattened your hearts as in the day of slaughter. That is one of the chief temptations connected with wealth, one of the reasons why the curse of God often attends its acquisition, namely, that people use their wealth for the purpose of leading a life of pleasure, of enjoying this life to the full, of living deliciously and voluptuously, in dissipation and wantonness, in self-indulgence of every form. This is very fittingly expressed when the apostle says that they are fattening their hearts as in the time when slaughtering is done, for then they could eat and drink their fill, forget every form of temperate living, and make their belly their God, Php_3:19. To carry out their aims, those that seek to be rich will not hesitate to use any measures that will bring them the money which they crave: You have condemned, you have killed the righteous, and he does not resist you. This illustrates the depths of depravity to which a person will be driven when once the lust for wealth has taken hold of his heart. There may be a righteous person standing in the way, as in the case of Naboth. But it seems that this fact merely inflames the desire of the covetous all the more. There are thousands of ways in which laws may be evaded or constructed to suit the ends of the wealthy, SO long as they are willing to pay a proportionate sum of money for the legal advice they want. Often enough sentence is passed upon him that is really in the right, and examples are not missing where the righteous person was put out of the way for the sake of a few paltry dollars. Being righteous, such a person will bear the ill-treatment, often in silence, realizing the uselessness of resisting the wrong. The entire description vividly paints conditions as they obtain also today, and in the very midst of the so-called Christian communities.