Epistle of Ya’akov (Ya’akov) ~ 1:9-16

Testing of Our Trust [1] (Faith) ~ Part 2

Let the brother in humble circumstances boast about his high position.

The rich don’t undergo economic trials. They experience temptation, while it is the poor who pass through economic suffering and trials. Their wealth too easily removes any sense of need or commitment to God and leads to total dependence on the things of the world. The social stratification that stood between rich and poor was even more pronounced in the Roman world than it is in our modern world. Ya’akov emphasizes here that people are not superior just because they inherit wealth, but many of us act as if that is the case and deep down actually believe it is so. The teaching of all of Scripture is that before God all people are equal and must equally place their dependence on God rather than on their earthly resources. However, that is more easily said than done for the wealthy, who have so much of the world’s resources at their disposal.

10 But let the rich brother boast about his being humbled; since, like a wildflower, he will pass away. 11 For just as the sun rises with the sharav and dries up the plant so that its flower falls off and its beauty is destroyed, so too the rich person going about his business will wither away.

The sharav is the hot, dry wind that blows across Isra’el from the deserts east of the Land in the spring and (less often) in the fall. Weather like this made Jonah faint and want to die (Jonah 4:8). Compare Isaiah 40:7 (The grass withers, the flower fades when a wind from Adonai blows upon it.); Psalm 102:4, 11.

The poor boast in the fact that Yeshua has exalted them above their earthly station. The boasting of the wealthy should rejoice in the opposite, that Yeshua will remove earthly glory and introduce justice. How can they rejoice in being humbled or brought low? They know that they are first Believers and only secondarily are they rich, and so they are thrilled that evil is destroyed and the poor people of God exalted to their true and proper estate. No wealthy person wants to lose riches, but all should want to use their riches to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Their goal is not to glory in their superiority but to use their advantages to help others.

In the previous ten verses (1:2–11) Ya’akov introduced the key motifs of his letter – the fact of trials, the need for wisdom in overcoming them, and the basic trial behind so many of the difficulties – namely, poverty. Now in the rest of the chapter, he will expand his coverage and develop them further. He begins with trials. In 1:2–4, he showed that trials were tests of trust designed by God to teach endurance; now we will see that trials are also temptations that can seriously harm us spiritually.

12 How blessed is the man who perseveres through temptation! For after he has passed the test, he will receive as his crown the Life which God has promised to those who love him.

When you face trials and temptations, if you stay close to the Lord, you will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (see Matthew 25:21) and you will receive the crown of life specifically reserved for those who don’t walk away from Him in trials or temptations.

13 No one being tempted should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, and God himself tempts no one.

HaSatan tempted Job (Job 1–2) and Yeshua (Mt 4:1–11), but God tempts no one.

As mentioned in our previous post, peirasmos also means temptation, and trials become temptation when we approach them in our own strength rather than relying on God. When we accept them as God-given tests and address them through prayer and trust in God, they lead to spiritual victory and divine approval. When we encounter them in our own strength and blame God for them, we fall into temptation and sin. Every trial has two possible responses, and we must make our choice. Think of a pilgrim on a quest suddenly faced with an obstacle. They can turn to God for wisdom or to themselves in order to get around the obstacle on their own.

A primary temptation in difficult trials is to blame God for our misfortune. So the first thing we must realize is the truth that God is not tempting us. The last line of the Lord’s Prayer is best translated, “Don’t let us yield to temptation” rather than “Lead us not into temptation” (Matt 6:13). God never tempts his followers. He sends trials and tests but not temptation. Rather, the trials become temptation when we fail to seek God’s wisdom in handling them. In Yeshua’s confrontation in the wilderness (Matt 4:11), He was tested by God but tempted by Satan.

Regarding the entire arena of trials and temptations, understand this: God will allow a trial; HaSatan will come with a temptation. The trial may be financial; the temptation may be cocaine to escape the pressure. It’s not God who brings the cocaine your way. It’s not God who tempts you with pornography. No, God simply allows the trial to come. It’s HaSatan who brings the temptation.

Never, ever be mistaken on this point. The trial of our trust is to prove the faithfulness of God. It is never a temptation or an enticement to sin. Therefore, if you’re half-drunk in a bar, the guy offering you free drugs is not God’s way of saying, “I’m going to prove how faithful I am by sending this guy your way.” No! That’s a temptation you brought on yourself by placing yourself in that situation in the first place.

14 Rather, each person is being tempted whenever he is being dragged off and enticed by the bait of his own desire.

His own desire, known in Judaism as the Yetzer ra˓ (“evil inclination”). “One who commits a transgression has been seized by lust and incited thereto by the evil inclination.”

15 Then, having conceived, the desire gives birth to sin; and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. 16 Don’t delude yourselves, my dear brothers. (CJB)

Sin gives birth to death, an example of Ya‛akov’s striking manner of expression. Sin always brings forth death. Every time. Sin will kill relationships. It will destroy happiness. It will ruin health. When you want to tell kids how serious sin is and what sin does, the best thing you can do is take them to the Cross of Calvary and say, “Look at this wonderful, perfect, loving Person and see Him on the Cross in agony and pain and blood. It was when Jesus became sin for us that He died, for sin always brings death.”

Don’t delude yourselves, Ya’akov says. Sin always results in death and tragedy. Sha’ul would put it this way: Don’t delude yourselves: no one makes a fool of God! A person reaps what he sows. ~ Galatians 6:7 (CJB)

We will learn a little more about Ya’akov as we dig into what he has to say about the Testing of Our Trust ~ Part 3.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Recall that the Complete Jewish Bible translates the Hebrew word for faith as trust.

Epistle of Ya’akov (James) ~ 1:2-8

Testing of Our Trust [1] (Faith) ~ Part 1

Regard it all as joy, my brothers, when you face various kinds of temptations;

The specific temptations he addresses in this letter are the poverty and oppression experienced by the poor (1:9–11; 5:1–6; cf. 2:5–6).

Newer translations render this verse: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. (ESV) Why? Because the Greek word for both trial and temptation is the same. You see, what God will send or allow as a trial to strengthen our faith, HaSatan will seek to exploit to get us to sin. Conversely, what HaSatan throws our way as a temptation, God allows to be a trial. HaSatan wants to use the event to tear us down and wipe us out; God wants to use the same event to show us how faithful He is and how real He can be.

Though Ya’akov’s command was direct and forceful, he did not preach to his audience. He identified with them. He addressed them warmly as my brothers. This mode of address is characteristic of the epistle. He used this familiar form no less than 15 times. Ya’akov’s direct commands are coupled with deep compassion.

It is important to note that Ya’akov did not say that a Believer should be joyous for the trials but in the trials.

Obviously, the question arises: How can a person find joy in trials?

for you know that the testing of your trust produces perseverance. But let perseverance do its complete work; so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

Jewish tradition repeatedly stressed the virtue of enduring testings and occasionally stressed joy in them due to trust in God’s sovereignty. It’s one thing to tell your teacher that you know the material; it’s another thing to write the correct answers on a test. Similarly, you may claim to believe and follow God, but how do you respond when he tests your faith and pushes your buttons? God is working to produce perseverance in you. Don’t try to short-circuit a trial by illegitimately seeking to exit it. God is trying to make you spiritually complete and whole. The conflict you experience in the physical world is a means He uses to draw your attention to something in the spiritual world.

Trials can be faced with joy because, infused with trust, perseverance results, and if perseverance goes full-term, it will develop a thoroughly mature Believer who lacks nothing. He will indeed be all God wants him to be.

Ya’akov’s argument may seem logical, but it is still difficult to see how trials can be welcomed with an attitude of joy. Where does one turn for help to understand this paradox?

Now, if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

What should you do when trouble begins? Pray. Ask God for wisdom, which is the ability to apply spiritual truth to life’s circumstances. He promises to give you the wisdom to respond to your trials with maximum spiritual benefit.

Ya’akov’s Jewish audience recognized this as the understanding and practical skill necessary to live life to God’s glory. It was not a wisdom of philosophical speculation, but the wisdom contained in the pure and peaceable absolutes of God’s will revealed in His Word and lived out. Only such divine wisdom enables Believers to be joyous and submissive in the trials of life.

But let him ask in trust, doubting nothing; for the doubter is like a wave in the sea being tossed and driven by the wind.

The image of being driven on the sea was familiar in Greek literature and occurred in Jewish wisdom texts; cf. especially Isaiah 57:20 and the saying about the insincere in Ecclesiasticus 33:2. In the context of Ya’akov, asking for wisdom in faith means committing oneself to obey what God reveals (Jas 2:14–26).

Indeed, that person should not think that he will receive anything from the Lord, because he is double-minded, unstable in all his ways. ~ Ya’akov 1:2-8 (CJB).

Jewish wisdom texts condemn the double-minded or double-tongued person (cf. also 1 Chron 12:33; Ps 12:2); like philosophers, Jewish sages despised the hypocrisy of saying one thing and living another, and speaking or living inconsistently.

How does God communicate this wisdom? Primarily through His Word and secondarily through Godly counsel. So, after you’ve prayed, go to the Scriptures and see what God says about your problem. Then ask Him for help from spiritually-minded people who can teach you how best to apply biblical truth to it. You must, however, approach with trust, doubting nothing or being double-minded (1:6, 8). You can’t go in two directions at once, responding to your problem from a divine perspective and a human one.

We will learn a little more about Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about the Testing of Our Trust ~ Part 2.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Recall that the Complete Jewish Bible translates the Hebrew word for faith as trust.

Epistle of Ya’akov (James) ~ 1:1

Greetings

From: Ya’akov, a slave of God and of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.

Ya’akov was not only the half-brother of Yeshua and by now a slave of God and of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah and the leader of the Kehillah in Yerushalayim. We learn in Acts 15:13 ff. that he was also instrumental in sending a letter to the Goyim throughout Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, instructing them to abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will be doing the right thing.

To: The Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora:

Shalom!

Now in his epistle, he turns his attention to Messianic Jewish Believers. The Twelve Tribes refers to Jews and is not merely a metaphor for Christians, as some Christian commentators maintain. This is clear from the style of the letter generally, particularly from the fact that they had synagogues, as we will see in chapter 2. Not that Gentile Believers were excluded from reading it, but that the leader of the Messianic Jewish community in Yerushalayim is addressing fellow Jewish Believers in the Diaspora, outside Israel.

The Diaspora became a technical term referring to Jews living outside the land of Israel. Besides the expulsions from the land by the Assyrians (2Ki 17; 1Ch 5) and Babylonians (2Ki 24, 25; 2Ch 36), many Jews were taken to Rome as slaves when the Romans conquered them around 63 BCE.

Shalom!

Yeshua instructs us: 12 When you enter someone’s household, say, ‘Shalom aleikhem!’ 13 If the home deserves it, let your shalom rest on it; if not, let your shalom return to you ~ Matthew 10:12-13 (CJB). The word shalom means not only peace but also tranquility, safety, well-being, welfare, health, contentment, success, comfort, wholeness, and integrity. Shalom aleikhem means “Peace be upon you” and is a standard greeting, as is Shalom!” Therefore, there is a deeper meaning to Yeshua’s instruction in v. 13 on when to give or withhold shalom, for He refers not only to the greeting but to the whole complex of peace/wholeness/well-being that the Messiah offers through His talmidim and similarly at many places in the Brit Hadashah. [1]

We will learn a little more about Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about the Testing of Our Faith.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary.

Epistle of Ya’akov (James) ~ An Introduction

So, Who Is this Ya’akov?

That is an excellent question. Men named Ya’akov can be found throughout the Tanakh and the Brit Hadashah. Ya’akov has been translated as both Jacob and James. Ya’akov was a prevalent name in biblical times as it is today.

There are four mentioned in the Brit Hadashah:

  • Ya’akov, the brother of Yochanan and son of Zebedee, disciples of Yeshua (Mark 1:19; 3:17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13).
  • Ya’akov, the son of Alphaeus and also one of the Twelve (Mark 3:18; 15:40; Matt 10:3; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).
  • Ya’akov, the father of Y’hudah (Judas) (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13).
  • Ya’akov, the brother [1] of Yeshua and head elder of the Yerushalayim kehillah (Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55; Acts 15:13).
  • The final option is a pseudonymous (falsely ascribed) letter written under the name of Yeshua’s half-brother but penned by an unknown author. [2]

It is generally agreed that the second and third options are too obscure (they do not take part by name in any action in the Gospels or Acts). Pseudonymity, the fifth option, is a widespread view among critical scholars. However, this line of argument has been overturned in recent years as studies have shown the widespread use of Greek in Palestine and the high quality of many writings.

That leaves two options to choose from: the brother of Yochanan and one of the inner circle of the Twelve (with Kefa and Yochanan); or the brother of Yeshua, chief elder of the Yerushalayim kehillah. The problem with the first is that he was martyred by Herod quite early, about 43–44 CE (see Acts 12), just a bit too early for the writing of this letter. Moreover, Ya’akov, the brother of Yeshua, has been the person associated with this letter from the very start and fits perfectly.

Ya’akov was none other than a blood-brother, a half-brother, of the Lord Yeshua HaMashiach. The Gospels mention this fact (see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). He was at first an unbeliever – His brothers spoke this way because they had not put their trust in him. (John 7:5) However, during the forty days between Yeshua’s resurrection and His ascension, Yeshua was seen by Ya’akov, then by all the emissaries. (1 Corinthians 15:7) Ya’akov is mentioned as being in the upper room in Yerushalayim, praying with his mother and the rest of the disciples (Acts 1:13), and was presumably present when the Ruach HaKodesh descended at Shavu’ot (Pentecost). He had become the leader of the Yerushalayim church when Kefa was released from prison (Acts 12:17), and eventually, he chaired the Council of Yerushalayim (Acts 15:13ff.; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9, 12).

Ya’akov was a “late bloomer,” but he flowered well! Ya’akov knew Yeshua as only a few could. For years he had eaten at the same table, shared the same house, played in the same places, and watched the development of his amazing older brother. And when he indeed came to know Yeshua, his boyhood privilege was not wasted, for he became known as Ya’akov the Just, a man of immense piety. The historian Eusebius records the testimony of Hegisippus that Ya’akov “used to enter alone into the temple and be found kneeling and praying for forgiveness for the people so that his knees grew hard like a camel because of his constant worship of God kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people. So, from his excessive righteousness, he was called the Just.” [3]

Ya’akov had so much going for him, yet merely viewed himself as a slave of God and of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. He could have begun his letter, Ya’akov the Just, from the sacred womb of Myriam, congenital sibling of Yeshua, his brother, a confidant of the Messiah.Ya’akov the Just was also Ya’akov the Humble and so was eminently qualified to author Holy Scripture.

We will learn a little more about Ya’akov as we dig into the first two verses in my next post.

 

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[1] Technically, Ya’akov and his other brothers and sisters were half-siblings of Yeshua as they were products of the union between Myriam and Josef.

[2] Osborne, G. R. (2019). James: Verse by Verse (p. 2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Ibid.