James 4:14
Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(14) Whereas ye know not . . . .—Read, Whereas ye know not aught of the morrow—what, i.e., the event may be. The hopeless misery of the unfaithful servant comes into mind at this; he has left the greater business to perform the less; or, it may be, said in heart, “My lord delayeth his coming,” and so has begun “to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken.” And lo! the thunder of the chariot wheels, the flash of the avenging sword, the “portion with the hypocrites,” the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Read Matthew 24:42-51.)

For what is your life? It is even a vapour.—The rebuke is stronger still, the home-thrust more sharp and piercing—Ye are even a vapour: ye yourselves, and all belonging to you; not merely life itself, for that confessedly is a breath; and many a man, acknowledging so much, counts of the morrow that he may lay up in store for other wants besides his own.

A vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (or, disappeareth).—There is a play upon words to mark the sad antithesis. The vision of life vanisheth as it came; and thus even a heathen poet says—

“Dust we are, and a shadow.”

(Comp. Wisdom Of Solomon 5:9-14.)

4:11-17 Our lips must be governed by the law of kindness, as well as truth and justice. Christians are brethren. And to break God's commands, is to speak evil of them, and to judge them, as if they laid too great a restraint upon us. We have the law of God, which is a rule to all; let us not presume to set up our own notions and opinions as a rule to those about us, and let us be careful that we be not condemned of the Lord. Go to now, is a call to any one to consider his conduct as being wrong. How apt worldly and contriving men are to leave God out of their plans! How vain it is to look for any thing good without God's blessing and guidance! The frailty, shortness, and uncertainty of life, ought to check the vanity and presumptuous confidence of all projects for futurity. We can fix the hour and minute of the sun's rising and setting to-morrow, but we cannot fix the certain time of a vapour being scattered. So short, unreal, and fading is human life, and all the prosperity or enjoyment that attends it; though bliss or woe for ever must be according to our conduct during this fleeting moment. We are always to depend on the will of God. Our times are not in our own hands, but at the disposal of God. Our heads may be filled with cares and contrivances for ourselves, or our families, or our friends; but Providence often throws our plans into confusion. All we design, and all we do, should be with submissive dependence on God. It is foolish, and it is hurtful, to boast of worldly things and aspiring projects; it will bring great disappointment, and will prove destruction in the end. Omissions are sins which will be brought into judgment, as well as commissions. He that does not the good he knows should be done, as well as he who does the evil he knows should not be done, will be condemned. Oh that we were as careful not to omit prayer, and not to neglect to meditate and examine our consciences, as we are not to commit gross outward vices against light!Whereas, ye know not what shall be on the morrow - They formed their plans as if they knew; the apostle says it could not be known. They had no means of ascertaining what would occur; whether they would live or die; whether they would be prospered, or would be overwhelmed with adversity. Of the truth of the remark made by the apostle here, no one can doubt; but it is amazing how men act as if it were false. We have no power of penetrating the future so as to be able to determine what will occur in a single day or a single hour, and yet we are almost habitually forming our plans as if we saw with certainty all that is to happen. The classic writings abound with beautiful expressions respecting the uncertainty of the future, and the folly of forming our plans as if it were known to us. Many of those passages, some of them almost precisely in the words of James, may be seen in Grotius and Pricaeus, in loc. Such passages occur in Anacreon, Euripides, Menander, Seneca, Horace, and others, suggesting an obvious but much-neglected thought, that the future is to is all unknown. Man cannot penetrate it; and his plans of life should be formed in view of the possibility that his life may be cut off and all his plans fail, and consequently in constant preparation for a higher world.

For what is your life? - All your plans must depend of course on the continuance of your life; but what a frail and uncertain thing is that! How transitory and evanescent as a basis on which to build any plans for the future! Who can calculate on the permanence of a vapor? Who can build any solid hopes on a mist?

It is even a vapour - Margin, "For it is." The margin is the more correct rendering. The previous question had turned the attention to life as something peculiarly frail, and as of such a nature that no calculation could be based on its permanence. This expression gives a reason for that, to wit, that it is a mere vapor. The word "vapor" (ἀτμὶς atmis,) means a mist, an exhalation, a smoke; such a vapor as we see ascending from a stream, or as lies on the mountain side on the morning, or as floats for a little time in the air, but which is dissipated by the rising sun, leaving not a trace behind. The comparison of life with a vapor is common, and is as beautiful as it is just. Job says,

O remember that my life is Wind;

Mine eyes shall no more see good.

14. what—literally, "of what nature" is your life? that is, how evanescent it is.

It is even—Some oldest authorities read, "For ye are." Bengel, with other old authorities, reads, "For it shall be," the future referring to the "morrow" (Jas 4:13-15). The former expresses, "Ye yourselves are transitory"; so everything of yours, even your life, must partake of the same transitoriness. Received text has no old authority.

and then vanisheth away—"afterwards vanishing as it came"; literally, "afterwards (as it appeared), so vanishing" [Alford].

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow; whether ye yourselves shall continue till then, or what else shall then be, or not be. In vain do ye boast of whole years, when ye cannot command the events of one day.

For what is your life? This question implies contempt, as 1 Samuel 25:10 Psalm 144:3,4.

It is even a vapour; like a vapour, frail, uncertain, and of short continuance; and then how vain are those counsels and purposes that are built upon no more sure a foundation than your own lives. Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow,.... Whether there would be a morrow for them or not, whether they should live till tomorrow; and if they should, they knew not what a morrow would bring forth, or what things would happen, which might prevent their intended journey and success: no man can secure a day, an hour, a moment, and much less a year of continuance in this life; nor can he foresee what will befall him today or tomorrow; therefore it is great stupidity to determine on this, and the other, without the leave of God, in whom he lives, moves, and has his being; and by whose providence all events are governed and directed; see Proverbs 27:1

for what is your life? of what kind and nature is it? what assurance can be had of the continuance of it? by what may it be expressed? or to what may it be compared?

it is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away; which rises out of the earth, or water, and expires almost as soon as it exists; at least, continues but a very short time, and is very weak and fleeting, and carried about here and there, and soon returns from whence it came: the allusion is to the breath of man, which is in his nostrils, and who is not to be accounted of, or depended on.

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 4:14. James opposes to carnal security the uncertainty of the future and the transitoriness of life.

οἵτινες] = ut qui; correctly Wiesinger: “Ye who are of such a character that,” etc.

οὐκ ἐπίστασθε τὸ (τὰ) τῆς αὔριον] indicates the ignorance of what the next day will bring forth; comp. Proverbs 3:28; Proverbs 27:1 : μὴ καυχῶ τὰ εἰς αὔριον, οὐ γὰρ γινώσκεις τί τέξεται ἡ ἐπιοῦσα: thus whether life will still last. What follows shows that James had this chiefly in view.

ποία γὰρ ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν;] γάρ gives an explanation of οὐκ ἐπίστασθε.

ποία] as in 1 Peter 2:20, how constituted? with the subsidiary meaning of nothingness. By the reading adopted by Buttmann: οἵτινες οὐκ ἐπίστασθε τῆς αὔριον ποία ζωὴ ὑμῶν, the genitive τῆς αὔριον is dependent on ποία ζωή; thus, “Ye know not how your life of to-morrow is circumstanced.” This idea is evidently feebler than the usual reading, for it is supposed that they yet live on the following day, which according to the other reading is denoted as doubtful.

ἀτμὶς γάρ ἐστε κ.τ.λ.] γάρ refers to the idea lying at the foundation of the preceding question, that life is entirely nothing.

ἀτμίς (in the N. T. only here and in Acts 2:19, in an O. T. quotation), literally breath; thus in Wis 7:25, synonymous with ἀπόῤῥοια, has in the O. T. and the Apocrypha chiefly the meaning of smoke; thus Genesis 19:28 : ἀτμὶς καμίνου; so also Sir 22:24; Ezekiel 8:11 : ἀτμὶς τοῦ θυμιάματος; Sir 24:15 : λιβάνου ἀτμίς; see also Joel 3:3; Sir 43:4; in the classics it also occurs in the meaning of vapour. According to Biblical usage, it is here to be taken in the first meaning (smoke); thus Lange; Luther translates it by vapour; de Wette and Wiesinger, by steam.

ἐστε is stronger than the Rec. ἐστι; not only their life, but also they themselves are designated as a smoke; as in chap. Jam 1:10 it is also said of the πλούσιος, that he shall fade away as the flower of the grass.

By ἡ πρὸς ὀλίγονἀφανιζομένη] the nature of the smoke is stated.

πρὸς ὀλίγον] = for a little time; ὀλίγον is neuter.

καί is to be explained: as it appears, so it also afterwards vanishes. In the corresponding passages, Job 8:9, Psalm 102:12; Psalm 144:4, the transitoriness of life is represented not under the image of ἀτμίς (Wiesinger), but of a shadow; differently in Psalm 102:4.Jam 4:14. οἵτινες οὐκ ἐπίστασθε τὸ τῆς αὔριον: “Ye are they that know not …”; it is the contrast between the ignorance of men, with the consequent incertitude of all that the morrow may bring forth, and the knowledge of God in accordance with Whose will (cf. ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ in the next verse) all things come to pass.—ποία ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν; “Of what kind is your life”? The reference here is not to the life of the wicked, but to the uncertainty of human life in general; the thought of the ungodly being cut off is, it is true, often expressed in the Bible, but that is not what is here referred to; it is evidently not conscious sin, but thoughtlessness which the writer is rebuking here.—ἀτμὶς γάρ ἐστε: the reading ἐστε, in preference to ἐστι or ἔσται, makes the address more personal; ἀτμὶς is often used for “smoke,” e.g., Acts 2:17; cf. Psalm 102:3 (4), ἐξέλιπον ὡσεὶ καπνὸς αἱ ἡμέραι μου; the word only occurs here in the N.T., in Acts 2:19 it is a quotation from Joel 2:30 (Sept.) Jam 3:3 (Heb.). In Job 7:7 we have μνήσθητι ὅτι πνεῦμά μου ἡ ζωή, cf. Wis 2:4; the rendering “breath” instead of “vapour” does not commend itself on account of the former being invisible, and the point of the words is that man does appear for a little time (πρὸς ὀλίγον φαινομένη) and then disappears, cf. Wis 16:6.—ἀφανιζομένη: the word occurs, though in a different connection, in Sir 45:26.14. Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow] Literally, the thing, or the event of to-morrow, the phrase, being parallel to “the things of the morrow” in Matthew 6:34. St James partly reproduces that teaching, partly that of Proverbs 27:1.

what is your life?…] Literally, of what nature your life is. The comparison that follows was one familiar to all the wise of heart who had meditated on the littleness of man’s life. It meets us in Job 7:7; Psalm 102:3. A yet more striking parallel is found in Wis 5:9-14, with which St James may well have been familiar. The word for “vanishing away” occurs, it may be noted, in Wis 3:16. It is not without interest to note at once the agreement and the difference between St James’ counsel and that of the popular Epicureanism.

“Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quærere; et

Quem Fors dierum cumque dabit, lucro Appone.”

Horace, Od. i. 9.

“Strive not the morrow’s chance to know,

And count whate’er the Fates bestow,

As given thee for thy gain.”

It was not strange that those who thought only of this littleness, should deem that their only wisdom lay in making the most of that little in and by itself, and take “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32) as their law of life. St James had been taught to connect man’s life with a Will higher than his own, and so to take the measure of its greatness as well as of its littleness.Jam 4:14. Οὐκ ἐπίστασθε, ye know not) Proverbs 3:28.—τὸ τῆς[59]) See App. Crit. Ποία, Psalm 62:10.—ἡ ζωὴ) life, on which the action of to morrow is suspended.—ἀτμὶς, a vapour) A diminutive.—γὰρ, for) From the question the particle is repeated in the answer: this gives force.—ἔσται, shall be[60]) See App. Crit. Ed. ii. The expression ΤῸ ΑὔΡΙΟΝ, to-morrow, confirms the probability of the sense in the future, ἔσται, and so does the whole discourse concerning future time: Jam 4:13; Jam 4:15.

[59] A and later Syr. have τά: and so Lachm. Tisch. with more modern authorities, τό. Vulg. has in crastinum or in crastino. B omits the word—E.

[60] B and later Syr. have γάρ ἐστε: so Tisch. and Lachm. But A has ἔσται; Rec. Text, γάρ ἐστιν: so Vulg.; hut no other very old authority.—E.Verse 14 fortifies the rebuke of ver. 13 by showing the folly of their action; cf. Proverbs 27:1, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow (τὰ εἰς αὔριον), for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Whereas ye know not; rather, seeing that, or, inasmuch as ye know not, etc. (οἵτινες οὐκ ἐπίστασθε). The text in this verse again in a somewhat disorganized condition, but the general drift is clear. We should probably read, Οἵτινες οὐκ ἐπίστασθε τὸ τῆς αὔριον ποίαἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν ἀτμὶς γὰρ ἐστε ἡ πρὸς ὀλίγον φαινομένη ἔπειτα καὶ ἀφανιζομένη, R.V., "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. What is your life? For ye are a vapor, our that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away." Whereas ye know not (οἵτινες οὐκ ἐπίστασθε)

The pronoun marking a class, as being of those who know not.

What shall be on the morrow (τὸ τῆς αὔριον)

Lit., the thing of the morrow. The texts vary. Westcott and Hort read, Ye know not what your life shall be on the morrow, for ye are a vapor: thus throwing out the question.

What is your life? (ποία)

Lit., of what kind or nature.

It is even a vapor (ἀτμὶς γάρ ἐστιν)

But all the best texts read ἐστε, ye are. So Rev., which, however, retains the question, what is your life ?

Appeareth - vanisheth

Both participles, appearing, vanishing.

And then (ἔπειτα καὶ)

The καὶ placed after the adverb then is not copulative, but expresses that the vapor vanishes even as it appeared.

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