James 4:2
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
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(2, 3) Ye lust, and have not . . .—Better thus: Ye desire, and have not; ye kill, and envy, and cannot obtain; ye fight and make war; ye have not, because ye ask not; ye ask and receive not, because ye ask that ye may spend it on your lusts. It is interesting to notice the sharp crisp sentences, recollecting at the same time that St. James himself fell a victim to the passions he thus assails, probably at the hands of a zealot mob. The marginal note to the second of the above paragraphs gives envy as an alternative reading for “kill”: but this is an error. “Ye kill and play the zealot” would be still nearer the original: for, as with Jedburgh justice in the old Border wars, hanging preceded the trial, so with these factions in Jerusalem death went first, almost before the desire to deal it. Lust, envy, strife, and murder:—like the tale of human passion in all ages, the dreadful end draws on. It is written in every national epic; its elements abound in the life of each individual: the slaughter in Etzel’s halls overshadows the first lines of the Nibelungen-lied; the curse of Medea hangs like a gathering cloud around Jason and his Argonauts. Is it objected (James 4:3) that prayer is made but not answered? The reply is obvious; Ye ask not in the true sense; when ye do ask ye receive not, because God is too loving, even in His anger. Nevertheless, remember, He gave the Israelites “their desire, and sent leanness withal into their soul” (Psalm 106:15). “I,” said He by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14:4), “will answer him that cometh to Me, according to his idols.” What greater curse could fall than an eternity of avarice to the miser, of pollution to the sensual, of murder to the violent? Many a man of quiet Christian life will thank God by-and-by, when he knows even as he is known (1Corinthians 13:12), that not a few of his prayers were unanswered, or at least that they were not granted in the way which he had desired. Safety is only to be found in our Lord’s own manner of petition, “Not my will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). Alas! in shameful contrast to this we read of many an evil-hearted prayer offered up to the Lord our Righteousness; invocations of saints for help in unholy deeds; of angels, for acts rather befitting devils of the pit; and can hardly have the conscience to reproach the heathen for supplicating their gods in no worse a manner for no better cause.

James 4:2-3. Ye lust Επιθυμειτε, ye covet, or eagerly desire; and have not — What you desire; you are, some way or other, hindered from attaining that of which you are so greedy; ye kill — In your heart; for he that hateth his brother is a murderer. Or he speaks of the actual murders which the carnal Jews, called zealots, committed of the heathen, and even those of their own nation who opposed them. Accordingly, he says, ye kill, Και ζηλουτε, and are zealous, thereby showing, evidently, that the persons to whom he spake were zealots. Ye fight and war, yet ye have not — What ye so eagerly desire; because ye ask not — And no marvel; for a man full of evil desire, of malice, envy, hatred, cannot pray. Since, as appears by this, the persons to whom the apostle is speaking failed of their purpose, because they did not pray to God, it shows, says Macknight, “that some of their purposes, at least, were laudable, and might have been accomplished with the blessing of God. Now this will not apply to the Judaizing teachers in the church, who strongly desired to subject the converted Gentiles to the law of Moses. As little will it apply to those who coveted riches. The apostle’s declaration agrees only to such of the unconverted Jews as endeavoured to bring the heathen to the knowledge and worship of the true God. So far their attempt was commendable, because, by converting the Gentiles to Judaism, they prepared them for receiving the gospel; and if for this they had asked the blessing of God sincerely, they might have been successful in their purpose.” Ye ask, &c. — But if ye do ask, ye receive not, because ye ask amiss Κακως αιτεισθε, ye ask wickedly, from sinful motives. Some understand this of the Jews praying for the goods of this life: “But though,” says Macknight, “such a prayer had been allowable, the apostle scarcely would have spoken of it here, as it had no connection with his subject. His meaning, in my opinion, is, that they prayed for success in converting the heathen, not from any regard to the glory of God and the salvation of the heathen, but from a desire to draw money from them whom they converted, to spend on their own lusts.”

4:1-10 Since all wars and fightings come from the corruptions of our own hearts, it is right to mortify those lusts that war in the members. Wordly and fleshly lusts are distempers, which will not allow content or satisfaction. Sinful desires and affections stop prayer, and the working of our desires toward God. And let us beware that we do not abuse or misuse the mercies received, by the disposition of the heart when prayers are granted When men ask of God prosperity, they often ask with wrong aims and intentions. If we thus seek the things of this world, it is just in God to deny them. Unbelieving and cold desires beg denials; and we may be sure that when prayers are rather the language of lusts than of graces, they will return empty. Here is a decided warning to avoid all criminal friendships with this world. Worldly-mindedness is enmity to God. An enemy may be reconciled, but enmity never can be reconciled. A man may have a large portion in things of this life, and yet be kept in the love of God; but he who sets his heart upon the world, who will conform to it rather than lose its friendship, is an enemy to God. So that any one who resolves at all events to be upon friendly terms with the world, must be the enemy of God. Did then the Jews, or the loose professors of Christianity, think the Scripture spake in vain against this worldly-mindedness? or does the Holy Spirit who dwells in all Christians, or the new nature which he creates, produce such fruit? Natural corruption shows itself by envying. The spirit of the world teaches us to lay up, or lay out for ourselves, according to our own fancies; God the Holy Spirit teaches us to be willing to do good to all about us, as we are able. The grace of God will correct and cure the spirit by nature in us; and where he gives grace, he gives another spirit than that of the world. The proud resist God: in their understanding they resist the truths of God; in their will they resist the laws of God; in their passions they resist the providence of God; therefore, no wonder that God resists the proud. How wretched the state of those who make God their enemy! God will give more grace to the humble, because they see their need of it, pray for it are thankful for it, and such shall have it. Submit to God, ver. 7. Submit your understanding to the truth of God; submit your wills to the will of his precept, the will of his providence. Submit yourselves to God, for he is ready to do you good. If we yield to temptations, the devil will continually follow us; but if we put on the whole armour of God, and stand out against him, he will leave us. Let sinners then submit to God, and seek his grace and favour; resisting the devil. All sin must be wept over; here, in godly sorrow, or, hereafter, in eternal misery. And the Lord will not refuse to comfort one who really mourns for sin, or to exalt one who humbles himself before him.Ye lust, and have not - That is, you wish to have something which you do not now possess, and to which you have no just claim, and this prompts to the effort to obtain it by force. You desire extension of territory, fame, booty, the means of luxurious indulgence, or of magnificence and grandeur, and this leads to contest and bloodshed. These are the causes of wars on the large scale among nations and of the contentions and strifes of individuals. The general reason is, that others have that which we have not, and which we desire to have; and not content with endeavoring to obtain it, if we can, in a peaceful and honest manner, and not willing to content ourselves without its possession, we resolve to secure it by force. Socrates is reported by Plato to have said on the day of his death, "nothing else but the body and its desires cause wars, seditions, and contests of every kind; for all wars arise through the possession of wealth."

Phaedo of Plato, by Taylor, London, 1793, p. 158. The system of wars in general, therefore, has been a system of great robberies, no more honest or honorable than the purposes of the foot-pad, and more dignified only because it involves greater skill and talent. It has been said that "to kill one man makes a murderer, to kill many makes a hero." So it may be said, that to steal a horse, or to rob a house, makes a man a thief or burglar; to fire a dwelling subjects him to the punishment of arson; but to plunder kingdoms and provinces, and to cause cities, towns, and hamlets to be wrapped in flames, makes an illustrious conqueror, and gives a title to what is deemed a bright page in history. The one enrolls the name among felons, and consigns the perpetrator to the dungeon or the gibbet; the other, accompanied with no more justice, and with the same spirit, sends the name down to future times as immortal. Yet in the two the all-discerning eye of God may see no difference except in the magnitude of the crime, and in the extent of the injury which has been inflicted. In his way, and according to the measure of his ability, the felon who ends his life in a dungeon, or on the gibbet, is as worthy of grateful and honored remembrance as the conqueror triumphing in the spoils of desolated empires.

Ye kill - Margin, or "envy." The marginal reading "envy" has been introduced from some doubt as to the correct reading of the text, whether it should be φονεύτε phoneute, "ye kill," or φθονεῖτε phthoneite, "ye envy." The latter reading has been adopted by Erasmus, Schmidius, Luther, Beza, and some others, though merely from conjecture. There is no authority from the manuscripts for the change. The correct reading undoubtedly is, ye kill. This expression is probably to be taken in the sense of having a murderous disposition, or fostering a brutal and murderous spirit. It is not exactly that they killed or committed murder previous to "desiring to have," but that they had such a covetous desire of the possessions of others as to produce a murderous and bloody temper. The spirit of murder was at the bottom of the whole; or there was such a desire of the possessions of others as to lead to the commission of this crime. Of what aggressive wars which have ever existed is not this true?

Desire to have - That is, what is in the possession of others.

And cannot obtain - By any fair and honest means; by purchase or negotiation: and this leads to bloody conquest. All wars might have been avoided if men had been content with what they had, or could rightfully obtain, and had not desired to have what was in the possession of others, which they could not obtain by honest and honorable means. Every war might have been avoided by fair and honorable negociation.

Ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not - Notwithstanding you engage in contentions and strifes, you do not obtain what you seek after. If you sought that from God which you truly need, you would obtain it, for he would bestow upon you all that is really necessary. But you seek it by contention and strife, and you have no security of obtaining it. He who seeks to gain anything by war seeks it in an unjust manner, and cannot depend on the divine help and blessing. The true way of obtaining anything which we really need is to seek it from God by prayer, and then to make use of just and fair means of obtaining it, by industry and honesty, and by a due regard for the rights of others. Thus sought, we shall obtain it if it would be for our good; if it is withheld, it will be because it is best for us that it should not be ours. In all the wars which have been waged on the earth, whether for the settlement of disputed questions, for the adjustment of boundaries, for the vindication of violated rights, or for the permanent extension of empire, how rare has it been that the object which prompted to the war has been secured! The course of events has shown that indisposed as men are to do justice, there is much more probability of obtaining the object by patient negotiation than there is by going to war.

2. Ye lust—A different Greek word from that in Jas 4:1. "Ye desire"; literally, "ye set your mind (or heart) on" an object.

have not—The lust of desire does not ensure the actual possession. Hence "ye kill" (not as Margin, without any old authority, "envy") to ensure possession. Not probably in the case of professing Christians of that day in a literal sense, but "kill and envy" (as the Greek for "desire to have" should be translated), that is, harass and oppress through envy [Drusius]. Compare Zec 11:5, "slay"; through envy, hate, and desire to get out of your way, and so are "murderers" in God's eyes [Estius]. If literal murder [Alford] were meant, I do not think it would occur so early in the series; nor had Christians then as yet reached so open criminality. In the Spirit's application of the passage to all ages, literal killing is included, flowing from the desire to possess so David and Ahab. There is a climax: "Ye desire," the individual lust for an object; "ye kill and envy," the feeling and action of individuals against individuals; "ye fight and war," the action of many against many.

ye have not, because ye ask not—God promises to those who pray, not to those who fight. The petition of the lustful, murderous, and contentious is not recognized by God as prayer. If ye prayed, there would be no "wars and fightings." Thus this last clause is an answer to the question, Jas 4:1, "Whence come wars and fightings?"

Ye lust; passionately and greedily desire.

And have not; either soon lose, or rather cannot get, what ye so lust after.

Ye kill; some copies have it, ye envy, and many suppose that to be the better reading, as agreeing with the context, and with Jam 3:14; envy being the cause of strife there, and joined with emulation, or a desire of having, here. We read it according to other copies, ye kill, which, if he speaketh of wars in a proper sense, Jam 4:1, was, no doubt, the effect of them; and if he speak only of strife and contentions, yet they might proceed so far, that the death of some (though not intended) might be the consequent of them, and occasioned by them. Or, he may mean their murderous desires, killing men in their hearts, wishing for and gaping after their death, that they might gain by it; and this agrees with what he speaks of the frustration of their greedy desires, none being more frequently disappointed of their hopes than they that hope to be gainers by other men’s deaths.

And disire to have; or, emulate, i.e. ambitiously affect to have what ye see others have, grieving that they should have more than you.

And cannot obtain; viz; that which ye envy others’ having.

Ye fight and war: you wrangle and quarrel with your neighbours for what they have, that ye may get it for yourselves.

Yet ye have not; ye are still needy, though still craving; your lusts are infinite and insatiable in themselves, and no way helpful to you.

Because ye ask not; viz. of God by prayer, who hath promised to give to them that ask, Matthew 7:7, not to them that war and fight. Instead of humble seeking to God for what ye want, ye would extort it by force or fraud from one another.

Ye lust, and have not,.... The apostle proceeds to show the unsuccessfulness of many in their desires and pursuits after worldly things; some might be like the sluggard, whose soul desireth all good things, and yet he has nothing, Proverbs 13:4 because he does not make use of any means, even of such as are proper and necessary, and ought to be used:

ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; some, instead of kill, which seems not so agreeable, read envy; and then the sense is, they envy at the good and happiness of others, and covet after another's property, but cannot enjoy it; all such envy and covetousness are fruitless, as well as sinful:

ye fight and war, yet ye have not; go to law one with another about each other's property; or rather, make a great stir and hustle to get the things of the world; rise early, and sit up late; strive who should get most, and quarrel about what is gotten, and seek to get all advantages of one another; and yet still have not, what at least is desired and strove for:

because ye ask not; of God, whose blessing only makes rich: instead of all this worldly stir and bustle, and these strivings and quarrellings with one another, it would be much more advisable, and, in the issue, be found to turn to more account, to pray to God for a blessing on your endeavours; and to ask of him the good and necessary things of life, in submission to his will, and with thankfulness for what he has bestowed.

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, {2} because ye ask not.

(2) He reprehends them by name, who are not ashamed to make God the minister and helper of their lusts and pleasures, in asking things which are either in themselves unlawful or being lawful, ask for them out of wicked motives and uses.

Jam 4:2 describes in a lively manner the origin of these external strifes. The stages are ἐπιθυμεῖτεφονεύετε καὶ ζηλοῦτεμάχεσθε καὶ πολεμεῖτε; the second succeeds the first because it is without result, and the third the second for the same reason.

ἐπιθυμεῖτε] here in a bad sense referring to τῶν ἡδονῶν, Jam 4:1. It is evident that the object to be thought on is worldly possessions; James does not mention the object, because he only required to express “the covetous impulse” (de Wette). It is unsatisfactory to think only on the desires of individuals. James rather describes the conduct of the churches to whom he writes; these, discontented with their low position in the world, longed after earthly power to which, as the church of God, they thought they had a claim. This striving made them consider persecution as a reproach; on the contrary, James exhorts them to count it as a joy (chap. Jam 1:2). This also produced among them that respect of persons toward the rich of the world for which James blames them. This was also the source of internal division; the affluent in the church despising the poor instead of imparting to them of their wealth, and only striving after an increase of their riches; whilst the poor grudged the rich their possessions, and accused them of being the children of the world. Thus in these churches occurred the same strife which prevailed among the Jews, and was the source of factions among them.

By καὶ οὐκ ἔχετε] the uselessness of ἐπιθυμεῖν is expressed, and also the motive to φονεύειν καὶ ζηλοῦν is assigned; it is unnecessary here, with Gebser, Hottinger, de Wette, to explain ἔχειν = to receive; it rather means: to have, to possess. The meaning is: from the desire follows not the possession, namely, of what is desired.

φονεύετε καὶ ζηλοῦτε] As here the external action is not yet described, but the internal disposition, φονεύειν cannot here be taken in its literal meaning, as Winer (p. 417 [E. T. 589]), Lange, Bouman think. Many expositors, as Carpzov, Pott, Morus, Augusti, Gebser, Schneckenburger, and others explain it adverbially: “even to murder and killing;” but the position of the words contradicts this explanation; if the idea ζηλοῦτε was to be strengthened by φονεύετε, it must be placed first. Other expositors, as Erasmus, Calvin, Beza, Piscator, Hornejus, Laurentius, Benson, Schulthess, Hottinger, and others, solve the difficulty by the conjectural reading φθονεῖτε; but this reading has not the slightest support in authorities. Nothing remains, as Wiesinger correctly remarks, than to explain φονεύειν here, with Estius, Calovius, also de Wette (who, however, wavers), according to 1 John 3:15, of internal hatred,[189] and “to justify this word by the boldness of the expression prevailing in this passage; comp. πόλεμοι καὶ μάχαι, στρατεύεσθαι, μοιχοί (more correctly ΜΟΙΧΑΛΊΔΕς),” Wiesinger. It is true that then an anti-climax would seem to occur; but this is only in appearance, as in point of fact ΖΗΛΟῦΝ (hostile zeal already ready to break out in word and action) presupposes internal ΦΟΝΕΎΕΙΝ.[190]

καὶ οὐ δύνασθε ἐπιτυχεῖν] namely, that for which you hate and envy. What follows on this are πόλεμοι, therefore James closes with μάχεσθε καὶ πολεμεῖτε, in which likewise the answer to the question πόθεν πόλεμοι, πόθεν μάχαι is contained (Wiesinger). With οὐκ ἔχετε, which does not stand in the same relation to μάχεσθε κ.τ.λ. as καὶ οὐ δύν. ἐπιτυχεῖν does to φον. κ. ζηλ.,[191] James resumes the foregoing ΟὐΚ ἜΧΕΤΕ and Οὐ ΔΎΝΑΣΘΕ ἘΠΙΤΥΧΕῖΝ, in order to assign the reason of this “not having,” etc.; the reason is ΔΙᾺ ΤῸ ΜῊ ΑἸΤΕῖΣΘΑΙ ὙΜᾶς, thus the want of prayer.[192] That prayer for earthly things is heard, is not an opinion peculiar to James, but a divine promise; in which only this is to be observed, that the prayer must be no ΚΑΚῶς ΑἸΤΕῖΣΘΑΙ; see the following verse.

[189] Stier in his exposition remarks: “James means hatred, but he speaks of killing and murdering, namely, in a spiritual sense, in order to designate hatred as an attack on one’s neighbour;” his translation: “ye smite” (instead of Luther’s: “ye hate”), is not, however, justified by this.

[190] The explanation of Oecumenius is peculiar, but not to be justified: φονεύειν φησὶ τοὺς τὴν ἑαυτῶν ψυχὴν ἀποκτιννύντας ταῖς τολμηραῖς ταύταις ἐπιχειρήσεσι, διʼ ἃ; καὶ ὁ τρὸς τὴν εὐσέβειαν αὐτοῖς πόλεμος.

[191] Accordingly, not a comma is to be put after πολεμεῖτε, but a full stop; thus Tischendorf and Lachmann. Stier incorrectly explains it: “it thus remains at the close as at the beginning, Ye have not.”

[192] In this passage the exposition of Lange reaches almost the climax of arbitrariness. He here assumes a fourfold gradation—(1) desiring; (2) murdering and envying; (3) fighting and warring; (4) asking and not receiving; and corresponding to these—(1) not having; (2) not receiving; (3) an increased not having; (4) an increased not receiving. The first stage denotes Judaism full of chiliastic worldly-mindedness up to the time of the N. T.; the second, the attitude of the Jews toward the Christians; the third, the Jewish war; and the fourth, Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Jam 4:2-3. ἐπιθυμεῖτε καὶ οὐκ ἔχετε …: It must be confessed that these verses are very difficult to understand; we have, on the one hand, lusting and coveting, murdering and fighting; and, on the other hand, praying. Murdering and fighting are the means used in order to obtain that which is coveted; yet in the same breath it is said that the reason why the coveted things are not obtained is because they are not asked for! Is it intended to be understood that this lust (in the sense, of course, of desiring) and covetousness are not gratified only because they had not been prayed for, or not properly prayed for? This is what the words mean as they stand; but can it ever be justifiable to pray for what is evil? There is something extraordinarily incongruous in the whole passage, which defies explanation if the words are to be taken in their obvious meaning. Only one thing seems clear, and that is a moral condition which is hopelessly chaotic.—Carr says that “these two verses are among the examples of poetical form in this Epistle”; perhaps this gives the key to the solution of the problem. It may be that we have in the whole of these Jam 4:1-10 a string of quotations, not very skilfully strung together—a kind of “Stromateis”—taken from a variety of authorities, in order to make this protest against a disgraceful state of affairs more emphatic and authoritative.—φονεύετε: the reading φθονεῖτε cannot be entertained if any regard is to be paid to MS. authority; even if accepted it would not really simplify matters much.—ζηλοῦτε: refers rather to persons, ἐπιθυμεῖτε to things.

2. Ye lust and have not …] The genesis of evil is traced somewhat in the same way as in ch. James 1:15. The germ is found in desire for what we have not, as e. g. in the sins of David (2 Samuel 11:1) and Ahab (1 Kings 21:2-4). That desire becomes the master-passion of a man’s soul, and hurries him on to crimes from which he would, at first, have shrunk.

ye kill, and desire to have …] The order strikes us as inverted, putting the last and deadliest sin at the beginning. The marginal alternative of “envy” would doubtless give an easier sense, but this cannot possibly be the meaning of the Greek word as it stands, and comes from a conjectural reading, suggested, without any MS. authority, by Erasmus and Beza. If we remember, however, the state of Jewish society, the bands of robber-outlaws of whom Barabbas was a type (Mark 15:7; John 18:39), the “four thousand men that were murderers” of Acts 21:38, the bands of Zealots and Sicarii who were prominent in the tumults that preceded the final war with Rome, it will not seem so startling that St James should emphasise his warning by beginning with the words “Ye murder.” In such a state of society, murder is often the first thing that a man thinks of as a means to gratify his desires, not, as with us, a last resource when other means have failed. Comp. the picture of a like social condition in which “men make haste to shed blood” in Proverbs 1:16. There was, perhaps, a grim truth in the picture which St James draws. It was after the deed was done that the murderers began to quarrel over the division of the spoil, and found themselves as unsatisfied as before, still not able to obtain that on which they had set their hearts, and so plunging into fresh quarrels, ending as they began, in bloodshed. There seems, at first, something almost incredible in the thought, that the believers to whom St James wrote could be guilty of such crimes, but Jewish society was at that time rife with atrocities of like nature, and men, nominally disciples of Christ, might then, as in later times, sink to its level. See note on next verse.

ye have not, because ye ask not] This then was the secret of the restless cravings and the ever-returning disappointments. They had never once made their wants the subject of a true and earnest prayer. Here again we note the fundamental unity of teaching in St James and St Paul. Comp. Php 4:6. Prayer is with each of them the condition of content or joy.

Jam 4:2. Ἐπιθυμεῖτε, ye desire) A kind of Anaphora[47] whereby the sentiment is repeated with increased force. Ye desire, with disposition towards an object; ye kill and envy, with the action and disposition of individuals against individuals; ye fight and war, with the action of many against many.—φονεύετε καὶ ζηλοῦτε, ye kill and envy) Ye kill through hatred and envy. One sentiment is expressed by two words. The same verb occurs, ch. Jam 5:6. He who covets any object, desires that the former possessor may be removed out of the way. He speaks of murderers, as in Jam 4:4 of adulterers. Comp. 1 John 3:15. Thus, φονεύετε, do ye murder? Psalm 62:3 (Septuagint), חְּרָצְחוּ for this Hebrew reading, holding a middle place between the others, is[48] well supported by the Halle reviewers. And the tenor of the whole Epistle of James has a very close resemblance to the whole of this Psalm. See notes at Jam 4:7; Jam 4:12; Jam 4:14; Jam 1:3; Jam 3:10. See also Psalm 10:8.—οὐκ ἕχετε δὲ) See App. Crit., Ed. ii., on this passage.[49]—ΔΙᾺ, on account of) This agrees (coheres) with the threefold clause, and ye have not; and ye cannot obtain; but ye have not.—μὴ αἰτεῖσθαι, your not asking) For the lustful, the murderer, and the contentious man, cannot pray.

[47] See Append. on ANAPHORA.

[48] See note on chapter Jam 2:23.

[49] AB Vulg. omit δέ. Rec. Text retains it without any very old authority.—E.

James 4:2Ye lust

See on desire, 1 Peter 1:12; and Mark 4:19.

Desire to have (ζηλοῦτε)

Rev., covet, and are jealous, in margin. See on James 3:14.

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