James 5:3
Your gold and silver is corroded; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. You have heaped treasure together for the last days.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) Your gold and silver . . .—In like manner, the gold and silver are said to be “cankered,” or eaten up with rust. The precious metals themselves do not corrode, but the base alloy does, which has been mixed with them for worldly use and device. The rust of them shall be a witness to you: not merely against, but convincing yourselves in the day of judgment; and, moreover, a sign of the fire which shall consume you. So will the wages of the traitor, and the harlot, the spoil of the thief and oppressor, burn the hands which have clutched them; the memories of the wrong shiver through each guilty soul, like the liquid fires which Muhammedans say torture the veins of the damned in the halls of Eblis.

Ye have heaped . . .—Read, Ye heaped up treasures in the last days:—the days of grace, given you for repentance, like the years when “the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah” (Genesis 6:3; 1Peter 3:20), or the time during which God bore with Canaan, “till the iniquity of the Amorite” was “full” (Genesis 15:16).

Some expositors have seen in this verse an instance of James’s belief that he was “living in the last days of the world’s history;” and compared his delusion with that of Paul and John (1Thessalonians 4:15, and 1John 2:18). But there was no mistake on the part of the inspired. writers; freedom from error in their Sacred office must be vindicated, or who shall sever the false gospel from the true? The simple explanation is an old one—the potential nearness of Christ, as it is called. In many ways He has been ever near each individual, as by affliction, or death, or judgment; but His actual return was probably nearer in the first ages of faith than in the brutality of the tenth century, or the splendid atheism of the fifteenth, or the intellectual pride of the nineteenth. His advent is helped or hindered by the state of Christendom itself: “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2Peter 3:8), there is: neither past nor future in His sight; only the presence of His own determination: and nought retards Christ’s Second Coming so much as the false and feeble Christianity which prays “Thy kingdom come” in frequent words, but waits not as the handmaid of her Lord, with “loins girded about and lights burning” (Luke 12:35), “until the day dawn, and the day star arise” (2Peter 1:19).

5:1-6 Public troubles are most grievous to those who live in pleasure, and are secure and sensual, though all ranks suffer deeply at such times. All idolized treasures will soon perish, except as they will rise up in judgment against their possessors. Take heed of defrauding and oppressing; and avoid the very appearance of it. God does not forbid us to use lawful pleasures; but to live in pleasure, especially sinful pleasure, is a provoking sin. Is it no harm for people to unfit themselves for minding the concerns of their souls, by indulging bodily appetites? The just may be condemned and killed; but when such suffer by oppressors, this is marked by God. Above all their other crimes, the Jews had condemned and crucified that Just One who had come among them, even Jesus Christ the righteous.Your gold and silver is cankered - That is, that you have heaped together, by injustice and fraud, a large amount, and have kept it from those to whom it is due, James 5:4, until it has become corroded. The word rendered is "cankered" (κατίωται katiōtai,) does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly means "to cause to rust; to rust out" (Passow); "to be corroded with rust" (Robinson); to be spotted with rust. It is true that gold and silver do not properly rust, or become oxidized, and that they will not be corroded like iron and steel; but by being kept long in a damp place they will contract a dark color, resembling rust in appearance. This seems to be the idea in the mind of the apostle. He speaks of gold and silver as they appear after having been long laid up without use; and undoubtedly the word which he uses here is one which would to an ancient have expressed that idea, as well as the mere literal idea of the rusting or oxidizing of metals. There is no reason to suppose that the word was then used in the strict chemical sense of rusting, for there is no reason to suppose that the nature of oxidization was then fully understood.

And the rust of them - Another word is used here - ἰὸς ios. This properly denotes something sent out or emitted, (from ἕημι hēmi), and is applied to a missile weapon, as an arrow; to poison, as emitted from the tooth of a serpent; and to rust, as it seems to be emitted from metals. The word refers to the dark discoloration which appears on gold and silver, when they have remained long without use.

Shall be a witness against you - That is, the rust or discoloration shall bear testimony against you that the money is not used as it should be, either in paying those to whom it is due, or in doing good to others. Among the ancients, the gold and silver which anyone possessed was laid up in some secret and safe place. Compare the notes at Isaiah 45:3. There were no banks then in which money might be deposited; there were few ways of investing money so as to produce regular interest; there were no corporations to employ money in joint operations; and it was not very common to invest money in the purchase of real estate, and stocks and mortgages were little known.

And shall eat your flesh as it were fire - This cannot be taken literally. It must mean that the effect would be as if it should corrode or consume their very flesh; that is, the fact of their laying up treasures would be followed by painful consequences. The thought is very striking, and the language in which it is conveyed is singularly bold and energetic. The effect of thus heaping up treasure will be as corroding as fire in the flesh. The reference is to the punishment which God would bring on them for their avarice and in-justice - effects that will come on all now for the same offences.

Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days - The day of judgment; the closing scenes of this world. You have been heaping up treasure; but it will be treasure of a different kind from what you have supposed. It is treasure not laid up for ostentation, or luxury, or use in future life, but treasure the true worth of which will be seen at the judgment-day. So Paul speaks of "treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God," Romans 2:5. There are many who suppose they are accumulating property that may be of use to them, or that may secure them the reputation of possessing great wealth, who are in fact accumulating a most fearful treasure against the day of final retribution. Every man who is rich should examine himself closely to see whether there is anything in the manner in which he has gained his property, or in which he now holds it, that will expose him to the wrath of God in the last day. That on which he so much prides himself may yet bring down on him the vengeance of heaven; and in the day of judgment he may curse his own madness and folly in wasting his probation in efforts to amass property.

3. is cankered—"rusted through" [Alford].

rust … witness against you—in the day of judgment; namely, that your riches were of no profit to any, lying unemployed and so contracting rust.

shall eat your flesh—The rust which once ate your riches, shall then gnaw your conscience, accompanied with punishment which shall prey upon your bodies for ever.

as … fire—not with the slow process of rusting, but with the swiftness of consuming fire.

for the last days—Ye have heaped together, not treasures as ye suppose (compare Lu 12:19), but wrath against the last days, namely, the coming judgment of the Lord. Alford translates more literally, "In these last days (before the coming judgment) ye laid up (worldly) treasure" to no profit, instead of repenting and seeking salvation (see on [2608]Jas 5:5).

Your gold and silver is cankered; the most precious and lasting metals; yet even they, with long disuse, canker, and go to decay. Under these, other metals in esteem among them may be understood.

And the rust of them shall be a witness against you: by a prosopopoeia, that which properly belongs to living persons is ascribed to dead things, as Habakkuk 2:11 Luke 19:40. It is as much as if he had said: The rust shall be a certain evidence against you, and which will as effectually convict you, as any living witness could do, of your folly in putting your trust in perishing things, your greediness in hoarding them up, your unmercifulness in not supplying the wants of others, and your unreasonableness in denying the use of them to yourselves, when you had rather let them lie by and perish, than enjoy the comfort of them, or do good with them. The like expression we have, Mark 6:11.

And shall eat your flesh; the rust (the witness of your covetousness and cruelty) which now eats your money, shall hereafter devour yourselves, soul and body, (which he means by flesh), viz. by procuring and kindling the wrath of God upon you, (compared to fire), and likewise by galling your consciences with a vexatious remembrance of your sin and folly; and so what in the judgment is a witness against you, in hell will be a tormentor to you.

As it were fire; as if you had reserved fire in your treasure, as well as treasure in your chests.

Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days: either this may be understood metaphorically, ye have heaped a treasure of wrath for the last days, Romans 2:5; or literally, ye have hoarded up your wealth against the last and fatal days, in which God is bringing those judgments upon you which will consume all. Your gold and silver is cankered,.... Or grown rusty like iron, by lying long without use; this is not easily and quickly done, but in length of time gold and silver will change, and contract a rustiness; and so this conveys the same idea of hoarding up riches and laying up money, without making use of it in trade, for the support of the poor, and without distributing it to their necessities:

and the rust of them shall be a witness against you: at the day of judgment; which will be a proof that they have not been employed to such services, and for such usefulness, for which they were designed and given.

And shall eat your flesh as it were fire; that is, a remembrance of this, a sense of it impressed upon them, shall be like fire in their bones; shall distress their minds, gnaw their consciences, and be in them the worm that never dies, and the fire that shall never be quenched:

ye have heaped treasure together for the last days; either for many years, as the fool in the Gospel, for the times of old age, the last days of men, for fear they should then want; or for the last days of the world, or of time, as if they thought they should live for ever: the Vulgate Latin version reads, "ye have treasured up wrath for yourselves in the last days"; instead of riches, as they imagined; and that by their covetousness and wickedness, by a wicked disuse of their riches, and an unrighteous detention of them; but this supplement seems to be taken from Romans 2:5 though the sense is confirmed by some copies which connect the phrase, "as it were fire", in the preceding clause, with this, "ye have treasured up as it were fire"; and the Syriac version renders it, "ye have treasured up fire"; the fire of divine wrath; this is the fruit of treasuring up riches in an ill way, and without making a proper use of them.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 5:3. Continuation of the description of the judgment: ὁ χρυσὸς ὑμῶν καὶ ὁ ἄργυρος] a further specification of riches. κατίωται] in the N. T. ἅπ. λεγ. (Sir 12:10), equivalent to the simple verb, only in a stronger signification. Correctly Hornejus: loquitur populariter, nam aurum proprie aeruginem lion contrahit; so in the Epistle of Jeremiah 11, where it is said of gold and silver images: οὐ διασώζονται ἀπὸ ἰοῦ; see also in the same, Jeremiah 5:23. With too minute accuracy, Bretschneider justifies the use of the verb here, that we are to think on gold and silver vessels which are alloyed with copper (similarly Bouman). It is no less incorrect, with Pott, to weaken the idea κατίωται, that it is to be understood only of amisso auri et argenti splendore, de mutato auri colore ex flavo in viridem; against this is ὁ ἰός directly following. Wiesinger thinks that because κατίωται is here used figuratively, it is a matter of indifference that rust does not affect gold; but the ideas must suit each other in the figurative expression. The verb is rather here to be justified by the fact that since rust settles on metals generally, James in his vivid concrete description did not scrupulously take into consideration the difference of metals, which, however, is not to be reckoned, with de Wette, as a “poetical exaggeration.”[220]

καὶ ὁ ἰὸς αὐτῶν (namely, τοῦ χρυσοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἀργύρου), εἰς μαρτύριον ὑμῖν ἔσται] Most expositors agree with the explanation of Oecumenius: καταμαρτυρήσει ὑμῶν, ἐλέγχων τὸ ἀμετάδοτον ὑμῶν; accordingly, “The rust which has collected on your unused gold and silver will testify to your hardness, and that to your injury = κατʼ ὑμῶν.” But since the preceding κατίωται describes the judgment overtaking earthly glory, ἰός can only be understood with reference to it; correctly Wiesinger: “the rust is a witness of their own destruction; in the destruction of their treasures they see depicted their own.”[221] Augusti superficially explains it: “will convince you that all riches are transitory.” After their riches are destroyed, the judgment seizes upon themselves; therefore καὶ φάγεται τὰς σάρκας ὑμῶν. The subject is ὁ ἰός, “the corroding rust seizes also them, and will eat their flesh” (Wiesinger). The figurative expression, although bold and peculiar, is not unsuitable, since ἰός is considered as an effect of judgment. φάγεται] is not the present (Schneckenburger), but in the LXX. and N. T. the ordinary future for ἔδεται; see Buttmann, Ausf. gr. Sprach. § 114 [E. T. 58], under ἐσθίω; Winer, p. 82 [E. T. 110]. The object τὰς σάρκας ὑμῶν belonging to φάγεται is neither = ὑμᾶς (Baumgarten), nor yet in itself indicates “bloated bodies” (Augusti, Pott: corpora lautis cibis bene pasta); also Schneckenburger lays too much stress on the expression, explaining it: emphatice, quum ejusmodi homines nihil sint nisi σάρξ. According to usage, αἱ σάρκες denotes the fleshy parts of the body, therefore the plural is also used with reference to one individual; comp. 2 Kings 9:36 : καταφάγονται οἱ κύνες τὰς σάρκας Ἰεζάβελ; further, Leviticus 26:29; Jdt 16:17; Revelation 19:18; Revelation 19:21; in definite distinction from bones, Micah 3:2-3. It is to be remarked that in almost all these passages the same verb is united with the noun.[222] The context shows that what is spoken of is not “the consuming of the body by care and want” (Erasmus, Semler, Jaspar, Morus, Hottinger, Bouman), but the punishment of the divine judgment (Calvin, Grotius, Pott, Schneckenburger, de Wette, Wiesinger, and others). The words ὡς πῦρ may be united either with what goes before or with what follows. Most expositors prefer the first combination; yet already A, the Syriac version (where ὡς is wanting), and Oecumenius in his commentary put a stop after ὑμῶν. Grotius, Knapp, and Wiesinger, considering this construction as correct, accordingly explain it: tanquam ignem opes istas congessetis; Wiesinger states as a reason for this, that without the union with ὡς πῦρ the words ἐθησαυρίσατε κ.τ.λ. give too feeble a meaning. But this is not the case, since the chief stress rests on ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις (so also Lange); also James could not well reckon riches as a fire of judgment. Besides, in the O. T. the judgment is frequently represented as a devouring consuming fire, which was sufficient to suggest to James to add ὡς πῦρ to φάγεται; see Psalm 21:10, LXX.: καταφάγεται αὐτοὺς πῦρ; Isaiah 10:16-17; Isaiah 30:27 (ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θυμοῦ ὡς πῦρ ἔδεται); Ezekiel 15:7; Amos 5:6.[223] The sentiment is: After the judgment has overtaken the wealth of the rich, it will attack themselves. Kern gives the sentiment in an unsatisfactory manner: “The destruction of that which was everything to the rich will punish him with torturing sorrow, as if fire devoured his flesh.” That the ΤΑΛΑΙΠΩΡΊΑΙ already draw near is said in Jam 5:1, and James by the words ἘΘΗΣΑΥΡΊΣΑΤΕ ἘΝ ἘΣΧΆΤΑΙς ἩΜΈΡΑΙς indicates that the judgment is close at hand, so that this time is the last days directly preceding the judgment; accordingly, the heaping up of treasure appears as something so much the more wicked. Estius, Calvin, Laurentius, and others incorrectly supply to the verb the word ὀργήν in accordance with Romans 2:5 (comp. Proverbs 1:18). The object to be supplied to ΘΗΣΑΥΡΊΖΕΙΝ, which is often used absolutely (comp. Luke 12:21; 2 Corinthians 12:14; Psalm 38:7), is contained in the verb itself, and also follows from what has preceded. The preposition ἘΝ is not used instead of ΕἸς, and ἜΣΧΑΤΑΙ ἩΜΈΡΑΙ are not the last days of life (Wolf: accumulavistis divitias extremae vitae parti provisuri; Morus: cumulastis opes sub finem vitae vestrae), but the last times which precede the advent of Christ (Jam 5:7), not merely the final national judgment (Lange). Jachmann most erroneously takes the sentence as interrogative: Have ye collected your (spiritual) treasures on the day (i.e. for the day) of judgment, in order to exhibit them?

[220] Lange strangely thinks that it is here intended to bring out the unnatural fact that the princes of Israel are become rebellious and companions of thieves: “It is as unnatural for gold and silver to be eaten up with rust, as for the glory of Israel to be as corrupted as the glory of other nations corrupts, which may be compared to base metals.”

[221] Stier incorrectly understands by rust “the guilt of sin which cleaves to mammon.”

[222] Although σάρκες in itself indicates only flesh according to its separate parts, yet the expression is here chosen in order to name in a concrete manner that which is carefully nourished by the rich. According to Lange, αἱ σάρκες are “the externals of religious, civil, and individual life;” and the thought of James is that “the rotten fixity described as rust in its last stage transforms itself in the fire of a revolutionary movement!”

[223] Pott: Aerugo describitur, quasi invadat membra divitum, eaque quasi, ut metallum, arrodat atque consumat et quidem … ὡς πῦρ, tanquam flamma membra quasi circumlabens carnemque lento dolore depascens.Jam 5:3. κατίωται: in Sir 12:11 we have καὶ γνώσῃ ὅτι οὐκ εἰς τέλος κατίωσεν in reference to a mirror; the Hebrew, which is followed by the Syriac, is corrupt, but evidently read חלאה, which is the same word used in the preceding verse (ἰοῦται); the Hebrew word may perhaps be used in the sense of “filth” (see Oxford Hebrew Lexicon, s.v.), and possibly this more general term is what was originally intended in the verse before us, since gold cannot strictly be said to rust. The word occurs in one other passage viz., in Sir 29:10, but unfortunately the Hebrew for this is wanting. The force of the κατα is intensive.—ὁ ἰὸς: used in Jam 3:8 of the poison of the tongue, in a figurative sense; the meaning “rust” is secondary.—εἰς μαρτύριον ὑμῖν ἔσται: this metaphor is quite in the Hebrew style; עד (= μαρτύριον), though generally used of persons, is in a fair number of instances used of inanimate things in the O.T.; cf. in the N.T. Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5.—φάγεται: a Hellenistic form, unclassical, cf. Sir 33:23 (Sept.) πᾶν βρῶμα φάγεται κοιλία, cf. Sir 11:19, Sir 45:21 (Sept.).—τὰς σάρκας ὑμῶν: “The plural σάρκες is used for the fleshy parts of the body both in classical and later writers … while the singular σάρξ is used for the whole body” (Mayor); in the Septuagint we meet with a similar phrase in a number of cases, e.g., Micah 3:3.… κατέφαγον τὰς σάρκας τοῦ λαοῦ μου; 2 Kings 9:36; in these and other instances the Hebrew בשׂר (= σάρξ) is always in the singular (unlike “blood,” which is often used in the plural).—ὡς πῦρ: this comparison must probably have been suggested by the fact that fire, in a literal sense, often figures in apocalyptic pictures, cf., e.g., Enoch, cii. 1, “And in those days when He brings a grievous fire upon you, whither will ye flee, and where will ye find deliverance?” xcvii. 3, where mention is made of “the furnace of fire,” x. 13, “the abyss of fire”; this idea arose originally because “Gehenna” was conceived of as the place of torment, and a fire in the literal sense was constantly burning in the valley of Hinnom; the fire in the place of torment is referred to in Matthew 25:41 τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον, Mark 9:44 ὅπου ὁ σκώληξ αὐτῶν οὐ τελευτᾷ καὶ τὸ πῦρ οὐ σβέννυται, Judges 1:7 πυρὸς αἰωνίου … See Carr’s interesting note on ὡς πῦρ. ἐθησαυρίσατε.—ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις: see prefatory note to this chapter.3. Your gold and silver is cankered] Literally, rusted, the word being used generically of the tarnish that sooner or later comes over all metals that are exposed to the action of the air.

shall be a witness against you …] Better, for a witness to you. The doom that falls on the earthly possessions of the ungodly shall be, as it were, the token of what will fall on them, unless they avert it by repentance.

shall eat your flesh as it were fire] The last words have been sometimes taken as belonging to the next clause, “as fire ye laid up treasure,” but the structure of the English text is preferable. The underlying image suggested is that the rust or canker spreads from the riches to the very life itself, and that when they fail, and leave behind them only the sense of wasted opportunities and the memories of evil pleasures, the soul will shudder at their work as the flesh shudders at the touch of fire. We may perhaps trace a reminiscence of the “unquenchable fire” devouring the carcases in Gehenna, as in Mark 9:44.

Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days] Better, Ye laid (or, ye have laid) up treasure in the last days. The preposition cannot possibly have the sense of “for.” St James shared the belief of other New Testament writers that they were living in “the last days” of the world’s history, and that the “coming of the Lord” was nigh (1 John 2:18; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:15). For those to whom he wrote the words had a very real truth. They were actually living in the “last days” of the polity of Israel. In the chaos and desolation of its fall their heaped-up treasures would avail but little. They would be marked out in proportion to their wealth, as the first to be attacked and plundered.Jam 5:3. Ὁ ἰὸς αὐτῶν, the rust of them) Synecdoche. Even the rust of their riches and garments will be a proof of the bondage in which their possessions were so held, that they were of no profit to any, but lay unemployed, without any return.—ὑμῖν, to you) against you.—φάγεται, shall eat) with death.—σάρκας, your flesh) while yet alive: he does not say κρέα.—ὡς πῦρ, as fire) A proverbial expression, respecting swift and total consumption; whereas the process of rusting was before slow and partial.—ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις, in the last days) Men are accustomed to lay up treasures for the time to come: ye have collected it too late; you will not enjoy it. The same phrase occurs, 2 Timothy 3:1, where see the note. The apostle here sets forth the coming of the Lord for the terror of the wicked; in the 7th and following verses, for the comfort of the holy.Verse 3. - With this and the preceding verse contrast our Lord's words of treasure laid up in heaven, "where moth and rust do not corrupt" (Matthew 6:19). Cankered (κατίωται); better, rusted. Only here in the New Testament; never in the LXX. except Ecclus. 12:11. The rust of them. Ἰός: used here for "rust" as in the LXX. in Ezekiel's parable of the boiling pot (Ezekiel 24:6, etc.) - a passage which (according to one interpretation) may have suggested the following clause, "and shall eat your flesh," etc. (see vers. 9-12). Shall he a witness against you (εἰς μαρτύριον ὑμῖν). The rendering of the A.V. is quite defensible (see Winer, p. 265), but it is equally possible to take the words as the R.V. margin," for a testimony unto you." "The rust of them," says Alford, "is a token of what shall happen to yourselves; in the consuming of your wealth you see depicted your own." Two interpretations of the latter part of the verse are possible, depending on the punctuation adopted.

(1) As the A.V. and R.V., putting the stop after πῦρ: "Their rust... shall eat your flesh as fire. Ye have laid up your treasure in the last days." The "fire," if this rendering be adopted, may be explained from Ezekiel 24:9, etc.

(2) Putting the stop after ὑμῶν and before ὡς πῦρ: "Their rust... shall eat your flesh. Ye have heaped up as it were fire in the last days." This has the support of the Syriac ("Ye have gathered fire for you for the last days"), and is adopted by Drs. Westcott and Herr. The "fire" will, of course, be the fire of judgment; and the expression, ὡς πῦρ ἐθησαυρίσατε, may easily have been suggested by Proverbs 16:27, Ἀνὴρ ἄφρων ὀρύσσει ἑαυτῷ κακά ἐπὶ δὲ τῶν ἑαυτοῦ χειλέων θησαυρίζει πῦρ. The whole form of expression also reminds us of St. Paul's "treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath" (Romans 2:5), to which it is exactly parallel, the "wrath in the day of wrath" there answering to the "fire in the last days" here. (The rendering of the Vulgate is evidently influenced by this parallel, as it has thesaurizastis tram.) For the last days; rather, in the last days (ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις); cf. 2 Timothy 3:1. If the words are connected with πῦρ as suggested above, there is no difficulty in them. If the punctuation of the A.V. be retained, we must suppose that the writer is speaking from the point of view of the last day of all. "When the end came it found them heaping up treasures which they could never use" (Dean Scott). But the other view, though not so generally adopted, seems fat' preferable. Is cankered (κατίωται)

Only here in New Testament, from ἰός, rust, as in the following sentence. Also poison, as James 3:8. The preposition κατά indicates thoroughness, completely rusted.

Flesh (τὰς σάρκας)

The noun is plural: the fleshy parts of the body. So Sept. (2 Kings 9:36): "the flesh (τὰς σάρκας) of Jezebel." So Revelation 19:18.

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