James 4:9: Remedies for Lusts, and Renewal of Relationship with God, Part 3

Verse 9:[1] (Matt. 5:4) Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

[Be miserable, etc., ταλαιπωρήσατε, etc.] Drawing nigh to God is accomplished, both by sanctification, concerning which it has been treated; and by humiliation, which consists in contrition, in this verse, and in dejection, in verse 10 (Gataker). To Christians fallen into grievous sins a return to good fruit is not granted except through mournful repentance; so that James might express the force of this, he posited these words (Grotius). Be afflicted (or, cast yourselves down [Tremellius]; be ye touched by a sense of affliction: He reprehends ἀναλγησίαν/insensibility in adversities (Beza). Be affected in your souls in such a way as if ye were afflicted (Piscator). Condole with the afflicted (Pareus). He rather stirs them up to serious contrition on account of their aforementioned sins (Gataker out of Illyricus, Aquinas, Fab., etc., similarly Calvin). That is to say, Recognize your misery, in which ye have fallen through sin (Gataker out of Aquinas). Afflict (or, fatigue [Zegers]) yourselves (Grotius, Estius, thus Tigurinus, Castalio, Menochius), or, your souls (Estius) (with fastings and other σκληραγωγίαις/austerities of the body [Grotius, thus Estius], with supplications, etc. [Estius]: Either receive ye afflictions voluntarily, or admit ye willingly those afflictions admitted by God [Menochius]), and mourn (inwardly [Gataker]: πενθήσατε, אִבְלוּ, put on a mourning habit, sackcloth and haircloth, as Christian penitents were wont to do: For this is the force of this word, as it appears from Genesis 37:34;[2] 2 Samuel 13:37;[3] 19:2[4] [Grotius]), and weep (Piscator, etc.). Show your sorrow externally (Gataker), at the recollection of your former life (Menochius). Weeping is wont to be joined with Fasting, as in 2 Samuel 1:12; 12:22; and with the verb πενθεῖν, to mourn, as in Nehemiah 1:4;[5] 8:9[6] (Grotius). Tears are both witnesses and representatives of repentance (Gataker out of Cyprian).

Be afflicted; humble yourselves for your sins, before mentioned, and in the sense of wrath approaching, if ye do not. And mourn, with inward sorrow of heart. And weep; show your inward grief by weeping, the usual expression and sign of it.

[Your laughter, etc.] To which they had abandoned themselves, having acquired those goods for which they had wickedly lusted (Estius). To the extent that ye have laughed and rejoiced previously, when it was allowed to you to take revenge on your enemies, and to seize their possessions, to such an extent now take up grief and sadness (Grotius). He tacitly indicates the destruction of Jerusalem and the breaking up of the Jewish nation (Grotius, similarly Hammond).

[Into heaviness, εἰς κατήφειαν] Into sadness (Erasmus, Pagnine, Montanus, Beza, Piscator, Vulgate, Tremellius out of the Syriac, etc.). Κατήφεια in the writings of the Poets,[7] Plutarch,[8] and others, is a sadness that projects itself even upon the countenance (Grotius); it is a hanging of the head, whether out of sadness, or out of shame (Piscator, similarly Beza, Gataker), from κάτω βάλλειν τὰ φάη, to cast down the lights, or the eyes (Piscator). Laughter is fourfold: ἰονικὸς/soft, μεγαρικὸς/ill-time, σαρδόνιος/sardonic, αἰάντειος/insane. We see here how unbecoming and pernicious is the rejoicing of the impious, since apart from their heavy sorrow there is no hope of repentance, or of a return to God. Therefore, their joy is conjoined with the wronging, contempt, and affront of God, by which they evidently show how little either the favor, or anger, of God, is dear and of concern to them (Gataker).

Let your laughter; your carnal rejoicing in what you get by sinful courses, verses 1, 2, lusting, warring, fighting. Be turned into mourning; exchange your carnal joy for godly sorrow. And your joy; to the same purpose as laughter, before: by it he means their pleasing themselves in the success of their unrighteousness, the gain of their rapine and violence. Into heaviness; the same as mourning, or an outward expression of it in the dejection of the countenance, which usually proceeds from shame or sorrow, (and the Greek word signifies both,) whereas joy and confidence make men lift up their heads or faces, Ezra 9:6; Job 10:15; 11:15; 22:26; Luke 21:28.

[1] Greek: ταλαιπωρήσατε καὶ πενθήσατε καὶ κλαύσατε· ὁ γέλως ὑμῶν εἰς πένθος μεταστραφήτω, καὶ ἡ χαρὰ εἰς κατήφειαν.

[2] Genesis 37:34:  “And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned (וַיִּתְאַבֵּל; καὶ ἐπένθει, in the Septuagint) for his son many days.”

[3] 2 Samuel 13:37:  “But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur.  And he mourned (וַיִּתְאַבֵּל; καὶ ἐπένθησεν, in the Septuagint) for his son every day.”

[4] 2 Samuel 19:1:  “And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth (וַיִּתְאַבֵּל; καὶ πενθει, in the Septuagint) for Absalom.”

[5] Nehemiah 1:4:  “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days (יָשַׁ֙בְתִּי֙ וָֽאֶבְכֶּ֔ה וָאֶתְאַבְּלָ֖ה יָמִ֑ים; ἐκάθισα καὶ ἔκλαυσα καὶ ἐπένθησα ἡμέρας, in the Septuagint), and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven…”

[6] Nehemiah 8:9:  “And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep (אַל־תִּֽתְאַבְּל֖וּ וְאַל־תִּבְכּ֑וּ; μὴ πενθεῖτε μηδὲ κλαίετε, in the Septuagint).  For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.”

[7] For example, Homer’s Iliad 3:51; 16:498.

[8] Themistocles 9.

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