Ya'akov Jewish New Testament and comment David H. Stern
1. What is causing all the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it your desires battling inside you?
Your desires battling inside you. See 1:6-8&N.
2. You desire things and don’t have them. You kill, and you are jealous, and you still can’t get them. So you fight and quarrel. The reason you don’t have is that you don’t pray!
3. Or you pray and don’t receive, because you pray with the wrong motive, that of wanting to indulge your own desires.
You pray with the wrong motive. There is a heresy current among believers which, feeding off the excessive individualism and greed rampant in popular Western ideologies, purports to give God's approval to selfish prayer. It beckons: "You are a child of God. He is a loving Father who would deny his children nothing. Therefore you can pray for anything you want, and God will give it to you. You want a new car? a bigger house? fancy clothes? Just 'ask, and it will be given to you' (Lk 11:10)." Besides misusing Scripture, raising false hopes and making prayer a magic charm indistinct from witchcraft, this teaching ignores the fact that a truly loving father does not give his children whatever they ask for; fathers know better than their children what they actually need and act accordingly. The present verse refutes this selfish philosophy masquerading as biblical teaching; compare Ya'akov's scathing condemnation of the arrogant rich at 4:13-5:6, and see Isaiah 1:15-16. quoted in v. 8N below. For a right perspective see Mt 6:19-34,especially 6:33;also Yn 16:33, 1 Ke4:2 and 1 Yn5:14. Ya'akov gives his own instruction about prayer at 1:5-8, 5:13-20.
4. You unfaithful wives! Don’t you know that loving the world is hating God? Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy!
Unfaithful wives. In the Tanakh Israel's unfaithfulness to God her Ba'al (the Hebrew word means both "lord" and "husband") is often expressed in terms of adultery and whoredom; see Ezekiel 23; Hosea 1-2, 9:1. Yeshua means the same thing when he calls his generation "wicked and adulterous" (Mt 12:39, 16:4); compare Rv 2:22. On the rest of the verse, the best commentary is 1 Yn 2:15-17; compare also Ga 1:4, and what is said about the world in Yochanan 14-17.
5. Or do you suppose the Scripture speaks in vain when it says that there is a spirit in us which longs to envy?
6. But the grace he gives is greater, which is why it says, "God opposes the arrogant, but to the humble he gives grace" (Proverbs 3:34).
Do you suppose the Tanakh speaks in vain when it says that there is a spirit in us which longs to envy? Yechiel Lichtenstein writes,
"The commentators have had great difficulty with this reference to the Tanakh. What verse is it? What does it mean? Who is the subject of it? Some say it speaks about God. Others say it speaks about the Holy Spirit. But according to all commentators, it is not found in Scripture. In my opinion, the spirit it refers to is not God's but Satan's, as in Ep 6:12. The evil spirit is the evil impulse (yetzer hara') in us. Ya'akov refers to it in v. 7: 'Take a stand against the Adversary, and he will flee from you.' Jews today still call Satan der ruach [Yiddish for "the spirit"; Lichtenstein was writing around 1900]. 1 believe Ya'akov is referring to Genesis 4:7, where God says to Cain, 'Sin lies at the door, and his desire shall be toward you, but you are to rule over him.' This is understood by all to be speaking about Satan, who is the evil impulse in man; for example, in the Talmud (Bava Batra 16a), 'He is Satan, the evil impulse.' The evil impulse is used by satanic angels to cause man to sin." (Commentary to the New Testament, ad loc.)
As Lichtenstein indicated, a different sense is possible for the Greek text of vv. 5-6a: "Or do you suppose that the Tanakh speaks in vain when it says that the Spirit, whom God has caused to live in us, longs for us even to the point of jealousy? And he gives greater grace." But this fits the context less well. Rather, I agree with Lichtenstein: There is a spirit in us which longs to envy and thus inclines us to fight each other (vv. 1-2); because that spirit absorbs the worldly (v. 4), demonic (Satanic) wisdom which fosters bitter jealousy and envy (3:14-16). The Tanakh speaks directly of that spirit, the yetzer ra' at Genesis 6:5,8:21 (see Section D of Ro 5:12-21IN). But the grace he, God, gives to overcome through the power of the Holy Spirit in us is greater than Satan's spirit inclining us to jealousy and quarrels; for "he who is in you," the Holy Spirit, "is greater than he who is in the world," Satan (1 Yn 4:4).
7. Therefore, submit to God. Moreover, take a stand against the Adversary, and he will flee from you.
Take a stand against the Adversary, Satan (see Mt 4:1N), who "stalks about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Ke 5:8-9). Although he is "the god of this world" (2C 4:4), Yeshua has overcome the world (Yn 16:33). Therefore, if you use Scripture properly (2 Ti 2:15, Mt 4:1-11) and employ the other means of spiritual warfare that are available (2C 10:3-5, Ep 6:10-18), he will Dee from you. The verse carries the same message as Genesis 4:7 (see vv. 5-6N above).
8. Come close to God, and he will come close to you. Clean your hands, sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded people!
Come close to God, and he will come close to you, as in Zechariah 1:3 ('"Turn to me,' says Adonai of Hosts, 'and I will turn to you.'"), Malachi 3:7,2 Chronicles 15:2. Here the initiative for reconciliation is ours; elsewhere Scripture places it in God's hands, as at Lamentations 5:21 ("Turn us to you, Adonai, and we will be turned.") and Ep 2:4-10. Yochanan 3:16 expresses both sides equally: "God... gave..., so that everyone who trusts...."; similarly MJ 10:20, 22 ("He [Yeshua] inaugurated it.... Therefore, let us approach....") and Ro 3:22 ("a righteousness that comes from God... to all who continue trusting"). Clean your hands... purify your hearts. Compare Isaiah 1:15-16:
"When you spread out your hands, 1 will hide my eyes from you; even when you make many prayers, 1 will not hear — for your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."
Also Psalm 24:4(3):
"Who shall ascend into the mountain of Adonai?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart."
Double-minded people. See 1:6-8&N.
9. Wail, mourn, sob! Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into gloom!
10. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
These verses explain what is meant by purifying one's heart (v. 8).
Compare Job 5:11,22:29; Mt 23:12: Lk 14:11, 18:14; 1 Ke 5:6.
11. Brothers, stop speaking against each other! Whoever speaks against a brother or judges a brother is speaking against Torah and judging Torah. And if you judge Torah, you are not a doer of what Torah says, but a judge.
12. There is but one Giver of Torah; he is also the Judge, with the power to deliver and to destroy. Who do you think you are, judging your fellow human being?
Stop speaking against each other! See vv. 1-2. One who speaks against or judges a brother is arrogating to himself the position of a judge, that is, of God, who has the power to deliver and to destroy. Yechiel Lichtenstein writes, in his Commentary to the New Testament (ad loc),
'The most important part of the Torah is, 'Love your neighbor as yourself (above, 2:8). In saying this, the Torah does not distinguish the righteous neighbor from the wicked one.... The Lord taught that the neighbor could be a Samaritan,"
that is, someone who is usually the object of adverse prejudgment (Lk 10:37&N). Compare Mt 7:1-5; Ro 2:1-3. 12-16; 14:4, 10-12.
If you judge Torah, you nomothetes, related to the word "nenomothetitai' in the phrase, "this covenant [the New Covenant] has been given as Torah," at MJ 8:6b&N.
13. Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a city, stay there a year trading and make a profit”!
14. You don’t even know if you will be alive tomorrow! For all you are is a mist that appears for a little while and then disappears.
15. Instead, you ought to say, “If Adonai wants it to happen, we will live” to do this or that.
16. But as it is, in your arrogance you boast. All such boasting is evil.
Planning is an important ingredient of today's managerial society, but it is easy for planners to forget that they stand only as God permits — not only their plans, but they themselves. Hence, "If Adonai wants it to happen, we will live" to do this or that. If we don't live, what good will the plans do? — as in Yeshua's story about the rich man who built new barns (Lk 12:16-21). "Don't boast about tomorrow, because you don't know what today may bring forth!" (Proverbs 27:1) For more on boasting, see 1С 1:31&N.
17. So then, anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it is committing a sin.
Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it is committing a sin of omission far more serious than the sin of those who are uninformed — as is clear from Lk 12:47-48, 2 Ke 2:21. Romans 14:23 makes a related yet distinct point, likewise 1С 8:13. In this specific situation the sin is to announce plans as if we could control all the circumstances, failing to acknowledge that God is in charge and our plans depend on his will.
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