Patrick Woods of “So Much For Straw” has been blogging on James’ use of Old Testament figures as “verbal icons” [here]. His most recent post focuses upon James’ reference to Job’s patience/endurance (Jas 5:11) [here]. His posts reminded me of some of my own thoughts on this passage, so I figured I’d write a note for the blog… Please excuse the scattered thoughts:
I’ve wondered about the juxtoposition of “compassionate and merciful” with Job in James 5. I think that this is an allusion to the declaration of YHWH in Exodus 34:6 “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” The LXX’s οἰκτίρμων καὶ ἐλεήμων does not completely line up with James’ πολύσπλαγχνός … καὶ οἰκτίρμων, but the gist is there. The self-revelation of YHWH in Exodus 34 is referenced in several places throughout the OT (Neh 9:17, 31; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 110:4; 144:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). James’ use comes on the heals of his description of the eschatological judgment of the rich (5:1-6) and his admonition to the community to endure patiently through present-day trials in light of the imminent arrival of the Lord (5:7-9). The emphasis is upon the patience/endurance of the community in light of temporal and/or physical nearness of the Lord/Judge. In the canonical story of Job, “the end” of the story rests in God’s theophanic ‘nearness’ in the midst of “the whirlwind and clouds” (Job 38:1). The original declaration of God’s graciousness and compassion in Exodus also takes place in the midst of Gods’ theophanic nearness (see Exod 19 for the description of Sinai). I wonder if James is pulling these themes together. Job’s suffering was vindicated in God’s revelation/arrival. The suffering of James’ community will be vindicated in the arrival of the Lord/Judge. The flip side of God’s “mercy and compassion” in Exodus is his promise to “visit the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exod 34:7). For James, the future arrival of the Lord will be characterized by his graciousness and compassion upon those who endure, but his judgment upon those who oppress.
Another reference to God’s graciousness and compassion occurs in Sirach 2:11. The context of this allusion is particularly pertinent to themes found throughout James:
My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing. 2 Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity. 3 Cling to him and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous. 4 Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient. 5 For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation. 6 Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. 7 You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not stray, or else you may fall. 8 You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost. 9 You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. 10 Consider the generations of old and see: has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed? Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken? Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected? 11 For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of distress. 12 Woe to timid hearts and to slack hands, and to the sinner who walks a double path! 13 Woe to the fainthearted who have no trust! Therefore they will have no shelter. 14 Woe to you who have lost your nerve! What will you do when the Lord’s reckoning comes? 15 Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words, and those who love him keep his ways. 16 Those who fear the Lord seek to please him, and those who love him are filled with his law. 17 Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts, and humble themselves before him. 18 Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of mortals; for equal to his majesty is his mercy, and equal to his name are his works. (Sirach 2 NRSV)
Note the themes of testing and endurance/patience (vv. 1-2, 4-5; cf. Jas 1:2-8; Jas 5:7-11). Note also the admonition to “wait” for the Lord’s mercy and not to stray (v. 8; cf. Jas 5:7-11; Jas 5:19-20) and the warning against walking a “double path” (v. 12; cf Jas 1:8). Sirach asks “What will you do when the Lord’s reckoning comes?” (v. 14; cf. Jas 5:1-11). A detailed comparison of James and Sirach (looking for similarities, differences and possible allusions) would be fruitful. Several commentators (Hartin, Davids, Johnson, Frankemölle, Chaine, Cantitat, etc.) have done so in the introductions to their commentaries. Also see Antonius Boon’s 1860 dissertation (unfortunately only available in Latin) and the works by Núria Calduch-Benages.* There are other parts of Sirach that may have had an influence on James’ letter. See some of the discussion in my thesis on Elijah in Jas 5:17-18.
- *Calduch-Benages, Núria. “Amid Trials: Ben Sira 2:1 and James 1:2.” In Intertextual Studies in Ben Sira and Tobit: Essays in Honor of Alexander A. Di Lella, ed. Jeremy Corley and Vincent Skemp, 255-263. Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 38. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2005.
- ——-. “Ben Sira 2 y el Nuevo Testament.” Estudios bíblicos 53 (1995): 305-316.