James 4: 1-12 An Exposition

James 4: 1-12 What is causing all the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it your desires battling inside you? 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.

Before we continue with the rest of this portion, this sidrah, let’s explore what the foregoing verse means. I have told you many times that we should let scripture interpret scripture, and that is what we are going to do.

I: Verses 1-3

There are several verses that relate to the subject of the scripture of our text: Mt 7:15–20; Ro 7:23; 1 Ke 2:11. But we are going to take Romans, Sha’ul’s own words to interpret our passage.

Starting with verse 12 of chapter 7 in Romans.

v. 12 So the Torah is holy; that is, the commandment is holy, just and good. 13 Then did something good become for me the source of death? Heaven forbid! Rather, it was sin working death in me through something good, so that sin might be clearly exposed as sin, so that sin through the commandment might come to be experienced as sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the Torah is of the Spirit; but as for me, I am bound to the old nature, sold to sin as a slave. 15 I don’t understand my own behavior—I don’t do what I want to do; instead, I do the very thing I hate! 16 Now if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am agreeing that the Torah is good. 17 But now it is no longer “the real me” doing it, but the sin housed inside me. 18 For I know that there is nothing good housed inside me—that is, inside my old nature. I can want what is good, but I can’t do it! 19 For I don’t do the good I want; instead, the evil that I don’t want is what I do! 20 But if I am doing what “the real me” doesn’t want, it is no longer “the real me” doing it but the sin housed inside me. 21 So I find it to be the rule, a kind of perverse “Torah”, that although I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me! 22 For in my inner self I completely agree with G-d’s Torah; 23 but in my various parts, I see a different “Torah”, one that battles with the Torah in my mind and makes me a prisoner of sin’s “Torah”, which is operating in my various parts. 24 What a miserable creature I am! Who will rescue me from this body bound for death? 25 Thanks be to G-d, he will!—through Yahshua the Messiah, our Lord!
To sum up: with my mind, I am a slave of G-d’s Torah; but with my old nature, I am a slave of sin’s “Torah”.

Herein Sha’ul describes the predicament common to all humanity, and that is the conflict in our souls between doing what is good and what is evil. He is addressing believers who should be even more aware of the conflict between what he characterizes as the “old nature” and the “new nature” that results from our reconciliation with YHVH Elohim via the faithfulness of Yahshua our advocate and substitution sacrifice. Pleas notice that contrary to popular belief he upholds G-d’s Torah as the standard by which we can know the difference. He differentiates it as G-d’s Torah and “sins’ torah,” and he describes “sin’s torah” as a perverse torah. As we can see Sha’ul in no way denigrates G-d’s Torah, but upholds its validity for the believer. He is making a Midrash, but when the untutored read it they unfortunately come to the wrong conclusion just as they do when they read the Talmud. The bottom line is that even though we are believers we can expect that our “old nature” will war with our “new nature.” This is understandable when we realize that salvation is progressive as is spiritual maturity. Another way of putting it is there are two opposing desires battling within us. The desire to please G-d against the desire to please self. Some day these two opposing forces will be reconciled, but until that time we need to stay on guard and be grounded in Torah.

Verse three of this passage by James tells us that even our motives in prayer are deceitful. How many public prayers let alone private ones seem to be addressing a mystical Santa Claus? The motive is obvious, self-interest and self-gratification coupled with greed or materialism.

We in western culture are imbued with the philosophy of individualism, materialism, and self-gratification. Me first and instant gratification is evident everywhere even in our religious communities. We have been taught this philosophy from the cradle. Even our religious institutions give credence and approval to selfish prayer. You want a new car, a bigger more opulent house or the most modern stylish clothes, just ask for it, and a loving G-d will give them to you.

Luke 11: 9-10 is quoted to lend credence to this false doctrine.

“Moreover, I myself say to you: keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who goes on asking receives; and he who goes on seeking finds; and to him who continues knocking, the door will be opened.

Unfortunately, for them, this passage is speaking of the knowledge of G-d and His Salvation and not material possessions or selfish desires.

We are not to misuse Scripture, by 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. Let’s move on to verse 4 of James.

II. Verse 4
4 You unfaithful wives! Don’t you know that loving the world is hating G-d? Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself G-d’s enemy!

Unfaithful wives here does not mean an adulteress who violates her marriage contract with her spouse, but means all believers who are espoused to YHVH/Yahshua. In the Tanakh Israel’s unfaithfulness to G-d is often expressed in terms of adultery.

We read in 1 John 2: 15-17 this report:

15 Do not love the world or the things of the world. If someone loves the world, then love for the Father is not in him; 16 because all the things of the world—the desires of the old nature, the desires of the eyes, and the pretensions of life—are not from the Father but from the world. 17 And the world is passing away, along with its desires. But whoever does G-d’s will remains forever.

Believers are not to be in concert with the world. We are to be separated unto YHVH/Yahshua we are to be Holy. As a result we seek higher ideals not succumbing to the world’s temptations and desires. Furthermore, materialism and self-interest should be foreign to our way of thinking. We are not to be unfaithful wives to YHVH/Yahshua always running away to satisfy some worldly desire. We are to be faithful to Him for He is to be our number one priority. We must recognize that the world system the child of HaSatan is like an attractive seducer who when he succeeds discards his conquest and goes on to the next challenge.

III. Now to verse 5-7:

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,

“G-d opposes the arrogant,
but to the humble he gives grace.” [Proverbs 3: 34]

7 Therefore, submit to G-d. Moreover, take a stand against the Adversary, and he will flee from you.

There is a spirit in us that longs to envy. Commentators have a great deal of difficulty in Ya’akov’s reference to the Tanakh here, and it is supposed that it is a reference to Genesis 4:7.

Let me read:

‘Sin lies at the door, and his desire shall be toward you, but you are to rule over him.’

Here YHVH addresses Cain and points out to him that he should rule over HaSatan for this was the moment of decision to either choose between the desires of HaSatan or the desires of G-d. Note also that YHVH in this verse equates HaSatan as “sin.” “Sin lies at the door and HIS desire shall be toward you.” Sin a noun is equal with His meaning HaSatan. They are one and synonymous. We all too often think of sin as something integral to itself, but it is all too apparent it is also Satan, a personality. When we choose sin we surrender our selves to HaSatan who is sin. In essence we are choosing HaSatan over and against YHVH/Yahshua. That makes it very personal.

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”; which is an evil spirit as referred to in verse five]. In Genesis 4:7, where G-d speaks to Cain it is understood by all that YHVH is speaking about haSatan, who is the evil impulse in man.

In the Talmud (Bava Batra 16a) Satan and sin are linked as one. It says: “‘He is Satan, the evil impulse.’ The evil impulse is used by satanic angels to cause man to sin.”

We do not have to give in to the evil spirit for the grace, He, G-d, gives to overcome through the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in us, is greater than HaSatan’s spirit inclining us to jealousy and quarrels; for “he who is in you,” the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit,) “is greater than he who is in the world,” Satan. (1 Yn 4:4).

IV. Verse 8-10:

8 Come close to G-d, and he will come close to you. Clean your hands, sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded people! 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.

Ya’akov is quoting Zechariah 1:3. “turn to me,’ says Adonai of Hosts, ‘and I will turn to you.” This is the thought that opens this verse and it is this same thought thats repeated in Malachi 3:7 and 2 Chronicles 15:2. YHVH has reached down to us in the person of His Son, but here the initiative of reconciliation is ours. In Lamentations 5:21 it reads: “Turn us to you, Adonai, and we will be turned.” YHVH Elohim has given us the means of reconciliation in His Son Yahshua and for every one that trusts, although fallen away, we are afforded the means of restoration by “turning to G-d,” by repentance. It now becomes our initiative for we have to truly repent and turn from our sin to be reconciled. Yahshua gave us the means now it is we who have to approach to take advantage of our opportunities. This does not mean that we can overtly commit “high-handed” sin for Scripture tells us that such sin shall not be forgiven, but YHVH is faithful to forgive if we truly repent and turn from our sins. We are to clean our hands …and purify our hearts. In Isaiah 1:15–16, we read:

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even when you make many prayers, I 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,

We also read in Psalm 24:4):
“Who shall ascend into the mountain of Adonai?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”

It is ludicrous to think that we are acceptable to YHVH/Yahshua when we continue to engage in conduct contrary to Torah. And for those that like to separate G-d’s Torah from what they think is taught in the B’rit Chadasha (NT) let me direct your attention to 1 John 3:4 “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the Torah (law): for sin is the transgression of the Torah (law.”) YHVH has forgiven us of our past sins when we come to trust in the faithfulness of Yahshua (Romans 3:25; 2 Peter 1: 9), but we are no longer children and having been bar mitzvah’d we are now to take on our responsibilities before YHVH/Yahshua and humanity. We are to develop character in the understanding of G-d’s Torah. We are to be personally accountable before the Sovereign of the Universe. YHVH tells us it is not beyond us to have clean hands and a pure heart.

In Deu 30:14 it says: “But the Torah is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
Deu 30:15 “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;” YHVH is telling us we are able to live obediently to His standards, His Torah. He has forgiven us of original sin and past sins through His Son Yahshua and being made clean we can, if we choose Him over HaSatan, the personification of Sin live holy and separated lives. It’s all too easy to say we can’t live Torah and sell out holy conduct, and embrace a selfish life. But Scripture does not teach that.

Humbling our selves simply means to place G-d first in our lives. I would suggest it also means to place others before yourself. YHVH/Yahshua tells us the haughty shall not inherit eternal life. Haughtiness, arrogance and selfish pride are nothing more than placing our selves upon the throne that rightly belongs to G-d. As we mature spiritually we will more and more see our selves in a true light and come to the discovery of how abjectly unworthy we are to place ourselves so highly.

V. Now to the last two Verses 11-12:

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?

In verses 1-2 we see that anyone who speaks against or judges a brother is arrogating to himself the position of a judge, that is, of G-d, who alone has the power to deliver and to destroy. He is also a relative moralists selecting which commandments of G-d he or she will do. Ya’akov is saying to reject part of Torah is to repudiate it all.

We have been taught that to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is the second most important part of Torah, but like unto the first, to Love G-d with all your heart, soul and might. We should note that the command “To love your neighbor as yourself” does not distinguish the righteous neighbor from the wicked one. Therefore, the Torah teaches we are to love everyone and treat him or her as we would be treated. In view of this Yahshua taught that the neighbor could be a Samaritan,” that is, someone who is usually the object of adverse prejudgment, but might very well be a source of divine pleasure and action..

Since the Torah teaches us to love even our enemies Ya’akov is teaching that If you judge Torah, that is misuse Torah to under gird your own prejudices you are not a doer of what Torah says. This is essentially the same point we find at: James 2: 10-11. Let me read:

10 For a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all. 11 For the One who said, “Don’t commit adultery,” also said, “Don’t murder.” Now, if you don’t commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah.

Ya‘akov in vv. 10–11 is teaching that If you don’t commit adultery, that is, if you make it your ongoing practice (present tense) to obey the command not to commit adultery, but do murder, making it your ongoing practice, and continuing in this mindset to disobey this command, then you have become a transgressor of all the Torah. the Talmud refers to this kind of person as an “an apostate in respect to one thing.” The Tanakh calls such rejection of the authority of the Torah “sinning with a high hand.” When we reject one part of a system of laws such as our civil and criminal tort law we are punished. On the other hand we are not rewarded for keeping those that we do accept. In effect we have been found guilty of violating the whole of the Law.

Let me close with this: We have been given a Torah (standards) whereby we should live and in the B’rit Chadasha Yahshua has given us the interpretation of that Torah. Furthermore, we are reminded that we are not to change one letter or meaning of G-d’s Torah for our own purposes. We are not to omit nor or we to abrogate any part of it. It is an eternal standard whereby we must live. We are not to change times, dates, seasons, words, and meanings, nor interpret Torah for our own selfish desires. The Living and Written Torah was given that we might live abundantly and to deny the efficacy of either leads to death and eternal separation from our Creator. It is just as an important decision today as it was in the wilderness when YHVH Elohim told us in Deu. 30:15 AFTER He had delivered His Torah, “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; “ and in Deu 30:19 “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:”


Amein, Amein…