Friday, October 16

Psalm 17: Psalm 17 (Greek and Latin 16) pertains to the hope of Christ in the context of His death and burial. Its final line is the key to its interpretation: “But I will appear before Your face in righteousness; at beholding Your glory will I be satisfied.” Such was the hope of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2).

The Gospel of John especially portrays Jesus as God’s perfect servant, doing “always . . . those things that please Him” (8:29). He could assert, therefore, in full serenity of soul, “I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do” (14:31). Such obedience was the very reason for His journey to earth: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (6:38). Furthermore, this sustained obedience to the Father was for Jesus the very channel of His sustenance: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (4:34). At all times, then, was He able to say: “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (5:30).

This obedience to the Father was, of course, costly. As Jesus prays to Him in this psalm, “Because of the words of Your lips, I have adhered to the hard ways.” And just what were these words of God for which Jesus adhered to the hard ways? Surely they were the words of “all that the prophets have spoken,” for “ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25, 26).

These, then, were the words that governed the life of Jesus: words about Isaac’s burden of wood in Genesis, words about the paschal lamb in Exodus, words about atonement for sin in Leviticus, words about Samson giving his life for the people in Judges, words about David suffering opprobrium in Second Samuel, words about being pierced in Zechariah, words about the Lord’s Suffering Servant in Isaiah, and, indeed, these very words of the suffering just man in the Book of Psalms.

When Jesus took up Isaac’s wood on His shoulders, and became the paschal lamb, and made atonement for sins, and gave His life for His brethren, and suffered opprobrium, and was pierced with a spear, and all the rest—in doing all these things, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). All of the Hebrew Bible consists of prophetic words about Jesus, for the sake of which He adhered to the “hard ways.”

And just what were those hard ways to which our Lord adhered for the sake of God’s words? They were the hard ways of obedience to the Father’s will, for “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). St. Paul, about two decades after Holy Friday, quoted a line from a very primitive hymn of the Church, according to which Christ “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).

It was in His Passion, then, that Jesus was put to the trial, and Psalm 17 is one of those psalms expressing His supplication to the Father in that setting. Jesus suffered and died in the divine service, committing His entire destiny into the Father’s hand: “You have proved my heart; You have visited me in the night. You have tried me with fire, nor was wickedness found within me.”

As this last line shows, the prayer of Jesus was that of a righteous man. Indeed, Psalm 17 so stresses this quality of righteousness that no other member of the human race could pray this psalm in such literal truth. Jesus says to the Father: “Attend to My righteousness, O Lord; give heed to my supplication. Hear my prayer from lips that are not deceitful. Let my judgment come forth from Your face, and let mine eyes behold uprightness.”

Becoming “in all things . . . like His brethren” (Heb. 2:17), Jesus prays for the Father’s protection in words that we are correct and prompt to make our own: “Manifest the wonders of Your mercy, O You that save those who hope on You. But from those who resist Your right hand, guard me as the apple of Your eye. In the shelter of Your wings will You hide me, from the presence of the godless who oppress me.”

Himself sinless, God’s Son became one with us in our fallen humanity, knowing fear and dread, but likewise trusting in God as a man. He assumed all that we are, in order that we, by Him, may be partakers of who He is.

Saturday, October 17

Psalm 21: The voice of the Church herself is the voice of this psalm, glorifying the Father for the Son’s paschal victory over sin, death, and hell. The proper sense of Psalm 21 may be summarized as: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. . . . In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:3, 7).

The psalm begins then, “O Lord, the King will rejoice in Your strength, and greatly will He exult in Your salvation.” This is the rejoicing of “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

The paschal victory is God’s response to Christ’s own prayer: “You have given Him His heart’s desire, nor have You denied Him the request of His lips.” The Gospels themselves suggest that the passing hours of our Lord’s suffering were a period of His intense prayer, indicated by His several audible prayers that were recorded during that time (cf. Matt. 26:39, 42, 44; 27:46; Luke 23:34, 46). With respect to this prayer of Jesus during His sufferings we are told that “He was heard because of His godly fear” (Heb. 5:7).

And for what did Jesus pray during His Passion? “He asked life of You,” answers our psalm. And what sort of life? The mere survival of his earthly body? Hardly. The object of Jesus’ prayer was, rather, the total life that stands forever victorious over death, the irruption of the divine life into the world by reason of His own passage through death to glory.

The true eternal life is not a simple continuation of man’s earthly existence. It is something new altogether: “He asked life of You, and You gave Him length of days unto ages of ages.” This is the divine life given in the Resurrection, of which Jesus said: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:25, 26).

This eternal life is joy forever in God’s presence, “where the forerunner has entered for us” (Heb. 6:20): “Great is His glory in Your salvation; You will bestow glory and majesty upon Him. Blessing will You give Him forever and ever; You will gladden Him with joy in Your presence.”

By reason of His Resurrection, says this psalm, Jesus reigns as King, the very title that Pilate, in God’s providential irony, affixed to the Cross itself: “O Lord, the King will rejoice in Your strength.” And because He is King, He is crowned: “For You have poured upon Him the blessings of goodness. A crown of precious stones have You placed upon His head.”

Once again, this was the glorification for which Jesus prayed as He commenced the unfolding of His Passion: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You. . . . And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:1, 5).

Many lines of this psalm—pretty much its entire second half—are devoted to the enemies of Christ, who are enemies of Christ precisely because they are the enemies of man. That enemy called sin, overcome by the atoning grace of His blood. That enemy called death, which He trampled down by His
own death. That enemy called hell, which found itself unable to hold the Author of life.

Psalm 21 thus celebrates the victory of Him who proclaims: “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of death” (Rev. 1:17, 18).

Sunday, October 18

2 Chronicles 1: This book was originally the second half of a single work, known in Hebrew as “the words of the days,” meaning “history.” Since, however, Hebrew does not, strictly speaking, have vowel letters, the original “Book of Chronicles” was quite a bit shorter in Hebrew than in Greek. Thus, when the work was translated into the latter language in the third century before Christ, the greater number of letters rendered the work too bulky to be transcribed onto a single scroll.

Hence, it was divided into two parts, as we have it now. The present work, therefore, is a strict continuation of 1?Chronicles. The transition was originally seamless.

Accordingly, as in David’s last public appearance (1?Chr. 28—29), Solomon is surrounded by “all Israel” (v. 2). Describing the new king’s pilgrimage to Gibeon, the Chronicler goes into greater detail, including elements not found in Kings (vv. 3b–6a) that emphasize the continuity of Solomon’s novus ordo with the ancient institutions of Moses.

The new king was expected to make this pilgrimage because of the veneration widely and deeply felt toward the Mosaic tabernacle, now about three hundred years old, and the ancient bronze altar made by Bezalel (Ex. 31; 38). Solomon’s pilgrimage to this traditional gathering place of the tribes further signified that the new temple, which he would soon undertake to build, represented no break from Israel’s inherited worship.

Josephus, in spite of the combined testimonies of both Kings and
Chronicles, places this event at Hebron. He also adds the amusing detail that when the Lord spoke to Solomon—in a dream in Kings but in a vision in Chronicles—the king “jumped out of bed” (Antiqities. 8.2.1.).

Well, yes, I suppose that does make sense.

Solomon, in response to the Lord’s offer to give him whatever he wanted (v. 7), requested only spiritual goods, not military conquest or worldly power. He besought the Lord for the wisdom (v. 10) that became the trait for which he is best remembered, both in Holy Scripture and in the minds of believers ever since.

Nonetheless, because Solomon’s reign was also a time of economic prosperity, the Chronicler could hardly remain silent about the king’s mercantile skills (vv. 14–17). Solomon, then, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, discovered that all these other things had been added to him as well. Even in this respect, however, the Chronicler, inspired by another view of what is really important in history, omits many of the details about Solomon’s wealth found in 1?Kings.

All these matters now being settled, the Chronicler is ready to get to the really important part of the story, the construction of the temple.

Monday, October 19

Psalm 25: In the original Hebrew text, Psalm 25 (Greek and Latin 24) is an alphabetical psalm; that is to say, each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is the second such in the Book of Psalms.
“To You, O Lord,” it says, “I lift up my soul; in You, my God, I put my trust,” the psalmist prays Truly, the rest of this psalm, concerned entirely with prayerful trust, may be read simply as commentary on the first verse.

At each Eucharistic service, going back at least to the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus near the beginning of the third century, when the priest commences the central and great benediction (corresponding to the Hebrew berakah), he turns to the congregation to exhort them to intensify their prayer: “Let us lift up our hearts!” (Ano skomen tas kardias is the lovely Greek original.) In the ancient Latin version, this exhortation becomes more succinct: Sursum corda, “Hearts up!” A congregation of elevated hearts is the proper context for that great act known simply as “The Thanksgiving,” Eucharistia (the priest’s next line being “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!”).

Psalm 25 begins with such a “lifting up” of our inner being to God, and it is significant that Eastern Orthodox Christians daily pray this psalm right before the beginning of the morning work, at the Third Hour (Tierce). They commence their labor each day, that is to say, by raising their hearts and mind to God. If we want to “pray always,” as Holy Scripture tells us to do, it is important to raise our souls to God right away as we face the day’s labor. Otherwise, there is great likelihood that our occupations will involve us in endless distractions that blind us to the thought of God’s presence.

But this is also a prayer for the Lord’s guidance throughout the rest of the day: “Show me Your ways, O Lord, and teach me Your paths. Lead me by Your truth.” And also a prayer for deliverance during the day: “My eyes are ever turned unto the Lord, for He will snatch my feet from the snare.” And for protection against the many enemies that afflict the soul: “Behold how many are my enemies, and with an unjust hatred have they hated me. Guard my soul and deliver me, that I may not be put to shame, for in You have I placed my hope.”

Tuesday, October 20

Psalm 26: In the measure that the voice of this psalm is the voice of innocence, it is a psalm most properly heard from the lips of Christ our Lord, who alone is truly innocent. The deepest sense of Psalm 26 (Greek and Latin 25) is Christological.

Nonetheless, there is also a moral sense to this psalm, for we Christians too are called to live in some measure of innocence, in contrast to the world around us. Thus, St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless (amempti) and harmless, children of God without fault (amoma) in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (2:14, 15).

In this context, Christian “blamelessness” is not an abstract or general ideal. It has to do, rather, with the avoidance of antipathy and unnecessary strife within the local church. Earlier in the same chapter the Apostle had exhorted that Macedonian parish to do nothing from ambition or conceit, but always to regard the interests of others, with fellowship, affection, and mercy (2:1–4); and later he will remind two women in that church of their specific duty with respect to such things (4:2).

In Psalm 26 as well, the innocence at issue is related to one’s relationship to the Church, particularly in the context of worship: “I have loved, O Lord, the splendor of Your house, and the dwelling place of Your glory. . . . My foot stands firm in integrity; in the churches will I bless You, O Lord.”

The aspired-to innocence of the Christian has chiefly to do, then, with his relationship to those with whom he worships in communion. It is to be determined by evangelical love.

Thus, St. Paul prayed for another Macedonian congregation: “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless (amemptous) in holiness before our God and Father” (1 Thess. 3:12, 13). Paul himself had given them the proper example: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly (amemptos) we behaved ourselves among you who believe” (2:10). Once again, this innocence has to do with the behavior of Christians to one another.

In yet a deeper sense, however, Christian blamelessness is to be understood as far more than simply a moral quality. It is also a blamelessness before God, manifestly a state that none of us can attain on his own. Such innocence is the fruit of cleansing redemption, of which the Lord’s washing of the Apostles’ feet is perhaps the Bible’s most striking symbol: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8).

This Christian innocence is not simply a forensic verdict. We are more than merely declared innocent. We are made innocent. Christian blamelessness is not simply imputed; it is infused. Something actually happens to us; something real is effected in our souls. It truly makes us clean. The blood of Christ really washes us from our sins (cf. Rev. 1:5). St. Paul wrote thus to the Colossians: “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless (amomous), and above reproach in His sight” (Col. 1:21, 22). This, ultimately, is the innocence that we bring to God’s holy altar, that we may listen to the sound of His praise, and recount all His wonders, loving the splendor of His house, and the dwelling place of His glory.

But none of this is our doing. Even as we say to God (twice in this psalm), “I have walked in my innocence,” it is still necessary to add, “Redeem me and have mercy on me.” Innocence is not to be claimed except through repentance: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). It is from the altar of repentance that we are rendered innocent, purged by a coal so ardent that not even the fiery seraph dares to take it except with tongs.

Wednesday, October 21

Psalm 38: With its heavy emphasis on sin and suffering, Psalm 38 (Greek and Latin 37) is one of the rougher parts of the Psalter, and its thematic conjunction of sin and suffering is also the manifest key to its meaning.

Suffering and death enter the world with sin. To humanity’s first sinners the Lord said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow,” and “Cursed is the ground for your sake” (Gen. 3:16, 17). So close is the Bible’s joining of suffering to sin that some biblical characters (such as Job’s friends and the questioning disciples in John 9:2) entertained the erroneous notion that each instance of suffering was brought about by certain specific sins.

Like Psalm 6, the present psalm commences with a prayer for deliverance from divine anger: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure.” Already the poet feels overwhelming pain which he describes, whether literally or by way of metaphor, in the most physical terms: “Your arrows [thunder bolts?] pierce me deeply, and Your hand presses me down.” What he suffers comes from sin and the response of the divine wrath, from which he begs to be delivered: “There is no soundness in my flesh, because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin.” The equation: sin = wrath of God.

Whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual—or all of them together—what we suffer in this life are the incursions of death, and death is simply sin becoming incarnate and dwelling among us, for “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

Such is the essential conviction of our pra
yer in this psalm: “For my iniquities are gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my folly.”

The proper response to sin and suffering? Confession of sins and the sustained cultivation of repentance, for “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Thus we pray in this psalm: “For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually (tamid ) before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin.” Notwithstanding a widespread heresy that says otherwise, repentance (metanoia) is not something done once, and all finished; according to one of the last petitions of the litany, it is something to be perfected (ektelesai) until the end of our lives. This sorrow for sin, says our psalm, is continual, ongoing (tamid). Every suffering we are given in this life is a renewed call to repentance. Every pain is, as it were, the accusing finger of Nathan: “You are the man” (2 Sam. 12:7).

Psalm 38 is not the happiest of psalms, but it is exceedingly salubrious to the spirit. If its message can be summed up in one line, that line may well be David’s response to Nathan: “I have sinned against the Lord.” These words make all the difference, because, as another psalm insists, “a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Over and over the tax collector “beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13).

Sin is also the great solvent of our relationships to one another. As is clear in the accounts of the first sins (Gen. 3:11–13; 4:12), sin means isolation and alienation. Sin separates us, not only from God, but also from each another. Our psalm speaks of this isolation: “My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague. And my relatives stand afar off.”

We are not talking about morbidity here. Contrition and sorrow in this psalm are accompanied by repeated sentiments of longing: “I groan because of the turmoil of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pants, my strength fails me. . . . For in You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God.”

Finally, there are the enemies, the demons, who are the only enemies of the man who correctly prays the Book of Psalms. Nowhere does Holy Scripture exhort us to forgive or pity the demons. They are the only true enemies that our prayer recognizes. Unlike human enemies who are to be prayed for, the demons are always to be prayed against. Our fight with them is unsleeping, as is their fight with us, plotting our ruin: “Those also who seek my life lay snares for me; those who seek my hurt speak of destruction, and plan deception all the day long.”

Thursday, October 22

Psalm 37: If we think of prayer as speaking to God, Psalm 37 (Greek and Latin 36) appears at first to challenge the very notion of the psalms as prayers, inasmuch as not a single word of it is explicitly addressed to God. It speaks about God, of course, but never to Him, at least not overtly.

Psalm 37 is also strangely constructed, even if the construction is rather simple. It is one of those twelve psalms built on what is known as an alphabetic acrostic pattern—that is to say: starting with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph, each new line (in this case, every other line) of the psalm begins with the next successive letter of the alphabet. Thus, if one looks for some sort of logical or thematic progression in the course of the psalm, he may be mightily disappointed. The arrangement of the psalm’s ideas is determined only by something so artificial and arbitrary as the sequence of the alphabet, so the meditation does not really progress. It is, on the other hand, insistent and repetitive.

It is obvious at once that Psalm 37 has close ties to the Bible’s Wisdom tradition. If it were not part of the Psalter, we would expect to find it in Proverbs or one of the other Wisdom books. It appears to be a kind of discourse given by a parent to a child, or a wise man to a disciple. It is full of sound and godly counsel: “Fret not thyself because of evildoers . . . Trust in the Lord and do good . . . Cease from anger and forsake wrath . . . Wait on the Lord and keep His way,” and so forth. Such admonitions, along with the psalm’s allied warnings and promises, are stock material of the Wisdom literature.

So how does one pray such a psalm? To begin with, by respecting its tone, which is one of admonition, warning, and promise. Surely prayer is talking to God, but it also involves listening to God, and this is a psalm in which one will do more listening than talking. It is a psalm in which the believer prays by placing his heart open and receptive to God’s word of admonition, warning, and promise.

One may likewise think of Psalm 37 as the soul speaking to itself: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him . . . But the meek shall inherit the earth . . . The little that the righteous has is better than the riches of many wicked . . . The Lord knows the days of the upright . . . The Law of his God is in his heart,” and so on. The human soul, after all, is not of simple construction. The great thinkers who have examined the soul over many centuries seem all to agree that it is composed of parts, and sometimes these parts are at odds one with another. This mixture of conflicting experiences in the soul leads one to utter such petitions as, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” It is one part of the soul praying for the other.

In this psalm, one part of the soul admonishes the other, reminds the other, cautions the other, encourages the other. And this inner conversation of the human spirit all takes place in the sight of God, the Giver of wisdom.

This inner discussion is rendered necessary because of frequent temptations to discouragement. As far as empirical evidence bears witness, the wicked do seem, on many occasions, to be better off than the just. By the standards of this world, they prosper.

Our psalm is at pains to insist, however, that this prosperity is only apparent, in the sense that it will certainly be short-lived. As regards the workers of iniquity, “they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb . . . For evildoers shall be cut off . . . For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be . . . For the arms of the wicked shall be broken . . . The transgressors shall be cut off together.”

The suffering lot of the just man is likewise temporary and of brief duration. He need only wait on the Lord in patience and trust: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give thee the desires of thy heart. Commit your way unto the Lord, and trust in Him, and He shall bring it to pass . . . But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord will help them and deliver them; He will deliver them from the wicked and save them, because they trust in Him.”

This, then, is a psalm of faith and confidence in God, without which there is no Christian prayer. It is also faith and hope under fire, exposed to struggle and the endurance that calls for patience. After all, “faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1), and “We were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope . . . But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Rom. 8:24, 25). Our psalm is a meditative lesson on not being deceived by appearances, and a summons to wait patiently for God’s deliverance.

Friday, October 23

James 1:1-11: The first verse of this epistle indicates already that James was an authority recognized outside of the Holy Land. The churches addressed here—“the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”—were apparently of a Jewish makeup, and they looked to this first Bishop of Jerusalem, the Lord’s own kinsman, as their spiritual father
. In this sense, James is not only our first example of a bishop; he is also our earliest model of a patriarch.

In this connection let us recall that the Apostle Paul, when he wrote of those whom he consulted at Jerusalem, named James first, before Peter and John (Galatians 2:9). It is worth observing, likewise, that this same sequence—James, Peter, John—is identical to the order in which the epistles of these same three men appear in the New Testament.

James, in a series of apparently unsystematic exhortations, begins with patience, prompting the careful reader to recall that St. Paul too, when he commenced his description of Christian love, began with the succinct thesis, “Love is patient”–Charitas patiens est in the Vulgate. James’ word for “patience,” hypomone–verses 3,4) will later appear when James speaks of the example of Job (5:11). He begins and ends this work, then, on the need of patience in the time of trial (verses 2,12,13,14).

The English reader, as he reads “when you fall into various trials,” may not suspect the skillful play of sounds in James’ original Greek: perasmois peripesete poikilois. In fact, James displays such verbal flourishing right from the start, going from “greetings” (verse 1) to “all joy” (verse 2)–chairein pasa charan.

The theme of rejoicing in times of trial is a common one in the New Testament (Matthew 5:10-12; Acts 5:41; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). This active attitude toward the experience of trial, as distinct from a merely passive endurance, brings about a kind of perfection, an ergon teleion (verse 4), perfection being a quality of great interest to James (verse 17,25; 3:2).

Those who attain unto perfection “lack nothing” (en medeni leipomenoi–verse 4). What a man may “lack” (leipetai–verse 5) first of all, says James, is wisdom, a gift that he may obtain through prayer to the generous God. This sudden mention of prayer and wisdom may not seem at first to fit the context of patience, which James has already introduced. The author is inspired here, however, by the Wisdom Scriptures, where wisdom is attained by prayer (1 Kings 3:5-9; Wisdom 9:10-18) and the patient endurance of trials (Wisdom 9:6; Sirach 4:17).

James’ mention of prayer leads to a consideration of faith and constancy (verse 6), because the prayer of faith is contrasted with wavering and hesitation. The expression used for wavering and hesitation here is diakrinomai (verses 6,7), the middle voice of a verb meaning to make judgments. The use of this word suggests that the contrast of prayerful faith is some kind of inner debate, perhaps a bewilderment about the efficacy of prayer itself. The same contrast between the inconstancy and the prayer of faith, using the identical words, is also found in the sayings of Jesus (Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23).

Such hesitancy and inner debate produces a “man of two souls”–aner dipsyhos (verse 8). This metaphor, which appears to be James’ own invention (the fragment in Philo seems not to be authentic), became common in early Christian literature. James’ adjective is found numerous times in Clement of Rome, Pseudo-Clement, Hermas, Origen, and later Christian writers, along with the corresponding noun dipsychia (“double-soul-ness”) and verb dipsychein (“to be double-soul-ed”). Such a person, animated sometimes by fervor toward God and at other times by friendship with the world, did not love God with his “whole” heart. He was certainly “unstable in all his ways.”

James next introduces the contrast of wealth and poverty (verses 9-11), which will become a notable theme in the entire epistle (1:27; 2:1-7,15-17; 4:10,13-16; 5:1-6). As we shall reflect in the next chapter, this sense of poverty and riches is not theoretical in James; it pertains, rather, to the concrete life of the Church, the one place on earth where the poor can expect to be treated with honor. Indeed, as James suggests here, it is also in the Church that the rich man will receive salutary instruction on the transitory nature of wealth, and in this instruction he too will be honored (verse 10).