Friday, October 15

Nehemiah 2: Fortified by prayer and fasting, Nehemiah prepared to argue his case before the king. He bided his time until the following spring, during Nisan, the month of the Passover. Doubtless Nehemiah was waiting for the most opportune and advantageous moment, watching the movement of government, carefully observing the emperor’s moods and attitudes.

He resolved finally to display his feelings; it was not an inadvertent dropping of his guard, but a calculated move (verse 1), and the emperor, as expected, noticed (verse 2). There was a sudden tense moment, because Persian emperors liked to be surrounded by happy, healthy faces (cf. Daniel 1:10-13!). Nehemiah stated the matter quickly and succinctly, for Persian emperors were also efficient men, not famous for their patience. In addition, they were notoriously fickle and capricious (cf. Esther 4:11).

Nehemiah knew all this, and even while he spoke to Artaxerxes, he continued to speak to God in his heart (verse 4). As always, his brief prayer was efficacious, because he managed to make his complaint without criticizing either the emperor or anyone in the Persian government.

Nehemiah was ever the consummate diplomat, schooled in all the arts of a large, international court. Throughout this book we shall find him playing a cool, deft hand, maintaining strict control over the cards held close to his chest. In every instance we shall see him disclosing only as much information as was needed to accomplish what he had in mind. If anyone wants to witness what it means to be as cunning as a serpent (which Jesus our Lord commands us to be), he will discover no better example than Nehemiah.

For example, we readers of this memoir will know that everything Nehemiah did was done on the authority of a private imperial edict that was handed to him, but we will also observe that he never permitted his enemies to know this. That is to say, he did not show his cards. His opponents would always be obliged to guess what hand he was holding, so they would be ever acting in the dark. Nehemiah knew very well that a privately issued instruction could always be privately withdrawn, so he was extremely careful not to let that happen. His opponents could never challenge something which they were not even sure existed! Nehemiah preferred to bluff his way through, laying down a card here and there, taking up another, never showing his hand. He kept his winning hand intact. Thus, we will observe that he never spent all his force on a single confrontation. There was ever more in reserve.

In the present scene, for example, Nehemiah only answered the emperor’s question. He made no request until the king explicitly asked for one, and we observe that the request, made at precisely the moment when it should have been made, was immediately granted. Similarly, Nehemiah did not disclose, even in this memoir, how much time he had at his disposal to complete the project (verse 6). Armed with papers of authorization, he crossed the Euphrates and cleared his mission with the satrapy authorities in the area (verses 7-10). When he arrived at Jerusalem, no public information was available to his opponents. Hearsay, of course, would reveal that he came from the capital. Certainly everyone knew his high standing in the Persian Empire. He lay low, nonetheless, for three days (verse 11), keeping the opposition off-guard, letting their discomfort mount, but without saying anything. Their growing curiosity and impatience would work to his advantage, and he knew it. Then, in the deepest secrecy, he made a quiet, nocturnal inspection of the city, riding on a sure-footed donkey around the ruins of the walls, an inspection recorded in this memoir in minute detail. We may call it The Midnight Ride of Nehemiah (verses 12-16).

Encouraged by this inspection, he summoned the proper people to promote public interest in the project (verses 17-18), while his opponents, learning of it only by rumor, were reduced to mere reaction (verses 19-20). Questioned on the matter, Nehemiah spoke only of trust in God. He breathed not a word about the papers in his breast pocket, leaving his opposition to guess and blunder.

Saturday, October 16

Nehemiah 3: This chapter describes the organized building of the wall, a task that could only be undertaken while the opposing party was caught off-guard, uncertain of its authorization.

From the beginning of the Book of Ezra, we have seen numerous examples of the resistance of the native population of the Holy Land, those who had not gone into exile. That opposition expressed their resentment at being excluded from the inheritance of Israel, and now, in the Book of Nehemiah, we observe that their resentment has not abated. It is grown stronger, rather, over the ensuing decades. It will greatly increase with Nehemiah’s construction of the city walls. More than any other project, those walls symbolized their exclusion from Israel.

Nehemiah had already arranged for the building material in 2:8; by late summer they were ready to start. For a man accustomed to dealing with the administration of an empire that stretched from the Khyber Pass to Macedonia, the modest organization required for this work was hardly much of a challenge.

Sections of the wall were apportioned to various families, villages, and professions. Nehemiah’s distribution of the work was not only an efficient use of the labor force; it also subtly encouraged rivalry among the builders, each team endeavoring to surpass the efforts of the others. (Some commentators have also observed the curious similarities of this description to the wall construction of Themistocles in Thucydides, History 1:89. There should be nothing surprising in this similarity. There are only so many ways to build a wall.)

Five of the building groups were composed of families listed in Ezra 2, while several others were based on various localities in the region. Merchant groups (verse 32) and certain guilds were also represented, such as apothecaries and goldsmiths (verse 8). The entire organization bore no slight resemblance to an urban softball league, in which various merchants or other organizations sponsored the different teams. The various teams of builders appear to be listed counterclockwise around the city wall. The priestly team, not unexpectedly, consecrated the parts of their sections as they were finished.

Sunday, October 17

Nehemiah 4: Meanwhile the frustrated opposition party was holding an impromptu powwow about what to do next (verses 1-2). Sanballat was aware that the emperor had forbidden the building of the walls, but here was the highest non-royal official in the realm, with full knowledge and cooperation of the governing satrap, doing that very thing. The situation left him angry and confused. He dared not complain to the capital, of course, because Persian monarchs tended to react in dangerous ways if stimulated by incautious questioning (cf. Ezra 6:11), to say nothing of deliberate provocation (cf. Esther 7:10). Nehemiah was completely familiar with the workings of the court, whereas Sanballat and the opposition folks were just a bunch of yokels. They found themselves now completely out of their political depth.

Their frustration could be expressed only in ridicule (verse 3), but their mirth rang hollow, because the wall in question was growing huge. Dr. Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations show it to have been 2.75 meters thick—roughly nine feet—and in Chapter 12 we will read of a lengthy dedicatory procession conducted on top of the wall!

Since Sanballat’s people could do nothing in the open, their opposition took the form of surprise raids by small gangs. The list of opponents in verse 7 indicates that Jerusalem was literally surrounded by enemies. There follows (verses 13-23) an account of how the builders, like Minute Men, simultaneously prayed and defended themselves during the construction. Verse 10 seems to be a snatch of a song that they sang while working.

Much of this chapter is resonant with the themes and vocabulary of Israel’s ancient warfare stories from the Pentateuch, Joshua, and Judges: the threat of the enemies (verses 7-8), the strategic disadvantage of Israel (verses 10,13), the preliminary prayer before arming (verse 9), the arrangement of the forces by families (verse 13), the declaration of divine help (verse 20), the summons to bravery and fidelity (verse 14), the Lord’s frustration of the enemies (verse 15), and the bugle call to battle (verses 18-19).

Monday, October 18

Luke 15:11-32: A useful approach to this Gospel story is to compare the repentance of the younger son with the regret of Jacob’s older son. Both of these young men, who enjoyed the fortune of having good fathers, proved themselves to be utter fools.

Both of them were careless about their inheritance. Esau sold his inheritance for a bowl of soup, and today’s younger son spent his in riotous living in a far country.

In due course both young fools came to regret their mistakes. It is in respect to those regrets, however, that our comparison between Esau and today’s younger son must be modified into a significant contrast:

Whereas Esau simply regretted his loss, this younger son actually repented of his sin. The difference between these two men illustrates the difference between regret and repentance, because they are certainly not the same thing.

We see this difference, as well, in two of Jesus’ apostles: Judas and Simon Peter. Judas regretted what he had done, whereas Peter actually repented. The one hanged himself in despair; the other prayed for forgiveness.

This difference is precisely what we see in the comparison between Esau and the younger son in today’s parable. Esau “regretted” the loss of his inheritance, whereas the Prodigal Son actually “repented” of his sin and begged forgiveness from his father.

Esau finally threw the blame for his dilemma on his brother Jacob, but the Prodigal Son blamed no one but himself, The Gospel story tells us, “he came to himself” (Luke 15:17), and, coming to himself, he realized that he was the one who had sinned, and the responsibility was entirely his own. His had been, moreover, a twofold sin, an offense against both God and that man whom God had given him to be his father: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21).

Nehemiah 5: This chapter, which is out of historical sequence, serves partly an apologetic purpose: Prior to narrating the attacks that his enemies were to make on his moral character, Nehemiah inserts this incident (from a later time) in order to demonstrate his integrity and sense of justice. In this incident, the problem faced by Nehemiah was an internal one, the exploitation of the builders during this time of crisis. Profiteers were taking extreme advantage of the situation (verses 1-5).

Contrary to the radically selfish principles of Utilitarian, Libertarian, and Objectivist philosophies, a healthy society cannot be founded solely on private enterprise and individual rights; government has appropriate functions, after all, beyond those of the common defense, domestic safety, and the safeguarding of private property. It is also a biblically warranted function of government to discourage greed, rapacity, and the taking of undue advantage. The evil we see in this chapter indicates that ancient Jerusalem had its own equivalents of Jeremy Bentham, Ludwig Von Mises, and Ayn Rand. Unbridled greed was producing once again the social order of Cain, as described in Genesis 4.

Nehemiah faced the crisis resultant from a completely selfish atmosphere, aggravated by the extra burden of the labor on the walls and a crop failure. Loan sharks, prohibited by the Mosaic Law from taking interest, were requiring exorbitant rights of usufruct and a disproportionate collateral, which, in the end, enslaved the children dispossessed by such abuses. All of this activity, unfortunately, was within the letter of the law, a form of "legal injustice."

Nehemiah’s first reaction was visceral (verse 6), but he gave himself time to cool down and reflect (verse 7), pondering which path might be the most effective to take. Then, skipping steps one and two in the procedure listed in Matthew 18:15-17, he jumped immediately to step three in the procedure. Since the offense was public, the confrontation would have to be public (cf. Galatians 2:11-14).

Nehemiah summoned a general assembly, in which to face the offenders with a larger group of people rallied on his own side. He easily reduced the offenders to silence (verses 7-8), not by appealing to the letter of the law (for the letter of the law in this instance was not on his side), still less by invoking something so nebulous as "the rights of the poor" (because the poor usually have more needs than they have rights), but by the experience of brotherhood ("your brethren").

Having reduced the offenders to silence, he proceeded to shame them into doing the decent thing (verses 9-11). He used his office, that is to say, not to maintain the letter of the law, but to establish justice. Clearly he regarded government as responsible for setting right certain economic wrongs born of an excessive and oppressive system of private enterprise that was able to stay legal while remaining unjust. In this respect, Nehemiah was clearly acting on impulses spawned of the great social prophets three centuries earlier: Hosea, Isaiah, Micah. Those powerless men decried economic injustice, but Nehemiah, himself in a powerful position, was able to do something about it. His efforts were successful (verses 12-13).

Nehemiah stayed on at Jerusalem until 433 (verse 14), informing us that he was not a half-bad governor (verses 15-19). The next chapter will jump back to the sequence expected at the end of the incident with which the present chapter began. Having demonstrated his integrity in the present chapter, he is now ready to speak of the calumnies of his enemies.

Tuesday, October 19

Nehemiah 6: The local opposition to Nehemiah’s building project next took a new and unbelievably clumsy tack, which he resisted with high disdain (verses 1-4). Failing this, his opponents then sent a letter with an implicit threat of denunciation (verses 5-7), but Nehemiah remained unimpressed (verse 8).

The story found here in verses 10-13 is not necessarily part of the chronological sequence but may have been put here because of its affinity to the two preceding stories.

Even before Shemaiah was in the employ of his opponents, Nehemiah smelled something wrong. He sensed that he was being invited to take a step he would regret. We observe him here, nonetheless, maintaining his composure under pressure, controlling his emotions, especially the emotion of fear, so as not to obscure his assessment of the situation (verse 14).

The wall, begun in the late summer, was finished fifty-two days later, in mid October (verse 15). About six months had passed since Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem, and less than a year since his friends had come with sad news to Babylon. Once again, Sanballat and his friends learned of the wall’s completion only by rumor (verse 16).

Psalm 26 (Greek and Latin 25): According to the moral sense of this psalm, 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); 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 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 20

Nehemiah 7: Here is the largest census in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah (verses 6-72). For its compilation Nehemiah used an earlier source (verse 5), probably to be identified with that in Ezra 2. The difference between that earlier list and the present list is one of purpose and context. The list in Ezra 2 established the continuity with Israel’s past, especially with a view to validating the claims of the returning exiles with respect to their possession of the Holy Land. In the present chapter, however, the list is set in the context of Jerusalem’s new enclosure. It is the census of a city, not a mere list of returning exiles. It is a municipal instrument, which will serve as a format for taxation and civic service. It is a document of the community’s restoration and renewal. Consequently, it is included between the completion of the walls (verses 1-3) and the ceremony of renewal (chapters 8—10).

The long census transcribed in this place, precisely because it says so little that engages the imagination, allows the reader leisure to reflect on these more interesting aspects of Nehemiah.

All through this memoir we find Nehemiah a most engaging man. His steady, cool demeanor sat atop the cauldron of his emotions, which, on occasion, found brief expression (cf. 1:4; 5:12; 13:8,25). Surely, however, those emotions did much to drive his highly effective style of energy, skill, and organization. Nor was Nehemiah entirely free from tooting his own horn from time to time (2:10,18; 5:15; 6:11).

Trained as an executive and diplomat, Nehemiah’s rhetorical skills were economic, efficient, and to the point (2:17; 5:7; 13:25). Whatever his fears, they were under control; we never find him acting in panic. He was also a reflective man, much given to short, frequent, and fervent prayers that are interspersed in the narrative (2:8,10,20; 3:36-37; 4:9; 5:13,19; 6:14,16; 13:14,22,31,39).

Although the walls of Jerusalem were completed in record time, Nehemiah did not rush things. Before ever arriving at Jerusalem, he had made the proper arrangements for the materials to be used in the construction, and before even calling a meeting for the project, he inspected the site in detail and formulated a plan.

In the next chapter our attention will turn once again to the figure of Ezra, who had arrived in Jerusalem earlier than Nehemiah. Ezra was a priest and scholar, Nehemiah a practical man of affairs. Both together were responsible for the spiritual maintenance of Jerusalem in the fifth century before Christ. In this respect, their joint vocation mirrored that of Zerubbabel and Jeshua late in the previous period.

Thursday, October 21

Nehemiah 8: We come now to the renewal of the covenant (chapters 8—10). The story begins with the public reading of the Law.

In modern church parlance this chapter describes a "revival," or a "parish renewal," or even a "Life Alive Weekend." We are apparently still in October of 445 (7:73), the season associated with the Feast of Tabernacles. While Nehemiah has only recently arrived, Ezra has been in Jerusalem for thirteen years, and maybe he figured that the place could use a good dose of "old time religion."

Ezra, as we reflected earlier, had been engaged in editing the Torah, and the people wanted to hear it (verses 2-3). They gathered to the east of the city (verse 1), not a normal place for gathering. Given the mystic symbolism of this site (the panorama of the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives) in two of Israel’s most recent prophets (Ezekiel and Zechariah), their choice of this place to gather was surely significant. It was morning, and the sun was rising over the Mount of Olives when they began.

There followed a lengthy proclamation of the Word (verses 4-5), along with prayer and devotion (verse 6). As Ezra read the text in Hebrew, which by now was only a scholar’s language, running translations were provided in the common spoken language, Aramaic (verses 7-8). Such Aramaic (and later Greek) translations and paraphrases of the Old Testament are known as Targumim or Targums, which in modern biblical research constitute a special area of study.

It was a scene of great emotion, with the experiences of conversion, remorse, and rejoicing mixed together (verses 9-12). All of this took place in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles (verses 14-18; cf. John 7:2). The observance of this feast was an initial act in the maintenance of the Law.

Luke 16:19-31: In September of 1965 the talented writer Truman Capote received a letter from a man in Kansas named Dick Hickock. The letter read, in part: “My hair line, at my forehead, has receded a full inch. I’m almost frantic with worry about it. I certainly do not wish to be bald headed; I am ugly enough. Also, no one in my family was ever bald headed. If you have any suggestions, please state them in your next letter.”

Now what is most remarkable about Mr. Hickock’s worry, his being “almost frantic” about his impending baldness are the circumstance in which he wrote on the subject. When he sent Capote this letter, Dick Hickock was on death row in a state prison. Two months later, in April, he was hanged by the State of Kansas as a murderer. His hairline had not receded any further. He had the relative good fortune of living his life without going bald. What a lucky guy!

There is, of course, something terribly pathetic about this poor man waiting for execution and worrying about his hairline. He was not worried about dying. He was not worried about appearing before God, unrepentant and with blood on his hands. He was “almost frantic” about the possibility of going bald.

Dick Hickock in this respect illustrates a lesson in today’s Gospel—namely, the colossal loss of perspective. Like the rich man, he was soon to die. Dr. Samuel Johnson reflected that nothing so fixes a man’s attention as the thought that he is about to be hanged. Evidently Dr. Johnson did not know men of the kind we are considering here, men whose major worry in life has to do with the awful terror of impending baldness.

Today’s rich man lost his perspective. He was distracted from his focus. He “was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” He forgot what was important, and what was not important. He was the sort of man of whom our Lord says that “the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”

He has been deceived, but the deception was entirely of his own making. Perhaps he had let himself watch too many TV commercials. He had let himself become persuaded that the goods and wealth of this world are of lasting value. Someone had persuaded him that baldness was the worst thing that could befall him. He resembled the frantic co-ed, for whom the worst catastrophe would be a failure to get a date for the prom.

Perhaps the next time we find ourselves concerned about something in this world—anything in this world—we may recall this parable of our Lord, or perhaps we may recall the story of Dick Hickock.

Friday, October 22

Nehemiah 9: Most of this chapter is filled with a long "narrative prayer" similar to several psalms that recount Israel’s formative history (e.g., Psalms 78 [77], 105 [104], 106 [105]). One will likewise observe sustained similarities to Deuteronomy 32, the Canticle of Moses, which immediately preceded Israel’s entrance into Canaan. From the perspective of textual history these similarities are hardly surprising, if we remember that Ezra was an editor of the Pentateuch. The great bulk of the narrative in the present chapter is devoted to the themes from the Exodus, the desert wandering, and the conquest, but the period of the Judges and some of the later history are also treated.

The prayer here is important in the context of the later events with which the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are preoccupied, namely, the events connected with the nation’s re-founding. For both men, Ezra and Nehemiah, the restoration of Israel was precisely that — a restoration. Israel could not be started again from scratch. The new Israel would go nowhere unless it came from somewhere, and the present prayer serves as a reflection on where Israel had come from.

From Israel’s earlier history, furthermore, the nation was to learn important lessons about historical causality, particularly the relationship of later events to earlier decisions. Israel would be instructed on how infidelity and punishment are tied together by history. Israel, according to this prayer, was to learn its history, not so much that the people might imitate their fathers, but in order to discourage them from imitating their fathers! They were to reflect on the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them in the future. Such meditation on history is an important aspect of biblical prayer, as we see in so many of the Psalms devoted to that theme.

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 for 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 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).