Tag Archives: commentary

Cleansing a Leper

(Note: An apology is in order for my falling behind in posting these sermons from the book of Mark as I had said I would do each Friday.  We’ve been quite busy, and this is one of those things that slipped through the cracks.  I am sorry.)

Text: Mark 1:40-45 – There came a leper to Him, begging Him, and kneeling down to Him, and saying to Him, “If You desire it, You can make me clean.”

And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him, and says to him, “I desire.  Be cleansed.”  And as soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly charged him, and immediately sent him away, and says to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone: but go your way, show yourself to the high priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

But he went out and began to proclaim it much, and to spread abroad the incident, insomuch that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places: and they came to Him from every quarter.

Introduction

The King of kings, Jesus of Nazareth, has come into the territory of Satan, proclaiming freedom from slavery to sin.  He is gathering people to His side, preparing them for when His kingdom comes.  With some, as portrayed by Mark, Jesus called them by His word, “Come after me” (1:17).  With others, Jesus proved His point from the Scriptures (1:21-22).  Still others were taught about His power by seeing Him cast out demons or healing the sick (1:27-28, 32-39).

Maybe Mark’s readers were impressed by the healing of sicknesses.  Maybe they were even somewhat impressed by the casting out of demons (though some of them may have been like some skeptics today who claim that demons weren’t real, but were instead just different diseases or mental illnesses).  But doctors had healed diseases before, and people could fake being possessed by a demon.  So perhaps Mark’s readers are still skeptical.  But the next thing healed by Jesus was supposedly incurable, and no one would dare fake it.

The Text, part 1 – The Leper’s Confession (Mark 1:40)

Jesus had come down from the mountain after giving His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 8:1), and had entered into a city (Luke 5:12) when something happened that would have made most people back up in fear.

There came a leper to Him

So many questions could be asked here.  What was a leper doing in the city?  What was the reaction of the disciples and the multitudes that were with Jesus?

Leprosy was not something to be taken lightly.  The Hebrew word for leprosy means “a smiting,” and was viewed as a punishment from God Himself.  Let me read what has been said about this incurable disease:

This disease “begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal.” “In Christ’s day no leper could live in a walled town, though he might in an open village. But wherever he was, he was required to have his outer garment rent as a sign of deep grief, to go bareheaded, and to cover his beard with his mantle, as if in lamentation at his own virtual death. He had further to warn passers-by to keep away from him, by calling out, ‘Unclean! unclean!’ nor could he speak to any one, or receive or return a salutation, since in the East this involves an embrace.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)

Leprosy, beginning with little pain, goes on in its sluggish but sure course, until it mutilates the body, deforms the features, turns the voice into a croak, and makes the patient a hopeless wreck. … An animal poison in the blood ferments … affects the skin … destroying the sensation of the nerves. The tuberculated form is the common one, inflaming the skin, distorting the face and joints, causing the hair of the head or eyebrows to fall off or else turn white, and encrusting the person with ulcerous tubercles with livid patches of surface between. The anesthetic elephantiasis begins in the forehead with shining white patches which burst; bone by bone drops off; the skin is mummy-like; the lips hang down exposing the teeth and gums. Tuberculated patients live (on the average) for only ten years more; anesthetic for 20. (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary)

During Jesus’ day, there were leper colonies all over the place (not just in Palestine).  Mark’s readers might have cringed when they saw the word “leper,” because it was a disease that was horrifying, could be contagious, and one for which there is no cure.

All of that, yet this leper—this man who was most likely reduced to begging just to feed himself and perhaps a family—apparently followed Jesus into the city, and bravely presented himself before Him.  He wasn’t someone who was just starting to show signs of leprosy, either.  Luke says he was “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12).  That is, this man had the distorted joints, the deformed face, the white hair (quite possibly in patches, the rest of it having fallen out).

Begging Him, and kneeling down to Him

This leper didn’t just come to Jesus and wait for the Lord to notice him and say something.  He came to Jesus, falling down to his knees in front of Him, and begged Him, pleaded with Jesus for mercy and help.  Matthew says that this man “worshiped Him”; Luke says that this man fell on his face before Jesus; and both record that this man called Jesus “Lord” (Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 5:12-16).

It’s not stated in the text, but knowing what leprosy is, and knowing the fear people had of being contaminated by it, you can just picture the multitudes backing up in fear, forming a large circle around Jesus and this man.  The man probably had the bleached-white hair and the torn garments visible as he’s on his knees, face down to the ground, begging Jesus for help.  The people around may have even tried to say to Jesus, “My Lord, quickly, you must move, this man is a leper!”

Saying to Him, “If You will, You can make me clean.”

Mark’s readers, given what they knew about leprosy, might have laughed at this poor leper.  “You poor, ignorant man.  There’s no cure for leprosy!”  But this man had hope.  He had heard about—or maybe even seen—the power that Jesus had exhibited over demons and diseases.  As a result, this man had hope that Jesus could cure even him.  But more than hope, this man had confidence.  He could come to Jesus with, “I’ve got leprosy, is there anything you can do for me?”  He could have asked, “Lord, is there any way you can make my leprosy better?”  But when he came to Jesus, he didn’t ask if it was possible, or if Jesus could help in some small way; he made a declaration: “If You want to, You can make me clean.”

The word “will” or “wilt” (KJV) means to wish for something, to desire something, to want something to take place.  By saying this, the leper confessed his belief in the power of Jesus.  He had full confidence in the ability of Jesus to heal him, and he also knew that he was at the mercy of Jesus—“if You want, You can make me clean.”

This is reminiscent of the Jews on the day of Pentecost.  They didn’t come out and say the words, “I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” but they confessed their belief in Him by the words, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

The Text, part 2 – Jesus’ Compassion (Mark 1:41)

Instead of backing away or rebuking the man for putting the multitude in danger of contracting leprosy, Jesus was “moved with compassion.”

Jesus, moved with compassion…

Mark is displaying the love, the compassion of Jesus with these words.  This great and powerful King, who has overthrown demons and is being followed by huge crowds, doesn’t have the massive ego-trip that kings (like certain Caesars of the day) often do.  He takes the time to look at the man, to listen to the man, and has genuine concern for the man.  The powerful King, Son of the God, whose mission is to bring about His Kingdom and overthrow the powers of darkness, is also a King of compassion who cares about people—not for what He can get out of them, but because He loves them.

It’s worth noting that Mark is the only one who mentions that Jesus was moved with compassion.

Jesus…put forth His hand and touched Him

“Oh no!”  You can just picture the looks on the disciples’ faces when they saw Jesus reach out to touch the leper.  It had been ingrained in their heads for a long time that you stay as far away from lepers as possible—NEVER touch them.  And Mark’s readers probably thought the same thing—“He’s not really going to touch that leper, is He?”

But Jesus did.  Jesus had power over leprosy, and wasn’t afraid.

Jesus…says to him, “I want to.  Be cleansed.”

Imagine someone coming up to you, begging for something that you have within your power to do.  “I need food to feed my family,” or “I’m broken down and need a ride.”  Do you look at them and say, “I don’t want to help you”?  Can you imagine Jesus looking at this man, who is begging for help, and saying, “Nah, I don’t really want to help you”?  Of course not!  When you truly have compassion on someone, you want to help them, and you will help them if it is within your power to do so.

Jesus reaches out and touches the man, and expresses His compassion with the words “I want to [that is, I want to heal you]. Be cleansed.”

The Text, part 3 – The Leper’s Cleansing (Mark 1:42)

Right now, Mark’s readers, who understand that this gospel is supposed to be a true story, are hooked.  Sicknesses and diseases are one thing; but healing leprosy?  That’s something worth noticing.

As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him and he was cleansed.

Just like with Simon’s mother-in-law, there was no “recovery period,” or “It looks like it’s starting to get better” with this healing.  The healing was instantaneous.  Oh, to have been able to see that.  If the gospels were written today, we’d have put much more detail about how it looked, and the changes that took place on this man.  Did his hair go back to its original color?  His face looking completely different after the touch than it did when he bowed to the ground in front of Jesus?  The scales on his skin—did they fall to the ground or just disappear?  His joints miraculously changed?

Regardless of how it looked, and how the instant transformation took place, the fact remains that the man was healed—completely healed.  The crowd saw it, and the man knew it.  Put yourself in his place, in agony because of the leprosy, an outcast, bowing down at Jesus’ feet, and you feel His touch as He says the words “Be cleansed.”  You look at your hands and see that they are…normal.  You start to stand and realize that your joints—your knees, ankles, elbows, hips—aren’t bulging and deformed anymore.  You are able to stand fully upright for the first time in ages.  Tears almost certainly flowed from this man’s eyes as he looked upon Jesus, the compassionate King.

Now, take a moment to think about the thankfulness that people who are truly in need will have when you show the love of Christ to them and help them in their time of need.

The Text, part 4 – Jesus’ Charge (Mark 1:43-44)

And He strictly charged him, and immediately sent him away,

It’s interesting that Mark uses this word “strictly” to describe how Jesus spoke to the man, because it seems to be in contrast with the compassion shown in the previous verse.  He looked on this leper with compassion, desired to heal him, and then touched him.  But now there’s a difference in attitude; Jesus is being stern with the man.  Why?  Because even though the man had the best of intentions, he had broken the Law of Moses in coming to Jesus in the city.

And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, “Unclean, unclean.” All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; outside the camp shall his habitation be. (Leviticus 13:45-46).

McGarvey put it this way:

The language used indicates that Jesus sternly forbade the man to tell what had been done. The man’s conduct, present and future, shows that he needed severe speech. In his uncontrollable eagerness to be healed he had overstepped his privileges, for he was not legally permitted to thus enter cities and draw near to people (Numbers 5:2-3); he was to keep at a distance from them, and covering his mouth, was to cry, “Tame, tame—unclean, unclean” (Leviticus 13:45-46, Luke 17:12-13). The man evinced a like recklessness in disregarding the command of Jesus.

The rest of what Jesus says to this man shows that the stern talking-to was in regards to his following God’s law.

and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

This command of Jesus not to broadcast the miracle has caused some confusion.  After all, didn’t Jesus want people to know who He was?  Wasn’t He performing a lot of miracles?  Why should He tell this man to keep the miracle secret?  Different suggestions have been given, including:

  1. It may have been better for the man not to mention his cure due to potential religious persecution (as in John 9:34). (McGarvey)
  2. The Lord was trying to suppress excitement, and prevent the crowds that gathered around Him from being too large, hindering His work (which is what ended up happening in verse 45). (McGarvey)
  3. “For the miracle to be properly attested, it was necessary that the appropriate gifts should be offered under Moses’ commandment, and that the priests should certify it. Until this was accomplished, the man should hold his peace; lest, if a rumor of these things went before him, the priests at Jerusalem, out of envy, out of a desire to depreciate what the Lord had done, might deny that the man had ever been a leper, or else that he was now truly cleansed” (Burton Coffman).

While each of these are reasonable, and carry with it some truth, it seems that the most logical explanation—especially given the stern and strict way that Jesus delivered the order to the man—is that He was telling this man to follow the Law of God, as opposed to breaking it like he had done moments earlier.  In other words, in doing this, it’s Jesus saying to the leper, “Repent and sin no more.”

From this, we need to understand that just because Jesus is a compassionate King, that doesn’t mean He’s a King who allows His subjects to ignore the law.  Jesus sternly charged this man to do what the Law required.  Compassion—that is, the mercy of Jesus does not eliminate obedience.

The Text, part 5 – The Leper’s Cheerfulness (Mark 1:45)

But he went out and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter.

It’s been said of this leper that:

[He] was so elated that he could scarcely refrain from publishing his cure, and he must also have thought that this was what Jesus really wanted—that in commanding him not to publish it he did not mean what he said (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel).

Instead of doing what Jesus sternly commanded him to do, this leper told everyone he could find (hopefully on his way to Jerusalem to at least obey the second part of the command).  His words spread like a wildfire—which on one hand shows just how grateful this man was to be cleansed, but on the other hand showed a blatant disregard for the commands of Jesus.

As a result…

Jesus could no more openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places: and they came to Him from every quarter.

You might think, “That’s great; more people are flocking to this new King!”  But that is completely opposed to Jesus’ mission and methods.  Up to this point, He spread His message in the synagogues, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and showing the truth of it from Scriptures.  Now, however, He couldn’t go into the city without a mob of people around Him.  Forget a peaceful, contemplative audience in the synagogue; Jesus was being mobbed by people—most of them either wanting some kind of healing or wanting to see what He would do next.  The disobedience of the leper hindered the cause of Christ, turning Him into a spectacle.

The excitement cause by such an entry was injurious in several ways: 1. It gave such an emphasis to the miracles of Jesus as to make them overshadow his teaching. 2. It threatened to arouse the jealousy of the government. 3. It rendered the people incapable of calm thought. … Disobedience, no matter how well-meaning, always hinders the work of Christ (McGarvey)

The people who came to Him from “every quarter” included scribes and Pharisees from Judea and Jerusalem, according to Luke’s account.  It is as a result of the leper’s disobedience that the religious leaders in Jerusalem took special notice of the works of Jesus, and that’s when the antagonism towards the King began—because someone disobeyed.

Application

Jesus was a Man of Compassion—We Must be as Well.

It was a heart-rending scene for Jesus when He saw the poor leper fall down at His feet, begging to be healed.  Jesus knew He had the power, the ability to help this man in his struggles, and so He helped.  Reaching out and touching this outcast of society, Jesus helped him.  And Mark tells us in no uncertain terms that it was because Jesus had compassion on him.  Jesus reached out to the outcasts, the overlooked, the scorned, and He did it with compassion.

It might be interesting to see the results if we did an anonymous polling of everyone we know, asking if they would describe us as “compassionate.”  How would they answer if that question was asked about you?  Do you show compassion on those who are in need?  Or do you deem them not worthy of your time?  It doesn’t have to be something massively huge like leprosy; it could be as simple as a kind word or a meal.  Jesus let people know He cared.  We should be the same way.

Compassion does not Eliminate Obedience.

The leper came to Jesus in anguish and pain, in submission and with faith, a man in need of healing.  After receiving mercy from Jesus, though, the man was expected to obey the law of God.  It’s like Jesus was saying, “I’m healing you because I have mercy on you, even though you were disobeying the Law of God.  But now that I’ve healed you, it’s time for you to show your appreciation by being obedient.”  So many people preach the grace of God and resolutely deny—even ridicule the very idea—that obedience is necessary.  “That’s salvation by works!” they cry.  My friends, God’s grace and mercy are amazing things, but they only come to those who are willing to obey Him.  Matthew 7:21 – not all that say to Me “Lord, Lord” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father which is in heaven.”  Or Hebrews 5:9 – Jesus Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him.”  Christians—those who have received the mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ to cleanse them from sin—are told “faith without works is dead” (James 2).

Disobedience Hinders the Cause of Christ.

Because the former leper disobeyed, Jesus was unable to do His work the way He had planned.  Surely the leper didn’t mean to cause problems and didn’t have ill-motives when he happily told others about his healing.  However, his disobedience ended up making the work of the Lord more difficult, and led to His enemies—the scribes and Pharisees—coming to watch Him; and thus began the antagonistic relationship they had with our Lord.  The same thing can happen to us, when we disobey God today, even without ill intentions, we can do harm to the cause of Christ.  One weekday afternoon, as we were driving down the interstate, we were passed by a car going at least 80 mph, and on the back of their car, it was advertised “Follow me to the ______ church of Christ.”  An honest-hearted person who was looking for a church would quite possibly have said, “Well, we won’t be going there” because they obviously have no respect for the law.

People watch you, and how you act reflects on the church and therefore on Jesus as well.

Leprosy is like Sin.

  • Like leprosy, sin has a small beginning, but then it spreads over the entire man.
  • Its cure is beyond the reach of human skill or natural remedies.
  • It is painful, loathsome, degrading, and fatal.
  • It separates its victim from the pure and drives him into association with the impure.
  • It is a foe to religious privileges.
  • It can be remedied by God. (anonymous)

Invitation

Sin, like leprosy, is a curse.  But unlike leprosy, there is a cure for sin which is available for all people, if they would simply come to Jesus, the compassionate King, who came to this earth and lived a life among sinful, fallen humanity.  In His compassion and love, He showed us how to live, pointed the way to the Father, and died so that we could be cleansed from our sins.

All He asks of you is that you believe in Him, repent of your sinful life, acknowledge Him as the Savior, and be baptized into His death so that you may rise to walk in newness of life.  If we to make the parallel with the story of the leper, it’s come to Jesus in humble submissiveness, bowing down at His feet through obedience to His command to be baptized.  It’s at that point that Jesus touches us and makes us whole, free from sin.  Afterwards, Jesus expects us to follow God’s law, or to put it another way, “walk in the light” or “be faithful.”

Won’t you come and accept the compassionate Savior today?

 

Habakkuk: An Introduction

To celebrate the release of our latest book, Wait, Not THEM!  A Study of the Prophecy of Habakkuk, we are going to give you a sneak peak–a just-for-you look at the introduction of the book.

But before we do, let me take just a few seconds to tell you about what’s in the book.

  • Thorough, in-depth, yet easy-to-understand notes on every verse in the book.  It’s even broken down by sections–sometimes by words–so that you know exactly what Habakkuk is talking about.
  • Keeping it in context.  One of the things that we have striven to do with our commentaries is to never take a verse out of context.  We show the explanation of the verse based on how it fits in the book.  If there are New Testament uses of some of the verses, then we point that out and show the greater meaning.
  • Modern-day application.  We make it a point throughout this book (and all of our commentaries) to show what it meant to the original readers, and how those same principles also apply to us today.
  • Offering of different interpretations.  On some passages, words, or phrases, sometimes the exact meaning isn’t completely clear.  When this is the case, we present any possibilities that seem plausible and that also fit the context.  We give the pros and cons of each view, state which one we prefer and why, but leave it to the reader to make their own judgment.

It was written to be helpful to both the new Christian as well as the one who has been involved in Bible study and teaching for decades.

What others have said about this book:

  • Homer Hailey doesn’t have much on this passage in lieu of what you have. –A preacher.
  • I find this intriguing.  You apparently did your research on this. –A preacher and writer from Alabama.
  • I loved it.  So much detail and so much meat! –A Bible teacher in Oklahoma.

If you’re interested in ordering the book (in print or as an eBook), click here.  It’s also available via Amazon.com in print or as a Kindle file.

Now, without further talking, here is the…

Introduction

Habakkuk is among the most overlooked and ignored books of the Bible. Perhaps this is because it’s so short. Perhaps it’s because there really isn’t a clear prophecy of Jesus Christ in the book. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t have any action or stories in it (like Jonah). Whatever the reasons may be, this book hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. After all, it is Scripture, and all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable (II Timothy 3:16).

Who Wrote It?

The writer is the prophet Habakkuk. The book is described as the “burden” (or prophecy) which Habakkuk saw (1:1). Someone might rightfully ask, “Couldn’t someone else have written it, just describing what Habakkuk saw?” That might be a possibility, except that the writer claims to be the one who received the prophecy. The writer says, “And the LORD answered me…” (2:2). Also, at the end of the book, the writer says “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself…” (3:16). This shows that the author is the one who received the prophecy. He identifies himself as the prophet Habakkuk (1:1).

Who is Habakkuk?

Outside of this book, there is no biblical information about Habakkuk.

Habakkuk’s name comes from a word that means “to embrace.” So, it appears that his name carries the idea of “one who embraces” or “one who clings.” In the end of the book, Habakkuk is still clinging to God even in the face of the impending destruction.

Some have suggested that he was a professional prophet, because he identifies himself as “Habakkuk the prophet” (1:1). There were those who, like Elijah or Samuel, were known to be prophets and who made their living by the offerings of the people (see I Samuel 9:6-9).

Others have also suggested that Habakkuk was a priest of God, a Levite who served in the temple worship. This suggestion is based on the final verse of the book, which says “to the chief singer on my stringed instruments” (3:19). Both of these suggestions are possible, though they cannot be definitively proven.

Because of the content of Habakkuk’s prophecy, we can know for certain that he was a resident of Judea (see 1:2-4). We can know that it was written prior to Babylon’s invasion of Jerusalem in 606 BC (which was prophesied in 1:6-11). Beyond that, there is little we can discern.

There is one noteworthy mention of Habakkuk outside of the Scriptures. In the Apocrypha[1], there are two additional chapters to the book of Daniel. One of these chapters is referred to as Bel and the Dragon. In this story, Daniel (who is in Babylon) is thrown into the lion’s den (chronologically, this would have been immediately after the famous lion’s den episode of Daniel 6). In the lion’s den, Daniel is starving. So, in order to make sure Daniel doesn’t starve to death, the Angel of the LORD goes to Judea and tells Habakkuk to go feed Daniel. Habakkuk had just made some soup, and is told, “Carry the soup to Daniel who is in a lion’s den in Babylon.” Habakkuk replies, “I’ve never been to Babylon, and I don’t know where this den would be.” So, the Angel of the LORD grabs Habakkuk by the hair, and flies him to Babylon so he could feed Daniel. Then he grabs him again by the hair and flies him back to Judea.[2]

As you can hopefully see, that information is ridiculous, and gives us no reliable information about Habakkuk.

When Was it Written?

The only thing we can say about the date with absolute certainty is that it was written prior to the invasion of Judea by the Babylonians in 606 BC. The invasion is prophesied as a future event by God in 1:5-11. In 1:5, God says that it will happen in “your days,” meaning during the days of the people then living.

We can be a bit clearer with the date based on Habakkuk’s reaction to God’s announcement. God announces that the Chaldeans (the Babylonians) were going to attack. Habakkuk was extremely familiar with them (1:12-17). Babylon wasn’t really a world-power until around 615. They took and destroyed Nineveh, the capitol of the Assyrian Empire, in 612 BC. This seems to point to a date of 615-612 BC at the earliest.

We can narrow it down a bit more when we see the spiritual condition of the land. According to 1:2-4, the entire nation was wicked to the point where God’s prophet is calling for divine intervention. Josiah had reformed the nation, bringing them back into compliance with God’s word. However, after Josiah died in 609 BC, the nation went downhill fast. The king, Jechoniah, was ready to kill Jeremiah for prophesying.

Based on this information, it appears that we can date Habakkuk’s writing to be between 609 and 607 BC. This would place Habakkuk as a contemporary with Jeremiah.

Who Was it Written To?

It was written to the Jews as a whole. It was written to let them know what was coming and why it was coming. It was written to the wicked Jews so they would understand exactly what God thinks about their wickedness. It was written to the faithful Jews to let them know that God was not going to stand by and let wickedness reign in His nation.

Why Was it Written?

This prophecy was recorded to prepare the faithful for what was about to happen. It was written to encourage the faithful to remain that way. It was written to condemn the wicked, and show that the upcoming destruction was justified because of their wickedness.

Ted Clarke stated it this way:

The ultimate purpose of Habakkuk’s prophecy was to show the grand truths that the just shall live by faith, and that the wicked will not go unpunished.[3]

Interesting Notes:

Most of chapter two deals with the reasons for Babylon’s eventual destruction, but these reasons also apply to Jerusalem, and show that it deserved destruction as well. Babylon and Jerusalem are equated in that section. They are also equated in the book of Revelation (Jerusalem being the “Babylon” mentioned there).

Outline of Habakkuk:

  1. Habakkuk’s complaint (1:1-4)
  2. God’s reply (1:5-11)
  3. Habakkuk’s response (1:12-2:1)
  4. God’s second reply (2:2-20)
  5. Habakkuk’s prayer (3:1-2)
  6. Habakkuk’s psalm (3:3-19)

Final Note:

This commentary uses the King James Version as its basis, though we have taken the liberty to update the spelling and language slightly (for example: didst is now did) to make it more reader-friendly.

[1] These are additional books and chapters accepted as part of the Old Testament by the Catholic Church. They never appear in Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts, but only in Greek copies. The Jews never accepted these books and extra chapters as inspired, and none of these writings were ever referenced by the New Testament writers.

[2] These events can be found in what is referred to as Bel and the Dragon, or Daniel 14:28-38. See Appendix A.

[3] Clarke, Ted, “Habakkuk Notes” The Preaching School Collection, e-Sword edition, available from www.TheCobbSix.com.

All About the Book of James

As a gift to our readers, we’re presenting here the complete introduction from Justified by Works: A Study of the Letter from James, by Bradley Cobb (available in print or eBook here).  Our regular Bible Q&A segment will return next week.  Enjoy!

Introduction

The book of James is unique among the New Testament letters. At first glance, like the book of Proverbs, it seems to be a disconnected series of practical godly living. Some, because of the content of the letter, rejected it as authentic. Others accepted the book but have denied the truths contained therein. Among those who believe in the inspiration of the Bible, there is more debate about the author of this book than any other (except perhaps Hebrews). There’s even disagreement about why and when the book was written. But even with all these disagreements, the letter from James is a goldmine of knowledge and practical application. It’s no wonder that James is many Christians’ favorite book of the Bible.

Who Wrote It?

All Scripture is inspired by God (I Timothy 3:16). As such, the author is God, who by means of the Holy Spirit inspired men to write down His holy word (II Peter 1:21). But now, the question before us is: what man did God inspire to write the book called ‘James’?

The name James is the same as the Old Testament name Jacob. In fact, in Greek, James is spelled Iacob (there is no letter J in Greek). The writer of this book was named after the great patriarch of Israel: Jacob.

There are four men in the New Testament who were named James. Three of them were holy men of God who spoke by inspiration. Each of these three have—to one degree or another—been suggested as the author of this book. But in order to narrow it down, let’s consider each one individually.

James, the brother/father of Judas

The only thing we know for sure about this man is that he was related to Judas, one of the twelve apostles (Acts 1:12-14). The Greek text literally says “Judas of James.” Almost every translation adds words explaining this phrase. The King James Version reads “Judas the brother of James.” The New King James Version reads “Judas the son of James.”

The King James rendering tries to make a connection between this Judas/James relationship and the words of Jude in Jude 1. The New King James rendering is more true to the original language, and appears to distinguish Judas the son of James from Judas Iscariot (something which the original writers thought was necessary—John 14:22).

No one has seriously considered this man as the author of the book of James for the following reasons:

  • No one knows if the man was living or dead when Jesus chose His disciples.
  • No one knows if this man (if he was still alive) ever became a Christian.

In short, there is nothing in the Scriptures to suggest that this man could have been the inspired writer of James.

James, the son of Zebedee.

This man was among the first of Jesus’ disciples (Mark 1:19-20), and one of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4). He was a fisherman by trade, the brother of the apostle John (who wrote five New Testament books), and was one of Jesus’ closest friends. Only James, John, and Peter were permitted to go with Jesus to the mountain to witness the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2).

This James is usually rejected as the writer because he was murdered by Herod around AD 44 (Acts 12:1-2). One has to wonder, however, why James couldn’t have written this book before his death. This question is even more applicable when you realize that many writers think this book was written very early (usually suggesting around AD 45).

Having said all that, this James was not the author of the letter called James. The contents of the letter demand a date after this James—the son of Zebedee—was killed. This will be covered more when we get to the section titled When Did He Write It?

James, the son of Alphaeus.

This man was an apostle of Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:2-4). He was also the brother of another apostle, Matthew (or Levi), who wrote the first book of the New Testament (see Mark 2:14). It is generally agreed that he is the James mentioned in Mark 15:40. There, he is called James the Less. Literally, that verse calls him “James the little one” or “the short James.” It is the same word (mikron, mirco) that is used to describe Zaccheaus—the “wee little man.” James, the son of Alphaeus, was short.

Some people—mostly Catholics—have gone to great lengths to supposedly prove that this James is the same as the man known as James, the Lord’s brother (they say it means “cousin”). Guy N. Woods has shown beyond a doubt that this cannot be the case.[1] We can summarize his main points as follows:

(1)   The apostles had been chosen out of His disciples—those who believed in Him—but Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Therefore, none of Jesus’ brothers were apostles.

(2)   Jesus’ brothers are mentioned as a separate group from the apostles (I Corinthians 9:5, Acts 1:13-14). Therefore, none of the apostles were brothers of Jesus.

This James, being an apostle, would be a prime candidate to write inspired Scripture. The main argument against his being the writer is that he actually was an apostle. The man who wrote this book identifies himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The argument goes like this: since he didn’t identify himself as “James, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” then that proves he wasn’t an apostle. However, Paul didn’t identify himself as an apostle in four of his letters (Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, as well as Philemon). John never identified himself as an apostle in his letters or in Revelation. This argument carries little—if any—weight.

The second argument used against this man as the author is that nothing is known about him outside of the fact that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. Barclay states it this way: “of James, the son of Alphaeus, nothing else is known; and he also can have had no connection with this letter.”[2] Shelly says, “So obscure a person could hardly have written this kind of letter, for the epistle of James presupposes the fact that its readers would know its author and heed its counsel accordingly.”[3] One man said that if this James were the one who wrote it, he would have given extra information to show that he was he James under consideration. This argument is an argument from supposition. It assumes that the apostle James was not well-known enough to have just identified himself as “James.” The early church would have been familiar enough with the apostles that if the apostle James had written them a letter, he wouldn’t have had to specify that he was James the apostle.

N.T. Caton, among others, takes the stance that James, the son of Alphaeus, is the man who wrote this letter. He states:

To these twelve men [the apostles] the Master had said: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” I conclude, therefore, that the twelve were essentially ministers plenipotentiary [invested with the full authority of Christ]. They spake for the King, and when they spake it was the same as if the King had spoken. None others could be so rec­ognized.[4] [Bracketed explanations and bold font added.]

I have no arguments against James, the son of Alphaeus, being the author of this letter. However, I believe that another James is more likely.

James, the brother of Jesus Christ

This man, the son of Joseph and Mary—and thus the half-brother of Jesus—didn’t believe in Jesus during His earthly ministry (John 7:5). But something happened to radically alter everything he thought he knew about his older brother. After His death and resurrection, Jesus appeared in person to James (I Corinthians 15:4-7). James was a man convinced and convicted. He would have quickly gone to tell his other brothers (Jude, Joseph, and Simon) that they had been wrong. We know this because less than 50 days after the death of Christ, all of Jesus’ brothers were gathered with the apostles and other disciples of Jesus (Acts 1:12-14). After Pentecost, James was an integral part of the church in Jerusalem. He was called a “pillar” of the church there (Galatians 2:9), and was numbered with their elders by AD 49-50 (Acts 15:6, 13; 21:18).[5]

His work for the Lord was focused on the Jews (Galatians 2:9). His concern for the Jewish Christians can be seen in his conversation with Paul in Acts 21:17-26. He is mentioned by Josephus (a non-Christian Jewish historian in the first century) as one who was murdered by order of the Jewish high priest in AD 62. An early Christian historian, Hegesippus, —though he embellished parts of it—records that James was viewed in high regard by all Jews because he was frequently to be found at the temple on his knees praying for the Jews. Because of his unwillingness to show respect of persons, it is said that he was known as “James the Just.” This same historian records that James was cast from the pinnacle of the temple, but survived long enough to pray for his attackers before being stoned and then finally being beaten to death with a club. Hegesippus dates his death immediately before Vespasian’s army came against Judea (AD 66-67, though some believe this is speaking of the attack after Vespasian became emperor, which would place it in early AD 70). How much of this is truth and how much is embellishment is difficult to tell. Josephus, having no sympathy for the Christians, would seem to be the more reliable account. Either way, it is agreed by all sources that James, the Lord’s brother, was murdered because he was an outspoken Christian.

This James is the most likely candidate for the author of the book which bears his name. The following reasons are given in support of his authorship:

  • His ministry was to the Jews (Galatians 2:9). The book of James was written to a Jewish audience (James 1:1).
  • Because of his status and influence within the Jerusalem church as an elder (a status he shared with Peter and John), and being Christ’s brother, there would have been no question as to his authority in writing this letter.
  • What we read of James from Acts 15 and 21 shows that he was focused on practical application of God’s word. The book of James is almost exclusively devoted to practical applications of God’s word.
  • There are some specific Greek words and phrases that are only appear in two places: (1) Acts 15 in connection with the brother of Jesus, and (2) in the book of James.

o   “Hearken” – Acts 15:13 (spoken by James) and James 2:5.

o   “To visit” – Acts 15:14 (spoken by James) and James 1:27.

o   “Your souls” – Acts 15:24 (perhaps written by James) and James 1:21.

Outside of the Bible, the first mention of the authorship of James comes from the third century when Origen attributed the book to the brother of Jesus.

Some have argued against this James as the author, saying that the Greek in this letter is too far advanced for a Jew from Galilee. J.W. Roberts, a Greek scholar who taught at Abilene Christian College many years ago, spends a lot of time proving this argument false.[6] Basically stated, Greek was a universal language. Most first-century Jews would have been bilingual, and would have been quite fluent in it. Besides this, we are told nothing about the education of James. Can anyone say with any degree of certainty that James never worked on becoming proficient in speaking and writing Greek? It’s basically the same as saying that no one from Mexico could ever write something well in English.

It is James, the brother of Jesus (and of Jude—see Jude 1) that most likely wrote this book.

Who Did He Write to?

Like Peter and John, James directed his ministry toward the Jews (Galatians 2:9). It should come as no surprise, then, that his letter was addressed to Jews. However, this wasn’t written to just any Jews. James had a specific audience in mind when he wrote.

James wrote to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad” (James 1:1). Literally, this says “the twelve tribes in the dispersion.” The Greek word translated scattered abroad is diaspora. This is a technical word that meant “Israelites dispersed among foreign nations” (Thayer). The word only appears three times in the Bible. James 1:1, I Peter 1:1, and John 7:35. Each time it has reference to the Jews who lived in the Gentile nations. James was writing to Jews who did not live in the Promised Land.

Some have said that James was using the phrase “the twelve tribes scattered abroad” spiritually to refer to the Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire. This is trying to force a figurative meaning on the words when a literal one fits the evidence. It should also be noted that James wrote to people who met in the synagogue (James 2:2—the word translated assembly is the Greek word sunagoge). The synagogue was a Jewish meeting place.

But the audience is even more specific than that. James was writing to Christian Jews who were scattered abroad. James wasn’t writing to non-Christians. This is obvious when you read James 2:1: My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality (NKJV). He couldn’t have called Jesus our Lord if his readers weren’t already Christians.

It is possible (especially if an earlier date is assumed—see below) that James is writing to those who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 2) and who had stayed in Jerusalem with the church. Many of these people were forced to flee the city because of the persecution brought on by Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8:1-4).

James wrote to Jewish Christians who were living outside of Palestine, throughout the Roman Empire. Interestingly enough, this is also the audience that both Peter (I Peter 1:1) and John (Revelation 1:4) wrote to as well.

When Did He Write It?

Most writers suggest a period of time between AD 45 (after the death of James, son of Zebedee) and AD 62 (when Josephus records that he was killed). There are arguments for an early date (45-50), as well as arguments for a later date (61-62). We will briefly consider both.

The Early Date (AD 45-50)

James, the brother of Jesus, isn’t seen as a leader in the church until after the death of James, son of Zebedee, in AD 44. Because of this, most people propose a date of no earlier than AD 44. Here are the arguments used in favor of an early date (note: compare these with the arguments for the late date).

  • Because there is no mention of Gentile Christians or the problems that were addressed in Acts 15 (AD 49-50), this letter was written before these things became an issue.
  • The persecution that the Jewish Christians were suffering (James 1:2, c.f. Acts 8:1-4)[7] was not as severe after AD 50, so it must have been written before that date.

If this letter was written in the 40’s, then it may well be the earliest of all the inspired letters.

The Late Date (AD 58-62)

Obviously, James could not have written the book after his death, so the latest possible date is AD 62. The evidence in favor of the late date is as follows:

  • There is no mention of the controversy surrounding the Gentile Christians, such as was addressed by James in Acts 15. Thus, this must have been written at a time when the controversy had settled down.
  • The persecution that the Jewish Christians were suffering was intense throughout the Roman Empire, specifically from other Jews (see Acts 17:5-7, 21:27-28, Revelation 2:9).

If you’ll notice, the main arguments for an early date are the same arguments used for the late date. J.W. Roberts stated:

There is really nothing decisive to settle the question. There is an 18-year period from 44-62 A.D. when the letter was most likely written. But the choice between the middle of the 40’s and the decade of the 50’s is difficult. This writer would incline to the latter date, but it is merely a feeling.[8]

Before we move from the discussion of the date, there is one more piece of evidence that must be considered. This evidence, in my opinion, is conclusive.

You also be patient. Establish your hearts: because the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:8)

The phrase “at hand” shows the nearness of something. The only coming of the Lord that was near in the first century was the coming of Christ in judgment upon Jerusalem in AD 70 (see Matthew 24:1-34, especially verses 27, 30, and 34). This argues heavily for a later date (AD 60-62) and against an early date.

If Josephus is correct in dating James death in AD 62, then this book should be dated about 61-62. If Hegesippus’ dating of James’ death is correct, then this book could be written as late as AD 66-67.

Why Did He Write It?

This question is one that we should ask about every book of the Bible as we begin to study it. It is when we understand why it was written that we can begin to truly understand what it means and how it applies to us.

To Supplement Paul’s Epistles?

False teachers had been perverting Paul’s teachings, claiming that salvation is by “faith-only” and that “works have nothing to do with salvation.” Because of this (it is claimed), James wrote this letter to counteract these false teachers, and to show that “faith without works is dead.” While this is indeed possible, it is based mostly on guesswork.

It is interesting that these false teachings are still prominent in the religious world today.

To Encourage Practical Christian Living.

Many people are obsessed with learning, understanding, arguing, and debating things in the Bible. There are many Christians whose study of God’s word is barely more than an intellectual pursuit. People break off into groups based on their unique collection of theological beliefs. If you don’t believe it, go to a congregation and ask them which congregations that they have nothing to do with. Then ask them why. Many times, the answer is that the other congregations believe something differently.

In the face of such differences, James basically says that the true test of Christianity is not your theological beliefs, but on your actions.

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their afflictions, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
After all, what is it that we will be judged on? The Scriptures never say that Christians will be judged based on their beliefs on eschatology or expediency. Instead, the Scriptures are clear that in the final judgment, we will be judged based on our works.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that which he has done, whether it be good or bad (II Corinthians 5:10).

Then shall the King say to them on His right hand, “Come you blessed ones of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Because I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.”… And the King will answer and say to them, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, my brethren, you have done it to me” (Matthew 25:34-40).

And I saw the dead ones, great and small, stand before God; and the books were opened…and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works (Revelation 20:12).

After reading these passages, you could imagine the following scene taking place at Judgment:

But God, how could you let HIM in? He believed __________!” God ‘s reply, “He gave his money to the poor, worked tirelessly in evangelism, brought many to Christ, and humbly repented any time he discovered he had sinned.”

In fairness, there are obviously certain things we must believe in order to be among the saved (believe in God, believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and believe that the Bible is His inspired word). But these are necessary in order to become a child of God.

James writes to get people to move from being an intellectual Christian to being Christian who shows his faith through his works.

Some Other Thoughts

When you get in the habit of living out your Christianity, it becomes more and more a part of you. It is quite possible that James was trying to get Christians in this habit because he knew that it would help make them more faithful. This is important when you understand that within three years, the Christians’ world was turned completely upside down as Rome and the Jews launched a joint attack against them—thousands upon thousands of Christians were ruthlessly murdered in the years that followed.

The conclusion? The time to get in the habit of living out your faith for Christ is now.

The book of James encouraged them, but it also encourages us to live a life of faith shown by our works. Don’t be a mental disciple, but be an active one!

James’ Place in the Bible

It has been argued by some that James wasn’t really inspired, and they give different reasons for this assertion. Some say that James contradicts Paul, therefore James isn’t inspired. The truth of the matter is that James contradicts what people have claimed Paul taught. James and Paul are in perfect harmony with each other when you throw out the false idea of “faith-only” salvation.

Others make the claim that James wasn’t widespread in the early churches, so it couldn’t have been accepted as inspired. It’s easy to explain why copies of James may not have been widespread. The massive persecution which began in AD 64 wiped out entire Christian communities and all of their writings throughout the Empire. Since James was written in 61-62, there would not have been as much time for it to be copied and spread around. This is the same reason why there were not many copies of II Peter, Jude, Revelation, II John and III John found from that period.

There are several early writers who allude to James, and some outright quote his letter as authoritative Scripture. Some scholars have shown that some Christian writers as early as the first century (AD 80-99) based parts of their writings on the book of James.

Conclusion:

Regardless of when it was written and which James wrote it, this book is filled with practical, useful instruction that applies to every Christian’s life, every single day. The commands may not always be easy, but you can rest assured that they are right and that they are from God, given as a gift to the ones who are willing to accept them (II Peter 1:3, James 1:17).

 

[1] See Woods, Guy N., Gospel Advocate Commentary on James, pages 12-ff.

[2] Barclay, William, The Letter of James, Revised Edition, page 8.

[3] Shelly, Rubel, What Christian Living is All About (Studies in James), page 3.

[4] Caton, N.T., Commentary on the Minor Epistles, pages 5-6

[5] It should be noted here that the text of Acts 15 nowhere states that this James is the Lord’s brother. However, what we learn from Paul in Galatians 2 seems to indicate that the Lord’s brother was a man of great influence in the Jerusalem church. As such, the general consensus is that the James from Acts 15 is the Lord’s brother. But to be fair, it is possible that Acts 15 is a reference to James the apostle.

[6] Roberts, J.W., A Commentary on the General Epistle of James, pages 13-16

[7] Shelly, Rubel, ibid, page 6.

[8] Roberts, J.W., ibid, page 27.

The David Lipscomb Commentary Collection

David Lipscomb.  He was a gentleman and a true scholar.  He helped hold the church together, especially in the south, after the Civil War.  He helped to create the Gospel Advocate, and was its editor for decades.  He also helped found the Nashville Bible School (now David Lipscomb University).

DavidLipscomb

In 1896, David Lipscomb published his commentary on Acts.  Before his death in 1917, Lipscomb had compiled his own commentary notes on the books of John, and all of Paul’s epistles (Romans through Philemon), but never published them because he believed they could be improved upon.  He requested that J.W. Shepherd, his dear friend, expand these notes and publish them.  Beginning in 1935, the David Lipscomb commentary collection began to see the light of day.

J.W. Shepherd took Lipscomb’s notes, but also went back and scoured through all of the articles that Lipscomb had written for the Gospel Advocate to find more material.  And, at the request of Lipscomb, Shepherd also added his own notes to “fill out” the commentaries on Paul’s epistles.  C.E.W. Dorris was chosen to expand the notes on John.

Then these commentaries were made available to the public.

  • John (originally published in 1939)
  • Acts (originally published in 1896)
  • Romans (originally published in 1935, expanded in 1943)
  • First Corinthians (originally published in 1935)
  • Second Corinthians and Galatians (originally published in 1936)
  • Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (originally published in 1939)
  • Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (originally published in 1942)

Years have gone by, and these commentaries are still of great use!  This is why we have taken the time (well over 100 hours of work) to convert these wonderful commentaries into e-Sword format (as well as theWord, MySword, and e-Sword HD).

Seven volumes, 2110 pages of notes, all available in one very usable format.  We have taken great care to make sure the formatting is beneficial, that the spelling is correct, and as much as was possible, check to make sure the cross-references  were correct (if you find a mistake, please let us know).  Comments in italics were added by J.W. Shepherd (or C.E.W. Dorris in the book of John).

Look at the example below (Acts 2:38), and see for yourself.  Click on the image to enlarge it.

Lipscombe-Sword

This collection is an absolute bargain!  Just $4.99 gets you the entire seven-volume set (that’s less than 72 cents per volume!).

NowAvailable

Justified by Works

The Cobb family is proud to announce the release of our newest book!

JamesCover(Front Only)

Justified by Works: A Study of the Letter from James is a 264-page commentary on what has been called the most practical book of the New Testament.

There is an extensive introduction, answering questions such as:

  • Who wrote it?
  • When was it written?
  • Does the date matter?
  • Who first received the letter?

Every verse is covered with in-depth notes discussing things like (1) how each verse and phrase fit into the overall context of the book, (2) a better understanding of some of the original words, (3) how the passages applied to the original readers, (4) how we can apply these same verses to us today.

It is thorough and in-depth, but it is also very easy to read and understand.  The books was written to be useful to new Christians as well as those who have been teaching the Bible for years.

And to celebrate the release of this new book, we’re making it available at a massive discount for this week only.

Paperback – $9.99 $5.99

eBook – $2.99 99 cents!