Ya'akov Jewish New Testament and comment David H. Stern
1. From: Ya‘akov, a slave of God and of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah
To: The Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora:
Ya'akov was not only a slave of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah but also his brother, as well as leader of the Messianic community in Jerusalem. See Mt 13:55, Ac 12:17N.
"The Twelve Tribes" refers to Jews and is not merely a metaphor for Christians, as some Christian commentators maintain. This is clear from the style of the letter generally, and particularly from the fact that they had synagogues (2:2&N). Not that Gentile Christians were excluded from reading it, but that the leader of the Messianic Jewish community in Jerusalem is addressing fellow Jewish believers in the Diaspora, outside Israel; compare Yn 7:35&N, 1 Kc 1:1&N, and this citation from the Talmud (Shabbat 16a): "Rabbi [Judah haNasi] went to the Diaspora," where the Greek word "diaspora," which means "dispersion," appears in Hebrew transliteration. Possibly Ya'akov is writing Messianic Jews who knew him personally in Jerusalem but fled Sha'ul's persecution (Ac 8:1-3) or the later one of Acts 12 (44C.E.). But it seems more likely that these were Jews already living in the Diaspora when they came to faith, for whom Ya'akov's words carry his authority as the Lord's brother and leader of the Jerusalem community.
Shalom! See Mt 10:12N.
2. Regard it all as joy, my brothers, when you face various kinds of temptations;
3. for you know that the testing of your trust produces perseverance.
4. But let perseverance do its complete work; so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.
Regard temptations (or: "testings") as joy, because the testing of your trust produces perseverance, as at Ro 5:2-5.
5. Now if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach; and it will be given to him.
Compare Proverbs 2:3-6.
6. But let him ask in trust, doubting nothing; for the doubter is like a wave in the sea being tossed and driven by the wind.
7. Indeed that person should not think that he will receive anything from the Lord,
8. because he is double-minded, unstable in all his ways.
Compare 3:10-12; 4:1b, 5-ба, 8b; Mt 7:15-20; Ro 7:23; 1 Ke 2:11.
9. Let the brother in humble circumstances boast about his high position.
10. But let the rich brother boast about his being humbled; since, like a wildflower, he will pass away.
11. For just as the sun rises with the sharav and dries up the plant, so that its flower falls off and its beauty is destroyed, so too the rich person going about his business will wither away.
Ya'akov has more to say about the poor and the rich at 2:1-9, 5:1-6; compare 1С 7:22.
The sharav is the hot, dry wind which blows across Israel from the deserts east of the Land in the spring and (less often) in the fall. The sun rises with tin: sharav. Weather like this made Jonah faint and want to die (Jonah 4:8). Compare Isaiah 40:7 ("The grass withers, the flower fades when a wind from Adonai blows upon it"); Psalm 102:4, 11.
12. How blessed is the man who perseveres through temptation! For after he has passed the test, he will receive as his crown the Life which God has promised to those who love him.
13. No one being tempted should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, and God himself tempts no one.
Satan tempted (or: "tested") Job (Job 1 -2) and Yeshua (Mt 4:1 -11), but God tempts no one. Genesis 22:1 must be understood as God's means of strengthening Abraham's faith (compare MJ 11:17-19, 12:5-10; and see below, 2:17-24), not as tempting him to sin.
14. Rather, each person is being tempted whenever he is being dragged off and enticed by the bait of his own desire.
His own desire, known in Judaism as the yetzer ra' ("evil inclination"); see Ro 5.12-21N. The genesis of sinful acts is treated similarly by the rabbis; see, for example, The Gates of Repentance, by Rabbi Jonah of Gerona (a cousin of Maimonides):
"One who commits a transgression has been seized by lust and incited thereto by the evil inclination (yetzer, with ra' understood)."
Repentance halts at once the vicious sequence described in vv. 14-15.
15. Then, having conceived, the desire gives birth to sin; and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.
Sin gives birth to death, an example of Ya'akov's striking manner of expression. Contrast with v. 18: God "gave birth to us," i.e., new birth (Yn 3:3).
16. Don’t delude yourselves, my dear brothers.
17. Every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father who made the heavenly lights; with him there is neither variation nor darkness caused by turning.
Heavenly lights... variation... darkness caused by turning. Astronomical language: either eclipse or phases of the moon. Ya'akov's cosmology was more Copernican than Ptolemaic; the Roman Catholic Church's condemnation of Galileo (recently corrected) was inconsistent with this verse. The meaning, of course, is that God does not change (Malachi 3:6, 1 Yn 1:5).
18. Having made his decision, he gave birth to us through a Word that can be relied upon, in order that we should be a kind of firstfruits of all that he created.
Having made his decision of his own free will, by grace and not because he owed it to us, God gave birth to us through a Word that can be relied upon (compare Ro 10:17). The Word of truth is Yeshua the Messiah; this is taught most clearly by the Gospel of Yochanan (see Yn 1:1,14; 3:5-8; 15:26; 16:7-15; also 1 Yn 5:4-8). We are a kind of firstfruits of all that God created, as can be inferred from Ro 8:19-23, 29; 1С 15:20&N,23.
19. Therefore, my dear brothers, let every person be quick to listen but slow to speak, slow to get angry;
Let every person be quick to listen but slow to speak (compare 3:3-12), slow to get angry (compare Ecclesiastes 7:9). Can modern psychology match this advice for improving interpersonal relations'? When someone does or says something that would normally provoke quick angry speech, invite him to explain more clearly what he has done or said; listen carefully to him, trying to understand him and his situation; and respond in love, aware that, like you, he was "made in the image of God" (3:9, Genesis 1:27).
20. for a person’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness!
The history of Jewish-Christian relations is riddled with the sad consequences of believers' failure to heed this verse. If lews have tenaciously refused to trust in Yeshua, it is partly because frustrated Christians have attempted to accomplish God's righteousness through their own anger. It cannot be done. Jews receive God's righteousness through Gentile believers' mercy not their anger (Ro 11:31&N), through their humility not their arrogance (Ro 11:16-22).
21. So rid yourselves of all vulgarity and obvious evil, and receive meekly the Word implanted in you that can save your lives.
22. Don’t deceive yourselves by only hearing what the Word says, but do it!
23. For whoever hears the Word but doesn’t do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror,
24. who looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
25. But if a person looks closely into the perfect Torah, which gives freedom, and continues, becoming not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work it requires, then he will be blessed in what he does.
Someone who looks at his face in a mirror, who looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like — instead of grooming himself to face the day — is failing to use the mirror properly, that is, actively instead of passively. The perfect Torah (or: "the complete Torah," Mt 5:17&N) is the believer's perfect, complete mirror; it perfectly, completely reflects his ungroomed (i.e., sinful) condition — as Sha'ul puts it, "what Torah really does is show people how sinful they are" (Ro 3:20). The believer uses the perfect mirror's assessment of his spiritual condition to correct and groom his behavior; and as with the bathroom mirror, he continues to use it this way throughout his life.
The perfect Torah, which gives freedom, literally, "a perfect [or: "completed"] law of the freedom." Ya'akov speaks again at 2:12 of the "Torah which gives freedom," having earlier spoken of it as "Kingdom Torah" (2:8&N). At the same time he regards it as the God-given standard which no one may transgress (2:9-11), speak against or judge (4:11-12).
The perfect Torah. Yechiel Lichtenstein (see MJ 3:13N) comments, again alluding to Mt. 5:17:
"The Messiah perfected it, since the Lord said that he came to make the Torah complete."
Torah which gives freedom. He continues.
"It means that the believer in Yeshua no longer serves God like a slave, out of fear, but like a son serving his father, out of love. The Spirit of the Messiah freed him and gave him a new spirit." (Commentary to the New Testament, ad loc.)
Lichtenstein is correct; but some Christians misuse this verse, along with Ro 7:3, to proclaim their joy in being "free from the Law," by which they mean "free from the supposedly oppressive rules and regulations prescribed for Jews by the Torah of Moses." Actually, the situation is precisely the opposite: it is the Torah which, because it is per-% feet, gives freedom! Only rebellious antinomians seek to be free from rules and regulations; the wise understand that only within a framework of law is true freedom possible.
Moreover, the b 'rit chadashah itself, the New Covenant, the New Testament, "has been made Torah" (MJ 8:6b&N; see also Ac 6:13-14&N, 1С 9:20&NN, Ga 6:2&N), and no believer is free from it. The "perfect" or "completed" Torah. then, is the Torah which includes the New Covenant. Within the framework of this perfect Torah, Messianic Jews observing the mitzvot given to the Jewish people at Sinai serve God in full freedom of spirit, while the same perfect Torah gives Messianic Gentiles equal freedom not to observe them (Ac 15:20-21&NN, 28-29). Be warned, however, that this perfect Torah is just as capable as the pre-New Covenant Torah of being perverted into an oppressive legalism (see Ga 3:23b&N).
But is the Torah of Moses, then, incomplete, less than perfect? Of course not. It was God's perfect, complete and sufficient revelation to mankind at the point in history when it was given. Later, "when the appointed time arrived, God sent forth his Son" (Ga4:4) to initiate the New Covenant and provide further revelation and instruction (Torah), adding to and completing, in the light of the history which had transpired since Sinai, the Torah which was already perfect. And there is promise of yet fuller revelation in the End of Days, when the Messiah returns, and we see him not as in a mirror, obscurely, but as he truly is (1С 13:12,1 Yn 3:2).
26. Anyone who thinks he is religiously observant but does not control his tongue is deceiving himself, and his observance counts for nothing.
Anyone who thinks he is religiously observant. Greek threskos in this verse and threskeia. ("religious observance") in the next (as well as the same or related words in Co 2:18, 23, the only other places in the New Testament where they appear) connote zeal in performing religious acts, whether in connection with true religion or false. In Jewish terms one could say, equivalently, "Anyone who thinks he is dati" ("religious") or "frum" (Yiddish, "pious") or "shomer-mitzvot" ("one who observes the commandments" of the Torah) but does not control his tongue (see 1:19-21,3:3-12; also Psalms 34:14(13), 39:2(1), 141:3) is deceiving himself.
27. The religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world.
Having received the new birth through a Word of God (v. 18), we should receive it (v. 21) and do it (v. 22). True religion involves not only hearing but doing (vv. 22-27). The entire letter emphasizes deed over creed, action over profession; and this is the usual Jewish approach to religion, morals and life. See Rv 1:3N and references there.
This verse, apparently based on Isaiah 1:15-16 (quoted below in 4:8N), sums up the burden of all the Prophets, who zealously insisted that true religion must consist not in mere external observances but in good deeds flowing from a sound spiritual condition. In reducing the Torah to two commandments — the one enjoining a practical expression of self-giving love toward those who can offer little or nothing in return, the other concerning the inward spiritual and outward ethical purity prerequisite to right action — Ya'akov entered a time-honored Jewish tradition of epitomizing the Torah, as is seen from the well-known Talmud passage, Makkot 23b-24a, quoted in Ga 5:14N. This verse, like the book of Galatians, is a warning to believers who become enamored of specific observances at the expense of "the weightier matters of the Torah — justice, mercy, trust" (Mt 23:23).
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