Tuesday, 20 August 2019
Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. James 4:9
It is likely that James had a passage from the book of Ecclesiastes on his mind –
“A good name is better than precious ointment,
And the day of death than the day of one’s birth;
2 Better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of all men;
And the living will take it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise
Than for a man to hear the song of fools.
6 For like the crackling of thorns under a pot,
So is the laughter of the fool.
This also is vanity.
7 Surely oppression destroys a wise man’s reason,
And a bribe debases the heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:1-7
James is speaking to the “sinners” and the “double-minded” of the previous verse. Instead of rejoicing and shouting for joy, he tells them to, “Lament and mourn and weep!” The idea is similar to Jesus’ words from Matthew 5 as well. There, right at the beginning of the sermon on the mount, He says –
Solomon and the Lord both understood that when one is filled with laughter and a spirit which is overflowing with the joys of life, he will not take time to consider the world around him in its proper perspective. There may be joy, but judgment lies ahead. There may be life and abundance, but death is the inevitable end of all men. A man filled with the things of the world will not take time to consider these deeper issues, but the man who weeps and mourns will.
Therefore, continuing on, James says, “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” The word James uses, which is translated as “gloom,” is found only here in the Bible. It signifies having one’s eyes downcast, indicating sorrow. One can see a state of true repentance over sin for the sinner, and a refocusing on what is godly and proper for the double-minded. Nobody with a right mind will stand over the coffin of a friend and say, “I’m glad I won’t end up there.” Rather, he is reminded of the mortality we all face, and he will (if wise) take it to heart.
The sorrow which James is speaking about is not sorrow for the one in the box. Rather, he is referring to the sorrow a person feels as he considers his own fate, mourning over what he can do about his personal misdeeds in the presence of God.
Life application: In Ecclesiastes, Solomon explains what James assumes his readers already know. In other words, James is writing to first-century Jews and reminding them of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. They would have been very familiar with what Solomon was saying because Ecclesiastes was read openly every year during the Feast of Tabernacles.
If you have not read Ecclesiastes before, take time to read it today. It will only take you a few minutes. It is an extremely beautiful book – full of wisdom. Ultimately, there will be everlasting joy for the redeemed of the Lord. But, in this present life, there are times when mourning is better than feasting, where displaying sorrow rather than laughter is right, and where weeping is more appropriate than mirth. Have discernment, and know when and how you are to display your emotions in order to be pleasing both to those around you and to the Lord who searches your heart.
Lord, thank You for the wisdom found in the Bible. Help us to discern when to laugh and when to mourn, when to feast and when to fast. Give us hearts which mourn over our sin, and which rejoice in Your cleansing from it. May our actions bring you honor, and be a comfort to those around us. Let our lives reflect Your wisdom at all times. Amen.