The farmer sets out to obey the laws of God as they are built into the way things work. He plants his seed at the appointed time, in the appointed conditions, and having done so he waits, for there is no other way to harvest-time.
In the climate of Palestine the early and the late rain (7) were a unique feature. The early rain came in October, preparing the soil for the seed and helping the seed, once planted, to begin the process of germination. The late rain, in March and April, swelled the grain and guaranteed a good crop. The illustration fits well not only at this point in the letter but also into James’ characteristic way of thinking. It was at this very point that he opened his letter. Faith meets life’s tests and, through patience (and not without it), grows into full maturity of settled character (1:2–4). James’ doctrine of the Christian life is a doctrine of process or growth, and patience is its central requirement. We neither drift into holiness nor are we wafted there by some heavenly visitation; we grow to holiness and, like every harvest, it is a process.
First, we have reason to expect in our experience the sort of suffering which requires patience (10). We see it exemplified in the prophets, who were highly privileged but not protected against the strains of life. They had a special place in God’s plans as they spoke in the name of the Lord. But, as C. L. Mitton notes, ‘faithfulness to God’s commands so far from giving them immunity from suffering actually involved them in it’. Their privilege and their trials went hand in hand. Jeremiah (11:21) was hunted by the men of his home town specifically because they wanted to stop him from speaking in the name of the Lord. Ezekiel suffered painful bereavement as the setting in which he delivered his message (24:15ff.). If Daniel had not suffered deportation we would never have heard of him (1:3–6) or benefited from his ministry. Hosea’s marriage breakdown was in itself the Lord’s word to and through him (1:2–3). Privilege and suffering, suffering and ministry just belonged together in the lives of the prophets.
The story of Job is an example of faithful steadfastness, but even more of divine purpose. The blessedness which came to him eventually was not a ‘fairy-tale ending’ in which all lived happily ever after. It was the objective of God from the start: above all it was the enrichment of knowing God more fully. This is where Job puts his finger, and James also. Doubtless neither would discount or despise the earthly prosperity which the Lord gave to Job, for this too is part of his compassion and mercy (Jb. 42:10ff.). But Job’s own word is this: ‘I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee’ (42:5). His new knowledge of the Lord was as vivid as the replacement of hearsay by encounter. James too brings out, not the blessings the Lord bestows, but the knowledge of the Lord himself, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful, for, as the Lord Jesus said, ‘eternal life’ is to ‘know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’ (Jn. 17:3).