Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. James 5:4
Where money is scarce, commodities are used as a medium of exchange. Reapers and laborers are paid in wheat, butter and cheese. Wheat cutters are generally paid in wheat, and the wages of a shepherd are bargained in terms of butter, sheep or lambs. Laban paid Jacob with sheep and cattle (Gen. 30:28-43).
Wheat reapers are hired during the harvest only. Each reaper is paid according to his ability. Some are paid a bushel a day; others receive more. In some cases, the reapers cut the wheat by piecework. The owner of the field supplies them with food (two meals a day). The wages are paid in October when the wheat is threshed. The reapers and creditors meet the owner of the harvest at the threshing ground to be paid in wheat. The creditors must be paid first. The reapers’ wages depend entirely upon the honesty and integrity of the owner of the harvest.
If he does not want to pay, no one can force him to do so. Some of these men make excuses, such as the excuse that the harvest has fallen short or that they have had too many creditors to pay. In the East, there are no laws to compel employers to pay employees; the entire matter depends upon the oral agreement between employer and employee.
Powerful politicians, government officials and rich men generally refuse to pay their workers. They defer the payment from one month to another. Some of them draft laborers by force during the harvest season, and others promise to pay but fail to keep their promises. The families of the unpaid laborers suffer hunger and privations and become destitute in winter.
Religious men always act as intermediaries to secure payments in cases where injustice is done to laborers. James here bitterly condemns the rich of his day who defrauded wheat cutters, whose livelihood depended upon their work during the summer months.
(Lamsa, George. New Testament Commentary, A.J. Holman Co., 1945Philadelphia:, pgs 499-500)