CLAIM: James writes, “Do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’?” (Jas. 4:5). However, this quotation is found nowhere in the OT. What is James citing here?
RESPONSE: James was referring to the general message of Scripture, rather than a specific portion of it. That is, he isn’t directly quoting the OT, but he is merely summarizing it. Throughout his letter, James has written about how humans are divided in their dedication to God (Jas. 1:8, 14; 4:4). God desires our spirit to be dedicated to him—not idols or the world-system. This would explain why James appeals to the OT. Throughout the OT, we see God pleading with his people to be dedicated to him, and he is a “jealous” God—not tolerating our affections being divided with idols. Perhaps this is what James has in mind.
Of course, the Bible teaches that God has given us his Spirit (Ezek. 37:27; Joel 2:28; 1 Cor. 6:19), and he is jealous for us because we are his bride (Jer. 31:32; Eph. 5:23). This interpretation fits with the context, which says that God views our love for the world-system as a form of adultery (Jas. 4:4). It’s also possible to understand the term “spirit” (pneuma) to refer to our human spirit (see NIV and NET note), which was breathed into us at creation (Gen. 2:7).
On God being jealous, see comments on Exodus 20:5.