From the Editor’s Notebook: Journeying Through Jude, part 8

From the Editor’s Notebook

W. Ross Rainey

Journeying Through Jude
(Part 8)

Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah (v. 11).

At this point Jude was led by the Holy Spirit to single out three well-known representatives of evil in the Old Testament: Cain (Gen. 4), Balaam (Num. 22-24), and Korah (Num. 16). The evil acts of these men afford infamous illustrations of the evil acts of apostate teachers in Jude’s day and on to the present time. Thus, if you want to know the kind of company present-day apostates keep, here are three notorious Old Testament examples. The first was a farmer, the second a prophet, and the third a servant and royal guard of the tabernacle, reminding us that apostasy is not confined to a particular class of persons.

Cain illustrates the error of false religion, Salaam the error of false service, and Korah the error of false worship. Observe that in their actions apostates go in the way of Cain, they run after the error of Balaam, and they perish in the rebellion of Korah. To go in Cain’s way is to reject the right way, to run after the error of Balaam is to reject the truth, and to perish in the rebellion of Korah is to reject life. The words of Jude 11 are in direct contrast to those of John 14:6, for there the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

With these few introductory facts in mind, let’s look briefly at

The Way of Cain

Both Cain and Abel had the same parents and upbringing, and both brought offerings to the Lord (Gen. 4). Both knew that God required an animal blood sacrifice, yet Cain deliberately chose to present to Him a bloodless offering — the fruit of the ground. In unbelief having rejected God’s way, Cain sought to interpose some other way. Immediately we are reminded of Solomon’s words in Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way which seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

Cain’s action is typical of false teachers throughout the church’s history. Today liberal preachers and theologians reject Christ’s atoning blood for the cleansing of sin, teaching simply that He died a martyr’s death on the cross. Thus modern-day apostates reject God’s way and ,seek to substitute the works of their Own hands as an offering for sin, if indeed they recognize at all the reality of sin.

It’s a stark fact but an important one to grasp in the light of Scripture — namely, that evil doctrine leads to evil deeds. It should not surprise us, therefore, to learn from Genesis 4 that Cain, angry because God accepted his brother Abel’s offering and rejected his, rose up and murdered his brother (vv. 3-8; see 1 John 3:12) .

Commenting on the way of Cain, Ironside has said, “His sacrifice seemed fair and lovely: the fruits of the ground, wrung there from by toil and travail. But there was no recognition of the true character of sin and its desert. God’s sentence of death on account of sin is refused, therefore no life is given, no blood is brought. This is natural religion as opposed to what has been revealed. The fruits presented picture well man’s effort in all that is fairest in character-building, all that is loveliest in human attainment — beautiful indeed if the fruit of divine grace already known in the soul — but of no avail whatever to meet the claims of divine justice, to purge the conscience and cleanse the soul from the stain of sin. It is purely plain, then, that ‘the way of Cain’ is a most comprehensive title, embracing every form of religious teaching, ceremony, or cult that ignores the need of the vicarious atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ.”1

Having gone in the way of Cain, apostates readily give themselves over to

The Error of Balaam

The story of Balaam is found in Numbers 22-25. He is a mystical, enigmatic character who was essentially an Old Testament hireling prophet. The Israelites were about to enter Canaan, a move that threatened Balak, king of Moab. As a result, he offered Balaam a large sum of money to curse Israel and this put the mercenary prophet in a real bind. On the one hand, he dearly wanted the money but, on the other hand, God had clearly instructed him not to curse Israel. Although he tried three times to pronounce a curse on God’s people, each time he ended up blessing Israel instead, so at least to that extent he was obedient to the divine injunction. Naturally, this was most upsetting to Balak (Num. 24:10).

Had Balaam been a true prophet his Bible biography might well have ended at Numbers 22:14, but not so. Realizing he could not curse the people of God, he devised a plan to get God to curse Israel (see Num. 31:16; Rev. 2:14). He evidently convinced the Israelites to believe that so secure were they in God’s favor that they could sin against Him with impunity. In addition to this he instructed the women of Moab and Midian to seduce the Israelite men to commit fornication and then lead them into idolatry. Sadly enough, Balaam’s clever scheme worked (Num. 25:1-9), but in the process of attaining his sordid goal he was slain by the avenging Israelite army which God had raised up through Moses and sent in judgment against the Midianites (Num. 31:1-8).

Balaam stands out as an unusual illustration of those who sacrifice eternal riches for earthly gain, and who think more of gold than of God. Like so many others of his ilk, Balaam professed to serve God and attempted to court His favor, while in reality he greedily served men and trafficked in unfelt truth.

Generally speaking, false teachers love money and are motivated by it, as well as by popularity, applause and fame. Such are legion today and come in all sorts of varieties, shapes and forms, being found in churches, on radio and television, and in colleges and seminaries. Their chief motivation is money, yet did not our Lord Himself teach that “Ye cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24)?

Just recently I read about a professed pastor who oversees property valued at $14 million. He receives a salary and fringe benefits totalling $110,000 a year. Furthermore, he lives in an ocean-view house, filled with valuable antiques and estimated to be worth $900,000. He also owns four cars, one of them being a 1981 Lincoln Continental. Perhaps the saddest part of all is that his 79-year-old widowed mother lives in a low-rent section of the same city in which her son resides and relies on Social Security welfare payments for her support. While I would not be judgmental as to this pastor’s salvation and motives, it seems to me that somewhere along the line he has altogether missed or ignored the teaching of the New Testament as to the characteristics and qualifications of true under-shepherds.

Balaam is mentioned three times in the New Testament. First, Peter speaks of “the way of Balaam” (2 Pet. 2:5), a reference to the prophet’s covetous character. Second, Jude cites “the error of Balaam” (v. 11), a reference to his sacrificing of eternal riches for temporal wealth (Mark 8:36). And third, the Lord Jesus Christ, addressing the church at Pergamum, spoke about “the doctrine of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14), a reference to the hireling prophet’s inducing of Israel to sin and thereby forfeit their separated, pilgrim character.

As Ironside has stated, “That the three are most intimately related is self-evident. Out of his errors sprang both his way and his doctrine. He was a striking example of those who suppose that the object of godliness is to make gain, and who consider it a right and proper thing that religion should be used to minister to one’s personal advantage.”2

Finally, we come to Jude’s third illustration of apostates — namely,

The Rebellion of Korah

Korah, with three other men — Dathan, Abiram and On — led 250 princes of Israel in rebellion against Moses and Aaron, who at that time were God’s appointed leaders over Israel. They claimed and demanded equality with Moses and Aaron, saying, “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation is holy, everyone of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore, then, lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” (Num. 16:3).

Subsequently, God unleashed a dramatic and awesome judgment against Korah and his rebel companions, resulting in the earth opening up and swallowing both them and their houses. The one note of grace in this otherwise fearful scene is recorded later in Numbers 26:11, where we read: “Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.”

Korah is a representative of false worship. He arrogantly brushed aside the need of divinely appointed service and like a swashbuckling pirate intruded into the priest’s office. He is a classic example of modern day apostates and others who assert that they do not need a Mediator between God and themselves. The world today is filled with this kind of person who not only claims that he is as good as anyone else but that we are all God’s children. He somehow thinks he can step out of time into eternity and be accepted by God on his own merits. His is a do-it-yourself salvation. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus Christ made it plain that He alone is the Way into the presence of God (John 14:6), and through the Apostle Paul it is recorded that Christ is the only Mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5).

Korah rebelled blasphemously against God’s holy character and authority, the result being that he and his cohorts suffer eternally for their disobedience and unbelief. Their counterparts today deny Christ’s deity and authority, saying, “We are as good as He was; after all, He was only a man. We don’t need Him.” Such is the character of those who deny that Christ is God and brazenly assert that they do not need a Saviour.

Here, then, in these three pen-portraits from the Old Testament we see three leading characteristics of apostates right to the present time. Like Cain, they are devoid of love. Like Balaam, they love money and for the sake of material gain are prepared to teach others that sin doesn’t really matter. Like Korah, they are careless of God’s holiness and insubordinate to His appointed leaders.3

Little wonder, then, that Jude says of all who follow in the train of this ignoble trio, “Woe unto them!”

To the indifferent and unbelieving citizens of Chorazin and Bethsaida our Lord said, “Woe unto thee!” (Luke 10:13).

And to all who scorn their need of the Lord Jesus — apostate or not —we say to you with loving concern for your soul, WOE UNTO YOU IF YOU DIE IN YOUR SINS WITHOUT CHRIST!

(To be continued, D.V.)

1 Harry A. Ironside, op. cit., pp. 32-33.

2 Ibid., pp. 34-35.

3 Michael Green, op. cit., p. 173.