Tagged: commentary on Jude

The Error of Balaam

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features a portion of Chapter 10: Woe to Them! Cain, Balaam, and Korah

Previously: The Way of Cain

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Woe to them! For they have traveled in the way of Cain, have abandoned themselves to the error of Balaam for profit, and have perished in Korah’s rebellion. (Jude 11 HCSB)

What is the error of Balaam?

We find the story of Balaam in Numbers 22-24, with additional information in chapter 31. It’s a classic tale of a prophet for hire, someone greatly gifted by God who allows greed to drive him to “madness” (2 Peter 2:16). The Greek word translated “madness” is paraphronia, which literally means “beside one’s own mind.” In other words, Balaam’s fleshly cravings are such that they overcome his ability to think and act rationally.

Interestingly, some commentators believe Balaam is portrayed as a good character in Numbers 22-24, before coming under criticism elsewhere in the Old Testament. But there are hints of his greedy motivations from the start.

Balak, king of Moab, hires Balaam to curse the people of Israel as they wander in the wilderness. Balak sees the Israelites as a military threat and seeks help from inside the Israelite camp to defeat them. Initially, it appears that Balaam is a faithful prophet, but his stall tactics “imply that he hoped to negotiate a higher payment from Balak before performing his prophetic service.” In the end, he accepts Balak’s riches because he loves the wages of unrighteousness (cf. Prov. 11:18).

The Lord knows Balaam wants to curse Israel in exchange for treasure, so God rebukes him through his donkey, who miraculously speaks to the prophet. Balaam is empowered only to bless Israel. But he’s not finished.
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The Way of Cain

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the first portion of Chapter 10: Woe to Them! Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

Previously: Where Does Jude Get This Story?

 

Woe to them! For they have traveled in the way of Cain, have abandoned themselves to the error of Balaam for profit, and have perished in Korah’s rebellion. (Jude 11 HCSB)

We all have role models. Athletes, actors, and rock stars are among the most popular people we seek to mimic – even when their legendary falls from grace are captured in tabloid headlines and social-media hashtags. Unfortunately, we often take for granted those who exemplify honesty, integrity, and hard work, choosing to conform our behavior to those whose actions – no matter how outrageous – get noticed and rewarded. This is a process Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, refers to as “vicarious reinforcement.”

Maybe that’s why entertainers like Miley Cyrus, athletes like Dennis Rodman, and selfie-stick wielders like Kim Kardashian are so popular. It seems the more shockingly they behave, the more their celebrity grows. History takes a longer view and tends to judge such characters more harshly. After all, there aren’t too many baby boomers named Adolf. And it’s doubtful that moms and dads want their little boys growing up to be like Charlie Sheen.

In a similar vein, Jude reminds his readers of some unsavory role models in Israel’s past, men whose wicked deeds so overshadowed whatever good they accomplished that they are forever held up as examples of how not to live. In warning against false teachers, and in urging believers to earnestly contend for the faith, Jude reminds us of three characters who are not to be emulated. Yet the first-century false teachers unwittingly model their lives after Cain, Balaam, and Korah.
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The Lord Rebuke You: Michael and the Devil

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the first portion of Chapter 9: The Lord Rebuke You: Michael and the Devil.

Previously: What Are “Eternal Chains in Darkness”?

Nevertheless, these dreamers likewise defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings. Yet Michael the archangel, when he was disputing with the Devil in a debate about Moses’ body, did not dare bring an abusive condemnation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these people blaspheme anything they don’t understand, and what they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals – they destroy themselves with these things. (Jude 8-10 HCSB)

Several years ago as I trimmed grass in my yard, a small garter snake slithered out from the weeds. He coiled and struck my electronic weed trimmer. This was an odd scene, as garter snakes generally flee predators and prefer to hide their heads and flail their tails rather than move aggressively. They also discharge a malodorous, musky-scented secretion to ward off danger, or simply slither away into the brush. Even when they do attack, the mild venom in the fangs in the backs of their mouths is muted by large gums in the front, making it difficult to deliver venom to larger predators.

So, the sight of this relatively harmless snake, less than a foot in length, taking the fight to my weed trimmer, was curious to say the least. His open jaws were far too small to capture the housing of the trimmer, and he bounced backward after his first strike. Then, he recoiled and struck again. And again. Then he struck a final time, connecting with the whirring fishing line beneath the housing, which spun him around a couple of times and tossed him several feet into a ditch, where he gave up the fight (and ultimately, the ghost).

How remarkable was the snake’s tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds. But even more notable was the realization that the snake could not distinguish between a lethal living predator and a buzzing weed whacker. It cost him his life.

We see a similar comparison in Jude, as the author likens false teachers to brute beasts who operate on instinct, are incapable of reasoning, and who bring swift and certain destruction on themselves as they speak arrogantly to demons, pollute their souls, and slough off the authority of their Creator.

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What are “Eternal Chains in Darkness”?

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the last portion of Chapter 8: Kept with Eternal Chains: When Angels Desert.

Previously: Principles of Biblical Interpretation

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and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. (Jude 6)

Whoever these particularly nasty angels are, God is keeping them under wraps until the day they are cast into the lake of fire. The word “kept” in Jude 6 is from the same root word Jude uses in verse 1 to describe believers, who are “kept” by Jesus Christ. Some translations render it “reserved” rather than “kept.” In a parallel passage, Peter writes that these fallen angels are “delivered … to be kept in chains” (2 Peter 2:4 – emphasis added).

The questions, then, are where these demons are imprisoned, and how. Certainly, if they are spiritual beings, physical chains cannot hold them. The Greek actually describes them as being confined, without hope of escape. While Jude does not name this place (or state) of confinement, Peter, in the parallel passage just referenced, calls it Tartarus.

Many translations render this word, found only in 2 Peter 2:4, as “hell,” including the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible, while others, like the English Standard Version and the New International Version, provide footnotes linking the English word “hell” to the Greek name Tartarus.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible simply transliterates the Greek word in this passage, which reads: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment …” A footnote in the HCSB reads, “Tartarus is a Greek name for a subterranean place of divine punishment lower than Hades.”

In the apocryphal Book of Enoch (20:2), Tartarus is used as a place where fallen angels are punished, an interpretation Peter affirms.

So, Tartarus seems to be a place separate from Sheol, the Hebrew term for the abode of the dead; Hades, roughly the Greek equivalent of Sheol; and Gehenna, the lake of fire created for the Devil and his angels (Matt.25:41), where wicked people also spend eternity (Rev. 20:15). Ancient Greeks regarded Tartarus as a place where rebellious gods and other wicked ones are punished.
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Principles of Biblical Interpretation

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the middle portion of Chapter 8: Principles of Biblical Interpretation.

Previously: Kept With Eternal Chains: When Angels Desert

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In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as they did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

As we wrestle with the identity of Jude’s angels, it may help to consider some basic principles for interpreting Scripture. Biblical hermeneutics is “the science and art of understanding, translating, and explaining the meaning of the Scripture text,” according to Wayne McDill, author of 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. In 2 Tim. 2:15, Paul commands Timothy to engage in hermeneutics: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.”

McDill offers seven principles for “rightly dividing” (KJV) the Word of God:

(1) Identify the kind of literature your text is for insight into its meaning.

Bible scholars call this the genre of the text. Is the text law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, epistles, prophecy, apocalyptic, or something else? All genres are not created equal when it comes to conveying divine revelation. Carefully discerning the genre of a passage, or an entire book, is key to understanding. The genre of Jude is that of an epistle – a letter written to a general or specific audience conveying greetings and instruction.

(2) Consider the context of the passage for a better understanding of its meaning. What is the historical setting of the passage? Who is the intended audience? What are the social, political, and religious situations that the Holy Spirit and the human author seek to address? Jude likely is written in the mid 60s A.D., when Israel is about to experience God’s wrath at the hands of the Romans, and when the early church is on the cusp of great dangers from false teachers.

(3) Read the text for its plain and obvious meaning. “A common and persistent myth about the Bible is that its real meaning is hidden behind the surface message,” writes McDill. “Even though the Bible uses symbolic or figurative language, most of it is clear to the reader. Even when you do not know about the people, places, and events in question, you can grasp the point of the text.” While Jude alludes to apocryphal books and employs graphic images to describe the lifestyles of false teachers, his message is plain to the reader: Now is the time to take a stand for the Christian faith.

(4) Try to discern the writer’s intentions when he wrote the text. Luke, for example, tells us he has “carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:3-4). In the case of Jude, the author makes it clear that he intends to warn his readers about false teachers who have infiltrated the church, and to spur them to earnestly contend for the faith.

(5) Look carefully at the language of the text for what it reveals about its meaning. The words of the text are all we have of the writer’s thoughts, says McDill. If he hadn’t written it down, we wouldn’t know what he was thinking. So we should carefully examine the author’s words and phrases, and how he constructs his message. Jude uses strong language to characterize false teachers. It may help if we study these terms in the original language using lexicons and word-study books. In addition, Jude often organizes his thoughts in groups of three. For example, in calling his readers to remember how God judges the wicked, he lists three lessons from history: unbelieving Israelites, fallen angels, and the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.

(6) Notice the various theological themes in the text. Though a text generally has one intended meaning, it can have a number of significant theological themes – and a variety of applications. When Jude writes about false teachers denying their only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (v. 4), we might draw from this the urgency of knowing sound doctrine concerning the person and work of the Messiah.

(7) Always take a God-centered perspective for interpreting your text. The “theological interpretation” arises from the assumption that the Bible is really God’s means of making Himself known to us, notes McGill. What it says about Him always is central to every text. “The Bible was not given by God to tell us about ancient religious people and how we should all try to be like them,” he writes. “It was given to tell us about the faithful God whom they either served or denied. Their response is not the central message; God’s will and his involvement with his creation are. Even texts that give instructions as to how we should behave reveal something about God.” Jude’s epistle, while warning of false teachers and calling believers to contend for the faith, ultimately points to a sovereign God who is holy, loving, faithful, and just.

Next: Eternal chains in darkness