Harry Whittaker

4. Three Biblical Warnings (v5-8)

As a warning against giving any kind of encouragement to the evil men just denounced, Jude now proceeds to list Old Testament examples of God's judgement on those who in time past behaved in a similar wilful fashion.

His introductory phrase reads strangely: "though ye know this once for all". Why not "these", since he is about to cite three examples? And "once for all" comes in so unnaturally as to provoke the speculation that an ellipsis is intended: 'though you know this, I make the point once for all', as who should say: 'If this exhortation does not register in your minds as serious, needful and right, I have nothing more to add'.

For "this", not a few manuscripts read "all things", meaning in this context 'all the examples I am about to cite'.

Nevertheless 'I am set on reminding you' about them. (In the New Testament this Greek verb 'to be set on' more often has the flavour 'decide' than 'desire': R.V.) The apostle Peter, with his own bitter experience rarely out of mind (Mark 14:72), is most urgent to remind his readers of the important truths associated with their faith (2 Pet. 1:12,13,15; 3:1,2; cp. also Rom. 15:15).

Jude's reminders are of three signal examples of divine judgement on wilful sinners:

  1. Israel in the wilderness (v. 5),
  2. The apostate "angels" (v. 6),
  3. Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7).
It may be that the first of these is a follow-on from a reminiscence (v. 4) of how in the wilderness Israel's sin regarding the golden calf turned the grace of God into lasciviousness.

But now (v. 5) the emphasis is different: "The Lord, having saved the people (of Israel) out of Egypt, a second time destroyed them that believed not." A year after leaving Egypt Israel came to the borders of the Land of Promise, but there, because they faithlessly accepted the discouragements of the ten spies instead of the inspiring confidence of the two, they were turned back into the wilderness, and that generation perished there. Inheritance came forty years later.

That unexpected phrase "a second time" seems to refer to the fact that when Israel came to the shores of the Red Sea, then (even after seeing all God's signs in Egypt!) they seemed incapable of faith, but murmured against Moses and against the Lord (Exod. 14:10-12). Nevertheless, even in spite of this unworthy reaction, they were delivered. But when they came to the borders of Canaan and showed a like (or worse) lack of faith -- "a second time" -- now their doom was pronounced (Num. 14:32,33).

It may be that this, not mentioned in 2 Peter 2, is brought in here to hint at a more specific warning to the "ungodly men" who had "crept in privily" to undermine the faith in a prophet like unto Moses. Forty years after the Passover deliverance the unbelievers were all dead. Then what would come upon these others forty years after the sacrifice of the Lamb of God?

In their discussion of the next example, the commentaries make a vague, bewildering, unsatisfactory mess of things. Who were these "angels which kept not their first estate"? Either there is an imaginative attempt to harness the denunciation of Genesis 6:2 of the "sons of God" who intermarried with the "daughters of men" and so brought judgement on the world, or else a link is suggested with the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which refers to rebellious angels in chains: 'Bind them for seventy years under the earth until the Day of Judgement'. (Observe the inconsistency of orthodoxy regarding fallen angels. Here they are kept shut up until the Day of Judgement. In 1 Peter 5:8 at least one of them is at large "as a roaring lion" -- whose roar nobody has ever heard!)

The first of these 'explanations' starts on the wrong foot by making a wrong identification of 'the sons of God'. And in Genesis 6 there is no hint of these sinners being kept in chains and in darkness.

The second creates vast problems by having angelic beings who are given to rebellion against the Almighty (there is no sign of this impossible concept anywhere else in the Bible), and there is also the difficulty as to why such beings should be kept shut up under the earth.

Also, regarding both explanations, there is the question of relevance to the situation Jude was seeking to cope with.

On the other hand, identification with the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Num. 16) appears to satisfy every phrase that is used:

  1. The first word of verse 6 -- "and" -- provides a hint, for this is not the usual Greek word kai, but the less frequent te, which is commonly employed to link together items which go naturally together -- as 'man and wife', 'buttercups and daisies', 'fish and chips'. Thus the use of te at the beginning of verse 6 points to a definite link with Israel in the wilderness (v. 5).
  2. They "kept not their first estate" -- R.V. "their own principality" -- fits Korah and his fellow-conspirators perfectly, for they were all princes in Israel (Num. 16:1,2).
  3. They "left their own habitation" -- the divinely appointed tabernacle -- in order to set up a centre of worship of their own devising (Num. 16:24,27).
  4. "Kept in everlasting chains under darkness" is supplemented in 2 Peter 2:4 with "cast them down to Tartarus". This is as apt a description as could be of the fate of Korah -- the earth opened, and he and his conspirators plunged into the bowels of the earth. (It is fairly obvious that "chains of darkness" in Peter should really be as R.V.: "pits -- or caves -- of darkness". There is only one letter difference in the Greek reading, and good manuscript support for it.)
Other details worth noting are these:
  1. The effective use of "kept" -- they kept not their own principality, so they are kept in darkness till the Day of Judgement.
  2. For "everlasting" Jude seems deliberately to have chosen a word almost identical with 'Hades', matching 'Tartarus' in Peter.
  3. "The judgement of the great day" uses the same phrase as in Revelation 6:17; "The great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?"
The third Biblical example is more straightforward, and yet in a way more startling -- that Jews in the Faith should be compared to men of Sodom. Yet Jude had a good precedent, for Jesus made similar comparison when Jewish cities rejected his message (Matt. 11:23,24; 10:15). And if these infiltrators into the Faith, now being denounced by Jude, used as one of their main tactics a "turning of the grace of God into lasciviousness", there would be aptness enough in the parallel; hence the phrase: "in like manner". Indeed, Jude sets it out bluntly enough: "giving themselves over to fornication, and going after (Greek opiso) strange flesh", i.e. sexual perversion (Gen. 19:5; the Greek verb, ekporneuo, seems to emphasise this).

There is point also in the mention of "Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them) (five in all), as intended to prepare Jewish readers for the devastation of the entire Land. The parallel goes even further, for just as angels came to rescue Lot and his family out of Sodom, so also Jesus had warned his disciples: "When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea fell to the mountains...." (Luke 21:20,21).

Thus the cities of the plain are "beforehand set forth" (Greek) as an example (a sample of wares laid out), "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire". Not that the fire itself is eternal, but that it is eternal in its consequences, as Peter's phrase implies: 'turning them to ashes'.
Jude goes on to emphasise other features of this grim parable: "Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, despise lordship (singular), and blaspheme glories (plural)." All of these phrases link up easily with the purple narrative of Genesis 19:

  1. "Defile the flesh" -- their sodomy.
  2. "Despise lordship" -- their attitude to Lot who "sat in the gate" and who "judged". (The Hebrew phrase in verse 9 is very emphatic.)
  3. "Blaspheme glories" -- their attitude to the angels.
  4. Is it possible that "dreamers" alludes to the blindness inflicted on them? Or that those contemporaries that Jude wrote against claimed to have Spirit-guided revelations: "your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams" (Acts 2:17)?

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