Harry Whittaker

5. The Devil and the Body of Moses (v9)

Next comes yet another illustration -- Biblical or non-Biblical? -- to expose the evil men against whom Jude writes. Michael the archangel, in disputation with the devil about the body of Moses, is content to leave the issue in God's hands: "The Lord rebuke thee".
The parallel passage in Peter runs thus: "Presumptuous are they, not afraid to speak evil of dignities (glories); whereas angels which are greater (than they?) in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord" (2:10,11).

The modernists have a field day here. Without any evidence (in fact, against the evidence, as will be seen by and by), they assume that an apocryphal work, 'The Assumption of Moses', was already in existence and that Jude was alluding to it in this place.

What are the facts about this mysterious writing? All that is known definitely about it is that a few short quotations are made from it by some of the early fathers and that one or two of them (Origen, Cement of Alexandria) assert that Jude 9 quotes or alludes to it. This piece about the body of Moses is not included in any of the known quotes, but a marginal addition to a Jude manuscript has come to light which is probably from 'The Assumption of Moses', and it reads thus:

"When Moses had died on the mountain, the archangel Michael was sent to transfer the body. But the devil resisted, wanting to cheat, saying that the body was his as master of the material (man), at any rate because he (Moses) had killed the Egyptian (Exod. 2:12), having blasphemed against the holy man and having proclaimed him a murderer. The angel, not bringing the blasphemy against the holy man, said to the devil: 'The Lord rebuke thee'."

There is a common assumption by the critics that the Assumption of Moses precedes Jude and is quoted by him. Yet the evidence points to the opposite conclusion, for Peter states that this encounter between angel and "devil" took place "before the Lord", but in the quote just given "the archangel Michael was sent" (i.e. from God). So it looks very much as though the Jude passage was misunderstood by this apocryphal writer and by him was blown up into an imaginative and theologically absurd story.

The correct and thoroughly satisfying explanation of Jude 9 gives the coup de grace to any idea of dependence on The Assumption of Moses.

An unmistakable clue as to the meaning is given in the words: "The Lord rebuke thee", which are a straight quote from Zechariah 3:2:

"And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments...." (vv. 1-3).

The background to this prophecy is the attempt on the part of some who returned from Babylon to get themselves included in the priesthood of the new temple (Ezra 2:61-63). Lack of unimpeachable genealogy led to their exclusion "until there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim" to give a firm divine decision. Evidently, in reaction from this, the men so excluded retorted against Joshua that by the same token he was disqualified from being high priest. Where were his true high priestly robes?

In the Zechariah vision, these grumblers are the Satan. Joshua is vindicated not by the Lord's angel, who himself is content to await divine decision, but by Jehovah Himself. Joshua is given new robes, and there is set before him (in the breastplate -- so the Hebrew text implies) the stone of decision belonging to the Urim and Thummim (v. 9).

The verbal contacts and similarities between Jude 9 and Zechariah 3 are worth listing:

The body of Moses
Joshua the high priest
The Lord rebuke thee
The Lord rebuke thee
Michael the archangel
The angel of the Lord
The devil
Contending....he disputed (legal terms)
Standing at his right hand to resist him (in a court of inquiry)
No "judgement of blasphemy"

v. 23: Snatching them out of the fire
Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
Hating even the garment spotted by the flesh
Joshua clothed with filthy garments
v. 24: Present you faultless before the presence of his glory
I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee
Also 2 Peter 2:11 has "before the Lord"
Standing before the angel of the Lord


  1. Michael: This naming of the angel comes easily from the familiar knowledge that Michael is the archangel to whom the care and guidance of Israel is specially entrusted: "the chief prince which stands for the children of thy people" -- "Michael your prince" (Dan. 12:1; 10:21).
  2. The devil: Peter clearly understood this "devil" to be a group of adversaries to the Truth: "angels bring not a railing accusation against them". In any case, if a superhuman devil, what relevance is there in this example?
  3. Contending: This word is repeated in the Greek text of v. 22.
These parallels are fairly convincing -- all except the first. It seems a far cry from "Joshua the high priest" to "the body of Moses". But in actual fact this link is easy, for the word translated "body" (Greek: soma) carries a double meaning (like cricket, barrow, mould, mite in English -- there are hundreds of them). Besides meaning "body", soma also means "slave, servant": compare the use of "hands" for "employees" in Victorian English. There are Biblical examples of this: Revelation 18:3 (see R.V.); Hebrews 10:5 = Psalm 40:6 = Exodus 21:6; and in Galatians 6:17 and Romans 6:6; 8:23, Paul plays with the double meaning of the word.

Thus "the body of Moses" can equally well be an allusion to the high priest, 'the servant or slave of Moses', since he especially was dedicated to the service of Moses' Law.
If this identification be accepted (and it certainly has more supporting evidence than any rival explanation) it is now possible to make sense of the allusion as an integral part of Jude's argument running through four Biblical examples:

  1. As Israel died in the wilderness through lack of faith in the promises of God, s0 also will these Judaisers, who fail to make faith in Christ their supreme virtue. As Israel chose to follow as leaders men without faith, so these also despise the true leaders God has given.
  2. As Korah and his fellow rebels met with summary judgement because they spurned true men of God, so also will these false believers (even though they be men of high degree: cp. 2 Cor. 11:18,22ff) who reject the counsel and authority of Christ-appointed apostles.
  3. Sodom and the rest perished cataclysmically because of wilful unrepentant immorality. These more recent false teachers who assert that there is nothing wrong with fornication (because the grace of God permits self-indulgence) will have their evil philosophy exposed by a judgement on Jerusalem for its increasing and comparable wickedness. And Sodom's rejection of Lot's open reproof and of the authority of angels is matched by current scorning of apostolic teaching and the supremacy of Holy Scripture.
  4. Those who question the validity of the high priesthood of the Messiah, the servant of Moses, will find themselves thrust out from God's presence. But neither angel of God nor appointed apostle takes action against these rejectors. The Lord Himself will rebuke them. And right soon He did, through the judgements of A.D. 70.

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