Harry Whittaker

7. Vigorous Figures of Speech (v12-13)

Jude now leaves off his strong Biblical denunciations, but only in order to flay the unworthy with equally strong metaphors -- some of the most vigorous to be found in the pages of the Bible. An archangel may say: "The Lord rebuke thee", but Jude takes upon himself to censure violently these corrupters of the early ecclesias. So either he understood the word "rebuke" in the sense of 'bring judgement', or else he knew that the Lord was guiding his pen in these present words of rebuke and repudiation.

Five powerful illustrations expose the character and destiny of these men whose deliberate intention ws to pervert or wreck the ecclesias from within.

"These are spots (R.V.: hidden rocks) in your Love Feasts, when they feast with you." Here, and in 2 Peter 2:13, are the plainest New Testament allusions to the early church's practice of associating the memorial Bread and Wine with a meal of fellowship, after the pattern of the Last Supper in which a normal mean was followed by the Lord's appointed sacrament. Actually there are many allusions to the Love Feast throughout the New Testament, but they are mostly disguised by the fact that the Greek word for the Love Feast, agape, is identical with that which describes the abstract virtue of Christian love. As a result, in not a few of the places where the common version reads "love", it ought rather to read "Love Feast", thus greatly illuminating some important passages ("Studies in the Gospels", Chapter 192, H.A.W.).

Evidently those whom Jude denounces were at fault in the same way that certain brethren at Corinth are shown to be (1 Cor. 11:20-22,34). They were turning a holy meal, which should have been characterised by reverence and sanctified talk, into a gross self-indulgence dishonouring to the Lord who founded the function. "They feed (literally: shepherd) themselves without fear (of God)." There seems to be allusion here to a highly appropriate prophecy of Ezekiel's: "The shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock" (34:8; cp. Isa. 56:11,12). Jude obviously intended ;most of this chapter in Ezekiel to be recalled.

There is a problem here regarding the parallel text in Peter. There the reading is certainly "spots" (Greek: spiloi). But here (in Jude) the manuscript evidence is strongly in favour of the R.V. reading: "hidden rocks" (Greek: spilades), a feminine noun linked with a masculine article or pronoun in such a say as to suggest: 'These are they (who are) hidden rocks at your Love Fests'. But is not this term, "hidden rocks", hopelessly out of place in such a context? "Spots" is a reading calling for no apology or explanation, but "hidden rocks" does.

There seem to be two possibilities here. Either this rare word spilades carried more than one meaning, "spots" also being one of them (there is some fourth century evidence to this effect), or else Jude, caught by the similarity between the two words, deliberately swung to this reading in order to add to Peter's disapproving "spots and blemishes" the sinister picture of a smooth tranquil sea suddenly made to boil and foam by an ugly slab of rock just breaking the surface (1 Tim. 1:10). (If this is correct, then spilades was introduced by Jude to prepare the way for a similar and even more graphic idea in v. 13.)

The next figure takes the readers away from the sea to the sky: "clouds without water, carried about of winds". Here again is another unexpected modification of Peter's strong language. He wrote: "wells (springs) without water, and mists driven by a storm". Jude seems to have detached the Greek word meaning "without water" and to have attached it just as meaningfully to the words that follow, but even then he seems to paraphrase rather than quote. Yet in actual fact the whole point of these modifications of Peter's text is in order to quote from Proverbs 25:14: "As clouds and wind without rain, so is he that boasteth hmself in a figt of falsehood (i.e. a false claim to a gift of the Holy Spirit)."
There can be no doubt that this is the very point Jude was eager to make, for here in the midst of the brethren were deceivers who did falsely boast of having the Holy Spirit's power and inspiration. But, Jude implies, instead of spirit there is wind (in Hebrew ruach is both wind and spirit): and his word for "carried about" is deliberately contrived to recall (with a difference) the word which Peter uses for the compelling power of divine inspiration (2 Pet. 1:21,18,17; 1 Pet. 1:13; 2 John 10; Heb. 1:3; 6:1; Acts 2:2). Thus Jude neatly throws cold water on specious claims of men who are "without water" (what a contrast with Psa. 72:6).

Next, another vivid Biblical allusion: "autumn fruit trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots". There is no parallel to this in Peter, unless it be these words: "these things (God's exceeding great and precious promises) make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 2:8,4). Here there is surely allusion to two of the fig-tree passages in our Lord's ministry. He came to such a tree in the spring-time seeking fruit and finding none. There were not even the small immature figs which a normal fig-tree would have carried at that time of the year (S.S. 2:11-13). So he cursed it, and that day it died -- qn eloquent acted parable of God's judgement on fruit-less Israel.

But these men whom Jude exposes are described as trees without fruit in autumn. This change of season in the figure is very fitting. The Lord's ministry had been a fruitless spring-time. Since there there had been the full summer of the gospel of the Holy Spirit, and now in what should have been a time of rich fruit-bearing these enemies of the Faith were spiritually unfruitful. They were "twice dead", in the sense that they had died to the world in their baptism into Christ, but although born anew already they had passed into spiritual death.

Therefore retribution, as Jesus had said: "If ye (apostles) had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye would say to this sycamine (fig) tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you" (Luke 17:6). "This fig tree" was fruitless Jewry, the greatest obstacle in the first century to the apostles' preaching; and though their faith the fig-tree nation was plucked up by the roots and cast into the Gentile sea, so that through long centuries it has drifted hither and yon, swept along by currents and storms, and has at last in these Last Days fetched up again on the shores of the Holy Land.

What an appropriate figure of speech to employ when the last three and a half years of Israel's political history had already begun! And what a warning to and concerning men who were more devoted to Moses than to Christ!

Not inappropriately Jude's next illustration also concerns the ocean.

These adversaries of the Truth are "raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame". Here the word "shame" is actually plural -- a Hebraism, maybe, to suggest "great shame". It would seem that without quotation Jude was alluding to familiar words in Isaiah: "The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt." It is an ebbing tide which leaves scum and froth and filth lining the beach. So it may be that by this figure, as well as the preceding one, and also the next one, Jude was hinting that with the Jewish war impending, Judaism was a retreating tide, in which these "raging waves" (this word normally describes wild animals) would leave "the sand of the seashore", the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:17), foul and unattractive.

Last, and most damning of all: "Wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever". There is an interesting ambiguity here. Shooting star (i.e. meteor), or comet? The former flashes suddenly through the night sky, making a brilliant blaze for a split second and then disappearing for ever in a darkness which now seems all the more intense. The latter swings slowly and steadily into sight, an impressive spectacle in the heavens for maybe weeks or months, and then fades away into nothingness as its immensely long orbit takes it away into the depths of outer darkness.

It is probably the comet allusion which Jude now intends, for not long before the final troubles at Jerusalme, Halley's comet made an ominous appearance. "There was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city' (Josephus B.J. 6.5.3). A portent, surely! Those familiar with Jude's epistle would not be slow to match up the figure with its fulfilment.

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