We live in the age of tolerance. It isn’t polite to say that a person is wrong. We even struggle with politicians who use strong statements in disagreeing with their opponents. Jesus would have had a difficult time fitting into such a society. Of course, He had just as difficult time fitting into the generation in which He walked the roads of Palestine. Jesus would confront the religious leaders of His day with strong “Woes” in which He called them hypocrites who made those who followed them twice as much the child of hell as they were themselves. Jude followed Jesus in such confrontations. In Jude verse eleven He declares, “Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.”
Jude consistently refers to the false teachers who have entered the church to lead people astray as “These men” or “Them”. When he speaks to the faithful among the people it is “But you” or “But you beloved”. Jude uses three illustrations to describe the errors of those who are in leading people in the wrong direction.
They have gone in the way Cain. The people in the church would have known well the history of Cain the firstborn of Adam and Eve. He and his brother Abel were evidently close to the same age and were now grown men. Cain had become a farmer and Abel a rancher. They both came to worship God offering the products of their livelihood. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground and Abel brought the first-fruits of the flock and of the fat portions of it. The story is recorded in Genesis chapter four. God respected Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s. Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. “Then the Lord said to Cain, why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Cain didn’t have to stay in sin. God clearly stated he could change and make a different offering and it be pleasing to Him. Rather than Cain repenting of his sin and changing his offering he became so angry at Abel that he led him out into the field and killed him.
What was it that made God accept Abel’s offering and reject Cain’s? Was it that Cain offered of the fruit of the ground and Abel offered an animal sacrifice? I don’t think so. Cain brought of the the fruit of the ground. Abel offered the first and the best of what he had to the Lord. It wasn’t the blood that made the difference but that Cain was stingy and Abel was generous and freely gave to God trusting that the one who gave him the harvest to begin with would take care of the increase. To follow in the way of Cain is to follow the way of trying to get by with the least we possibly can. It is the person who always wants to know what the minimum is that they can do and still be pleasing to God.
But God has always asked for the first and the best from us. Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said, “If one compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” The teacher who comes along saying that following the Lord doesn’t require anything, that all I have to do is say a quick prayer and declare faith and I’ll be right with God forever isn’t following the Lord’s pattern at all. When a man came to Jesus saying he would follow the Lord wherever He went. Jesus responded, “The foxes have holes the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Another said, I’ll follow you but let me first bury my father. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead, but you follow Me.” He said to another man, “Follow Me.” The man said, “I will but let me first say farewell to those at home at my house.” Jesus said, “Whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.” The way of Cain is the way of the false teacher, the pretend follower and hypocritical leader for Christ.
The second “Woe” was that the false teachers “For pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam.” The story of Balaam is told in Numbers 22-24. The Children of Israel were headed to the Promised Land. They were camped in the plains of Moab. The people of Moab had heard what Israel had done to the Amorites and were horribly afraid of Israel. Balak the king of Moab had heard of Balaam a prophet, that the ones he cursed were cursed and ones he blessed were blessed. So Balak sent messengers to Balaam offering him money to come and curse the Israelites. Balaam had the right attitude to begin with and said to the men that he would ask God and if God said he could go then he would go but if God said no then he couldn’t go. He asked God and God said “No, these are My people.” Balaam sent them away empty handed. But Balak thought that everyone had their price so he sent more important men with more money. Balaam again told them to spend the night and he would ask God. He went to God and God told him to go. It is sometimes dangerous to ask God again about something He has already answered “No”.
Balaam wanted the money. He started out on the trip riding his donkey. But the angel of the Lord stood in the narrow place in the wall with a sword drawn to kill Balaam. The donkey could see the angel but Balaam couldn’t. The donkey turned aside. It made Balaam mad and he begin to beat the donkey. The angel moved to the next opening. The donkey again saw the angel and turned aside this time pinning Balaam’s foot against the wall. Balaam begin to curse the donkey and beat it when God opened the mouth of the donkey to speak to him and ask him why he was beating him. He reminded Balaam that he had been his donkey since he was a child and never done anything like this. God opened Balaam’s eyes and he saw the angel. He cried out in sorrow to God and said he would go back home. God told him to go ahead but only say what He told him.
Balaam met Balak and made elaborate offerings to God. He then tried to curse Israel but it turned into a blessing. Balak took him to another spot to try but this time again he blessed them instead of cursing them. He realized he could never curse them but then told Balak how he could get God to curse them for him. He told him to send his women among them and the men of Israel would commit immorality with them and worship their idols with them and God would stop them. Balak followed the plan and the men of Israel did just as he had said. God punished them horribly.
Balaam made the plea “Let me die the death of the righteous”. But that isn’t the way he died. In Joshua 13:22 it says, “The sons of Israel also killed Balaam the son of Beor, the diviner, with the sword among the rest of the slain.” To follow the way of Balaam is to follow the route of being for hire even for the enemies of God.
The third “Woe” was for those who perished in the rebellion of Korah. The story of Korah is found in Numbers 16. He was a Levite, the tribe that were to serve with the priest, the sons of Aaron at the tabernacle. Korah and his followers rebelled against Moses and Aaron saying that they had taken too much authority on themselves. They declared that they too were among the chosen and God spoke through them as much as through Moses and Aaron. Moses fell on his face when he heard the charge. Moses laid out a plan to test to see God’s will. He had each to bring their firepan before the Lord to see whose incense the Lord would accept. God had Moses to separate the people from Korah and his companions, all two hundred and fifty of them and said to them, “If you die a natural death then God has not spoken through me but if God does something entirely new and causes the earth to open its mouth and swallow you up and then close its mouth over you, then God has called me.” The earth opened its mouth and swallowed Korah and his family and fellow rebels to demonstrate He had chosen Moses and Aaron.
Today the one authority in the church is Jesus Christ. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18). He is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). For anyone to claim the place of authority instead of or along with Jesus Christ is to follow Korah. The only way we can speak with authority in our time is to speak the word of the Lord. No wonder Peter said, “He who speaks must speak as the oracles of God.” (I Peter 4:11).
Our place is to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and not to exalt ourselves.