JUDE, THE EPISTLE OF APOSTASY Part Four: The Way of Cain, the Error of Balaam, and the Rebellion of Korah

Taken and adapted from, “An Exposition of Jude’s Epistle of Apostasy”
Written by, Douglass Round, published in 1890

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. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. –Jude, 11-13

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THE reader’s attention is now directed to the third portion of this Epistle.

The eleventh verse gives us the types of the various forms of evil and apostasy that appeared in Jude’s time, and that will be more fully brought out in the last days. The types are Cain, Balaam, and Korah. Their ways were bad, attended with misery, and ended in woe. There are other types of the many dark and terrible forms of departure from the truth and ways of God, but our thoughts at present must be restricted to the three prominently brought before us in this passage.

I.   The way of Cain.

What is it? It may be traced in the sacred record and explained in few words, Cain claimed to be a religious man, and a worshipper of God. He brought a fruit offering to Jehovah in the act of worship; but he was not accepted. There was no acknowledgment in his offering of his condition as a sinner. There was no confession of sin; he supposed himself to be all right, and could not see why he should not be accepted. The Lord reasoned with him, and kindly counselled him to bring a right offering. He was assured that there was acceptance for him; that if he brought the sin-offering like his brother, he too would yet enjoy the Divine favor. The Lord in effect brought him to this question “Wilt thou take My way, or thine own? That was the point he had to consider, and on which he had to decide. If thou wilt take My way, then even yet all will be well. The appeal was made in vain. Kind words failed. He would not hearken to God’s voice, but take his own way. That way began in unbelief in rejecting God’s method of salvation through the shedding of blood. This act of rejecting God’s method of acceptance determined his subsequent course. He breaks his allegiance from God, and deliberately “went out from the presence of the Lord.” All intercourse with God is now foreclosed.

He says in effect “I have done with God, I do not want to say anything more to Him. I want to live without reference to Him. I wish to act as I please, to run in my own paths, and after my own desires! God shall have nothing to do with me, and I will have nothing to do with Him.” This was Cain’s way. We cannot conceive of anything worse than this. He lived without God.

Cain now goes his own way, does what is right in his own eyes, and what in his view is most conducive to his own enjoyment without God. He soon began to build a city or “fort,” in defense of himself and the partner of his exile, and called it by the name of his first-born Enoch, which means “dedicated.” He dedicated his child to the world, and the city which he built was a memorial of the dedication.  He was a man of the world, and had nothing but this world to live for. The world was his all, and he resolved to make the best of it. He seeks in the midst of his family to gather around sources of interest and luxury, and tries to blot out the results of the curse, and to live an easy, prosperous life in forgetfulness of God.

The “way of Cain” still exists. It has not been ploughed up so as to become imperceptible. It is still visible, and never perhaps so popular as in the present day.  

There are a large class of men who neither deny the existence of God, nor refuse to worship Him. They claim to be religious they put themselves down as a part of the religious world, but who, like Cain, refuse to confess that they are sinners. They will not allow that they need the blood of atonement as the ground of their confidence. In their pride and self-sufficiency, they ignore the truth that without the shedding of blood there is no remission, no approach to God, no acceptable worship. Their religion is fashionable, and suits this refined and intellectual age. They leave the past, and get rid of the trammels of old creeds, and the brutalizing influence of altars besmeared with blood. If ever a qualm of conscience does arise through the memory of the past, they strangle it at once by some new mode of dissipation. They seek their pleasures away from God. They set themselves to live for the present, spending their energies to make this world an agreeable and pleasant place of residence.

Will this Cain-religion, which rejects the blood of the Cross, lead men to love, and gentleness, and brotherly kindness? Will a religion which trusts in no blood make a happy people, and bring in the reign of peace and gladness? So say its exulting votaries. So say the teachers of the philosophic theology of the period. So say the poets of the age. Look at the type which is here held up as a standing beacon to warn. Cain rejected the expiatory blood, turning away from the “religion of the shambles” to the mild gentleness of a worship in which no life is taken, and no blood was spilt, and no suffering inflicted. Did this mild and genial religion of his lead to a loving gentle life? No. He who had so many scruples about shedding the blood of an innocent lamb, has none about taking the life of a holy unoffending brother. He who is too pure and refined in his ideas of religion to profane his altar by turning it into “shambles,” is all the while busied in preparing shambles of his own, where, for the gratification of malice, hatred, envy, and revenge, and every hellish passion, he may with his own hand butcher a brother for being more righteous than he.

“Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain.” The way of Cain is the straight way to remediless misery; there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is death. Oh, reader, pause for a moment. Ask yourself the question. Am I going on in Cain’s way?  And if your eyes are opened to discern the bitter end, return, I pray you, unto the Lord, rely for acceptance on the blood of atonement ere it be too late.

II.    The Error of Balaam.

They “ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” What was that error? We may learn in what it consisted from the history Moses gives of Balaam in Numbers 12. It is very clear from the history that Balaam was a man that wanted to serve God, and at the same time suit his own covetousness. He wished to please God, whom he feared, and to please himself too. He tried to persuade himself that this could be done. This was his great error and sin. He was once a true prophet, and one known to have had power with God. Balak, the king of Moab, put confidence in him as a prophet, and through fear of Israel sent a message to him to come and curse Israel, and promised if he would do so to reward him with silver and gold (Numb. 22:5, 6). If Balaam’s heart had been right with God, he would have made short work with Balak’s message: indeed, it would not have cost him a moment’s consideration to have sent him a reply. But his heart was not right; we see him in the condition of one acted upon by conflicting feelings. He wished to please Balak, and get his reward, at the same time not to offend God.

He inwardly wished to stand well with Balak, while outwardly he wished to keep right with God. He bids the messengers to remain, that he might have time to consult the will of God. He received an answer; God said to him, “Thou shalt not go with the men; thou shalt not curse the People; for they are blessed.” Nothing could be plainer. The prophet evidently took this in bad part. Mark his answer to the messengers –“Get you into your land; for the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you” (ver. 13). 

The word “refuseth” showed the spirit which animated him. He wished to go, and was disappointed.

Balak sends a second time to Balaam some of his best men-messengers more honorable than the first, praying him to come and curse Israel, and holds out before him a greater reward, richer gifts, a more splendid bribe. The prophet professed to despise the tempting bait, and said, “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more” (ver. 1 8). It is no uncommon thing to hear a man speak slightingly of that on which his heart is set. Many a miser says that he does not care at all about money; many a proud-hearted man will speak of himself as being humble. So Balaam could speak of himself as despising wealth, while in his heart he longed for it. In this state of heart, Balaam consults God again, and God answers, not as formerly by refusing his request, but by telling him that he may go. “If the men come to call thee, rise up and go with them, but yet the word that I shall say to thee that thou shalt do” (ver. 20). No doubt Balaam was delighted. God had answered him according to the desire of his heart. To the perverse, God shows Himself perverse. Man wishes something, he is bent upon having it. God says you shall have it, while angry because it is cherished. He permits a man to have his perverse will gratified, to follow his blind devices.

There are ten thousand instances on every side of us. A man hankers after money or fame. God grants it. He punishes him by telling him to have his wish. So Balaam eager to carry out his desire, anxious to gain the rewards, is told to go. He was so eager to go that he did not wait for the men to call him. He started off without. All this showed a heart running counter to the will of God –a heart bent on covetousness, while struggling all the time to keep appearances of obedience. This is hateful. No wonder God was angry with him. He had not proceeded far before he found obstructions in his way “the ass on which he rode rebuked him for his perverseness and folly (2 Peter 2:15, 16). Still, he breaks through all difficulties; proceeds on his journey, until he at length comes to Balak, who conducts the money-loving prophet from place to place, in the hope that he would curse Israel; but all his attempts failed. He could not articulate a word against the will of Jehovah. He could not use the prophetical gift against Israel. He blesses those whom he is hired to curse. The king smites his hands together in sore disappointment, dismisses the prophet in wrath, and returns to his palace in despair.

What is the son of Beor now to do? Disappointed of the coveted wealth, he now sinks into the degraded character of a traitor. Seeing he could not turn God from Israel, he now seeks to turn Israel from God. He privately counselled the king of Moab to seduce the people of Israel into fornication and idolatry by means of the Moabite women. His wicked scheme succeeded. “Behold these (women) caused the children of Israel through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord, in the matter of Peor” (Numb. 31:16). The fierce anger of the Lord was kindled, and tens of thousands perished. The Lord told Moses to avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites. They warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses, and slew the kings of Midian. “Balaam also, the son of Beor, they slew with the sword” (Numbers 31:8). This was the closing scene of Balaam’s downward history.

The sad history of Balaam brings out very clearly the nature of his deadly error. We know precisely what it is. It is obviously composed of two parts.

The first part consists in his covetousness.

It was his sin, and proved his downfall. In the early part of his career he was doubtless a good man, thoroughly religious, a man of prayer. On two occasions he spent the night in prayer, waiting upon God; but he was tempted by the offer of Balak to prostitute his sacred character and office for filthy lucre. He yielded to the temptation, and stands before us as a type of apostates in Jude’s time. They “ran,” says Jude, “greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” They have, says Peter, ” forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness ” (2 Peter 2:14, 16). The love of money is presented by Paul as the ground of apostasy. “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some have coveted after, they have pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:9,). It needs no seer’s eye to be assured that this sin is doing its deadly work in the present day. Imitators of Balaam abound. Men that are recognized as Christian teachers in the Church are ready to please the great of the earth for the love of the wealth which they have to bestow. In the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves (selfish), covetous. Let us guard against the temptations to covetousness, and resist them.

The second part of his error is seen in his teaching.

He knew that Israel were God’s chosen people –singled out and separated from other nations. “This separation is most distinctly set forth, “The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9). But this hireling prophet taught Balak to seduce Israel from their separation into guilty mixture with the nations and their idolatry around. The teaching of Balaam destroyed all godly separateness, and destroyed the people too, so far as it prevailed. In like manner the Church of Christ is called out from the world, and it is only too easy to apply the type in this case. Memorable and instructive are the words to the Church in Pergamos, ”Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols and to commit fornication” (Rev. 2:14). These Balaam teachers sought to corrupt the disciples of Christ by tempting them to form unholy alliances with the world, by insinuating that Christianity may exist consistently with the indulgence of the flesh, even to the commission of the most awful sins. These corrupters were allowed still to remain members of the Church, and were considered as part of the Church. “Thou hast there” within thee, those who hold this wicked doctrine. They were tolerated, they were not frowned upon, suspended from privileges, nor excommunicated. These teachers still exist in the Church, and they continue to influence and fascinate by their teaching the hearts of the people of God. They teach that you must not maintain the rigid line of separation, that you must be on good terms with the world. You must seek to please the world, how else will you do it good. This artful and plausible teaching is ruining thousands. It encourages the intermixture of the Church with the world, which must end in trouble, conflict, and judgment.

III.    Korah and his punishment.

Our serious attention is directed in few words to another way –the gainsaying of Korah, and its disastrous consequences. “And perished in the gainsaying of Korah.” The word gainsaying in the Greek is ἀντιλογίᾳ, and means contention, opposition, contradiction. The verbal antagonism of Korah and his brethren to Moses and Aaron is recorded in the sixteenth chapter of Numbers, for our admonition and instruction. “Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown; and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them. Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” Here we are plainly told that Korah and his famous men, two hundred and fifty in number, set themselves against Moses and Aaron, and charged them with usurpation and ambition in taking too much upon them. You take too much upon you in daring to represent us; we can represent ourselves. Are not all the Lord’s people alike holy, and have we not as good a right to officiate in the priest’s office as Aaron and his sons. They considered themselves to be equally entitled and equally suited to discharge the functions of the priestly office. In short, there was an open revolt against the authority of Moses, and against the priesthood of Aaron and against God Himself.

“And Moses said unto Korah,” –the leader of this desperate confederacy –“Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi: seemeth it a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself; to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them? And He hath brought thee near to Him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee; and seek ye the priesthood also? For which cause {i.e., the priesthood) both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?” (Numb. 16:8-11).

The gainsaying of these men was speedily visited with Divine wrath.

The very record is appalling to read. What must the fact have been. “The earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. So they and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them; and they perished from among the assembly” (16:31-34). After the earth had opened her mouth and swallowed them up, we read, “There came a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that had offered incense” (ver. 35).  

[The rebellion and judgment of Korah and his brethren in the wilderness is beyond doubt a type of the open rebellion of apostate Christendom against the authority of God in His true King and Priest, at the end of this age, and also of the terrible judgments that will speedily follow. “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14). “And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse, and against His army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet, that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that received the mark of the beast, and them that worshiped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake burning with brimstone” (Rev. 19:19, 20).

Home remarks,”” The sudden destruction of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who, for stirring up a rebellion against Moses and Aaron ‘went down alive into the pit,’ seems to be here (Rev. 19:20) alluded to, as the grand representation of the manner in which the ‘bottomless pit’ shall one day shut its mouth forever upon all the impenitent enemies of the true King of Israel and great High Priest of our profession.”]

We see in this that fiery indignation which devours the adversaries of the Lord.

Let us remember that Korah is a type of those restless subtle men in the early churches who were ambitious for high places, who sought to undermine the true servants of God in order to exalt themselves. In these modern days there are men who are not satisfied with the functions of the ministry, but openly set themselves against the rights of Christ. They call themselves priests, in contrast with the people, distinguished by titles and dress from others. They profess to act on behalf of others, assuming priestly functions which only belong to Christ Himself. This is in principle the sin of Korah, their end will be according to their works.

These are types of the apostasies and heresies which would arise in future times. In the way of Cain we see departure from God; in Balaam, who taught error for the sake of gain, religious corruption; in the gainsaying of Korah, ambition and insubordination, which bring swift destruction. In these three examples we see the future in miniature.

Note how, in the verses following the description of the apostates corresponding to the three examples just given, they are described in the strongest language, and by the use of many striking similitudes. “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear.” In the primitive days of Christianity believers met together in private houses for communion and mutual edification. Love-feasts were held to promote unity, to testify, continue and increase brotherly love among themselves.

The love-feasts and the Lord’s Supper were separate ordinances, but frequently combined. These evil and subtle men came into these love-feast meetings. They were no doubt pretentious, forward, and active in the assembly of the faithful. They were spots, blemishes, in these feasts; for, instead of eating and drinking in moderation, they pampered their appetite and ate to excess, without the least sense of their own sin and shame. This is implied in the clause, “feeding themselves without fear.” In this way those feasts of charity were abused; and in the middle of the fourth century, the Council of Laodicea prohibited them to be held in the churches. “Clouds they are without water.” Like clouds which promise rain, but contain no water, and let fall no fertilizing showers: empty of all saving knowledge and true holiness, they can impart no refreshment to their flocks by their teaching.

“Trees whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.” Trees without fruit, though in spring there may have been buds of promise, but in autumn without fruit. “Twice dead.” Dead in trespasses and sin, which they are by nature, and dead by apostasy from the faith in Christ, past all hope of recovery. Like trees irrecoverably and totally dead, being “plucked up by the roots.” “Raging waves of the sea,” turbulent and violent against all who oppose them, “foaming out their shame.” “Wandering stars,” which have left their original position, and are unsteady and erratic in their course.

They who leave the truth know not where they shall stop, “to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” As heaven is an inheritance reserved for the faithful, so this thick gross darkness is reserved as the certain heritage of these deceivers forever.