Who’s Got the Conch?

“But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.”
Jude 10

It’s “The Lord of the Flies.”

If you only take a moment and look at the world around us today, you’ll see it too. We live in a time of unnamed wars – wars on poverty, wars on terrorism, wars on ideologies – and these wars have left generations unhinged from social order. We see organizations rise to bring about social justice, only to descend into chaos, hostility, and absolute barbarism. Our streets are filled with riots, protests, fires, and looting; all to cast off a system of old oppressive power in favor of new oppressive power. The conch, the symbol of society and order, is shattered, and the hunting fires have been lit.

Is this not also the description that Jude gives of the false teachers that crept into the Church, twisting the grace of God into sensuality, rejecting the Lord and Master, Jesus Christ? Here in Jude 10, Jude says that they blaspheme – that is, slander or abuse – what they don’t understand. They don’t understand the powers of spiritual forces (the glorious ones), and so they make them out to be nothing, presuming to speak blasphemous words against them. They don’t understand the holiness, the righteousness, the judgment of God, and so they discount God altogether.  They are like those described in Psalm 10:11 who say, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” They don’t understand, so they cast it off.

But what does comes naturally, instinctively, what they understand like unreasoning animals, the base and sensual desires, this will lead them to destruction. Jude says they had turned God’s grace – His unmerited kindness towards sinners – into a license for sensuality. They encouraged the pursuit of pleasure over piety. It was the first century version of “Your Best Life Now.” And it was as destructive then as it is today.

It’s Church version of “The Lord of the Flies.” 

And it still happens today. Where is Jude 10 still alive? We see it in the rejection of the faith that has been entrusted to us because it seems out-dated, irrelevant, or traditional all to encourage the pursuit of what “feels right.” We see it in the substitution of the authority of God’s Word with whatever the current or popular thinking might be. We see it in the casting off of sound doctrine for an “experience of the divine” (which is nothing more than subjective sensuality). We see it in the trading of God’s approval for the world’s acceptance.  We see it in the abandoning of reverence for a casual familiarity.

Jude’s letter is full of warnings about the false teachers who would lead us away from genuine faith in Jesus Christ.  Let us beware of those teachers, but also of the tendency of our own hearts, that we might hold fast to Christ our Lord and Master and contend for the faith.

SDG

Wrestling with the pigs

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil,
was disputing about the body of Moses,
he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment,
but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” Jude 9

There’s an old adage that says, “Never wrestle with a pig, you’ll both get dirty and the pig enjoys it.” If you listen to the political rancor today, or watch the videos of the protests and riots, and you find this adage to be proven true.  Talking heads, or masked masses, scream and yell at each other, attacking not just the ideas but the people behind them, and seemingly getting a thrill out of the spectacle that they’re making. I watch and listen, trying to understand what’s happening in the world around me, and all I see and hear is arrogance, pride, a blatant disregard for the lives and dignity of others; ultimately, a flat out rejection of the imago dei

This is the cantancorous spirit of the false teachers that Jude is rebuking, those who had crept into the church and were twisting the grace of God into sensuality and denying the Lord and Master Jesus Christ (Jude 4). Verse 8 ends with the charge that these false teachers “blaspheme the glorious ones,” a phrase that needs further explanation, and thankfully, Jude gives it.

In verse 9, Jude refers to an apocryphal story about the burial of Moses. We’re told in Deuteronomy 34:5-6 “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day.” Illustrating the attitude of the false teachers, Jude shares the story of Michael the archangel contending with the devil, disputing about the body of Moses.  It is likely that Jude is drawing from the aprocryphal work called The Assumption of Moses, which included this story of Michael the archangel contending with the Devil over Moses’ body. The Reformation Study Bible notes that this was “likely a historical event that was preserved in Jewish memory, which was then picked up and written down in the Assumption of Moses, from which Jude may have drawn,” or it was simply a story of legend that all the young Jewish children would have known.

One can imagine that the Devil was arguing that Moses shouldn’t belong to the Lord because he was a sinner. Or, as Calvin suggests, it was possible that the Devil wanted to take Moses’ body and create a shrine.  “Satan almost in all ages has been endeavoring to make the bodies of God’s saints idols to foolish men” (Calvin).  What we know for certain is Michael’s response. Here’s the archangel, the chief of the angels, contending with the devil himself, and he refuses to get into the details, to go back and forth in debate. He simply declares, “the Lord rebuke you!”

The New Covenant Commentary summarizes this well:

Ultimately, the point is that the arrogance of the infiltrators is placed in stark contrast from the meekness of the powerful heavenly being who, though he could be justified in claiming a greater sense of authority than mortals, nevertheless approaches delicate matters with a decided sense of humility. Even while representing God, Michael the archangel never presumes the role of Judge; that role belongs to God. Rather, by appealing to God’s authority, he is able to invoke God’s judgment without undermining God’s position. By implication, those infiltrators making judgments of others are in essence playing God, by virtue of which they put themselves in danger of divine judgment. 

Mbuvi, Andrew M. Jude and 2 Peter: A New Covenant Commentary. Ed. Michael F. Bird and Craig Keener. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015.

The church could and should learn a lot from Jude today. How often do we put ourselves in the place of judge, jury, and executioner?  We are certainly called to discern the truth from lies, to hold fast to, and even contend for, the faith. We must point out errors, according to the word of God, in order to correct and train in righteousness. 

But through all of this we must resist the temptation to put ourselves in the place of God in pronouncing judgment on one another. We tend to use worldly means to fight spiritual battles, plotting out well-devised debates, looking for a mud-pit to roll around in for a while.  Even Michael, the archangel, with all of his authority, knew better.  He engaged the devil with humility, and in respect for the authority of Christ, so that he refused to even pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but entrusted the matter to the Lord.  If the greatest of the good angels refused to speak evil of the greatest of the evil angels, surely we should refrain from speaking evil of one another.

Along with this teaching from Jude, Psalm 44 offers a great reminder:

For not in my bow do I trust,
nor can my sword save me.
But you have saved us from our foes
and have put to shame those who hate us.
In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever.

As we seek to contend for the truth of the gospel, let us do so always trusting that the Lord will fight the battles for us. It is the Lord who saves, the Lord who preserves. Let us, in humility and faith, look to Christ and walk with Him.

SDG