3 Warnings and a Funeral

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain
and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error
and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
Jude 11

There are certain stories in the Scriptures that you would like to have represent your life. My name being a Biblical name, I have always hoped to be characterized like the Ethans of the OT, one was a singer in David’s assembly as they brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chron 15:19), another was one of the wise men in Solomon’s court (1 Kings 4:31), one Ethan composed Psalm 89. Go Ethan!

Of course who wouldn’t want to be counted as one of the of the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents, hearing from our Lord, “Well done good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25:21). Apart from the grace of God, however, we’d all end up like the other servant who hid the master’s talent, “You wicked and slothful servant…” (Matthew 25:26).

Isn’t interesting, then, so see which Biblical narratives Jude uses to describe the false teachers who have crept into the church, twisting the grace of God into sensuality and rejecting our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Already Jude has compared them to the unfaithful Hebrews who died in the wilderness, the angels who fell from glory, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah in their immorality and unnatural desires.

In our reading from Jude today, the Biblical analogies continue. Each warning is taken from key stories from Israel’s history, each ending in death (thus the title).

  • They have walked in the way of Cain.  It was Cain who killed his brother Abel in jealousy over the fact that God honored Abels overing over his own. Keep in mind, it was Abel who brought the firstborn of is flock, while Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. Many speculate that the difference in the offering was that Abel brought the firstborn while Cain brought something lesser, but that misses the point. The bigger issue here is the heart of the worshipper. As Romans 14:23 teaches, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” As Abel’s offering was accepted, we must understand that he gave his offering in faith in the Lord. Cain offering was rejected, so we may surmise that he did not bring it in faith, but merely out of duty or religious custom. His heart, as we see in Gen 4, was filled with hatred for his brother, and he walked in darkness (1 John 2:11).
    This is the hypocrisy of the false teachers. They came to the Lord through religious customs, but they had not part or lot in the Lord.  Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of religion without faith, righteousness based on character and good works. The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of pride, a man establishing his own righteousness and rejecting the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ.” They said they worshiped the Lord, but they did not come in faith, but their teachings would lead to the destruction (murder) of many. In this way they were walking in the way of Cain.
  • They abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error. Balaam’s story is a cautionary tale. He was hired by Balak to proclaim curses on Israel as they were in the wilderness. Now anyone claiming to be a prophet could do this, and get paid well for it. But something unexpected happened.  God actually spoke to Balaam. God warned him not to say anything that God didn’t tell him to say. So 4 times Balaam set out to curse Israel and get his reward, but God prevented him, turning the curse into a blessing.
    But that didn’t stop Balaam. If he couldn’t curse Israel directly, he could work indirectly to bring a curse upon them. He set up altars to Baal, and brought the women of Moab to Israel. In Numbers 25, we read that “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal at Peor.” This incident at Peor is said to have been the device of Balaam (Num 31:16), he was paid well for it, and many thousands of Israelites died from the plague from the Lord.
    This is the corruption of the false teachers. While some are brazen enough to proclaim heresy in the name of Christ and profit from it, others are more subtle. They will nuance the message of the Gospel in the name of inclusivity, re-interpreting Scripture according to cultural demands, and soften the radiance of the glory of God to make Him more approachable. They do this for their own profit (financial, social, etc), all at the expense of the lives of those who follow their teaching.
  • They perished in Korah’s rebellion. Korah was a Levite who raised a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. This was their claim, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the Lord” (Num 16:3).
    This didn’t happen overnight. You can imagine this had been brewing for a while, with quiet whispers, secret meetings, and outright plotting to oust Moses and Aaron. In rejecting Moses and Aaron as God’s appointed leaders, Korah was rejecting God’s authority, and was rejecting God himself. All involved were swallowed up when the ground opened beneath them – the teachers, and those that followed them.
    This is the attitude of the false teachers. They come as their own authority, ignoring the authority of the elders, flaunting the authority of called pastors, and ultimately, despising the authority of God and His Word over their lives. They reject our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (Jude 4).

As we consider our own lives in the light of God’s Word, let us ask ourselves, could these stories be applied to our own lives? Jude’s letter helps us to identify the false teachers who would lead us astray, but it also serves as a mirror to help us to see how we have already been compromised, so that we may repent and turn to the Lord Jesus and contend for the faith.

We walk in the way of Cain anytime we come to God through the self-righteous works empty religion. We fall into Balaam’s error anytime we say I know what God says, but I choose to do this instead. We perish with Korah when we grumble and gossip against those whom God has given in our lives as spiritual authorities.

So let us “walk in the light, as He is in the light, having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

SDG

Plagues and the People of God

These are unprecedented times.  The world has come to a standstill, towering economies brought to their knees, social constructs completely disrupted – all because of the Coronavirus. The ethos of fear and anxiety has surpassed that of 9/11, and like those bleak and troubling days, we have no sense of when this will come to an end.

And yet, this is nothing new.  Last week I shared a video about how John Calvin and the Company of Reformed Pastors in Geneva responded to the plague in their day. The Church has, throughout its existence weathered the political, social, and physical storms of each generation with a witness to the Gospel and a shelter for the soul.

Knowing this, I turned to the Scriptures and did a quick search on plagues in the Bible, trusting that God’s Word would give us insight into the crisis we face even today, so that we might have a heart of wisdom and know how we should respond. Here’s a brief summary of what I found.

  • The Scriptures are very clear that plagues, famines, and sicknesses do in fact come from the hand of God. The first plague we read of in Genesis 12 was brought upon the people of Egypt by God to prevent them from abusing Sarai. After that, we read (Exodus 8-12) of the 10 plagues upon Egypt, through which God brought out His people from slavery. From that point, the majority of the plagues we read about in Scripture are upon the people of Israel, as in the case of the people’s rebellion with Korah (Numb 16), their grumbling about meat (Ex 32), or for their infidelity and immorality as they were led astray by Balaam (Numb 25 & 31).
    The Westminster Confession reminds us that “God the great creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of  his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”
    To that end, we must come to understand that all things, even times of sickness and sorrow, come from the Sovereign will of God, who orders all things for the praise of his glory.  We must learn to see even pandemics such as this as God’s instruments through which He brings about His good and perfect will.
  • We know that the plagues against Egypt served to demonstrate that God is able to save His people, and to show that God alone is worthy to be worshiped and praise.  In Exodus 9:14 we read, “For this time I will send all my plagues on you (Egypt) yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.” The plagues that come from God are the demonstration of His power and justice.
  • In Habakkuk 3:5, we read that when God makes Himself known, pestilence and plague come before and after, making His divine judgment upon the nations known. Likewise, in Zechariah 14, we are told that God will humble the nations that do not serve Him through plagues and punishment, so that every knee will bow in worship before the Lord.  This theme is picked back up in the book of Revelation, where in chapters 9 and 15-16, we read of the plagues of the judgment and wrath of God against the sinfulness of the world.

It is evident, through these passages, that God sends plagues upon the world as a demonstrated of His wrath and judgment of sin. But these aren’t the only times we read of plagues.

  • The majority of the plagues in the Old Testament are not directed toward the nations, but actually to the very people of Israel, the congregation of God’s people.  Here is a list of examples:
    • Ex 32 – A plague of the people of Israel because of the golden calf that Aaron made.
    • Num. 11:31-25 – When Israel complained of manna and insisted on meat, God sent quail to them, but brought a plague upon them while they were eating.
    • Num. 16 – Following Korah’s rebellion, the people complained that Moses had actually killed the rebels, and a plague broke out because of their grumbling.
    • Num. 25 – Called the sin of Peor, a plague came upon the people because of their immorality and infidelity.
    • Num. 31 – There was a plague on the congregation of Israel because many had been led astray by Balaam’s teaching.
    • 2 Sam 24/1 Chron 21 – A plague comes upon Israel because of David’s census.
  • These plagues are sent upon the people of God as discipline. The people were rebellious, unfaithful, and immoral, and God would correct them of their sin. The wrath of the Holy God of Israel  was visited upon His people when they sinned against Him.
  • Each time a plague comes upon the people, there is an intercession, by Moses or David, a prayer to relive the suffering of God’s people.

We see, then, through the Scriptures, that God sends plagues upon the land as a demonstration of His wrath against those that do not honor Him; but also to discipline His own people for their faithlessness, idolatry, and immorality.

But does this apply to this world-wide epidemic today? The circumstances may be different, but the principles remain the same.

This virus is not outside the bounds of God’s sovereign plan and design. This too will serve to bring Him glory, honor and praise. Even that which we consider evil, God will use for His good purpose.  Remember the story of Joseph, whose brothers sold Him into slavery. At the end, when he is reunited with his brothers, having saved them from the famine, he tells them, “What you intended for evil against me, God meant for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Gen 50:20).

We cannot know, in the midst of this trial, just what purpose God is working in these trials and challenges. We can, however, use this as an opportunity to repent and seek after Christ more and more.  The plagues came upon Israel because of their unfaithfulness to God, so that they may learn not to trust in false idols, but to worship God alone.  Our hearts are still prone to idolatry, and we must cast down the false gods that catch our eye, and look only to Christ, fixing our eyes upon Him.

We are different, however, from the people of Israel in one important point – we are redeemed, saved, and delivered from the wrath of God through Jesus Christ our Savior.  All the wrath of God for our sins was poured out upon Him, so that He has borne God’s judgment and punishment in our place.  We need not be terrified of the plague of God’s wrath, for Christ has become the plagued for us.

That does not mean that we will not still come under the discipline of God, for as a loving father disciplines his son, so our Heavenly Father disciplines those whom He loves that they may share His holiness (Hebrews 12:6-11).  God may use this time to wean us from the things of this world that were competing for His glory and attention.  God will refine and recreate His people in the image of His Son, and this time of upheaval may be just one of the means through which He chooses to bring that about.

In all, let us look to our Sovereign God, who cares for His people, and will never let them out of His hand. Let us trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation and peace. And, as the Holy Spirit moves upon us, let us grow in holiness and devotion to the Lord.

SDG