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.