11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.
12 These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea,foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
(Jude vv. 11-13 NIV)
In our previous time together, Jude described the characteristics of the false teachers. Jude pointed out that these false teachers were not led by reason (which God gave humans reasoning capability), but rather by instinct, like wild beasts. And ultimately, living by instinct would destroy them.
In today’s text, Jude uses three more Old Testament examples to call out the dire consequences of disobedience to the Lord. Jude does not elaborate on these three examples, as most (if not all) of his audience was either Jewish or very familiar with the stories of the Old Testament. Since we are far removed from that culture and the Jewish stories and context, let’s walk through each example.
- The way of Cain
In Genesis chapter 4, Adam and Eve’s two sons brought their sin offerings before the Lord. Abel brought an animal sacrifice, while Cain brought fruits and vegetables that he had grown. God had made it clear that the covering for sin involved the shedding of blood (Genesis 3:21). God made the first sacrifice to cover Adam and Eve. Abel understood and obeyed God; Cain sought to appease God with the results of his own efforts by growing fruits and vegetables.
Just like Cain, the false teachers in Jude’s day rejected God’s offer of salvation and righteousness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Instead, they sought to establish their own righteousness through their beliefs and works.
- Balaam’s error
In Numbers chapters 22-24, the rulers of Moab try to bribe Balaam, a Jewish prophet, to put a curse on the people of Israel. Ballam started strong, but eventually, the allure of money was too great and Balaam agreed to curse his own people for greed and gain. Thankfully, the Lord intervened so Balaam did not curse God’s people, but his integrity as a godly prophet was forever tarnished.
Just like Balaam, these false teachers in Jude’s day were not there to help people or point them to the Lord – they were doing what they did for selfish gain, to get rich.
- Korah’s rebellion
Numbers chapter 16 records the story of a group of people that rebelled against Moses and the Lord, and God’s judgment on them for their rebellion. Korah and other men rebelled against God’s chosen leaders – Moses and Aaron. To rebel against God’s chosen leaders is to rebel against God Himself. So what happened to Korah and the other leaders of the rebellion? The Lord split open the ground and swallowed their tents, their possessions, and their families – they were completely removed from the face of the earth. The text says that the earth swallowed them alive – they were not annihilated (they did not cease to exist); rather, they were destroyed (they still existed, but lost their well-being and entered into the realm of the dead).
Just like Korah and the others who rebelled against the Lord and His anointed leaders, these false teachers in Jude’s day have already been set apart by God for destruction. Make no mistake – open rebellion against the Lord and against His appointed leaders has deadly consequences.
Jude finishes his thoughts in verses 12 – 13 by making multiple comparisons of these teachers to bad things, thus showing these teachers’ motivations and godlessness.
Let’s take a brief look at each comparison:
- blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm
Have you ever sat next to someone at a restaurant who is sick, and the person acts like everything is fine? You feel like the germs are radiating off their body, infecting everyone and everything around them (including your food), and the person is clueless. Makes you lose your appetite and want to leave, doesn’t it?
So was the effect of these false teachers among God’s people in Jude’s day.
- shepherds who feed only themselves
At these same love feasts (today we would call them church covered dish dinners), these false teachers were there for one reason only – to feed themselves. They were not there for the fellowship or encouragement, to hear God’s Word, or offer help to others. They held the title of a shepherd (pastor, teacher, leader, etc.) but were only there for their personal gain.
- clouds without rain, blown along by the wind
In a dry, arid land like Israel, clouds offer the hope and promise of rain to water the earth and produce a crop and feed the livestock so people can eat. In contrast, these false teachers offer hope and promise to help their followers, but pass by without so much of a drop of help or encouragement.
- autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead
Jude stacks up the meanings here, using a fruit tree as the object lesson. First, the season is late fall, after the fruit has been picked and the leaves have fallen. The tree, while during the spring, had great potential – bursting with leaves and new branches, but in the fall, nothing. No fruit, no more leaves, nothing. So the orchard owner has no choice but to dig up the tree, haul it out of the orchard, and burn it.
These false teachers had a lot of promise, but no fruit. They have been exposed for what they are (ungodly false teachers), and the Lord says it’s time for them to go.
- wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame
In this word picture, Jude uses stormy waves to describe these false teachers. These waves are unpredictable and violent, churning up all sorts of debris (sin) that is despicable. Jude is likely referring to these false teachers’ endorsement and practice of sexual immorality as part of their “worship” experience.
- wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever
Jude stays with his nautical theme and refers to the false teachers as “wandering stars”. These “stars” could be comets or more likely planets that appear in the night sky. Sailors used the stars to navigate, but these other “stars” are unreliable, as they do not follow a predictable pattern and would lead the sailors off course and into destruction if they followed them.
Similarly, the false teachers are not reliable and will lead people away from the Lord and to destruction (blackest darkness, hell) if people follow them.
May we heed Jude’s warning about open rebellion and disobedience to the Lord.
May we pray for the wisdom to identify false teachers versus true shepherds of God’s people by their words, their actions, and their hearts.