Tag Archives: Cain

Ungodly Men in the Church

The book of Jude — which I’ve blogged about quite a bit — addresses ungodly men in the church, not those outside the church.

Jude’s key passage is verse 11, where he compares ungodly men in the church to Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

It’s noteworthy that each of these men has an overlooked connection with God, as do ungodly men in the church. Despite this, it’s their failings for which they are noted. But even in these, we may be looking at things too simplistically. Upon deeper consideration:

These examples give us pause. The ungodly in the church: do not control sin, mix different religious ideas, and oppose God’s leaders.

Given this, we have much to guard against, less we become the very people in the church that Jude warns us against.

Consider Cain

We know Cain to be a murderer — and we vilify him for it. What we often fail to consider is that Cain had a relationship with God.

Consider that Cain gave an offering to God that wasn’t requested or expected. (Cain lived centuries before God instructed Moses about the need to give him offerings.)

Also, consider that Cain also had a personal relationship with God, that is he talked to God and was able to be in God’s presence.

Given this, one might conclude that aside from one terrible act, Cain was a good guy, a God-loving dude. Perhaps like you and me.

Even so, this one act — his only recorded failure in life — needed to be punished. Justice demanded it. And as a just God, he meted it out.

So God sent Cain away, away from his presence. But not angrily or out of spite. For despite a need to punish Cain for his grave error, God lovingly put a mark on him to protect him from being killed by others.

God justly punished Cain — and then lovingly protected him.

The Way of Cain

Cain kills Abel because he is jealous, jealous that his brother’s offering to God is accepted and his isn’t.

God knows what Cain is thinking — and urges caution. God directly tells Cain that he must rule over his sinful thoughts, the temptation to do wrong. But Cain doesn’t heed God’s advice and kills his brother.

The resulting murder may have been an act of rage or merely an extreme way of eliminating the competition. But either way, Abel ends up dead and Cain has blood on his hands.

Thousands of years later, when Jude advises followers of Jesus to avoid “the way of Cain,” he might be referring to murder or perhaps a jealousy that could lead to murder, but I suspect the warning is for something much more subtle.

I think when Jude says we need to avoid the way of Cain, he means we need to control our thoughts and desires to do wrong — a warning we all need to heed.

[Genesis 4:7, Jude 1:11]

Contemplating Cain

The account of Cain is well-known. The Bible records his story as the world’s first murderer. It is out of jealousy — and possibly premeditated — that Cain kills his brother, Abel. But what are the events that lead up to this tragedy?

Cain and Abel each bring an offering to God. Abel’s is accepted but Cain’s isn’t. There is speculation as to why God disses Cain’s gift, but the reason is not recorded for us to know.

What’s disconcerting is wondering if God ever disses our gifts. It’s a shocking thought. I always assumed God is ecstatic over anything and everything I offer to him, be it money in the offering plate, alms, or acts of kindness offered in his honor.

I liken it to a small child showing Mommy and Daddy the picture he or she just drew. The parents are pleased, praising the child profusely, even though they may be clueless as to what the picture is. I expect God to act like that whenever I give him something.

But what if he doesn’t? After all, God is sovereign — and almighty. What if he doesn’t look at my offering with favor?

It’s a sobering thought. I certainly don’t want to be giving God a sorry little picture — thinking it is good and that he likes it — when he is expecting and desiring something so much more.

God, may my gifts and offerings be pleasing to you.

The Error of Balaam

We’ve covered Cain’s path and Korah’s rebellion; now it is time to address Balaam’s error.

Frankly, I am perplexed to as to what Balaam’s error actually was.  In reading his saga, I see a man who affirmed God as “my God,” heard God’s voice, and fully obeyed God’s instructions.  Indeed Balaam had a better track record them me.

God told Balaam to not go and he stayed.  Then God told him to go and he went — but God was angry because he did.  Based on this, it would not be a stretch to conclude that God was bipolar.  However, I will reject that diagnosis as being inconsistent with God’s character, instead seeking a different explanation.

Perhaps the first time that God said “no” should have been enough.  Balaam had no need to ask again — unless he didn’t like the first answer.  It might be like kids pestering their folks for something.  Eventually the parents relent, not because they changed their mind, but because they want to teach their offspring a lesson about making good choices or learning what happens when bad paths are selected.

Another consideration is the implication that Balaam was mixing his pursuit of God with divination, a practice strictly verboten.  This is a common practice today, where practitioners cherry pick the choice parts of various religions or philosophies, forming their own belief system.

Is there any expectation that their outcome will be different from Balaam’s, who was ultimately killed for his error?

[Numbers 22-24, Joshua 13:22]

 

Korah’s Rebellion

While the story of Cain killing his brother may be commonly known, the rebellion led by Korah is quite obscure.

Korah was from the tribe of Levi; he and the other Levites were assigned God-given tasks to serve in the temple; they were set apart for this. However, they were not to serve as priests; that fell only to Aaron and his descendants.

Korah didn’t like these distinctions; he advocated all people were holy, had God (the Holy Spirit) in them, and should be elevated to the level of priests.  (Interestingly, these were something that Jesus would later proclaim and that his followers would embrace, but in Korah’s time, this was not the case. There were distinctions and that’s how God wanted it at that time.)

Korah stirred up some followers, insisting on equal status for all. Then he and Moses had the equivalent of a modern-day smack down.  Moses won and was affirmed by God; Korah lost — big time; the ground beneath him opened up and he and his family fell in and died.

Today, we would hail Korah as a martyred reformer who pursued justice and equality, advocating that anyone can approach God.

Although Jesus would later usher in these changes, that is not what God had put in place in Korah’s day. He had a different plan and, no matter how well intended, Korah opposed it — and will forever be associated with a failed rebellion against God.

[Numbers 16]

The World’s First Murder

Cain and his younger brother Abel both gave offerings to God.  This was well before the life of Moses and the laws that God gave to him, therefore, there was no requirement to give an offering.  In fact, there was not even a precedent for doing so.  Cain and Abel’s offerings were the first ones recorded in the Bible.

For reasons not fully explained, God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s.  One possible hint is that while Abel’s offering was a choice part of the best that he had, Cain’s gift was merely “some” of what he had.  Another hint is found in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, where Abel’s faith in giving a better offering is affirmed.  Implicitly, Cain’s faith was lacking.

Regardless, Cain reacted poorly to God’s snub, becoming jealous of Abel and angry, culminating in the premeditated murder of his brother — the world’s first.  However, even after this brutal act, God did not turn his back on Cain.  Although punishment was meted, God also provided Cain with protection.

Cain did an evil thing; however, he was not an evil man.  Despite Cain’s downfall, he was a man who had sought God, giving a gift that was not asked for or required.

[Genesis 4:1-16, Hebrews 11:4]

Cain, Balaam, and Korah

In Jude’s brief exposition of ungodly people in the church, he evokes three Old Testament characters: Cain, Balaam, and Korah.  Cain, we know to be a murderer; Balaam, greedy; and Korah, rebellious.  However, it is simplistic to see them merely as evil men, for they also had an air of godliness to them, seeking God or having a connection to him.

It is astonishing, but each of these men did things that were seemingly right and godly.  Despite that, the results of their actions went badly awry.  The outcome renders them as emblematic of ungodly people in the church.

As we study what they did, we might find that we may be a lot closer to falling into their errors than we would normally dare to think possible.

Carefully consider then, the lives of Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

[Jude 1:11]

The Third Time’s a Charm

In Jude’s short letter, he often writes in triads, listing three items or offering three examples.  He does this with such regularity that when he deviates from this in verse 12, I thought I had misread the text.  Consider the following triplets:

  • three actions of God: called, loved, and kept (and if you implicitly see the Holy Spirit in doing the calling, then the Trinity is implied here as well: Holy Spirit, Father, and Jesus); verse 1.
  • three blessings: mercy, peace, and love; verse 2.
  • three historic warnings: leaving Egypt, deserting angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah; verses 5-7.
  • three negative actions: pollute their bodies, reject authority, and slander angels; verse 8.
  • three bad examples: Cain, Balaam, and Korah; verse 11.
  • five negative allusions: shepherds who feed only themselves, clouds without rain, dead autumn trees, wild waves, wandering stars; verse 12.
  • three characteristics of ungodly men in the church: cause division, follow natural instincts, and do not have the Spirit; verse 19.
  • three prescriptions: build up your faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, and stay in God’s love; verses 20-21.
  • three ways to show mercy: help doubters, save others from destruction, and carefully rescue others without being taken down; verse 22.
  • three attributes of God: keeps us from falling, presents us without fault, and has great joy; verse 24.
  • four praises for God: glory, majesty, power, and authority; verse 25.

As someone who also has a propensity of writing in threes, Jude’s style is especially appealing to me.

[read Jude 1]

Biblical References in Jude

As covered a few weeks ago, the book of Jude contains three cryptic references to ancient non-biblical texts.  In addition, Jude also includes references to biblical accounts.

The first is in verse 6, where Jude mentions angels who abandoned their role and their home.  This is likely a nod to Genesis 6:1-4, which talks about the son’s of God marrying the daughters of man.  That is a bit perplexing itself, but at least it is the Bible.  (Alternately, some scholars think Jude is referring to an ancient non-biblical text, The Book of Enoch.  I opt for Genesis 6.)

Another non-biblical reference is found in verse 17-18.  Here Jude cites other apostles who warn that in the last days there will be scoffers who follow ungodly desires.  Although the New Testament of the Bible did not exist at the time of Jude’s writing, he may have been privy to Paul’s and Peter’s letters or more likely, he simply heard them — or heard of them — issuing this warning.  Jude’s words are recorded almost verbatim by Peter in 2 Peter 3:3, as well as being alluded to in 2 Peter 2:1-3.  Likewise, Paul, in his letters to Timothy, covers this theme in 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, and 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

Last, and perhaps most significant, is references to CainBalaam, and, Korah, which I will address in future posts.

Jude was certainly well read and well-informed, peppering his letters with many references and illustrations.  Though they would have been helpful to his audience then, that is not so much the case today.  Even so, Jude’s central warning to guard against ungodly people in the church is well founded — and timeless.

[Jude 1:6, Genesis 6:1-4, Jude 1:17-18, 2 Peter 3:32 Peter 2:1-3, Timothy references]