Clouds Without Water – A Study In The Book Of Jude

Christian artist Teri DiSario once recorded a song called “Clouds Without Water;” I woke up with this on my mind one morning. To my surprise, I found that even though I hadn’t heard the song in at least 15 years I could still sing the chorus, which went pretty much like this:

“Are we clouds without water, trees without fruit, doubly dead because we’ve no root? Like a storm-driven sea, a wandering star, doomed to eternity in the dark…

I pulled out my Bible and turned to the New Testament epistle from which Ms. DiSario was quoting – the book of Jude. It seemed to have new life for me as I read and meditated on this for a while. Numerous scenarios seemed to suggest themselves to me, and it was easy to see how relevant Jude’s letter is for us today, on this continent, in this era of humanity. Accordingly, I believe I have some insights to share – some may be review, perhaps some haven’t been considered. But first, please note the following verses from Jude:

(4) For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (5) But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (6) And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; (7) as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. (8) Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. (9) Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (10) But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. (11) Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. (12) These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; (13) raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. Jude (NKJ)

BACKGROUND CHECK

The author, Jude, was the brother of James and probably the half-brother (some say step-brother) of our Lord. Some argue that his letter was written to the believers in the churches of Asia Minor, the same as 2nd Peter. Others claim there is so much relation to Jewish history that it must have been written to the believers in Palestine. The time of writing, though uncertain, is placed around A.D. 70. It is likely that Jude wrote it after Peter’s death, but prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. It is certain that he shared Peter’s alarm at the great number of false teachers who were infiltrating the church.

The seed-form of apostasy that Paul warned of in his epistles, seemed to have come to fruition by the time of Jude’s writing, and he is very adamant in his description of these men and the prescription for the believer’s return to true faith.

Peter wrote about the same sort of men in his second letter. Some of Jude’s imagery is clearly influenced by Peter, and there is no doubt they conferred about the problem together:

(17) These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. (18) For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. (19) While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. (20) For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. (21) For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. (22) But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” 2 Pet 2:17-22 (NKJ)

Résumé of an Apostate

Jude was up in arms about the audacity of the abusive men who were slithering into the gatherings of the believers. He gave a very apt description of these men, these apostate heretics who had no qualms about marching into the sheepfold to take over with their wolf-ears showing. They were: Men who were condemned by their actions: these men are wolves in sheep’s clothing:

(15) “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. Matthew 7:15 (NKJ)

They are godless men who change the grace of God into license for immorality, they are without excuse:

(18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (19) because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (21) because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:18-21 (NKJ)

They were men who deny Jesus Christ our only Master and Lord; I don’t believe he was talking about mere verbal denial, but about a selfish, loveless life that is lived in denial of the truth:

(15) “If you love Me, keep My commandments. (16) “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever– (17) “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:15-17 (NKJ)

They are dreamers who pollute their own bodies, so God gave them up to their uncleanness:

(22) Professing to be wise, they became fools, (23) and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man– and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (24) Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, (25) who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Romans 1:22-25 (NKJ)

They reject authority: these have men are authorities unto themselves and they have corrupt minds:

(2) For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, (3) unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, (4) traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, (5) having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (6) For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, (7) always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (8) Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; (9) but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was. 2 Timothy 3:2-9 (NKJ)

They slander heavenly beings without shame or fear, as those who yell at the devil in great loud shows of force calling him things like “slimy, creep, filth,” etc. These men are not wise, rushing in “where angels fear to tread.”

(9) Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Jude 1:9 (NKJ)

They are men who speak abusively against what they do not understand: concerning their intent, in my opinion this is only a step below the Pharisees who blasphemed the Holy Spirit when they said that Jesus cast out demons because He was the prince of demons.

(31) “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. (32) “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:31-32 (NKJ)

They are men who take the things they DO understand and use them by instinct, thus destroying themselves: as in the case of Simon the Sorcerer, who became a believer, but immediately reverted to his old way of thinking when he saw the signs and wonders the apostles did through the power of the Holy Spirit:

(18) And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, (19) saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (20) But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! (21) “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. (22) “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. (23) “For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” (24) Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.” Acts 8:18-24 (NKJ)

Jude then pronounced “woe” upon these men (woe means anguish, affliction, sadness, despair, and wretchedness):

(11) Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. Jude 1:11 (NKJ)

In order to remain sensitive to the seriousness of this situation in our present day, we must take a closer look at what Jude was talking about. To truly understand what we are reading, we need to answer some questions.

What is the “way of Cain?”

How does one run greedily into the “error of Balaam”, and how would it bring profit?

And what was the “rebellion of Korah”?

THE WAY OF CAIN

Most of us know that Cain was the son of Adam and Eve, and the brother of Abel. We know that Cain killed Abel and was severely punished for it. Beyond that, perhaps some of us remember that Cain had an impudent attitude; after Cain killed Abel and God came to him and asked him where Abel was, Cain retorted, “What am I, my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:3-8)

Cain could not have grown up without knowing the stories of the Garden. His parents would have told him of the nature of God. They would have recounted to him how they had sinned against a righteous God, and I am absolutely convinced they would have made sure to drive home the point that obedience is everything. Being a rebellious man, he probably grew sick of hearing how beautiful the garden was since he couldn’t see it for himself.

It stands to reason that in matters of bringing offerings to God, there was a prescribed way of doing things, and Cain and Abel knew this. But the truth is Cain was self-centered and proud – a deadly combination. Abel was a shepherd and Cain was a farmer. Abel brought the fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flocks, and Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil. At first glance this may seem okay. But there is a difference between offering “some of the fruit” and portions of the fat of the “firstborn.”

I have often pondered what it was about first fruits and firstborn that made it so special. I was the firstborn child, and it hasn’t been all that much of a blessing, as far as I can tell. So I had to look at it from a parent’s point of view and that is where I discovered something; the firstborn is the embodiment of all our hopes and dreams. It is the proof that we are viable, that everything works, that our name will go on, and that perhaps we will have some kind of legacy that will outlive us and proceed to achieve great things. All our love and energy goes into our firstborn, and we would do anything to make their lives better than ours.

Whether it is firstborn, or first fruits, it represents the proverbial “bird in the hand” that means more to us than the “two in the bush.” If Cain had given to God of his first fruits, I believe it would have had a similar meaning as Abel’s offering of the choice fat of some of his firstborn of the flocks. But Cain gave “some” of his fruit to God. “Some” fruit is okay, but firstborn of the flock is better. Why? To paraphrase the words of our Lord (Matthew 6:21), Abel’s heart was in pleasing God. He didn’t try to get by cheaply, he gave of his best to the one He could not out-give.

Cain gave an offering but God did not look with favor on it. Cain could have done better, that was clear. Cain became angry and went about scowling. God spoke to Cain and asked; “Why are you angry? Why do you have that bad look on your face? If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But watch out if you don’t do what is right, because sin is waiting at your door, crouching like a wild beast that wants to capture you, and you must get control over it before it gets you.”

But Cain didn’t listen to reason. He was angry, and obviously not only did not fear the Lord, but also despised His advice. Cain proceeded to devise a scheme to get his brother alone in the field, and there he killed him.

Note the progression:

Cain brings an offering that is deficient, and God does not favor it.

Cain gets angry because he is rejected, not because he is repentant for giving a tightfisted offering.

Cain plots to kill his brother, even though God has just warned him that sin is crouching at his door.

Cain does the evil deed.

Cain lies and says he doesn’t know where Abel is.

Cain even tries to play innocent to God: “It wasn’t my turn to watch him.”

Finally, Cain cries out to the Lord in self-pity because his punishment is too great, but he never repents of killing his brother.

Why did he do it? John has this answer:

(11) For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. 1 John 3:11-12  (NKJ)

He murdered his brother because his own works were evil and his brother’s works were righteous. Evil intentions, evil thoughts, evil works and actions – no good can come from such an evil tree. Sin, conceived within his thoughts, nurtured in his wicked heart, gave birth to death, and this will always be the case. Good fruit cannot come from a bad tree.

Now let’s bring this back into the context of Jude 11. Jude says these dreamers who reject authority and slander heavenly beings, these blemishes on the love feasts HAVE TAKEN THE WAY OF CAIN!

Do we have such men in our midst today? I submit that we do. I can remember seeing more than one superstar preacher fall from grace. Some repented, some didn’t. I am not talking about the ones who repented, because we all must be careful to watch ourselves, especially when we think we have it all together – that is just the perfect scenario for any one of us to take a fall. No, I am talking about the ones who have taken a page out of our first parent’s book – they’ve done that “blame” thing. Furthermore, they have no remorse for doing evil deeds; they only regret getting caught. Left to themselves they would go right back to doing whatever they were doing before they got busted. These folks are slick customers, fast talkers, and they consistently find ways to get out of trouble as they sublimely explain away their evil deeds in verbal games that would make a politician proud.

Some of you may be thinking, “Okay, so they’re not so good, but how are they like Cain? Who do they kill?” It might surprise some of you to think in these terms, so hold onto your hat. Though we have heard sensational stories of killers of the ‘cloth,’ to go the way of Cain it is not necessary to actually murder someone physically. Jesus had this to say:

(22) “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. (23) “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:22-24 (NKJ)

Let’s use this verse as the litmus test for Cain. Was he angry with his brother? Yes. Did Cain have a good reason to be angry with Abel? According to today’s non-science of psychology, the answer would be yes; we might hear about Cain’s sibling rivalry, superiority complexes and codependent behavior, and eventually we would be fully convinced that Cain had a right to resent his brother. A modern jury of his peers would likely sit and listen to the hardships of Cain’s upbringing, the dysfunctional family he was forced to endure, and why he shouldn’t be punished because it just wasn’t his fault. He didn’t sin, just write a prescription for him because he’s sick! “It’s that MOTHER you gave me!”

But the truth is, Cain had no cause to be angry with his brother, since what Abel did was FOR GOD, and not TO CAIN! According to Jesus’ words, Cain was already in danger of judgment BEFORE he killed Abel. So the answer is NO! Cain had no good reason to be angry with Abel.

Now, the proverbs are full of warnings about those who refuse to be rebuked or chastised. They are called fools, and rightfully so. So what is Jesus talking about here? Apparently, the answer is LOVE.

Question: What is a blemish on a LOVE feast?

Answer: (I will hazard a guess) A blemish on a love feast is anything that masquerades itself as love but IS NOT LOVE! Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples by the LOVE we have for one another. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 35 (NKJ)

It makes you wonder how these guys could sneak into the love feasts and break bread with the true believers without being detected. But I guess that is why Jude was so adamant about reminding them of God’s response to some of the children of Israel who bit the hand that fed them in the wilderness and suffered the consequences. Jude also reminded them that even the fallen angels will have a horrible punishment because they did not keep their former positions of authority in their assigned places, but left them in disobedience.

The message is this; God is no respecter of persons – human or angelic – when it comes to matters of obedience:

(22) Then Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. (23) For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. 1 Samuel 15:22-23  (NKJ)

Well, now that we understand a bit more about the way of Cain, it’s time to look at the second item in Jude’s pronouncement of woe: rushing for profit into Balaam’s error.

BALAAM’S ERROR

Balaam’s story is one of unadulterated chutzpah (a Yiddish term for gall, nerve, cheek, brass, impudence). It is interesting to note that Balaam’s name means, alternatively, “lord of the people,” devourer, or glutton.

The essence of the story is this: Balak, king of Moab, was terrified because Israel was growing and filling up the land. He met with the elders of Midian and made a deal to hire the prophet Balaam. They took the fee for divination to Balaam and asked him to put a curse on the children of Israel so they could be defeated.

Reality check à If Balaam was a prophet who claimed to obey God, and God was helping the children of Israel take over the Promised Land, was there even the remote possibility that God would have been in favor of Balaam cursing His people? And what’s with the fee for divination if he is a prophet of God?

Even though he knew what God would say, Balaam told these elders of the enemy to spend the night as his guests, so that he could go and ask the Lord if it was okay to curse Israel. God didn’t wait for Balaam but went to him and asked him about the men who were with him (remember, when God asks a question, He is not seeking information). Balaam told God the plan, and God told Balaam that he was not to put a curse on the people because God had blessed them. So the next morning Balaam had to tell them to go home because God refused to let him go curse the Israelites. So they went home to Balak and told him the bad news.

Not easily dissuaded, Balak sent more distinguished princes, and they came again to Balaam, offering rich gifts and rewards if he will just come and curse the Israelites for them. And though Balaam says no, he cannot do it even if they give him this and that (here he names his price in true Eastern style), BUT they should stay the night anyway and he will go FIND OUT WHAT ELSE THE LORD MIGHT TELL HIM.

If the story of Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40) had Balaam as the primary character instead, we’d be seeing Balaam trying for best 3 out of 5, best 4 out of 7, 7 out of 10, and so forth until he finally received the answer he wanted! God came to Balaam again that night and said, “Since they are already here, go with them, but do only what I tell you to do.”

So Balaam got up the next morning, saddled his donkey, and accompanied the princes back to Moab. But God was angry when Balaam went, so the Angel of the Lord became an adversary against Him and stood in the way with a drawn sword. Balaam didn’t see it, but his donkey did, and she turned off the road to get away. Balaam beat on the donkey until she got back on the road.

Reality Check –> If God said to go, why was He angry? Try not to read too much into the following parable; its purpose is just to set up the scenario. Think of it this way. You are a devout, loving, serving child of God. You have a 21-year-old son living at home. He wants to go on a weekend drive with five buddies in a motor home. They are going to be drinking and picking up girls. He has asked you for permission and you have said no. He has bugged you and bugged you until you finally say, okay, you’re of age, and I can’t really stop you. But you may not drink or pick up girls. The morning arrives and you hope he will change his mind, but he doesn’t. Before he left, the contemplated sin was only a possibility, but now that he has gone, the sin is much closer to being realized and it makes you feel angry for many different reasons. If you could, you would chase down that motor home and insist that he get out of it. Although God knows the end from the beginning, I imagine that God may have felt something similar to this.

Then the Angel of the Lord stood in a place between two vineyards with walls on both sides, blocking Balaam’s way. When the donkey saw it again, she pressed close against the wall in her fright, and crushed Balaam’s foot in the process. Balaam, still unseeing, beat his donkey. A third time, the Angel of the Lord moved ahead of them and stood in a narrow place where there was no room for Balaam and his donkey to move to the right or the left. When the donkey saw it, she lay down right where she was, with Balaam still on her back.

Balaam was really angry and beat her some more. Then the Lord spoke through that poor donkey, causing her to ask Balaam what she had done to deserve being beaten three times. Without stopping to wonder how his donkey could talk, Balaam answered her; “You’ve made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand I would kill you right now!” Then the Lord caused the donkey to ask him, “Aren’t I your own donkey? The one you have always ridden? Am I in the habit of acting this way with you?” And Balaam answered, “No.”

Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes so he could see the Angel of the Lord with his sword drawn, and Balaam bowed low and fell on his face. The Lord asked Balaam why he had beaten his donkey three times. He told Balaam that he had come to be his adversary because Balaam’s path was perverse before the Lord. He told Balaam that it was his donkey that saved his life because she saw the Angel of the Lord and turned away. The Lord said if she had not turned away He would have killed Balaam but spared her!

Some people are so used to dishonesty that they see nothing wrong with asking for a change of mind once they have received a clear answer. Balaam didn’t behave as if he thought there was anything wrong with asking God the same question twice, even though God was clear about the fact that Balaam was NOT to curse those whom God had called blessed. Balaam’s answer is AMAZING; “I have sinned: I didn’t realize you were standing here to oppose me. If you are displeased, I will go back.” The prophet doesn’t know IF God is displeased? This is where I want to grab Balaam by the collar, pull him up close and shout into his ear, ” HELLO?” Here is a man who cannot take “no” for an answer. He knows no repentance, and has remorse only for being caught. He might as well have said; “I THOUGHT YOU WEREN’T WATCHING, SO I WAS SURE I COULD GET AWAY WITH IT”.

The Angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men but only say what I tell you to say.” So Balaam went with the princes of Balak (and I wonder what they thought of all that had just transpired). Balak got word from some messengers that Balaam was on the way and he went out to meet him on the Arnon border. He wanted to know why Balaam didn’t hurry, so apparently the previous dealings with the Angel of the Lord took some time. Balaam didn’t elaborate, but said, “I’m here, aren’t I? But I can only say what God puts in my mouth.”

Balak performed some sacrifices to his gods and gave some of the meat to Balaam and the princes that were with him. Then he took Balaam up to the high places (for Baal worship). Balaam told Balak to wait with his offering while he went off to be alone with God; “Maybe God will meet with me. Whatever he tells me, I will let you know.” God met Balaam, who told Him about the seven altars, seven bulls and seven rams that he prepared for Him. The Lord gave a message for Balaam to take back to Balak; it was a message of blessing and multiplication for Jacob and Israel. It made Balak furious when he heard it, because Balaam had blessed the Israelites instead of cursing them.

In all, four times Balaam was taken to a different high place to curse the Israelites, and five times God gave Balaam words of blessing for Israel and curses for her enemies. But Balaam eventually managed to find a way to earn his pay. He showed Balak how to cause the downfall of Israel without pronouncing a curse on them. In John’s Revelation, Jesus, speaking to the church at Pergamum (Pergamos), had this to say about Balaam:

(14) “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Revelation 2:14 (NKJ)

Balaam taught the Moabites to send their women down to entice the sons of Israel into sexual immorality, and to get them to eat the meat they had offered on their high places to Baal, thereby drawing down the curse of God. He examined the situation from every angle possible until he found a way to get the gold. And his name has been a byword ever since.

Just before we return to the context of Jude, let’s read again what Peter had to say about Balaam:

(15) They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; (16) but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. 2 Peter 2:15-16 (NKJ)

I have listened to a number of these men – like the ones Jude and Peter spoke of. I have heard many of them preach as they told of their hard times in the seminary – it was usually the husband who attended while the pregnant wife worked to support the young, growing family. They told tear-jerking, heart-warming anecdotes that made you just want to rush past the body guards (read ushers) and run up on stage to hug them. They talked about their faithfulness in tithing under the worst possible circumstances – nothing short of failing to feed the infant her evening bottle of milk in order to give that dollar to the Lord. I saw them “spontaneously” reach into their pockets and pull them inside out, calling for an usher to come take their offering. Then the wife and children joined them up on stage and held hands, swaying in the loving vibrations as the audience clapped and cheered. If that wasn’t enough, then the band started up and the choir got in gear, and before I knew it folks were standing with arms raised, holding the largest bill they had in their wallets making a “wave-offering” to the Lord… Tears flowed from every face (except the ushers, who expertly facilitated the collection) and everyone felt really good about putting their money into the big popcorn buckets. Somehow they would make it, and what right did they have to withhold their Sunday dinner-in-a-restaurant money if the Lord really needed it? Today I occasionally see these ministers driving around in their Lexuses and Beamers after raking in the average Sun-day offering in amounts upwards of $45,000 (no exaggeration, unless they were fibbing on their own monthly financial report, which was printed in the bulletin). $45,000! That’s enough to buy a modest house for a lower income family EACH WEEK! Ironically the poor folks who bankroll these shysters’ luxury cars often drive around in broken-down beaters, juggling their personal finances so they will be found faithful. After all, it is their responsibility to keep the pastor of the church living in a manner worthy of a “Man of God.”

It’s enough to make anyone cynical, and it is a terrible witness to the world. I wonder how these violent men can go on savaging the sheep, how they continue to gain strength and prestige with the world, attending the church growth seminars, working the formulas, cranking up the numbers and pushing their super-churches to great heights in the name of the Lord – all of this off the sweat of the backs of the faithful. It is a travesty, and it makes me very sad. But then I remember Psalm 37:35-40, which has been a great comfort to me over the years:

(35) I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a native green tree. (36) Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more; indeed I sought him, but he could not be found. (37) Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace. (38) But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; the future of the wicked shall be cut off. (39) But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their strength in the time of trouble. (40) And the LORD shall help them and deliver them; he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him. Psalms 37:35-40 (NKJ)

KORAH’S REBELLION

The story of Korah’s rebellion is found in Numbers 16. Each time I read this story I remember that it must be the Lord who calls us to His work, and we must not seek to exalt ourselves.

Korah was a grandson of Levi. The Levites were given the task of doing the work in the Lord’s tabernacle, and to stand before the community to minister to them. But Korah and certain other men came to oppose Moses and Aaron. They demanded an answer of Moses and Aaron; since the whole community is Holy, and the Lord is with every one of them, why did they set themselves above the Lord’s assembly?

Moses fell on his face when he heard this. It was too much. He had borne with these stubborn and stiff-necked people and listened to their accusations. He had labored long and hard to bring them through and to establish the Law, the Levites and the Priests according to God’s commands. But there seemed to be no end to the rebellion and strife of these people who kept lifting up their heels against him. Moses rebuked Korah, asking him if it wasn’t enough to do the holy work the Lord set before him, that he had to be a priest, too.

Moses summoned Korah’s friends, Dathan and Abiram, to come, but they refused and accused him of dragging them out of a land flowing with milk and honey so he could kill them in the desert. Moses became very angry and told the Lord not to accept their offering, saying he had never accepted an offering from them for himself.

Reality Check –> These evil men misappropriated the words God used to describe the Promised Land and used them to describe Egypt – a land flowing with milk and honey. Furthermore, they accused Moses of bringing them into the desert to kill them – throwing in his face his first zealous action of killing the Egyptian and burying his body in the sand. The enemy will always try to savage your morale before he attacks you physically, and that is just what was happening here; these so-called spiritual men were tearing their brother and leader to shreds with their mouths, hoping to put him in a pit of despair before they usurped his authority. This is a terrible sin, and a very serious action, as we will soon see.

Then Moses told Korah and his followers to appear before the Lord the next day. Each man – there were about 250 altogether – was to take his censer and put incense in it and present it to the Lord. Korah and Aaron were to present their censers also. So all did as they were told and put fire and incense in their censors and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. When Korah and all of his followers were gathered to oppose Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the glory of God appeared to the entire assembly.

The Lord told Moses and Aaron to move completely out of the way so that He could put an end to Korah and his crew at once. But Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before God and interceded for the assembly, asking God if He would punish all for the sins of one man. The Lord then told Moses to instruct the assembly to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. So Moses, followed by the elders of Israel, went to Dathan and Abiram. He warned the assembled people to move away from their tents, and not to even touch anything belonging to them or they would be swept away and destroyed because of all their sins. Dathan and Abiram were standing with their families at the entrances to their tents:

(28) Then Moses said: “By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of my own will. (29) “If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. (30) “But if the LORD creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the pit, then you will understand that these men have rejected the LORD.” (31) Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, (32) and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. (33) So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the congregation. Numbers 16:28-33 (NKJ)

The Israelites who looked on were terrified and ran away crying out that the earth was going to swallow them too.

Reality Check –> It’s plain to see the people didn’t believe Moses when he said the Lord would do a new thing to specific men, or they would not have feared that Korah’s punishment would come upon them. Perhaps there were many among them who had guilty consciences and knew they deserved death.

And the Lord’s fire came down and consumed the 250 men who had offered incense. Then the smoldering bronze censers were gathered up because they were presented to the Lord and the Lord said they were therefore holy; they were hammered into sheets that overlaid the altar. This would be a sign to the Israelites that no one except a descendent of Aaron should come to burn incense to the Lord unless he wanted to end up like Korah and his followers.

Obviously the story of Korah’s rebellion was one that Jude wanted the churches to remember, since there were false prophets and evil men who had crept in among them, masquerading as teachers and leaders, yet they were not sent by God. The issue was not one of offering incense, but the motives and methods were similar to Korah, and worthy of a serious warning.

SPOTS ON THE LOVE FEAST

Have you ever sunk your teeth into a lovely red apple, only to find half a worm wiggling a retreat? If you have, you know the sensation of instant aversion that replaces the former delight that you had as you prepared to partake. If you are like me, your whetted appetite would have given way to nausea, and suddenly you wouldn’t have felt like eating. Spots on the love feast produce this is the kind of revulsion.

Or did you ever send away for something you saw advertised in a catalogue, expecting one thing but getting something else entirely? Did you keep it because you didn’t want the hassle of going to the post office to return it? Or, did you box it up with an accompanying note of complaint and traipse down to the local P.O. to pay $2 to get your refund on the merchandise? Spots on the love feast make us feel like we got sold a “bill of goods” without receiving the items we paid for.

I find it a huge disappointment that in spite of the truth in advertising laws, layout photographers seem to use those fancy lenses anyway – the ones that make products appear bigger, brighter, sweeter, lovelier and more expensive than they really are. Those of us who have been suckered before have learned; there is no substitute for picking up a prospective purchase, turning it over in your own two hands and inspecting it, whenever possible. In the case of cars, houses, horses or islands, it never pays to listen to the hype; nothing short of a personal visit will do unless you want to get stuck with a goat cart, an outhouse, a pony and some swampland in Florida!

We live in the age of informed consumerism; we do our research so we get the best deal. We know our current affairs, and we know the point spread on the upcoming football game. Why, then, do we play the fool when it comes to spiritual matters? I find it amazing and incomprehensible that folks who are vocal about politics and sports just clam up when rich, cunning strangers come on the scene spouting religion. These scam artists come to our churches and flash their diamond pinky rings and Rolex watches, telling us that they are blessed by God and have learned the secret WE need to know so we can have the same things! They sell their over-priced books and lousy CDs and do their utmost to convince us that we are furthering the kingdom of God by supporting their “ministry.”

How many times have you seen it happen yourself? They roll in and roll out, never sticking around long enough for us to see if there is fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives. I have personally seen these visiting ‘vangelists arrive with their entourages replete with bodyguards to keep the swarming masses of little people away. They know enough to hobnob and rub elbows with the pastor and his staff, and they sure do give nice speeches. But when the entire hubbub dies down, what is left is usually a big, fat zero.

I have personally attended churches whose pastors act this way: they are untouchable, unreachable, unteachable, unknowable – they are like gods. They have ushers (read body guards) who escort them to and from the “pulpit” (read stage) where they are truly one-man/one-woman wonders. They sing, they dance in the spirit, they give prophecies, they preach, they teach, they give words of knowledge and they have no need for the rest of the body save the pocket of the pants or the purse where the wallet is kept. How do these men and women deal with “love feasts” when they have to come into contact with mere mortals like us? They take the head tables, surround themselves with cronies and hand out glib platitudes as the adoring masses come by to kiss their rings. Jesus condemned this action.

(38) Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, (39) “the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, (40) “who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 (NKJ)

They remember to tell their supplicants how blessed they are and how the Lord has a ministry for them. They are experts at receiving tidbits of gossip from the staff regarding particularly bad sinners; they play these “hoodlums” like violins, first giving them the malochia (evil eye), then doling out condescending pats on the head guaranteed to win them undying loyalty. They have already received all the reward they will get for any good deed:

(2) “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (3) “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, (4) “that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (5) “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (6) “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (7) “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. (8) “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. Matthew 6:2-8 (NKJ)

Their evil deeds have yet to be judged:

(42) “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. Mark 9:42 (NKJ)

CLOUDS WITHOUT WATER AND OTHER DE-LIGHTS

For years I lived in the California desert. I learned many ways to keep cool in the summer heat when the thermometer registered upwards of 125º F. One method we used most was swamp coolers. They were efficient and used little energy. Little spider valves were used to pipe water over absorbent pads, and a fan circulated the moisture-cooled air into the home. On the dry days (the majority of them were dry) these water coolers were a blessing, and we didn’t mind the mineral deposits or the light, funky odor of dampness, because we were comfortable.

However, there were short periods of time each summer when these coolers didn’t work. Those were the days the clouds rolled in. Big, beautiful thunderheads would come romping over the nearby mountains and fill up the ceiling of our desert-valley bowl. Occasionally they would bring us rain, or hail. Those of us who yearned for rain didn’t even complain about the gathering humidity, because we had great hopes that it would be worth it soon. But most of the time they were a huge disappointment, succeeding only in making our fairly bearable 125º into a scorching muggy blanket of unmanageable dampness. As the humidity grew, our water coolers ceased to be effective and the damp heat became torturous. Those who had air conditioners used them, and the rest of us sweltered and sighed, taking siestas and wishing the clouds would either produce for us or go away.

I vaguely remember my Nana’s stories of Kansas and the “dustbowl” during the great depression. Certain farmers were said to have paid “rainmakers” to come and try to make a miracle for them. Every cloud that came up held great promise, but usually left dashed hopes and desolation in its vainglorious wake. Folks watched with despair as the winds blew their skinny, spindly plants right out of the soil and into the nearest dust devil.

So how is a man like a cloud without water? If he professes to be something he is not, if he makes promises he won’t keep, if he falsely puts on the appearance of knowing the helpful answers but fails to help in time of need or crisis, he is like a cloud without water; those who look to him to quench their thirst will not be satisfied.

Contrast these men of false promises with our Lord. Jesus Christ provides Living Water, and He promises that we may have it within ourselves. If we are in Christ, we will never thirst again.

(10) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (11) The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? (12) “Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” (13) Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, (14) “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:10-14 (NKJ)

If we are His trees, He will plant us by the rivers of living water:

(1) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; (2) But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. (3) He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. Psalms 1:1-3 (NKJ)

Not all who read this are agriculturally minded; many of us live in cities and rely on the local grocery stores for our produce. Therefore we may lose some of the impact of the parables and metaphors we read in the Bible. We just can’t relate sometimes. When I was thinking about this metaphor of Jude’s, I likened it to finding mold in the bread I had just bought, or opening a bag of potatoes only to find rotten, blighted and wrinkled spuds I couldn’t eat. It’s happened to me before, and I felt disappointed on several different levels:

First, I worked hard to earn the money to pay for food that turned out to be rotten. I would have to either absorb the loss or take time out to get a refund.

Second, I had a certain amount of confidence in the green grocer who served as the middle man to get me fresh produce; I didn’t like the feeling of having been let down by someone I trusted.

Third, I had to cook something else since the potatoes were no good. It didn’t matter that I had my mouth set for a twice-baked potato; I would have to settle for white rice or macaroni.

Relating to a farmer, we can see that he cultivates, prunes, waters and waits – sometimes for years – for that first crop. Then, in the years of fruit bearing, he continues to do these things to ensure continually good crops. He has put time, effort and care into his trees with the hope of having fruit for many years to come. Imagine how he feels, then, when it turns out the trees are rotten and sterile, unable to bear fruit, or blighted! He tears them up and burns them in the fire so he can at least get the benefit of momentary warmth from those sad excuses for fruit trees.

Mark chronicled an interesting episode in which Jesus cursed a fig tree:

(13) And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He (Jesus) went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. And when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. (14) In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it. Mark 11:13-14 (NKJ)

(20) Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. (21) And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” (22) So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. Mark 11:20-22 (NKJ)

Paul spoke of being ready in season and out of season (the fig tree did not have fruit because it was not the season for fruit, but Jesus cursed it to teach a lesson):

(1) I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: (2) Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (3) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; (4) and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (5) But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NKJ)

Have you ever been to the beach on a bad-wave day? You can find all sorts of disgusting things that have washed up onto the shore – things that were previously hidden in the depths of seawater but are now lying about, causing a stench and a health hazard. On the south shore of Long Island, New York, I have found used syringes, broken bottles, old undergarments, dead sea-creatures, tires, boots, and numerous other unmentionable items. There have been days when I couldn’t pick my way across a stretch of sandy shoreline without stepping on a washed-up jellyfish mixed with filthy, smelly foam. Half-buried horseshoe crabs and semi-rotten corpses of fish have adorned the seascape and caused an unholy aroma to ascend to my unwilling nostrils. Many times I wished the filth had stayed out in the water where I wouldn’t have the displeasure of “experiencing” it.

There are evil, unrepentant men who have shame hidden in their hearts. Like the foul things concealed in the ocean, they manage to hide sometimes. But when we begin to get close to them, out comes the nonsense and the obscenity, for all to see. They brag about the things they do in secret, they encourage others to participate and bring condemnation upon their own heads. They want company in their misery and they have no qualms about enticing the righteous to sin with them. These men are grumblers and complainers, who walk according to their own lusts. They know that they have heaped condemnation upon themselves, and they hope to bring as many with them as they can. They are big talkers who flatter others for their own advantage. Sometimes it seems we can never get away from them. But Jesus made no bones about their fate:

(6) “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (7) “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! Matthew 18:6-7 (NKJ)

Surely they have their reward…

CONCLUSION

According to Ephesians 4, our Lord Jesus Christ gave gifts to the church when he ascended to heaven. That means there are true apostles, real prophets, devoted evangelists, loving pastors and gifted teachers, and they are gifts from the Lord given to the church for the purpose of helping us all grow up in Christ.

There are genuine ministers of the Gospel who shepherd small flocks. They are humble, caring, committed, and doing the best they can to work within a set of parameters they may have inherited from within a dying religious system. They may be pressured by the numbers game at times, and they may fall into the trap of constantly needing to see an altar call so they can judge their own effectiveness. They probably have a tithe quota that they need to support the building, and a pledge to the central division to keep. But they are not crooks or shysters, and they are not clouds without water.

A discussion on growth in Christ and getting our own oil will have to wait for another time; this is about properly distinguishing the wolves from the shepherds. But for the sake of those who still rely on one man to give then their weekly feeding, I say they should share all good things with him as Paul instructed:

(6) Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Galatians 6:6 (NKJ)

To find the answer, let’s return to Jude, beginning with verse 17. Here we will find all the help we need to identify our Lord, our enemy, and ourselves. We will discover the instructions that will help us to get free of their company and their influence.

  1. Remember the words of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ… (17) But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ:
  1. Who warned of mockers in the last times… (18) how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts.
  1. Who would cause division… (19) These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.
  1. Here is the solution: (20) But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, (21) keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (22) And on some have compassion, making a distinction; (23) but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
  1. You will build yourself up in your most holy faith by:
A. Praying in the Holy Spirit – not just uttering syllables that nobody else can understand, but with the attributes of love, mercy, compassion and yearning for men to be saved.

B. Keeping yourself in the Love of God – that includes loving your neighbor as yourself

C. Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life – recognizing that we have a great treasure in these earthen vessels, and we must be diligent to guard ourselves from sin.

D. Having compassion on some, making a distinction, pulling them out of the fire – using our God-given discernment to keep from wasting time on someone who likes sin so that we can find those who are truly just derailed and in need of some help to get out of the ditch they are in

E. Hating even the garment defiled by the flesh – remembering that bad company corrupts good morals, we are careful to remember the proper mixture of mercy and truth, and we are never more merciful or understanding than God.

6. Receive reassurance that He is able to keep you from stumbling and present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. Yes, He will have JOY over us! (24) Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, (25) To God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.
  1. Paul’s words to the Philippians are encouraging to us who must make unpopular decisions based on our discernment and consciences. He suffered much for his decisions, and never regretted it. His thoughts are appropriate for our conclusion:

(27) Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. Philippians 1:27-28 (NKJ)

 

In closing I wish to encourage you. If you have been trapped in the desert with a bunch of fat and lazy thunderheads, maybe it’s time to head for the hills for a while. Mountains seem to have a propensity for milking those clouds, and the rain is usually abundant. The air is rarified, the vista unspoiled. Perhaps it is time to take a trip out of the valley and get alone with Abba. He is the only one who can accurately judge the condition of your heart.

 

Furthermore, it is the Holy Spirit who offers you discernment so you can understand what you are seeing. The Lord is able to help you see the truth of your current situation; if it closely resembles the situation Jude wrote about, then perhaps it’s time for you to make a move. Whatever you do, whether it involves confrontation or relocation, be sure that you are praying and listening for an answer. God’s timing is perfect and if we rely on Him for guidance, He will never let us down.

 

Beloved, I pray that all of us who resemble clouds will have rivers of living water flowing forth from our bellies. May we receive wisdom to know where to walk, light so we won’t stumble in the dark, truth so we will remain free, peace so we will not be overcome by surrounding chaos, and love for one another, above all.

 

Shalom,

 

Pastora Covert

 

Re-posted from May 2001 & December 16th, 2012


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