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.
Jude has been giving his readers a strong warning about false teachers in their midst, and in the process of doing so, he has made the case that these teachers are in danger of severe and lasting consequences; destruction, in fact. Here in verse 11, Jude turns up the heat another notch, using three more Biblical examples to illustrate his point.
The word “woe” is used many times in the Old Testament to indicate God’s judgment. In the New Testament, Jesus uses it in the same way in Matthew 11:21; 23:13-32; and Luke 11:42-52. Woe = judgment.
The first example in this verse is that of Cain. This is particularly interesting in that we don’t usually associate the story of Cain in Genesis 4:1-16 as an example of a false teacher. It’s hard to say exactly what Jude was thinking, but there are a couple of possibilities that come to mind. By the first century, there was a strong Jewish rabbinical tradition that identified Cain as the first heretic, as discussed in the writings of Philo (20 B.C. – 50 A.D.). In this tradition, Cain’s way is portrayed as one of selfishness and sensuality. It is also possible that Jude was thinking of Cain here as an example of one who brought harm to his brother, as he has portrayed the false teachers as men bringing harm to their brethren. It is important for us to note here that heresy is much more than a sincere error in understanding. As was the case with Cain, it is the willful and deliberate disobedience of God with very harmful consequences to others.
The next example mentioned is Balaam’s error. This comes from Numbers 25:1-3; 31:16. Jude’s false teachers, like Balaam, have claimed to be prophets (“dreamers” v. 8) have led others into sexual immorality (vv. 4, 8) and out of their own greed have rushed into error, committing idolatry by denying Christ (v. 4).
Finally, he cites Korah’s rebellion from Numbers 16. Korah and his followers rebelled against Moses and God, and promoting self by resisting authority is a characteristic of false teachers. (cf. Titus 1:10-11; 2 Timothy 3:19; 3 John 9-10) Korah’s rebellion was destroyed by God with fire, and Jude has certainly made the case that the false teachers he is opposing will be destroyed by God.
Cain, Balaam and Korah are all examples of rebellion against God, and all three caused great harm to their brothers. All three faced destruction, and Jude’s whole point is that false teachers were doing the same thing, with the same consequences in the church. It’s a worthwhile exercise for us to ask ourselves who brought this judgment upon these people. Today we sometimes hear people complain that God is way too vengeful, that He is not a loving God because He wants to judge people harshly, they might even say that He is a vengeful and angry God always on the lookout for someone to smite.
Such statements are nothing more than the devil’s lie! Our God is most definitely a God of love; He IS love! Did God lead people into rebellion? Did God not warn that these kinds of things bring problems? Did He not send prophet after prophet to warn the people in the Old Testament? Did He not send His Son to die for our sins to save us? Who chose the wrong path, God or the people involved? Who refused to listen to reason, preferring to stick their middle fingers in God’s face in reply to His pleadings that they turn around and come back to His love?
It wasn’t God who chose the path of destruction, that’s for sure; it was the people with their fingers in the air who made all of the choices! Why is Jude going on so about all of this? Is it because he’s oppressive, repressive and intolerant? Hardly! He was God’s agent bringing God’s warning and pleading with the people to come back to God’s love! Did he succeed? I don’t know, I’d guess that some responded and others did not. A more relevant question is this: What will we do?