Monday, September 27, 2010

"They Didn't Have Faith": Israel in the Book of Jude

Last night, I decided to listen to two sermons that I had been really excited about listening to. Both were on the Book of Jude, a short, twenty-five-verse book written to the church by Jude, who calls himself “the brother of James.” The fact that Jude was James’s brother testifies to another fact: namely, that Jude was also the brother of Jesus, since James was the brother of Jesus as well.

In the first sermon I listened to, the preacher only dealt with verses 1-4, what is known as the prologue (or greeting) to Jude’s letter. Within the first four verses, we see Jude describe the false teachers that have crept into the church: “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” (Jude 4, NKJV).

The preacher took the time with verse 4 to stop and talk about the supposed “new teaching” going on today--- that is, that a person can sin and live in immorality all they want and still spend eternity with God. I agree: such teaching is contrary to the word of God. Paul even deals with such thinking in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 6:15-19). However, is this NOT the exact thinking of eternal security? Isn’t this what the Doctrine of Eternal Security teaches? I will not go any further into this...I will deal with the implications of the Doctrine of Eternal Security in another post. For now though, let me just say that believers should not be surprised of this “i-can-do-whatever-i-want” train of thought; for, when one is taught that he is eternally saved on the basis of genuine belief (without any outward testimony to that salvation or the need of perseverance because he is saved by faith alone), what else can be expected but such a lackadaisical response?

Now, moving’s post will deal with Jude’s beginning examples in verses 5-11. Jude provides three Old Testament examples regarding the false teachers who have made their way into the church to divide and conquer. In verse 5, Jude writes:

“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” (Jude 5).

The preacher made the following remarks regarding verse 5:

“Really? These were God’s people! He’s [Jude] talking about the Israelites...about the Jews whom God miraculously delivered out of the bondage of Pharaoh...and He [God] gives them a two-fold promise: (1) I’m gonna deliver you; and (2) I’m gonna take you into the Promised Land. And when He delivers them, it’s not long after that when they begin to murmur and complain about their conditions...THEY WERE DEPARTING FROM THE that causes us to remember and to be encouraged that YES, GOD IS HOLY...and God is not some doting grandpa that sits up there saying, ‘Oh, it’s ok, don’t worry about it, MY GRACE COVERS EVERYTHING, doesn’t matter how you live, doesn’t matter what you do, doesn’t matter what you teach, it’s ok.’ Well, Jude’s taking us back to some examples to say, ‘Oh,’s not ok.’ Remember God’s history and His faithfulness to judge those who have gone wayward and DEPARTED FROM THE FAITH.”

Notice that God gives the Israelites the promise, “I’m gonna take you into the Promised Land.” He specifically told Moses to tell the would-be wilderness generation this very thing (Exodus 3:16-17). So the question then becomes, why did the wilderness generation die out in the wilderness (Numbers 14:26-35; 32:6-13)? Why did the Lord kill off the EXACT GROUP He promised He would take into the Promised Land? The solution is found in the words of the preacher: “they were departing from the faith” while out in the wilderness. They “began” or started, to complain and murmur against God.

Was this the all-time mood of Israel? Was Israel “always” murmuring and complaining against God? No. In fact, Scripture tells us otherwise:

“By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned” (Hebrews 12:27, NKJV).

Exodus 14:21-31 recounts the Red Sea Experience of Moses and the Israelites. Notice that after the Lord drowned Pharaoh and his army in the sea, the text says, “So the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt: so THE PEOPLE FEARED THE LORD, and BELIEVED THE LORD and His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31).

The Exodus 14 passage happens to be the passage to which Jude was referencing in his discussing of the Israelites in Jude 5. Hebrews 12:27 is confirmed by the event of Exodus 14:31 itself. The people did exercise faith in God when they were first delivered out of Egypt; they did have faith in their salvation. However, over time, the wilderness seemed to strip away their faith and the people “departed from the faith,” or “lost faith” in God. When Jude says therefore, that the Lord “destroyed those who did not believe,” Jude is not saying that the Jews NEVER believed...rather, what he is saying is that they once had faith in God, but then they lost faith in Him and began to murmur and complain and rebel against their Savior, the one who saved them from the hands of the Egyptians.

The last thing I want to point out is that the issue of destruction here is both physical and spiritual. It is first physical, as illustrated by the Lord’s words to Moses and Aaron in Numbers 14. However, the destruction is also spiritual, as illustrated by Hebrews 3:7—4:9. The text itself involves Israel’s “unbelief” (Heb. 3:19); the gospel was preached to Israel in the wilderness (Heb. 4:2); last but not least, the entrance into the Promised Land in the Old Testament (i.e., to enter into Canaan) was the entrance into physical territory, but there still remains a rest for God’s people (Heb. 4:9). All these details send a message to us that eternal salvation and eternal damnation are the issues of Jude’s letter. And in Jude’s use of the Old Testament, he shows us that the OT also points to the greater spiritual realities (while not denying the physical nature of the narrative itself).

To recap, this post dealt with Israel in Jude 5 and the situation of God’s people in the wilderness: how they “departed from the faith” and “lost faith” in God while in the barren wasteland en route to the Promised Land. In the same way Jude wanted to remind the church of these Old Testament destructions, so too, should the church of Jesus Christ today learn from God’s punishment and judgment in the Old Testament. Be not deceived: in the words of Paul, “If God did not spare the natural branches [i.e., Israel], he may not spare you either” (Romans 11:21).

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