The Letter of Saint Jude – a reflection part 3
by Fr Richard Copsey, O.Carm
The letter of Jude contains a second section of three disasters which have been briefly mentioned before. These refer to Cain, Balaam and Korah, and all the details are found in the Old Testament.
Cain is the son of Adam who murdered his brother Abel out of jealousy because Abel’s offering to God was received more favourably than his own. He was condemned to wander the earth as a fugitive. [Genesis 4:1-16].
The second refers to the prophet Balaam, who served Balak, the king of the Amorites. Balak has been asked by the Israelites to allow them to cross his kingdom on the way to the Holy Land but he is unwilling. However, he is afraid to confront the Israelites in battle as they are so strong. He seeks help from Balaam whom he asks to curse the Israelites. Balaam is unwilling and initially refuses but God tells him in a dream to go to the king. Balaam sets off and on the way an angel bars his path but only the donkey he is riding can see the angel. Balaam beats the donkey for stopping and is dissuaded only when the donkey speaks to him explaining why he can not continue. Balaam reaches the king but each time he is ordered to curse the Israelites, he finds himself blessing them. Eventually the king gives up, engages with the Israelite forces and is defeated. However, the triumphant Israelites couple with the Moabite women and worship their gods. This arouses the anger of God and he orders all who had worshipped Baal to be executed. Finally a plague decimates the Israelites, killing 24,000 of them. In this example, it is not Balaam who arouses God’s anger but the Israelites and their behaviour after the victory. [Numbers, chaps. 22-25]
Finally, the third figure Korah was the leader of a rebellion against Moses. He and his followers complained that Moses and Aaron were setting themselves above the others and taking precedence over everyone. Moses challenged them to a confrontation in front of the Lord. Each person was to bring a censer and incense to go in it. When the censers were lit and the incense put in, the Lord appeared in front of them. He separated the two sides and then the earth opened up underneath Korah and his followers who were all swallowed alive into Hell. [Numbers, chapter 16]
In one sense, it is disappointing to read all the ways in which God punished evildoers, even if some of these episodes may be more legendary than historically true. But this illustrates the pattern of the Old Testament tradition which Jude has inherited. However, in the final section, Jude reveals the way in which his belief in Jesus has opened up his approach and makes us sad that he never fulfilled his original intention of writing about “the salvation that we share”.
What could be better than to read once more the final passage in Jude’s letter:
But you, beloved, must build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, looking forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. ·Take pity on some who are wavering, save others by snatching them from the fire, pity others in fear, while hating even the tunic stained by their bodies.
To him who can keep you from falling and present you blameless and joyful before his glory, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power and authority; before all ages, now and for ever. Amen.