“Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, and in greed have gushed out in the error of Balaam, and are destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. These men are reefs in your love feasts as they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves; clouds without water carried aside by the wind; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted, wild waves of the sea foaming up their own shame, wandering stars, for whom the gloom of darkness has been kept forever.”
With the pronouncement of woe, Jude brings his readers to the climax of his letter and the very center of his argument. Jude has already connected the insurgents of his day with rebels of the past (vv. 5-7) and revealed their rebellious hearts through their continuous blasphemy (vv. 8-10). If Jude’s report is accurate, then a pronouncement of woe is little more than a logical conclusion.
Here we have yet more evidence for a thoroughly Jewish audience. Woe oracles are a particularly Jewish literary device, almost unheard of in Gentile writings. The Greek οὐαὶ (woe) is not in secular Greek vocabulary as it is a transliteration of the Hebrew אוֹי. This would account for the fact that of the 65 occurrences in the LXX of the Old Testament and 46 uses in the New Testament, only once is it used in a Gentile setting (1 Cor. 9:16) with a very different idea. The term is an exclamation of dismay and is a reaction to bad news, a dangerous situation, or (as is most common) introduces a statement of judgment. It is best to understand this woe oracle as a recognition of a state rather than a pronouncement of a curse. In this sense, οὐαὶ (woe) is the antithesis of μακάριος (blessed). If Jude were to curse these insurgents, would he not be guilty of the very blasphemy that Michael avoided (v. 9)? Jude does not pronounce a curse upon these guilty rebels, but recognizes the fact that as rebels, they are indeed destined for God’s judgment. It would not be too far of a stretch to translate the idea as though these insurgents are damned (They are damned!). What follows is an explanation (ὅτι) that proves these rebels are indeed damned. Jude compares these rebels to three historical figures whose rebellion damned them (v. 11) before using five illustrations from nature that expose their defiled character (vv. 12-13). In short, they are damned because of who and what they are.
Damned Because of Who They Are (v. 11)
By saying “woe to them” (αὐτοῖς) Jude again points back to the insurgents mentioned in v. 4. Jude’s love of threes continues in this section. Three men are brought forward as examples that prove the insurgents’ certain damnation. Each is mentioned in the Old Testament in negative terms and are well known characters to Jude’s Judaean audience. Jude again is not concerned with chronology as he presents these examples. Each person mentioned not only demonstrates an aspect of rebellion but also fits into the structure that Jude has already created. That is, the rebellion against God’s leadership (vv. 5, 8c), God’s station (vv. 6, 8b) and God’s design (vv. 7, 8a) are again represented here by these three individuals. These examples follow the order of rebellion as listed in v. 8, help explain the specific blasphemy of Zealot revolutionaries, and explains why Jude states that they are damned.
Cain, A Godless Rebel Against Yhwh’s Design
“For they have gone in the way of Cain”
Jude’s first example of damnable rebellion is Cain. Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve was anticipated as being a blessing and fulfilment to Yhwh’s promise of sending a serpent crusher from the woman (Gen. 3:15; 4:1). The first child that Eve has gotten/produced (קָנַה) she called Cain (קַיִנ). This child would prove to be a grave disappointment as he would grow to be a prideful and rebellious man who, rather than submitting to Yhwh’s design for worship, rebelled against Yhwh’s explicit commands and murdered his faithful and submissive brother (Gen. 4:3-8). The New Testament only mentions Cain in two other locations and emphasize two different aspects of this infamous person. Paul mentions the fact that Cain’s worship was inferior to his brothers (Heb. 11:4) while John focuses on Cain’s act of murder which exposed the fact that he was of the devil (1 John 3:12). Taken together we have a man who has defiled himself (v. 8) on account of his blasphemous worship and his sin of murder. To murder is to disrupt God’s design of life. Only He has the authority to end life just as only He has the authority to prescribe the way in which He is worshiped. Cain is guilty of both sins and is therefore the primary example of a rebel against God’s design. Cain (a non-Israelite) stands with Sodom and Gomorrah as a universal sign of such rebellion. An interjection of woe in response to such rebellion is wholly appropriate. For his rebellion, Cain was cursed, marked, and expelled from God’s presence and God’s people (Gen. 4:9-15).
Jude states that the insurgents of v. 4 have gone in the way of Cain, that is to say, they have metaphorically followed in his footsteps. They do what he has done. Zealot revolutionaries were notorious cut throats and murderers who showed little to no regard for the holiness of God. Josephus tells of a raid made by the Zealots based in the fortress of Masada upon a village named Engaddi. The raid had no military significance and was mainly a ploy for plunder. The raid was conducted at night during the feast of Unleavened Bread (in conjunction with Passover). Rather than spending their time in worship and thanksgiving for Yhwh’s deliverance from Egypt, or better yet, repenting for rejecting Yhwh’s true Passover Lamb, Jesus the Christ, these rebels engaged in murder and theft. They have gone the way of Cain.
Balaam, An Inciter of Rebellion Against Yhwh’s Station
“And in greed have gushed out in the error of Balaam”
Jude’s second example of damnable rebellion is Balaam. Balaam is introduced in Numbers 22 as a pagan soothsayer hired by Balak, king of Moab, to pronounce a curse upon Israel before they can enter the territory of Moab and possess it. Even though God warned Balaam not to go with Balak and thus curse a people whom He has blessed (Num. 22:9-12), Balaam went anyway. God took this opportunity to show Balaam who was sovereign over curses and blessing by producing only blessings upon Israel and curses upon the collation of Midian and Moab (Num. 23-24). Alas, that is not the end of Balaam’s story. Rather than submitting to God’s ordained blessing upon Israel, he was incited by greed to produce a curse upon God’s chosen people one way or another. The sin of Baal-Peor (Num. 25) where the sons of Israel not only had sexual union with pagan Midianite women but did so in concert with pagan idolatry was orchestrated by Balaam (Num. 31:16). Rather than submitting to his station as a mouthpiece of blessing, like the angels (v. 6) Balaam sought a way to get what he desired (wages) by manipulating events.
Jude likens these insurgents to Balaam’s error in that they gush out (ἐξεχύθησαν) in this same error. The verb ἐκχύννω is usually used of liquid such as blood (Matt. 23:35) or wine (Matt. 26:28) and is translated as “pour out.” Liquid that is poured out cannot return to its container. The idea is that these individuals rush out in this error (inciting rebellion in spite of revelation to the contrary) without any ability or desire to return. The cat is out of the bag, so to speak. There is no turning back. Their motivation of greed (liberty, freedom, illicit financial and material gain) compels them to pursue this error, even though they have revelation available to them that this error is contrary to God’s will. Thirty years before this letter was written, God sent His Messiah (Christ) to atone for the sins of His people. The King has come and has promised to return. These Zealots are looking for an alternative route to the kingdom and so they incite rebellion. They have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam.
Korah, A Leader of Rebellion Against Yhwh’s Leader
“And are destroyed in Korah’s rebellion”
The third and final example of damnable rebellion is Korah. Korah was a Levite of the exodus generation who became disgruntled by the fact that only Aaron and his sons could serve as priests before Yhwh (Num. 16). Korah incited a rebellion among the people so that a large portion of Israel rejected Yhwh’s choice of leadership both religiously (Aaron) and politically (Moses). Yhwh caused the ground to open and swallow these rebels while fire from the presence of Yhwh consumed their confederates (Num. 16:31-25). The next day, a mob attempted another coup which would have likely ended in the assassination of Moses and Aaron. Yhwh sent a plague against these additional rebels so that the final death toll was over 14,000 (Num. 16:41-50). Just like Israel’s first rebellion at the Sea of Reeds and their second rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea (v. 5), Korah’s rebellion was against Yhwh’s choice of leadership. Jude again uses the term “destroyed” (ἀπόλλυμι) in connection to Yhwh’s destruction of Israel in v. 5. Yet, Korah and his followers were not subject to die a slow death in the wilderness but met their end immediately and violently.
The rejection of Yhwh’s leadership is the chief of rebellions and the crowning iniquity of the Zealots. Their fight for independence is much broader than a desire to be emancipated from Rome. Their declaration of independence was first expressed by their rejection of their God-given King, Jesus who is the Christ. By rejecting Him as Master and Lord, they will be destroyed just as Korah was.
Damned Because of What They Are (vv. 12-13)
Jude brings the readers’ attention back from the examples of the past to the rebels of the present by again referring to “these men” (οὗτοί). After explaining their damned state based upon their overt rebellion by comparing them to past damned rebels (v. 11), Jude continues his explanation by revealing their character. The text of vv. 12-13 is a single sentence in the Greek, in which we see five pictures taken from nature to prove that the character of these men are worse than merely undesirable, they are damned. Jude moves from the sea, to the sky, to the land, back to the sea, and concludes with the sky as he uses the whole of creation to express the dangerous, deceptive, dead, disgusting, and drifting character of these insurgents.
“These men are reefs in your love feasts as they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves”
The point that Jude is getting at is the fact that these insurgents are dangerous. A reef may or may not be detected under the surface of the water and, if not avoided, can cause violent ruin to any mariner unfortunate enough to run upon it. The idea that these reefs are hidden is implicit by the fact that they have slipped in (v. 4). They sit with believers and feast with them during the weekly love feast. Yet they are rocks waiting under the surface that will rip the hull out of a ship faster than a flash of lightning.
It was commonplace for believers to conclude their weekly gathering with a shared meal. In later years it became the norm to incorporate the Lord’s Supper as a conclusion to the meal. The meal itself, as mentioned here in Jude, may or may not include the concept of the Lord’s Supper but certainly pertains to the joint expression of love to the body through the communal meal. Each family would bring food to be jointly shared so that the whole body, no matter their station in life, would eat from the same table. The concept is loosely recognized with our modern “pot-luck” and, if rightly guarded, can be an amazing example of Christian love and hospitality. Yet these men are dangerous reefs as they sit and eat among these believers without fear.
To say that they eat “without fear” (ἀφόβως) means that they have no concern for their surroundings or their actions. They are not present in order to join the body, much less to express love to the brethren. Rather, they are there to incite rebellion. They have no fear of politically charged conversations as they curse Rome around the table that is set for fellowship. To this Jude adds that they care for themselves. The participle translated as “caring” (ποιμαίνοντες) comes from the verb usually rendered as “shepherd” or to “pasture” (ποιμαίνω). The point is that these men sit as unnoticed dangers in the love feast, but carry the insult further as they care, feed, and tend to themselves. They care nothing of the brethren around them. They stuff their faces in spite of the fact that they brought nothing to contribute. They are there for themselves. This flies in the face of the very concept of the love feast. The Greek text simply reads ἀγάπαις (loves), a feast designed to benefit others. These men use it to benefit themselves. Dangerous reefs indeed.
“Clouds without water carried aside by the wind”
Jude’s second illustration moves from the sea to the sky. A waterless cloud is a cloud that will never produce rain. The early and latter rains have long been associated with Yhwh’s blessing on Israel due to their fidelity and obedience (Lev. 26:3-4; Deut. 11:13-14). A cloud in the sky comes with the appearance of blessing, yet if it contains no water that appearance is deceiving. The promise of rain is not consistent with the performance of the cloud.
Likewise, these men come promising great things. Abolition of taxes. Liberty for all. Freedom from Roman oppression. Wonderful promises and blessings are pronounced upon the people of Judaea. Yet they are incapable of fulfilling those promises. Jude likely had Proverbs 25:14 in mind as he wrote this: “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely” (NASB). They are clouds without water carried aside by the wind. The idea is that they are not just unstable but are actually carried off course. It’s bad enough that these clouds are worthless and hollow promises, but they are carried aside to other places. In short, these men are deceivers who are not just unwilling to fulfill their boasts but are unable.
“Autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted”
In his third illustration, Jude moves from the sky to the land. These “autumn trees without fruit” are trees that have been given all season in which to produce fruit. Some fruit trees bear fruit earlier than others. Yet by autumn, even late producers should have some fruit on their branches. Yet these have none. They are fruitless.
There is a similar theme here to the clouds in that trees should produce fruit and a fruitless tree is somewhat deceptive. Yet here Jude’s point is not to point out the deceptive nature of these men but rather provide an explanation for their fruitlessness by way of hendiadys. They are “twice dead” and “uprooted.” The situation is worse than a tree that produces foliage but no fruit. These trees are dead, bare branched, and dried out. Nor is there any hope that heavy pruning or fertilizer will produce better results next season. They are uprooted. Such a tree is good for nothing but firewood. The illustration of the clouds proves that these men have nothing of substance to offer, no matter what they may claim. This illustration goes further to explain why. These trees are dead.
“Wild waves of the sea foaming up their own shame”
The sentence continues into v. 13. Jude’s fourth illustration moves back to the sea. Jude calls these waves “wild” in the sense that they are uncontrollable and unpredictable. The term is understood in the sense that they are not domesticated. The picture is of waves that crash upon the beach or upon the cliffs to spew up what was once at the bottom of the sea. Like so much litter upon the beach, so their shame is spewed up for all to see. Again, Jude reaches back to the Hebrew Scriptures, this time to Isaiah 57:20: “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud” (NASB).
The idea is that these men will unwittingly make their shame obvious. They are undomesticated waves that do not understand that their words and deeds are shameful. They just continue to churn up and throw up what should be repented of.
“Wandering stars, for whom the gloom of darkness has been kept forever”
Jude’s fifth and final illustration returns to the sky but this time to the heavens above. There is some debate about what Jude means by “wandering stars” (ἀστέρες πλανῆται). Ἀστήρ can refer to any celestial body other than the sun such as a single star or even a planet or comet. The noun πλανήτης, from which we get our English term planet could be understood to indicate a wanderer in the sense that while the stars remain in fixed locations in the night sky and are thus used for navigation, planets appear to roam about the heavens and would only lead one astray. The debate is regarding the exact nature of Jude’s point. Does he intend to bring the picture of a shooting star or comet that burns brightly as it arcs across the night sky only to disappear in the darkness forever? Or, is the sense of navigation and consistency in view where he calls these men roving planets with no fixed position? The fate of these men may help us determine between these two choices.
Jude says that the gloom of darkness has been kept forever for these men. Both the term translated here as “gloom” (ζόφος) as well as the verb to keep (τηρέω) are repetitions from v. 6 where Jude recalled the rebellion of angels who failed to keep their station. The imagery seems best explained by those brightly burning comets or stars that shoot across the night’s sky, out of place from where they were sovereignly stationed. These end up in eternal darkness and gloom. The fate of these men is not unlike the fate of the angels in that rebellion leads to eternal judgment. After all, God’s holy and righteous decree cannot be flouted with impunity.
It is not enough to simply prove that the insurgents are rebels, guilty of similar crimes as historic rebels (vv. 5-10). Jude takes the next logical step to tell his readers that as unrepentant rebels these men are damned. These are dangerous men that have no place in the assembly. The duty of every shepherd is to care for the sheep. That means that the sheep must be fed, but it also means that they must be protected. These are men who offer vanity at best and destruction at worst. They must not be allowed in the assembly.
Modern evangelicalism has picked up the insane notion that the assembly of the Sunday morning is for the unregenerate. The vast majority of preachers tailor their messages (I refuse to refer to the tripe spewed from the podiums as sermons) for the biblically illiterate and unregenerate. The thought of feeding the sheep never entered their minds because they have designed the gathering to welcome goats. The sheep starve while the goats are caressed. This is far worse than missing the mark, it is overt rebellion from Scripture’s command to shepherd the flock of God among you (1 Pet. 5:2).
The elders of Christ’s church must be discerning. Their duty is to feed and protect the sheep from such dangerous and treacherous villains. One of the easiest remedies for this modern problem is to simply preach the word (2 Tim. 4:2). If men had the courage to preach verse-by-verse through texts like Jude, the goats would get up and leave or at least make enough noise to become apparent. After all, how can a goat be called to repentance if he is allowed to masquerade as a sheep? Christ’s sheep always hear His voice and follow Him (Jn. 10:27).
Soli Deo Gloria!
 Herbert Bateman, Jude, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), p. 239-41.  R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 633.  Josephus, Josephus: The Complete Works, trans. William Whiston (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), JW, 4.398-404, p. 819.  D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 262.  Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 192.  Lenski, p. 637-8.  Hiebert, p. 263.