Lessons from the Past

“Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.” —Jude 11

THE Apostle Jude is here calling our attention to three Old Testament characters whose courses in life were wicked. By considering what they did that was wrong, we can learn lessons that will help us to avoid displeasing our Heavenly Father.

Cain murdered his brother, Abel. In Hebrews 11:4 we read, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” Abel evidently meditated on the promise made by God that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. God also provided coats of skins for Adam and Eve, which indicated that somehow or other God would arrange a way of reconciliation.

To show God that he desired to get back into harmony with him and righteousness, Abel offered a sacrifice consisting of the, firstlings of the flock. His choice of the animals instead of the fruit of the ground indicated his faith that God would provide a Redeemer. From the standpoint of his heart’s desires, he was, in God’s estimation, righteous. God testified of the acceptance of Abel’s gift, probably by fire coming down from heaven and consuming the sacrifice, so that there was no doubt about it in the minds of both Abel and Cain.

On the other hand, Cain evidently had not given very much thought to the matter of which sacrifice would be pleasing to God. He may have thought that he would be the seed to bruise the serpent’s head, and was, therefore, quite disappointed to see that Abel was preferred. A careful reading of Genesis 4:3-9, shows that Cain had not committed sin by offering fruits or vegetables as a sacrifice. But when he saw that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable and his was not, then he should have offered a sacrifice like Abel’s. Instead, he allowed jealousy and anger to burn unchecked in his heart. The account reads:

“In the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering. But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Cain not only committed the sin of hating and murdering his brother, but in his reply to God, he added lying and insolence. Prof. James Moffatt translates verse seven as follows: “If you are sullen, sin is lying in wait for you, eager to be at you, but you ought to master it.” The sin of hatred and anger is likened here to a devouring beast lying at the door of Cain’s heart. Instead of driving it away, he permitted this devouring sin to enter his heart.

The Apostle John very vividly draws the lesson for us, in I John 3:12,15: “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Oh, how careful we should be to see that there is no hatred in our hearts for the brethren. It is not enough that we love merely some of the brethren dearly. Loving some of the brethren does not give us the privilege of hating others.

Let us now consider Balaam, who is referred to in Jude 11. His sin was that of greedily seeking temporal reward. The Apostle Peter also holds up Balaam as an illustration of those who are unfaithful to their covenant with God, saying that they “have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbade the madness of the prophet.”—II Pet. 2:15,16

Balaam was more interested in what he would get as a reward for delivering a message than in what the message contained. He was willing to permit error to be mixed with the truth, if he could only gain by it. Every Christian should be on guard along this line. We should never be willing to teach falsehoods or cooperate with others who teach errors. The world is still in darkness, and the darkness hateth the light. Let us not mix darkness with light, in order to receive the honor and support of the world as a reward.

If we were to analyze Balaam’s motives, we would find them partly good and partly bad. If he could have gained the money and honor for himself without sacrificing the truth, he would have gladly avoided the error. It is a picture of willingness to sacrifice a measure of truth, in order to gain some selfish, temporal advantage.

Numbers 22:19 gives us a glimpse of how Balaam hoped to get God to change his mind regarding cursing Israel, so that he could get his reward: “Now, therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more.” But in verse 32, we read of God’s disapproval of his course: “The angel of the Lord said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? Behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me.”

Can one have the spirit which may cause him to run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward? Yes, every Christian is commissioned to be a minister of the Gospel, hence he should be on guard along this line. One could be guilty of this sin by compromising the truth in a measure for some temporal reward, or personal gain.

Let us now consider what Jude calls the gainsaying of Core, or Korah. Korah was a servant of the Lord and yet, notwithstanding, he was displeasing to him. Mixed with all his zeal for holiness, were certain evil traits. One fault was his boasting of holiness, which certainly is not a sign of holiness! Then again, there were his envy and strife against Moses who was God’s appointed leader and one possessed of ample ability for such leadership. Korah wanted to carry on God’s work, but he ambitiously desired to be in charge of that work. He lacked faith in God’s selection of Moses and others chosen for leadership.

The word gainsaying means to talk back, contradict, to refuse to cooperate with, to pull the other way, to obstruct. Jude, in the text we are considering, is using this gainsaying of Korah as a picture of the stubbornness of some of this Gospel Age, who envy the positions of those whom the Lord has set in the body as it pleaseth him. (I Cor. 12:18) One of the first lessons Paul gives the fully consecrated is that they do not think of themselves more highly than they ought to think.—Rom. 12:1-10

Reading Numbers 16:2,3, we see that there were two hundred and fifty princes associated with Korah in his rebellion. Because there were so many prominent ones in the movement, they felt justified in their stand. But the number of prominent leaders alone does not of itself prove that a cause is right.

Numbers 16:2,3,8,9, reads: “They rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord? … And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi: Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the Tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them? And he hath brought thee near to him and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?”

It is interesting to note that the leaders in this revolt were members of the tribe of Levi. As Moses pointed out, they should have been pleased with the opportunities of service they already had, instead of thinking that they were abused because Moses did not step aside and ask Korah to take his place, and then pass out positions of prominence to his associates. They shut their eyes to God’s part in placing the leaders and that it was an honor to be used of the Lord to any degree and in any position.

Jehovah showed his disapproval of the rebellion as recorded in verses 32 and 35: “The earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up. … They … went down alive into the pit. … And there came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.”

Many in Israel blamed Moses for this punishment on Korah and the two hundred and fifty princes. Note verses forty-one and forty-nine where Jehovah showed his disapproval of those who support such gainsayers: “On the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord. … Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.”

How can we avoid the gainsaying spirit? First, by nipping in the bud any tendency in that direction. These partly willful sins are referred to in Psalm 19:13,14, as presumptuous sins, which lead to the great transgression. This great transgression is the second death sin of those who willfully follow in the ways of Cain, Salaam, and Korah. David says, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer.”

There is a danger that, to some extent, we may do things which in the beginning, at least, we recognize to be wrong. Paul speaks of the possibility of having our “conscience seared with a hot iron.” (I Tim. 4:2) Let us keep our conscience both educated and tender. Let us watch that we do not, even in the little things, talk back to God, but as joyful, willing sacrificers submit our wills fully to his will and thus avoid any presumptuous sins.

As we consider Cain with his hatred for his brother, righteous Abel; Balaam with his greediness; and Korah with his gainsaying, let us turn to the Lord and ask him to fill us with his Holy Spirit, so that we may have a warm love for the brethren, an unselfish zeal for God’s name, and a “meek and quiet spirit” which will always delight in the doing of God’s will.—I Pet. 3:4


Dawn Bible Students Association
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