In verse 11, Jude compares the awful examples of three Old Testament characters to leaders in the New Testament church who have used their influence for evil.

Jude 11:
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.

These three examples are personal and individual.  They are not corporate examples dealing with groups of people.  Jude pronounces “Woe!” over these men just as Jesus did to the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:13.  The word translated “woe” (ouai) is an emotional cry that means something like:  “O how horrible it will be!”  The reason he gives for his pronouncement is how they have followed three men from the Old Testament who had a particular sin that marked their lives in opposing God and misleading God’s people.  He speaks of the way of Cain, the error of Balaam, and gainsaying of Core.  Jude uses them as tragic and terrible examples.

“They have gone” is the Greek poreuomai it is used idiomatically here to refer to a person’s walk or conduct.  It also occurs in this manner in verses 16 & 18.  Cain was the world’s first apostate and murderer.  Cain’s story is found in Genesis 4.  Both Cain and Abel brought an offering to the Lord.  God accepted Abel’s offering, but He rejected Cain’s sacrifice.  Hebrews 11:4 clarifies that the difference between the two offerings was that Abel’s was offered in faith.

“Faith” presupposes something to have faith in.  We must first hear the Word, then we can have faith in it.  Faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).  Abel’s offering was in response to something he had heard of the Word of God.   Genesis 4:5 records that after God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.  He became angry because he knew he was rejected by God and in a fit of anger Cain murdered Abel, and then he lied about it to God.

I John 3:12 explains that Cain murdered his brother because Abel’s works were righteous (by faith), while Cain’s own were wicked.  Jude says that Cain typifies a “way” that these certain men follow.  They pursue the same way that Cain did.  It is “the way of” unbelief, which leads to jealousy, persecution of the godly, and eventually to murderous rage.  Not only do they go the way of Cain, they also run greedily after the error of Balaam for profit,

Balaam’s story is in Numbers 22-25, 31.  When the Israelites approached Moab, King Balak of Moab sought the help of a prophet named Balaam.  When the first delegation from King Balak arrived, God told Balaam to have nothing to do with them.  God’s initial words to Balaam were, “Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:12).

God warned Balaam to turn back when he was on the way to see Balak.  Yet his heart was set on the rich reward King Balak promised and he continued on.  Balaam even ignored a talking donkey, sent to warn him to turn back.  After meeting with King Balak of Moab, Balaam prophesied over Israel four times.  But as he spoke forth God’s word, he did not curse Israel―instead he blessed them.  When he was unsuccessful in cursing Israel, Balaam advised Balak on how to bring Israel under a curse.  Instead of trying to have a prophet curse them, he should lead them into fornication and idolatry and then they would suffer consequences of their disobedience (Revelation 2:14).

Balak did just that, sending his young women into the camp of Israel to lead Israel into sexual immorality and idolatry.  Because of their sin, God did judge Israel―He brought a plague upon Israel that killed 24,000.  Therefore, Balaam was guilty of one of the greatest sins:  deliberately leading others into sin.  Jesus said in Luke 17:2 that it would be better for someone to have that a millstone hanged about his neck, and be cast into the sea, than that he should lead the innocent into sin.  Worse yet, Balaam did it for money.  The greedy “error of Balaam” was that he was willing to compromise for money (See also II Peter 2:15).  The certain men Jude warned about had the same heart.

To “run greedily after” is literally “they were poured out.”  It is a strong picture of excessive indulgence.  But Paul also uses the same term for the extravagant way God loves us saying in Romans 5:5 that “the love of God has been shed abroad or poured out in our hearts.

The final part of the picture is that they “perished in the rebellion of Core.”  Korah’s story is found in Numbers 16.  Jude describes the Levite Korah’s rebellion against Moses as “gainsaying,” antilogia, (to speak against, dispute, contradict).  He was a prominent man in Israel, and one day came to Moses, saying, “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?” (Numbers 16:3).  Korah and his followers resented the authority God gave to Moses and Aaron.

When Korah said this, Moses fell on his face, knowing God’s judgment would soon come.  Moses then proposed a test:  each group took censers (for burning incense) and came before the Lord.  The Lord Himself would choose which man He wanted to represent Him:  Moses or Korah.

When they both came before God, the Lord told Moses to step away.  Then, the ground opened up and swallowed Korah and his followers.  After that, fire came down from heaven and burned up all of his supporters.  They all “perished.”

Korah was a Levite, but not of the priestly family of Aaron.  As a Levite, he had had his own God-appointed sphere of ministry, yet he was not content with it.  He wanted the ministry and the authority of Moses.  When the certain men rejected authority and spoke evil against dignitaries, they walked in “the rebellion of Korah.”  The rebellion was a contemptuous and determined assertion of self in opposition to the will of God.

The particular sins that marked the lives of these three men in opposing God and misleading God’s people are also found in these certain men who infiltrate the church today.  Therefore, when Jude 11 asserts that these certain men have gone in the way of Cain it refers to their walk, their course of conduct, which is typified by unbelief, which leads to jealousy, persecution of the godly, and eventually to murderous rage.  Similarly running greedily after the error of Balaam for reward refers to being willing to compromise for money and deliberately leading others into sin.  Finally perishing in the gainsaying of Core refers to lust for power that breeds rebellion, a contemptuous and determined assertion of self in opposition to the will of God.

By Wayne Clapp