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THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JUDE - Chapter 1 - Verse 9
Verse 9. Yet Michael the archangel, etc. This verse has given more perplexity to expositors than any other part of the epistle; and in fact the difficulties in regard to it have been so great that some have been led to regard the epistle as spurious. The difficulty has arisen from these two circumstances:
(1.) Ignorance of the origin of what is said here of Michael the archangel, nothing of this kind being found in the Old Testament; and
(2.) the improbability of the story itself, which looks like a mere Jewish fable. Peter in his second epistle, chap. 2 Pe 2:2, made a general reference to angels as not bringing railing accusations against others before the Lord; but Jude refers to a particular case—the case of Michael when contending about the body of Moses. The methods proposed of reconciling the passage with the proper ideas of inspiration have been various, though perhaps no one of them relieves it of all difficulty. It would be inconsistent with the design of these Notes to go into an extended examination of this passage. Those who wish to see a full investigation of it may consult Michaelis' Introduction to the New Testament, vol, iv. pp. 378—393; Lardner, vol. vi. p. 312, seq.; Hug, Intro. & 183; Benson, in loc.; Rosenmuller's Morgenland, iii. pp. 196, 197; and Wetstein, in loc. The principal methods of relieving the difficulty have been the following:
I. Some have supposed that the reference is to the passage in Zechariah, Zec 3:1, seq. "And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, the Lord rebuke thee, O Satan," etc. The opinion that Jude refers to this passage was held by Lardner. But the objections to this are very obvious:
(1.) There is no similarity between the two, except the expression, "the Lord rebuke thee."
(2.) The name Michael does not occur at all in the passage in Zechariah.
(3.) There is no mention made of the "body of Moses" there, and no allusion to it whatever.
(4.) There is no intimation that there was any such contention about his body. There is a mere mention that Satan resisted the angel of the Lord, as seen in the vision, but no intimation that the controversy had any reference to Moses in any way.
(5.) The reason of the resistance which Satan offered to the angel in the vision as seen by Zechariah is stated. It was in regard to the consecration of Joshua to the office of high priest implying a return of prosperity to Jerusalem, and the restoration of the worship of God there in its purity, see Zec 3:2. To this Satan was of course opposed, and the vision represents him as resisting the angel in his purpose thus to set him apart to that office. These reasons seem to me to make it clear that Jude did not refer to the passage in Zechariah, nor is there any other place in the Old Testament to which it can be supposed he had reference.
II. Hug supposes that the reference here, as well as that in Jude 1:14, to the prophecy of Enoch, is derived from some apocryphal books existing in the time of Jude; and that though those books contained mere fables, the apostle appealed to them, not as conceding what was said to be true, but in order to refute and rebuke those against whom he wrote, out of books which they admitted to be of authority. Intro. & 183. Arguments and confutations, he says, drawn from the sacred Scriptures, would have been of no avail in reasoning with them, for these they evaded, (2 Pe 3:16,) and there were no surer means of influencing them than those writings which they themselves valued as the sources of their peculiar views. According to this, the apostle did not mean to vouch for the truth of the story, but merely to make use of it in argument. The objection to this is, that the apostle does in fact seem to refer to the contest between Michael and the devil as true. He speaks of it in the same way in which he would have done if he had spoken of the death of Moses, or of his smiting the rock, or of his leading the children of Israel across the Red Sea, or of any other fact in history. If he regarded it as a mere fable, though it would have been honest and consistent with all proper views of inspiration for him to have said to those against whom he argued, that on their own principles such and such things were true, yet it would not be honest to speak of it as a fact which he admitted to be true. Besides, it should be remembered that he is not arguing with them, in which case it might be admissible to reason in this way, but was making statements to others about them, and showing that they manifested a spirit entirely different from that which the angels evinced even when contending in a just cause against the prince of all evil.
III. It has been supposed that the apostle quotes an apocryphal book existing in his time, containing this account, and that he means to admit that the account is true. Origen mentions such a book, called "the Assumption of Moses," (analhqiv tou mwsewv,) as extant in his time, containing this very account of the contest between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses. That was a Jewish Greek book, and Origen supposed that this was the source of the account here. That book is now lost. There is still extant a book in Hebrew, called
—"the Death of Moses," which some have supposed to be the book referred to by Origen. That books contains many fabulous stories about the death of Moses, and is evidently the work of some Jew drawing wholly upon his imagination. An account of it may be seen in Michaelis, Intro. iv. p. 381, seq. There is no reason to suppose that this is the same book referred to by Origen under the name of "the Assumption of Moses;" and there is a moral certainty that an inspired writer could not have quoted it as of authority. Further, there can be no reasonable doubt that such a book as Origen refers to, under the title of" the Assumption of Moses," was extant in his time, but that does not prove by any means that it was extant in the time of Jude, or that he quoted it. There is, indeed, no positive proof that it was not extant in the time of Jude, but there is none that it was, and all the facts in the case will be met by the supposition that it was written afterwards, and that the tradition on the subject here referred to by Jude was incorporated into it.
IV. The remaining supposition is, that Jude here refers to a prevalent tradition among the Jews, and that he has adopted it as containing an important truth, and one which bore on the subject under discussion. In support of this, it may be observed,
(b.) That though many of these traditions were puerile and false, yet there is no reason to doubt that some of them might have been founded in truth.
(c.) That an inspired writer might select those which were true, for the illustration of his subject, with as much propriety as he might select what was written; since if what was thus handed down by tradition was true, it was as proper to use it as to use a fact made known in any other way.
(d.) That in fact such traditions were adopted by the inspired writers when they would serve to illustrate a subject which they were discussing. Thus Paul refers to the tradition about Jannes and Jambres as true history. See Barnes "2 Ti 3:8".
(e.) If, therefore, what is here said was true, there was no impropriety in its being referred to by Jude as an illustration of his subject. The only material question then is, whether it is true. And who can prove that it is not? What evidence is there that it is not? How is it possible to demonstrate that it is not? There are many allusions in the Bible to angels; there is express mention of such an angel as Michael, (Da 12:1;) there is frequent mention of the devil; and there are numerous affirmations that both bad and good angels are employed in important transactions on the earth. Who can prove that such spirits never meet, never come in conflict, never encounter each other in executing their purposes? Good men meet bad men, and why is it any more absurd to suppose that good angels may encounter bad ones? It should be remembered, further, that there is no need of supposing that the subject of the dispute was about burying the body of Moses; or that Michael sought to bury it, and the devil endeavoured to prevent it—the one in order that it might not be worshipped by the Israelites, and the other that it might be. This indeed became incorporated into the tradition in the apocryphal books which were afterwards written; but Jude says not one word of this, and is in no way responsible for it. All that he says is, that there was a contention or dispute (diakrinomenov dielegeto) respecting his body. But when it was, or what was the occasion, or how it was conducted, he does not state, and we have no right to ascribe to him sentiments which he has not expressed. If ever such a controversy of any kind existed respecting that body, it is all that Jude affirms, and is all for which he should be held responsible. The sum of the matter, then, it seems to me is, that Jude has, as Paul did on another occasion, adopted a tradition which was prevalent in his time; that there is nothing necessarily absurd or impossible in the fact affirmed by the tradition, and that no one can possibly demonstrate that it is not true.
When contending. This word (diakrinomenov) refers here to a contention or strife with words—a disputation. Nothing farther is necessarily implied, for it is so used in this sense in the New Testament, Ac 11:2,12 (Greek.)
About the body of Moses. The nature of this controversy is wholly unknown, and conjecture is useless. It is not said, however, that there was a strife which should get the body, or a contention about burying it, or any physical contention about it whatever. That there may have been, no one indeed can disprove; but all that the apostle says would be met by a supposition that there was any debate of any kind respecting that body, in which Michael, though provoked by the opposition of the worst being in the universe, still restrained himself from any outbreaking of passion, and used only the language of mild but firm rebuke. Durst not. ouk etolmhse "Did not dare." It is not said that he did not dare to do it because he feared Satan; but all that the word implies is met by supposing that he did not dare to do it because he feared the Lord, or because in any circumstances it would be wrong. A railing accusation. The Greek word is blasphemy. The meaning is, he did not indulge in the language of mere reproach; and it is implied here that such language would be wrong anywhere. If it would be right to bring a railing accusation against any one, it would be against the devil.
But said, The Lord rebuke thee. The word here used (epitimaw) means, properly, to put honour upon; and then to adjudge or confirm. Then it came to be used in the sense of commanding or restraining—as, e.g., the winds and waves, Mt 8:26; Mr 4:39. Then it is used in the sense of admonishing strongly; of enjoining upon one, with the idea of censure, Mt 18:18; Mr 1:25 Lu 23:35,41. This is the idea here—the expression of a wish that the Lord would take the matter of the dispute to himself, and that he would properly restrain and control Satan, with the implied idea that his conduct was wrong. The language is the same as that recorded in Zec 3:2, as used by "the angel" respecting Satan. But, as before observed, there is no reason to suppose that the apostle referred to that. The fact, however, that the angel is said to have used the language on that occasion may be allowed to give confirmation to what is said here, since it shows that it is the language which angelic beings naturally employ.
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