Emblematic Examples of Error 

Warnings from biblical history should inspire believers to persevere in the faith.

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.” (Jude 11) 

“Woe” is not a word that often appears in our contemporary vocabulary. While it may sound archaic to modern ears, the weight it carries demands immediate attention from Jude’s audience—and from us. 

As has been a common theme in Jude’s letter, he is again issuing judgment on the false teachers who are attacking the church. He illustrates his pronouncement in verse 11 with three Old Testament figures, Cain, Balaam, and Korah, who serve as emblematic examples of error. 

Cain had no regard for the solemnity of the offerings required by God (Genesis 4) and was seen as the archetypal sinner in Jewish tradition. Though he gave of the produce of his vocation, his act was merely external and lacked the internal faith which made his brother Abel’s offering acceptable to God. In a sense, he blasphemed God by his irreverence, a sin of which the false teachers of Jude’s day were also guilty (Jude 8-10). Through killing Abel, Cain became a blasphemous murderer and the patriarch of the sinful lineage with which the godly lineage of Seth is contrasted. The false teachers carry the notoriously disgraceful reputation of Cain. 

Balaam primarily appears in Numbers 22-24, and his legacy is one of greed. Although a prophet of Israel, Balaam was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse Israel (Numbers 22:1-7). Balaam willingly offered his services to an enemy of Israel for the sake of money. Peter even says that Balaam “loved gain from wrongdoing” (2 Peter 2:15). Beneath any claim to obey God, Balaam was driven by the self-serving motivation of greed. Not only did Balaam walk into sin himself, but his advice led to the treacherous acts of others (Numbers 31:16). One’s own sin is enough to incur divine judgment, but to lead others into sin as well will bring an even weightier condemnation. In the same way, the false teachers of Jude’s day have no genuine desire to serve or care for their audience. Like wolves, they do not desire to feed the sheep but rather to feed on the sheep to their own gain. They have “abandoned themselves” to their greed. 

The account of Korah is found in Numbers 16. He, along with Dathan and Abiram, led 250 men in rebellion against Moses and Aaron. They were unwilling to submit to God or to Moses and Aaron as his appointed leaders, a blatant rejection of authority that is reflected in the behavior of the false teachers (Jude 8). Furthermore, Korah’s rejection was not internal or private but public and brash. He and his two compatriots recruited 250 other men to join in their challenge against God and those he placed in authority, bringing disorder and chaos to Israel. The end of these three men and their followers is one of the most memorable instances in Scripture, when the earth, under the authority of God, opened up and swallowed them (Numbers 16:31-33). This serves as a graphic example of what will happen to those who act in defiant disregard of God’s authority. 

Cain’s irreverent blasphemy, Balaam’s treacherous greed, and Korah’s defiant rejection of authority—along with their common transgression of leading others into sin—typify the error and dangerous influence of the false teachers. Jude again appeals to his readers through historical examples of what is at stake if they fall away into unbelief. 

As the errors of Cain, Balaam, and Korah were present in Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church, so they are present today. We are not immune to the wiles of the devil and the smooth speech of false teachers. Like Jude’s audience, we need to be vigilant to believe and to teach true and pure doctrine. Pride is attracted to blasphemous teachings like those of Mormonism that say we will be gods one day. Greedy hearts love the heresies preached in prosperity theology. Rebellious minds are allured by the lies of antinomianism. 

The examples could go on and on, but the heart of the matter is always the same—it is a departure from the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and for the glory of God alone. There are many flat, broad roads that lead to destruction. There is one narrow, difficult path that leads to life. Jude knew the attraction of the former and urged his readers to stake their existence, in this life and the next, on the path leading to Christ as the way, the truth, and the life.  


Heavenly Father, 
Give us reverent, content, and submissive hearts. May your judgment on the wicked spur us on to greater obedience to and deeper love for you. Preserve us, by your grace. 
In your Son’s name,

Prayer Requests: 

  • Pray that all areas of your life and ministry would be characterized by reverence for God. 
  • Pray for missionaries you know and support, that greed would not take hold of their hearts and pervert their motives or message. 
  • Pray for those who are in danger of falling away, that the warnings of Scripture would preserve their faith.