“I will, therefore, put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not” (Jude 5).
The Greek text of this verse is difficult. The variant manuscript readings, aside from not carrying much weight, do not help much toward a good translation. Both the textual critics and the exegetes have considerable trouble with the text. In order to translate as literally as possible, yet making good sense, we use bracketed phrases for clarification, as follows: “Now, I intend to remind you, you once-for-all fully knowing this, that the Lord, having saved a people [the whole organism, kernel and shell] out of the land of Egypt, [on] a second occasion destroyed those who believed not [the reprobate shell].”
“Now,” (not ‘therefore’) I intend,” (boulomai is so rendered in Acts 5:28; 12:4). Jude is saying that he intends to and only need remind his readers, since they are already quite familiar with the (three) Old Testament instances of apostasy he is about to mention (in verses 5-7). The first instance follows: ‘‘That the Lord having saved a people,” a whole people, the entire organism, the wheat, the chaff and the mixed multitude, out of Egypt, then, in the wilderness wanderings, destroyed, not the whole organism, but only the chaff, those that did not believe. The whole organism is saved for the sake of the wheat; finally, the chaff is disposed of (destroyed) that the wheat may be gathered into the granary. Among the saved, those not destroyed, were not only Caleb and Joshua, but also the spiritual Israel, including the tribe of Levi (Deut. 33:8, 9; Mai. 2:4-6) and those under the age of twenty (Num. 14:29-32), that is, the elect remnant.
Jude, first of all, pens his introduction (1-2), then the occasion of his letter: the then present apostasy (3-4). Now he continues, giving three historical instances of apostasy (5-7), the judgment on apostate Israel, on the fallen angels and on beastly Sodom and Gomorrah. The first instance recalls the corporate declension of all the unbelieving in the nation of Israel. The second instance points to the collective body of all the angels that sinned, and the third is of the corporate body politic embracing all the citizens in the cities of the plain, which, departing from the knowledge of God, fell into the vilest evils of the ages. These groups represent the apostate church, the demonic angels and the wicked world. What we are dealing with here in verse 5 is the fact that the Lord on one occasion, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, on another occasion destroyed those who did not believe. We therefore consider (1) the salvation, (2) the unbelief and (3) the destruction.
Israel was saved typically in the Passover and passage through the Red Sea, both of which represented the saving Blood of Christ. The spiritual Israel God had always saved in all the eras of history. It was always true of them, “they shall never perish’’ (Jn. 10:28) and “shall never thirst’’ (4:14). That is why Scripture affirms, “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord!’’ (Deut. 33:29). Put it this way: O the happinesses of Israel, a people saved by Jehovah! Israel enjoys blessednesses (plural) without end, and no wonder, being saved! For any to be blessed, God must save them. He redeemed His people out of Egypt, preserved them through the wilderness, saved them from many enemies and brought them over Jordan into their own land. Through all the periods of history God saves His people, victory after victory; first, by the victory of the Flood; second, by the victory of the Red Sea; third, by the victory of David’s and Solomon’s reigns; fourth, by the victory of the return from captivity; fifth, by the victory of the birth of Christ; sixth, in the victory of the Second Coming of Christ; and seventh, by the ultimate victory of the New Heaven and Earth.
But apostate Israel was always marked by unbelief. Hardening in unbelief characterized the whole people of Israel throughout their forty years of wilderness wanderings. In all that time they carried about with them the tabernacle, but they hated it; they despised God’s house. Secretly, in their hearts, they made a sanctuary for Moloch. (Acts 7:43). Moses, from God’s law had repeatedly denounced this horrifying superstition. Lev. 18:21; 20:2; Dt. 12:31; 18:10. They also hated the altars of Jehovah, so that while they outwardly offered their sacrifices for forty years at the brazen altar, inwardly they worshipped false gods, sacrificing to demons (not to God, Lev. 17:7). So how the Lord took them to task for this was, “Was it to Me, or to your idol-gods, that ye offered in the wilderness?’’ (Acts 7:42). This hatred of the religion of Jehovah erupted in the worship of the golden calf (Acts 7:41) and was never really eradicated from their hearts, continuing in their secret idolatries and whoredoms (Num. 14:33). They despised God’s miracles in Egypt and in the wilderness. “Our fathers (1) understood not Thy wonders in Egypt; they (2). remembered not the multitude of Thy mercies, but (3) provoked Him at the sea, even at (worse yet, in) the Red Sea! (Ps. 106:7). Amazing! right there in the midst of the sea, the miracle of their passage through it then taking place, they dared to break out in unbelief against God! They were then guilty of an interpretative blasphemy, hating and refusing the fact that God’s wonders were mercies on Israel, but judgments on Egypt (cp. Ps. 136). Such a blasphemy it was too, because their unbelief had made God a liar. “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar’’ (I Jn. 5:10). A liar is not fit company. Therefore, they at that moment in the sea, withdrew from God’s covenant fellowship! For they hated being reminded of the presence of the Lord at every turn, longing to forget Him and to be free to sin in the enjoyment of undisturbed lust. They also despised the land God had promised them (Num. 14:29-33), which was really hatred and contempt for the heavenly Canaan and a longing for the best of this world to be had back in Egypt. “Yea, they despised the pleasant land; they believed not His word” (Ps. 106:24). In the wilderness, the unpleasant land, they counted the pleasant land not worth looking forward to. So they despise heaven who do not care to go through all the trials and tribulations of earth to get there, who do not care to part with their pampered lusts and pleasures. They prefer “to go sleeping to hell than sweating to heaven.”
Therefore the Lord swore with an oath that they should not enter His rest, including the rest in the heavenly Canaan. (Heb. 3:18, 19; 4:8-11). That brings us to their destruction. Those that believed not the Lord destroyed, just as He destroyed those apostate murderers of His Son (Matt. 22:7). The word also means perished (Jude 11). So they never made it to heaven. These apostate Israelites were damned in unbelief. “They could not enter in because of unbelief. . .Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. . .Let us labor. . .to enter into that rest, lest any man fall (apostatize) after the same example of unbelief.” (Heb. 3:19, 12; 4:11).
But return to the opening thought, “I will put you in remembrance.” It is the constant purpose of our pastors in the ministry of the Word to remind us of what we already know. (cp. Rom. 15:15). This implies there will always be need for the pure preaching of the Word in the Christian church. It is not simply the word in the Scriptures that is needed, but the Word preached from the Scriptures that is indispensable. Many go astray at this point. They reason that since we have the infallible Scriptures, we do not need either the ordained ministry or the preaching of the Word. Hence many deem it enough to stay at home and read their Bibles. They fall away from the means of grace. But the preaching ministry is not intended for instructing us in something we never knew before. Its purpose is to put us in remembrance (there are two psalms entitled, To bring To Remembrance, 38 and 70), to bring to mind things forgotten, to refresh our memories in the things we have learned fully, and to remember Christ in His death until He come (I Cor. 11:24). Our affections need to be stirred and warmed with the fire of truth, our wills motivated in the firm resolutions of faith, the mind developed in the profundities of the gospel and our lives more and more conformed to the standard of the Faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. We know the content of that faith, but we need to know it better. Years ago there was an internationally known minister whose hearers always learned something new from each of his sermons. But what made his preaching so outstanding was that even his veteran auditors never tired of him because he was always putting them in remembrance out of a rich teaching ministry; he always brought forth out of his treasury things new and old (Matt. 13:52). After all, how did the ignorant heathen get to be heathen? How did they get to the point where “they knew not God”? They fell away from the public ministry of the Word, which alone keeps the knowledge of God extant and up-to-date. The heathen stem from continued generations of peoples who have long ago fallen from and forgotten God’s covenant. They continue that way since they do not have among themselves any of “the Lord’s remembrancers” (Isa. 62:6) to keep the truth still on foot. The Word of God, to use a modern expression, long ago became an endangered species and is now among them extinct. Therefore “hold fast. . .sound words.”