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What is this about Michael and Satan contending over the body of Moses?
Oh, come on, you include an obscure reference to a topic of enormous human curiosity and don’t even comment on it? What is this about Michael and Satan contending over the body of Moses? (7/17/2010])
The best thing about this question is that it shows that our fellow-reader actually read the day’s scripture carefully. The second-best thing is that I had to do some research! Here are the verses in question, which were in the reading for June 17:
Jude 1:4, 8-9 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. …
Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you."
Jude is referring to an extra-Biblical book, The Assumption of Moses
, which was apparently popular at the time he wrote. We have only one copy of The Assumption
, a Latin translation from the sixth century, and it is incomplete. However, here’s the gist of this part of the story (quoted from R. H. Charles, 1897, The Assumption of Moses
). Charles based his summary both on the manuscript itself and on much earlier quotations from pieces of the manuscript that are missing:
Now, judging from the surviving Greek fragments … the order of the action in the original Assumption was probably as follows: –
i. Michael is commissioned to bury Moses:
ii. Satan opposes his burial, and that on two grounds –
(a) First, he claims to be the lord of matter (hence the body rightfully should be handed over to him). To this claim Michael rejoins: “The Lord rebuke thee, for it was God’s Spirit that created the world and all mankind.” (Hence not Satan, but God was the Lord of matter.)
(b) Secondly, Satan brings the charge of murder against Moses. (The answer to this charge is wanting.)
You remember that Jude was mainly writing to correct libertinism – the idea that matter is bad in any case, so whatever a saved person does with his or her body is immaterial. In the previous few verses, Jude compares the libertines with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Now we see that not only do they commit sins of the flesh, they also blaspheme angels! Then Jude quotes from The Assumption –
according to all three commentaries I looked at – to show that even the best of the angels, Michael, did not blaspheme even the worst of the angels, Satan. Hence there are certainly no grounds for a human being to blaspheme angels.
It seems to me that there is an additional critical point to be drawn from Jude’s use of this example, namely, that since God created the world and all mankind, matter is not
evil, and therefore what you do with your body most certainly does
matter. (Pun intended.) This point is at least as important as not blaspheming angels, and it fits equally well into the context of libertinism and Jude’s warning against it.
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