by Al Maxey
Issue #864 -- March 31, 2023
All nature is a vast symbolism: Every material
fact has sheathed within it a spiritual truth.
Dr. Edwin Powell Hubble [1889-1953]
Jane Taylor (1783-1824) was an English novelist and poet, who, along with her sister Ann (1782-1866), published a number of their individual poems in a work titled "Rhymes for the Nursery" in 1806. Perhaps Jane's best-known poem begins with these words: "Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are!" Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), in an entry into his journal dated March 25, 1842, answered, "The stars are God's dreams; thoughts remembered in the silence of the night." Mankind has long been fascinated, and rightly so, with the many wondrous works of God visible in the night sky. They are a testimony to the artistry of our Creator. "Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge" (Psalm 19:2, KJV). I love the way The Message has rendered this text: "Godís glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening." Rightly did the apostle Paul observe, "Since the creation of the world, God's invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made" (Romans 1:20). I pursued this thought in a paper I wrote during graduate school titled "The Divine Artist" (for my Philosophy of Religion course), contending that one of the greatest evidences for intelligent design is the universe around us! As a painting attests to the skill of an artist, so the creation attests to the skill and existence of a Creator.
The wondrous objects we behold in the night sky, although aesthetically pleasing, also serve other more practical purposes. They can serve as guides to travelers (especially to mariners). In the above mentioned poem by Jane Taylor, one of the lesser known and quoted parts of the poem reads: "'Tis your bright and tiny spark, Lights the trav'ller in the dark. Then the trav'ller in the dark, Thanks you for your tiny spark. He could not see which way to go, If you did not twinkle so." Matthew speaks of the magi who followed a "star" they had beheld in the east, and which guided them to the location of the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). The apostle Paul spoke of the wonders of the night sky: "The sun has a splendor of its own, the moon another splendor, and the stars still another. Indeed, the stars differ among themselves in splendor" (1 Corinthians 15:41). Righteous men and women, like guiding stars, may also serve as "bright lights" to guide others as they journey through life. "And those who have insight will shine like the glow of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). The Message reads, "Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever."
Where would long-distance travelers be, however, if the stars upon which they relied for guidance to their destination were unreliable?! What if these "guiding lights" provided false or inaccurate direction? Perhaps these "stars" have wandered from their God-appointed places, thus defying their divine design and directive. David wrote, "I look up at Your skies, at what Your fingers made: the moon and the stars that You set firmly in place" (Psalm 8:3 - the KJV reads, "...which Thou hast ordained"), and in Job 38:31-33 we find in poetic detail the establishing of these cosmic entities in their appointed places and for their approved purposes. Yet, if they were capable of doing so, and if they chose to willfully abandon those appointed places and wander wherever they might will, the resulting chaos could be enormous. This is precisely what Jude meant when he spoke of the self-willed and self-absorbed spiritual guides of God's people wandering from their divinely appointed place and purpose. He likened such persons to "wandering stars" (Jude 13), who, in the words of Peter, "have gone astray, forsaking the right way" (2 Peter 2:15). Both Peter and Jude agree on the penalty for such willful wandering: "For whom the black darkness has been reserved" (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13 - the only difference being that Jude adds the word "forever" at the end of the phrase).
This powerful metaphor of self-serving, deceitful individuals among the people of God, which is used by Jude in verse 13 of his epistle, is one of several such metaphors. I have provided the context for this in my previous article titled "Supping with Stains and Stones: Reflecting on Jude's Striking Metaphor" (Reflections #863). To better appreciate this present article, I would urge you to go back and review that previous study (especially if you haven't yet read it): it will make the study you are about to read much more meaningful. Jude characterizes these false guides as "wandering stars." Although most English translations use this wording, there are a few variations. Some read "stars that wander" ... "erratic stars" ... "stars which follow no orbit" ... "wayward stars" ... "falling stars" ... "lost stars in outer space" ... "stars moving here and there" ... "stars that have fallen from their place in the sky" ... "erring stars" ... and "stars going astray." This phrase, in the Greek, is made up of two words. The first word is "aster," which means "star, luminous body like a star, luminary" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon of the NT, p. 57]. The second word, which serves as a descriptive of the first, is "planetes," which means "a rover, roving; a wanderer, wandering" [ibid, p. 326]. This last word is where we get our English word "planet." These two Greek words, taken together, are "astronomical" in meaning and application. "The ancients called the planets 'wandering stars,' because of their movements" over time in the night sky, whereas stars remained fixed [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 393].
While it is tempting to regard Jude's use of "wandering stars" as a reference to the planets of our solar system, this was most likely not his intent. Most scholars believe, and I agree, that a reference to comets or meteors, what some might call "shooting stars," is far more fitting to the context (given the reference to the fate of these "wandering stars" = the great black darkness of outer space). Such cosmic objects "shine for a while and then pass into utter darkness" [Guy N. Woods, NT Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude, p. 397]. The Greek scholar Dr. Marvin Vincent believes this phrase refers "to comets, which shine a while and then pass into darkness" [Word Studies in the NT, vol. 1, p. 718]. Another Greek scholar, Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, offers this alternate view: "Some commentators take it as applying to comets. A better fit is shooting stars, which seem to rush from their sphere into darkness" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 5, p. 270]. The Irish Methodist theologian Dr. Adam Clarke (1762-1832) rather poetically stated, "These are uncertain, anomalous, oscillating and devious meteors, ignes fatui, wills-o'-the-wisp; dancing about in the darkness" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 954]. "If the 'wandering stars' are to be identified with any particular order of the heavenly bodies, it will be with the comets rather than the planets, the movements of the former seeming, to the common eye, so much the more erratic" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 11].
While it is interesting to speculate on the precise nature of the figure used by Jude, it is nevertheless important to keep in mind that he is, after all, writing/speaking figuratively. His metaphor refers to actual persons who, rather than providing stable spiritual guidance, were wandering all over the place in their teaching and personal example, misleading those who were looking to them for godly direction. "An unpredictable star would provide no guidance for navigation; so false teachers are useless and untrustworthy" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 393]. "In this passage, the subject of the comparison is men, who profess to give light and guidance, as the pole-star does to mariners, but who are only blind leaders of the blind, and propagators of error, destined to be swallowed up in everlasting darkness" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 5, p. 270]. These "wandering stars" were those of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke: "O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray, and confuse the direction of your paths" (Isaiah 3:12b). The Living Bible reads, "True leaders? No, misleaders! Leading you down the garden path to destruction." "The guides of the Lord's people should be stars, but not wandering stars. These seducers pretended to be 'stars,' and great 'lights' of the Church, but were instead 'wandering stars,' and as such they did seduce and cause others to err" [The Biblical Illustrator Commentary, e-Sword]. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215 A.D.), in his "Letter to Theodorus," applied this metaphor to the Carpocratians, writing, "These are the 'wandering stars' referred to in the prophecy, who wander from the narrow road of the commandments into a boundless abyss of carnal and bodily sins." Other early church writers also borrowed Jude's metaphor to "mark" various heretical groups of their own day.
As to the fate of such wanderers, both Jude and Peter describe it as "the blackness of darkness" (Jude 13; 2 Peter 2:17 - KJV). Other translations render the phrase: "the gloom of deep darkness" ... "the black hole" ... "the utter depths of eternal darkness" ... and "the deepest, blackest darkness." The actual Greek phrase is "the zophos of the skotos." Both words convey the meaning of "gloom and darkness," although there are fine distinctions at times in the usage where the darkness may be more physical than moral in nature; more actual than felt. When the two terms are used together, as is the case in the passages by Peter and Jude, this darkness and gloom is intensified: it is deep and overwhelming and, in the words of Jude, "forever." This phrase "is a Hebraism for exceeding great darkness, called in the gospel 'outer darkness,' as being furthest from God, the fountain of life and glory" [The Biblical Illustrator Commentary, e-Sword]. Jesus declares that such persons "shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12). "The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness" (Proverbs 4:18-19). The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the prophets and priests of the Lord who have become polluted, and who fill the house of the Lord with wickedness (Jeremiah 23:11), therefore, declares God, "They will be driven away into the gloom and fall down in it" (vs. 12). The Message version is powerful here: "Their unfaithfulness is turning the country into a cesspool; prophets and priests devoted to desecration. They have nothing to do with Me as their God. My very own Temple, mind you - mud-spattered with their crimes. But they wonít get by with it. Theyíll find themselves on a slippery slope, careening into the darkness, somersaulting into the pitch-black dark. Iíll make them pay for their crimes."
Both Peter and Jude also declare that this doom to the gloom of deep darkness is something that "has been reserved" for those who turn away from God and His appointed purpose for them, just as this deep darkness is the appointed place for the comets and/or shooting stars that appear in the sky and then vanish away (and in some cases forever ... for some are burned up in the atmosphere). "The doom which is declared to be in reserve, no doubt takes its form from the immediate figure of the comet vanishing into the unseen. But the idea expressed is not so much that of suddenness as that of certainty and irreversibility" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 11]. The word "reserved" is the Greek term "tereo," which means to "hold in reserve; to store up and maintain." In the two passages before us by Peter and Jude, the word occurs in the perfect passive indicative form, which indicates something now in reserve which was previously established. It could best be translated, "for whom the black darkness stands having been reserved." It is a certain fate/doom previously ordained and established by God, held in reserve and readiness by Him for the punishment of those who have opposed Him and His divine purpose. Thus, we can rightly declare that doom to be predestined (a destination/destiny previously established), but that is NOT the same as declaring that doom to be predetermined (a determination previously made for a person regardless of that person's own freewill or personal choices or actions). Reward and punishment, life and death, are destinies established by God from the foundation of the world; which one we experience is determined by us, although it is foreknown by God. I deal with this in some depth in my analysis of the fate of Judas Iscariot (Reflections #260), to which I would refer those who may seek more clarification on this matter of predestination vs. predetermination.
In 1 Peter 1:3-6, the apostle writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept (reserved - same word) in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials." In this world the righteous will suffer struggles and strife, but this is not their ultimate fate; just as in this world the wicked will often enjoy the worldly satisfactions of their selfish pursuits, but such fleeting pleasures are not their ultimate fate either! God has something very, very special and enduring "reserved" for us who love Him and look forward to His appearing. He also has something much less enjoyable, but no less enduring, "reserved" for those who do not love Him and serve Him faithfully: the gloomy depths of the deep outer darkness where their termination away from LIGHT is assured. Brethren, we have been given a choice - choose wisely!!
From a Reader on Prince Edward Island, Canada:
Al, thank you for your lesson titled "Christ's Cyrenian Cross-Bearer: A Reflective Study of Simon of Cyrene" (Reflections #751). While on the cross, I also think Jesus spoke to a larger crowd of people when He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He looked on people who were probably not from that area (like Simon, a black man, who was from Cyrene in Northern Africa). He saw a crowd yelling for His death, inspired by the priests, yet probably not really aware of what was really happening. They just joined in, like most do in mobs (Acts 19:32). Jesus saw lost souls, and He asked for the forgiveness they needed. They didn't know what was happening, because they were coming to the city for Passover, and were most likely not from Jerusalem. Whether red, yellow, black, or white - they were all precious in His sight! Even when we are foolish, misguided, or just being crowd-led stupid, Jesus still loves us and desires our salvation. I love you, Al, and I am always inspired by your writings.
From a Reader in Florida:
Good Morning, Al. Have you done any studies on "the rapture"? The congregation I attend in Miami has done some teaching on this recently, but I must admit that it's an area I have not studied much, so if you have done some studies on this topic I'm sure it will help. Thank you, as always, my friend. You are a great blessing to me, and I thank God for you.
My two studies that probably address this topic best, although it most certainly will not go along with those who seek to tie it to their particular flavor of millennial/tribulation theology, are the following: "Rising to Meet the Lord: A Study of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18" (Reflections #41) and "Restoring Paradise: New Heavens and New Earth" (Reflections #310). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Good Afternoon, brother. I just read your latest article, "Supping with Stains and Stones: Reflecting on Jude's Striking Metaphor" (Reflections #863), and I really liked this statement that you wrote: "The godless have always supposed that there is earthly profit to be made from religion, thus one will inevitably find false shepherds and teachers and brethren seeking to 'fleece the flock.' I came across one comment on the internet where someone observed that some such persons 'are making a good living out of the church'." Al, I have said for years that there are many preachers who have not been called into the ministry by God, but rather who have figured out that they had a "gift for gab" and could persuade others to believe in and follow them: talking their way into positions of leadership with little or no skills for the position. They are NOT called, but have just convinced themselves that they could profit from preaching. It's little wonder that the church is in decline from these charlatans!
From a New Reader in Unknown:
Hello, Al. I came across your web site a few weeks ago and have really been enjoying reading your Reflections articles from your Archives. I would appreciate you adding me to your mailing list for these articles. Thank you.
From a Reader in Hawaii:
Aloha, Al. We wanted to write to let you know we have one of your good books here: "Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace." We really appreciate your book, and it has been a help to people here! Thank you!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, thank you for your latest article, "Supping with Stains and Stones." I was particularly enlightened by the comments from the reader from Mississippi regarding the Samaritan woman with whom Jesus spoke at Jacob's well (John 4). Her insights were interesting; I had never thought of it before like that. Just goes to show that we can be victims sometimes of tunnel vision and false assumptions: seeing things that aren't even there!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Excellent research and presentation, my friend, on Jude's metaphors. What an ominous warning to those that take on the mantle of leadership! I know that the ox is due his portion, but some of the money some folks are making is beyond obscene. I was reminded by your description of disruptive people in the church of a passage I recently came across in 2 Timothy 4:14 where Paul was identifying by name a problem child - Alexander the Coppersmith. What a legacy to be named in Scripture as an impediment to the Truth! Oh, and you know what you get when you're in a boat and run up on unnoticed rocks? - shipwreck! Love ya, brother!!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, "Supping with Stains and Stones" was a very interesting study! I refer to those mentioned in that passage as "Jude's Dudes." Peace! And with respect to your service in Vietnam - Welcome Home!!
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