The author, “Jude,” is warning against false teachers. Among the faults of these teachers is that “they defile flesh, they despise Dominion[s], and they blaspheme Glories (Doxai)” (Jude 8). “Glories” seems to be another name or title of the ruling Heavenly Powers. Jude then brings up an example from “Scripture,” telling about how the Archangel Michael refrained from blaspheming Devil when contesting with him over the body of Moses:
But when Michael the Archangel contended with Devil and disputed about the corpse of Moses, he did not dare to bring a blasphemous denunciation against him. Instead, he said, “The Lord rebuke you.” (Jude 9)
In contrast, Jude goes on to say, the false teachers blaspheme what they do not understand (Jude 10).
In other words, the behavior of Michael should stand as a condemnation the false teachers and a lesson for good Christians, since he refrained from “blaspheming” Devil, that is, using insulting or inappropriate words against him. Instead, Michael used the formula supplied by the Lord (or the Angel of Yahweh) in opposing the action of Devil in the Book of Zechariah, appealing to God Himself to intervene and decide their dispute over Jesus the High Priest.
We are told by Clement of Alexandria and by Origen of Alexandria that Jude is here drawing on a work called the Assumption of Moses, which is now lost. We are not able to say what the dispute was about; but it clearly had something to do with the fact that no one knows what became of Moses’s body after he died (see Deut. 34.5-6). We can infer that the body of Moses will be better off if the Lord awards the victory to Michael, thereby giving him the privilege of disposing of the body. And since there is a reference to the situation depicted in Zechariah, we can also infer that Devil is combining his job as Angel of Death with that of Prosecuting Attorney, and that he is trying to argue for his right to the body because of some offense that Moses has committed, which would disqualify him from having his remains disposed of by Michael.
Let’s infer further. There must be two Angels of Death, Devil and Michael. Devil takes custody of the failures, while Michael is in charge of the virtuous dead. In Greek tradition, the escorters of souls after death are called “psychopomps.” But in Jude’s set-up, they are “somatopomps,” that is, undertakers, body-snatchers. For Moses is clearly already dead. We recall that in the Great Midrash on Deuteronomy, the Angel of Death’s role was to confront the subject while still alive and tell him that it is time to die.
It is interesting to see that Jude goes on to say that the false teachers “go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah’s rebellion” (Jude 11).
Two of these three biblical figures, namely, Cain and Balaam, have known Satanic or Diabolical connections.
We must not lose track of the reason that Jude brings up the episode of the contest over the body of Moses. It is that even Devil received and deserved respect in the fulfillment of his duties. A corollary is that the proper way of dealing with him is through prayer and leaving his fate to God, not through tirades against him.
We are fortunate to have a reader’s reaction to what Jude says about Michael and Devil. The reader in question is the author of the Second Epistle of St. Peter. Second Peter is a thorough-going pseudepigraph, in that it is not by Peter but written in his name, as his “last will and testament,” and there is no evidence that the author had any connection with Peter.
As we will see in the next chapter, the author takes over Jude’s attack against false teachers. When he comes to Jude 8-10, he says:
They indulge their flesh in depraved lust, they despise Dominion, and, bold and willful, they are not afraid to blaspheme Glories. But Angels, though greater in strength and force, do not bring a blasphemous denunciation before the Lord against them [the Glories]. These people, however, are like irrational animals. . . and blaspheme what they do not understand. (2 Peter 2.10-11)
What the author of 2 Peter has done is to eliminate the specifics of Jude’s example, making no reference to the dispute of Devil and Michael. Instead, he has simply identified Michael as one of the Angels and, astounding as it might seem to modern readers, he has identified Devil as one of the Glories!
All the Glories, then, including Devil, deserve our respect, according to Second Peter, especially since the Glories get respect from the other Angels.