5-30 The Body Of Moses

Jude 9: “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee”.

Popular Interpretation

This is quoted in very vague terms, with the implication that the devil must be a personal being, and that this describes an argument between the devil, as an angel, and an archangel.


1. There is no implication that “the devil” here is an angel. Seeing that it is stressed that all the angels are united in doing God’s will and are all obedient to Him (Ps. 103:19-21; 148:2; Heb. 1:14), it is not possible for there to be an argument in heaven between angels.

2. We have shown in the Debate that the phrases “devil” and “satan” can be used about ordinary men.

3. This devil is concerned with the body of Moses not the so-called “immortal soul” of men (which is not Biblical teaching anyway).

4. There are many similarities between Jude and 2 Peter 2. Jude v. 9 has a parallel in 2 Peter 2:11: “Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord”. Peter’s equivalent of “the devil” is “them” - implying that the devil in Jude v. 9 is not an individual, personal being, but a group of people. 2 Peter 2:10-12 clearly indicates that the “them” was a group of men.

5. As with Jude v. 6, this verse is in the context of Jude v. 5 - “I will therefore put you in remembrance”. Jude is therefore reminding them of incidents in Israel’s history from which they should learn lessons. Thus Jude v. 9 must be a reference to an historical incident recorded in Scripture. There is no such incident concerning an angel called the devil arguing with another angel.

6. Michael the Archangel asked God to rebuke, or “forbid”, the devil. If there is a super-human person, power or agency, called the devil causing men to sin and creating trouble, then there is no evidence that he was ever effectively forbidden, seeing that sin and disaster are progressively increasing.

Suggested Explanations

1. The reference to the devil here is incidental. The purpose of the passage is to show that angels speak in a gentle, humble way, even about people they know are in the wrong. They do not show personal vindictiveness, but say, “The LORD rebuke thee”. The Judaizers “speak evil of dignities; Yet Michael...durst not bring against him (the devil) a railing accusation”, i.e. he did not resort to bitter speaking as they did. Similarly Exodus 33:9-11 says that the angel spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend”, i.e. in a relaxed, friendly way. It should be remembered that it was with this voice that the “fiery law” of Moses was given by the angel, not in a harsh manner, as can be wrongly inferred from some parts of the narrative. Similarly the “still, small voice” that Elijah heard was probably the quiet, unassuming voice of an angel (1 Kgs. 19:12; cp. Job 4:16, also A/V margin).

2. There are so many points of contact between this verse and Zechariah 3 that that chapter must surely provide an historical background to the verse, which would be appreciated by Jude’s readers:

Zechariah 3: 1-2: “And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”

The most evident similarities are:

Zechariah 3


The angel of the Lord

Michael the archangel


The devil

The Lord rebuke thee

The Lord rebuke thee

A brand plucked out of the fire (vs. 1-2).

Pulling them out of the fire (vs. 9 & 23).

The context in Zechariah 3 was that of the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem from Babylon under Ezra and Nehemiah. They were trying to rebuild the temple and re-establish a system of worship there. However, “the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building” (Ezra 4: 4), i.e. they acted as satan - adversaries - to the Jews. They are actually called “the adversaries of Judah” in Ezra 4:1. They wrote “an accusation against the (new) inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” to the king of Persia (Ezra 4:6). The Hebrew word for “accusation” is related to that translated “satan”; שטנה. Zechariah 3: 8 clearly tells us that the characters of vs. 1 and 2 are “men of sign” (A.V. margin), i.e. we have to interpret them. So the satans - the adversaries - stood before the angel along with Joshua the High Priest, who “was clothed with filthy garments” (v. 3) - without a mitre on his head (v. 5 implies).

The implication is that the inhabitants of the land, the satan, were complaining to God, manifested in the angel, that the new Jewish high priest was not really valid, as he did not wear the proper clothes (they had probably been lost during the captivity). The angel tells satan, “The Lord rebuke thee”, and proceeds to clothe Joshua with a set of priestly clothes and a mitre (vs. 4 & 5), thus showing God’s acceptance of him. The inference behind the complaint was that God had not really chosen Jerusalem for the Jews to rebuild, and that therefore they were going ahead with their plans without God behind them. But the angel says that “the Lord...hath chosen Jerusalem”, in the same way as He had chosen Joshua to be high priest. Thus Joshua represented Jerusalem. “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” the angel asks satan concerning Jerusalem. This is quoted in Jude v. 23 concerning saving repentant sinners. Thus the angel is in effect saying, “Jerusalem has repented, therefore I have plucked them out of the fire of judgment and destruction; you should not therefore be implying that Jerusalem and the Jews are so sinful that they cannot be restored to their land with Me behind them”.

Jude says that the dispute between the angel and the devil - those opposed to the rebuilding of the temple - was “about the body of Moses”. This phrase can therefore either refer to the Jewish people generally , in the same way as the Christian church is “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27) because we look to him for guidance, rather than being in the “body of sin” (Rom. 6: 6) because we follow sin, or to Joshua the high priest. Joshua was the “body of Moses” in the sense that “body” can be a figure of speech for a “slave”, e.g. Revelation 18:13; Hebrews 10: 5; Psalm 40: 6; and Exodus 21:2-6, and Romans 6: 6 where having a “body of sin” probably means being a “slave of sin”. The High Priest was thus the slave of Moses.

3. Another suggestion it that the “body of Moses” was Moses’ literal Body; Michael the archangel was the angel of Israel (Dan. 12:1) who led them through the wilderness in the cloud and fire (Ex. 23:20-21). The dispute may have been between the angel and a group of Jews - “the devil” - who wanted to take the body of Moses with them. But the angel had buried Moses’ body and would not tell anyone where it was (Deut. 34:6). Remember that the body of Joseph was carried up into Canaan by the Jews (Josh. 24:32) as were the bodies of Jacob and the twelve patriarchs from Egypt (Acts 7: 15-16 R.V..); and we know that the bodies of the kings of Israel were used in wrong worship rituals (Ez. 43:7); it is to be expected, therefore, that some of the Jews would also want to take the body of Moses, their great leader, with them. The Jews laid great store by having the remains of their leaders physically with them- they are condemned for keeping the corpses of their kings in the temple (Ez. 43:7-9).

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