[Note: This piece by Glenn Jobe is especially apropos in light of the recently concluded Deaver-Simons Debate, wherein Simons constantly equated clouds and water in his effort to undermine there being two elements in the Israelites’ baptism in 1 Cor. 10:1-2 (“in the cloud and in the sea”). Simons was driven to affirm “cloud” and “sea” are identical, since he refused to admit two elements in baptism in John 3:5. –Weylan Deaver]
By Glenn A. Jobe
Jude writes of certain men whom he terms “clouds without water” (verse 12). We usually associate clouds with water vapor. What did inspired Jude have in mind when he wrote of clouds without water? Let’s see if we may gain understanding by considering this strange expression within the context of Jude.
Jude states the reason for writing his short epistle: …I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (verse 3). He next explains why his readers must contend earnestly for the faith: For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 4).
Note that Jude tags these false teachers “ungodly men.” “Ungodly” (asebēs, ἀσεβεῖς) means “godless, impious.” Thayer adds, “destitute of reverential awe towards God, contemning God, impious.” W.E. Vine comments, “…without reverence for God, not merely irreligious, but acting in contravention of God’s demands, Rom. 4:5; 5:6; I Tim. 1:9; I Pet. 4:18; 2 Pet. 2:5 (v. 6 in some mss.); 3:7; Jude 4, 15 (twice).”
In the illustrations that follow, Jude takes the reader through the wilderness wanderings, the rebellion of angels, Sodom and Gomorrah, the contention over the body of Moses, the way of Cain and Balaam, and the rebellion of Korah (verses 5-11). Each of these events produces images that are pregnant with meaning in Jewish minds.
In verses 12-18 Jude pictures these ungodly men both by their conduct and by names he assigns to them. Since the title of this article is “Clouds Without Water,” let us list the names that Jude offers. According to Jude these ungodly or godless men are: (1) like brute beasts, (2) spots in your love feasts, (3) clouds without water, (4) late autumn trees without fruit, (5) raging waves of the sea, (6) wandering stars, (7) grumblers, (8) complainers, (9) mockers, and (10) sensual (i.e., fleshly, ψυχικοί; e.g. Jas. 3:15) persons. Jude then concludes the list in verse 19 before he begins his final exhortation in verse 20 with the indictment, “not having the Spirit.” Each of these offenses is the result of the Spirit being absent in these men.
So, what are “clouds without water? Again the language triggers multiple Old Testament images. God appeared to His people in a cloud on several occasions, including throughout the wilderness wanderings (Exod. 13:21; 14:19-20). This is the first illustration Jude offers (verse 5). God was not a cloud but He was in the cloud (Num. 11:25; 12:5). The cloud was the means by which God spoke to Moses face to face (Exod. 33:11; Num. 14:14). Without the actual presence of God on these occasions, the cloud was meaningless to Israelites.
Jude calls these godless men “clouds.” But why is their condition tagged “clouds without water”? God’s presence (Spirit) is not in them. They are clouds without God, or as Jude expresses their situation, “having not the Spirit” (verse 19). No living water flows forth from these waterless clouds unto eternal life (John 4:10-14; 7:37-39; cf. Isa. 44:3, 4).