How does one win an argument with the devil? We have previously seen in face to face interactions that God and Jesus Christ were able to defeat Satan without any great difficulty. Nevertheless, we ought to be aware of our own limitations and recognize that we are nowhere near as intelligent or as powerful beings as either God or Jesus Christ. Even the most sanguine of us about our intellect and skills at debate ought to recognize that dealing with Satan is by no means as easy a task as we might hope, not when we are competing against a being that has spent the better part of thousands of years deceiving angels and human beings and corrupting them from whatever innocence they once had. If we are looking for practical guides on how to contend in arguments with Satan, we are going to have to lower our gaze from a discussion of how God and Jesus Christ completely managed to befuddle and overcome Satan and to look at how it was that Satan was bested by an equal, by an archangel. While the Bible is not full of such situations, it does at least provide one worthwhile example of a successful debate between Satan and the archangel Michael, in Jude :9: “Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!””
At first, this particular passage does not give us very much information, and if we would look in our Bibles to see where this particular verse was quoted from, we would look in Deuteronomy and Joshua in vain. Indeed, this particular verse appears to have been quoted from an pseudographical Jewish book called the Assumption of Moses, which provides an account of Michael and Satan arguing over the disposition of the body of Moses. Satan wanted the location of Moses’ grave on Mount Nebo to be known so that it would become a location where the children of Israel would commit idolatry and make a shrine and thus ruin the legacy of monotheistic faith in God that Moses had lived his life seeking to teach Israel how to walk in through his example. Michael, on the other hand, wished for Moses’ grave location to be a secret so that Israel would not be able to create a shrine on the location of the grave and so Moses’ words and deeds would live on and not the superstitious regard for relics and shrines and pilgrimages and other such vain and futile religious traditions. As it happens, Michael was successful in this and Moses’ grave location remains unknown to this day, for the best.
Why did Jude quote this nonbiblical source, though. There is no evidence that Jude considered this particular book to be worthy of canonization, for it is not cited with any tag like “Scripture says” or “it is written” or any of the other usual ways by which biblical writers mark their respect and regard for other books. Nor is the Assumption of Moses the only such non-biblical text of his time that is quoted by Jude, as the book of 1 Enoch is also quoted in a similar fashion. These books were popular with various sectarian groups of the time that Jude is highly critical of, and in order to understand Jude’s purpose in quoting unreliable text against people who view it highly, it is best for us to look at the context of this passage, namely Jude :5-11: “But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.”
Here we see, in looking at this greater context, that Jude was quoting the Assumption of Moses against those who viewed the book with a great deal of respect, and showing how godly conclusions about respect for authority could be drawn even from nonbiblical texts that were popular for various reasons with sectarian groups. Without respecting the Assumption of Moses itself as a biblical text, Jude drew from that text, which his audience respected to a high degree, conclusions that followed his own conduct and belief system and rebuked the lack of respect that his audience had for godly and apostolic authority. Jude points out that even Michael respected Satan enough and Satan’s (temporary) authority over the earth not to bring up a reviling accusation, and therefore sin himself, but rather pointed to God’s authority rather than his own. And so Michael was successful, because he did not attempt to bolster his own personal authority but rather recognized that he was a servant of God and acting on God’s behalf to serve God’s interests and therefore it was God’s authority to rebuke Satan and not his own. Many human leaders forget this and seek to bolster their own personal authority and therefore sin presumptuously through their presumptuous arrogation of authority that properly belongs to God. It is not we who rebuke our enemies, including Satan, but rather God who rebukes them. We are no more than mere messengers in this, and hopefully humble ones at that.