“…the same place name, ‘Kadesh,’ suggests the Old Testament author’s intention to liken the sin of the people in Numbers 14 to the sin of Moses and Aaron (Num. 13:26; 20:1). The sin of the Exodus generation was a growing lack of trust in God’s life-sustaining presence (Exod. 17:7) to provide for their needs (Num. 11:4-6; 18-23; 14:7-9). Their sin culminated in their decisive refusal to trust God to bring them into the land and overcome its inhabitants (Num. 14:8-10). Their sin was certainly grievous! BUT IT WAS NOT A TOTAL AND FINAL REJECTION OF FAITH IN GOD, INCURRING ETERNAL CONDEMNATION for the following reasons. First, the Lord ‘pardoned them’ in response to Moses’ plea (Num. 14:20). Note that Moses requested God to pardon Israel’s ‘iniquity…according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now’ (v.19 NASB). When God ‘pardoned them according to [Moses’] word’ (v. 20 NASB), he declared their forgiveness was complete as Moses had requested. Second, in response to the Lord’s oath of judgment on them, ‘the people mourned greatly’ (v. 39). The next day they confessed, ‘We have indeed sinned,’ and they attempted to possess the land the Lord had promised (v.40). Though their confession and resolve to enter the land was now too late, their response is hardly representative of a people who had totally renounced belief in God. Third, their redemption (i.e., salvation) from Egypt was not forfeited because they were never allowed to return to their former bondage under Pharaoh. Instead, God ‘carried’ them along in the wilderness ‘as a man carries his son’ (Deut. 1:31). Finally, since their sin is identical in description and punishment to that of Moses and Aaron, it must be regarded as the same. Therefore, since no one considers the sin of Moses and Aaron as total apostasy thereby incurring eternal destruction, neither should the sins of the people be regarded as such” (Randall Gleason, “A Moderate Reformed View,” from “Four Views On The Warning Passages In Hebrews” by Herbert W. Bateman IV, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, pages 349-350).
Last night, I looked at Randall Gleason’s exegesis regarding the salvation of the Israelites when they were delivered out of the hands of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. The exegesis clearly shows us then, that the Israelites were saved; as Exodus 15 told us, they were “redeemed” and “purchased” by God. This surely requires a greater meaning than physical deliverance!!!
Let’s look at the passage in question:
14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, 15 while it is said:
“ Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”[a]
Failure of the Wilderness Wanderers
16 For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? 17 Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
The Promise of Rest
1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them,[b] not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. (Hebrews 3:14-4:2, New King James Version)
Now, look back at Randall Gleason’s analysis above: “Their sin was certainly grievous! But it was not a total and final rejection of faith in God, incurring eternal condemnation…” (349).
What is the problem with this statement is that, if Gleason’s right, then the above
passage from Hebrews 3 and 4 makes no sense! First of all, the writer makes clear in Hebrews 4:2 that “the gospel was preached to us AS WELL AS TO THEM, but the word which they heard DID NOT PROFIT THEM, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” Here the writer compares the Exodus generation to the congregation of Hebrews. They heard the gospel as well, but they did not have faith to go along with it. What we discover is that they didn’t hear any different message than the Hebrews heard—or we hear today!!! This is the first point to note: there was no difference in the message then and the message to the Hebrews.
Let’s examine Gleason’s reasons for why the Israelites didn’t suffer eternal condemnation. First, he says that “the Lord ‘pardoned them’ in response to Moses’ plea (Num. 14:20)” (349).
Let’s examine Numbers 14:20—
“Then the LORD said: ‘I HAVE PARDONED, according to your word…” (NKJV)
However, it is at this point that the tables turn on Gleason’s analysis (starting in Numbers 14:21ff):
“but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord—because all these men who have seen MY glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, THEY CERTAINLY SHALL NOT SEE THE LAND OF WHICH I SWORE TO THEIR FATHERS, NOR SHALL ANY OF THOSE WHO REJECTED ME SEE IT” (Num. 14:21-23, NKJV).
So, while the Lord pardons the Israelites and spares them from death, He does tell Moses to tell them that they will die out in the wilderness. They will not see the Promised Land:
“Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: ‘The carcasses of you who have complained against Me SHALL FALL IN THIS WILDERNESS, ALL OF YOU WHO WERE NUMBERED, ACCORDING TO YOUR ENTIRE NUMBER, FROM TWENTY YEARS OLD AND ABOVE. EXCEPT FOR CALEB THE SON OF JEPHUNNEH AND JOSHUA THE SON OF NUN, YOU SHALL BY NO MEANS ENTER THE LAND which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, YOUR CARCASSES SHALL FALL IN THIS WILDERNESS. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of YOUR INFIDELITY, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the LORD have spoken this, I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. IN THIS WILDERNESS THEY SHALL BE CONSUMED, AND THERE THEY SHALL DIE’” (Num. 14:28-34, NKJV, caps mine).
The above seven verses are not what anyone would wanna hear from the Almighty Himself; and yet, this is what Israel would receive for her constant complaining, murmuring, and rejection of the Lord. Gleason is wrong on his first reason: while God pardons them, He doesn’t pardon them permanently. He spares them for now, but reveals to Moses that they will not go into the land…even though Moses is still to turn around and lead them (after knowing of their final end!!).
Gleason’s next reason:
“Second, in response to the Lord’s oath of judgment on them, ‘the people mourned greatly’ (v. 39). The next day they confessed, ‘We have indeed sinned,’ and they attempted to possess the land the Lord had promised (v.40). Though their confession and resolve to enter the land was now too late, their response is hardly representative of a people who had totally renounced belief in God” (350).
I will talk about this after reprinting Gleason’s third reason:
“Third, their redemption (i.e., salvation) from Egypt WAS NOT FORFEITED BECAUSE THEY WERE NEVER ALLOWED TO RETURN TO THEIR FORMER BONDAGE UNDER PHARAOH” (350).
Gleason says that the people showed remorse over their sin, and they didn’t get to return to Egypt. According to him, these reasons are supposed to justify why their crime was not apostasy.
However, Gleason is incorrect twice more!! First, while they did respond as though they were remorseful, they were remorseful AFTER the Lord’s pronouncement to them (vv. 28-34), not BEFORE! Look at what they said just prior to the Lord’s pronouncement of death:
“And all the children of Israel COMPLAINED against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘IF ONLY WE HAD DIED IN THE LAND OF EGYPT! OR IF ONLY WE HAD DIED IN THIS WILDERNESS! WHY HAS THE LORD BROUGHT US TO THIS LAND TO FALL BY THE SWORD, that our wives and children should become victims? WOULD IT NOT BE BETTER FOR US TO RETURN TO EGYPT?” (Num. 14:2-3, NKJV)
They actually believed Egypt would be better than the wilderness! But the next verse is the most heartbreaking:
“So they said to one another, ‘LET US SELECT A LEADER AND RETURN TO EGYPT’” (Num. 14:4).
At this verse, the Israelites had hardened their hearts for the last time against their Lord! Now, they had sealed their fate: although physically free, their hearts and minds were still in Egypt. And now, as the consequence for their sin, they would end up in a worse state than their first state—in the wilderness, where their bodies would rot and become food for the vultures.
So even though they didn’t go back to Egypt, they did go back—IN THEIR HEARTS! And in God’s sight, the Israelites made the same choice Lot’s wife did: although they were freed, they wanted to be bound and in chains!! No wonder the Lord said in Luke 17:32, “Remember Lot’s wife!”
The last reason Gleason argues is that the sin of Israel was the same as that of Moses and Aaron, so their sin did not result in eternal condemnation. However, while Moses’ sin was a sin of unbelief, it was not a sin of constant rebellion against God. Moses committed a sin, but he was not constantly complaining against God, constantly questioning the Lord and His power. The Israelites complained and murmured against God at every turn. In Numbers 14, their final decision to “go back to Egypt” sealed the deal. In the mind of God, this was the nation’s final rejection of His goodness to them. Think about it: this was the ultimate “slap” in the face of the Lord, who had brought them out of Egypt and was taking them into the Promised Land. For Israel to wanna go back to Egypt was the same thing as Israel saying, “Lord, we despise everything you’ve done for us! We don’t want it at all; keep your Promised Land! We’re going back into bondage!” What a hurt to the Lord who had heard their cries and seen their distresses, and sent Moses to deliver them—after 430 years!!!
The very thing the Lord was trying to give them was the very thing Israel wanted nothing to do with! What else was there to be done for such an ungrateful nation? God had already sent plagues and illnesses to them out in the wilderness to chastise them for their complaining and unbelief—and what had it done? Nothing, absolutely nothing. So ask yourself: what ELSE could God have done? Nothing else would have gotten their attention. But, once God declared they would die in the wilderness, what was their reaction?
“And they rose early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, ‘Here we are, and we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised, for we have sinned!’” (Numbers 14:40, NKJV)
At this point, they are now ready to conquer the land. But look at what happened when Joshua tried to encourage them to go forth and conquer the land:
“But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes: and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey. Only DO NOT REBEL AGAINST THE LORD, nor dear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, AND THE LORD IS WITH US. Do not fear them” (Num. 14:6-9, NKJV).
See the reaction of the people?
“And all the congregation SAID TO STONE THEM WITH STONES” (Numbers 14:10a, NKJV).
They went so far as to even wanna have their leaders stoned!! They not only rejected their human leadership, but the LORD who had appointed the human leadership! In short, their rejection of their leaders was a rejection of the Divine Himself! This was the rejection of God at its best.
Yes, as Moses said, “The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy” (Numbers 14:18a); but He is also just, “BY NO MEANS CLEARS THE GUILTY, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation” (Num. 14:18b).