Sunday, July 2, 2023

The Exodus Generation of Israel Believers or Unbelievers


This article will address the question of the redeemed status of the Exodus generation of Israel at Kadesh Barnea. This is an important topic, as it bears directly on the interpretation of a number of New Testament passages that metaphorically draw from the events at Kadesh Barnea.

If the failure of the Exodus generation to enter the promised land was due to unbelief in God Himself, then the events at Kadesh Barnea are seen as a soteriological (salvation) illustration showing that the Exodus generation was unsaved.

However, if the failure of the Exodus generation to enter the promised land was due to unbelief in God's promise to give them the promised land and not disbelief in God Himself, then the events at Kadesh Barnea are seen as an illustration of the loss of rewards and blessings on the part of a saved people.

This is germane to New Testament metaphorical use of Kadesh Barnea, as failure to enter heaven (Heb 6:3-4 ), and failure to enter God's rest (Heb 3:7-11) can, and should be interpreted not as a loss of salvation, but rather a loss of rewards and blessings. This affects Lordship Salvation, Once Saved Always Saved, and other doctrines relating to salvation.

Background of Kadesh Barnea

Moses had led the Exodus generation out of Egypt and through the Red Sea to Horeb (Mt. Sinai), where they received the Law of Moses. After receiving the Law, the Lord told the Israelites to continue to Kadesh Barnea to prepare to take the land of Canaan.

Deu 1:19 Then, as the LORD our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea.

While at Kadesh Barnea, Moses selected 12 spies to go into the land of Canaan and bring back a report regarding the route that should take and the towns they would come to the people, the fertility and the defensive fortifications of in the land.

Deu 1:22-24 Then all of you came to me and said, "Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to." (23) The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. (24) They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it.

Num 13:17-20 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, "Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. (18) See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. (19) What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? (20) How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land." (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

When the spies returned from Canaan, a report was given to Moses and the nation. 10 of the 12 spies expressed fear and caused the people to turn against Moses and the Lord.

Num 13:27-28 They gave Moses this account: "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. (28) But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.

Num 13:31-33 But the men who had gone up with him said, "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." (32) And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, "The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. (33) We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."

Joshua and Caleb, 2 of the spies, countered with a good and faithful report encouraging the people that they could indeed take the land because God was with them and Canaan's protection was gone.

Num 13:30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."

Num 14:6-9 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes (7) and said to the entire Israelite assembly, "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. (8) If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. (9) Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them."

The Israelites had made their mind up, they concluded that God had brought them to the land of Canaan to kill them, so they rebelled.

Num 14:1-4 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. (2) All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! (3) Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" (4) And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt."

This rebellion resulted in the Israelites failure to enter the promised land of Canaan and instead they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, during which time all of the members of the Exodus generation would die.

Num 14:21-23 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, (22) not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times-- (23) not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.

Num 14:29 In this wilderness your bodies will fall--every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me.

The question being addressed is whether or not these Israelites who rebelled against the Lord at Kadesh Barnea were believers who were saved or unbelievers who were lost. I shall proceed to show that they were believers who were saved, but made some bad choices.

Israel - Regenerated Believers or Unregenerate Unbelievers

With this background in mind, we will investigate whether this generation of the nation of Israel was a regenerate believing nation losing rewards and blessings, or were they unregenerate unbelievers who where either never saved or ended up loosing their salvation. The answer to this question will in many cases determine how one interprets various other texts, such as Heb 6:4-6 and Heb 3:7-11 copied below, and will bear upon various doctrines including Lordship Salvation and Once Saved Always Saved.

Heb 6:4-6 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, (5) who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age (6) and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

Heb 3:7-11 So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, (8) do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, (9) where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. (10) That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' (11) So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'"

If the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea were unbelievers, that could lead one to an understanding in which those that "shall never enter my rest" (Heb 3:11) were unsaved or lost it and that "rest" is a synonym for "heaven".

We shall see as we read on however, that he Exodus generation was indeed a regenerate believing nation who did not lose their salvation, but did lose rewards and blessings. When this is used as an analogy for Hebrews 3 and 6, we shall see that the context of "God's rest" is rewards and blessing, not salvation.

Evidence of the Exodus Generation as Believers

There is considerable evidence that indicates that the Israelites who arrived at Kadesh Barnea were a regenerated believing nation, and not unbelievers in spite of their poor choices. It would follow through then that the metaphorical use of the Kadesh Barnea passages in Deuteronomy 1 and Numbers 13-14 would indicate a loss of rewards and blessings in contemporary as well as heavenly life, and not loss of salvation.

"The people bowed down and worshiped"

When the Exodus generation was still in Egypt, and God was sending the plagues, He instructed Moses and Aaron regarding the Passover. Moses and Aaron in turn instructed the people and concluded with the following passage:

Exo 12:27-28 then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'" Then the people bowed down and worshiped. (28) The Israelites did just what the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron.

This generation believed God when He told them to observe the Passover, and they followed this up with action. The response of the people to the Passover event was that they "bowed down and worshiped". Bowing down and worshiping would be quite uncharacteristic of unbelievers. This is good evidence that the Exodus generation were believers who worshiped God.

"The people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him"

After the people had escaped Egypt, and had crossed the Red Sea, and saw the destruction of the Egyptian army, their response was to "[fear] the Lord and put their trust in Him".

Exo 14:28-31 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen--the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. (29) But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (30) That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. (31) And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

The act of putting trust in the Lord is faith. The Israelites demonstrated faith when they believed God and put their trust in Him. This is the same faith found in Gen 15:6, which says "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." This sort of faith on the part of the Exodus generation, like that of Abram, would have counted towards their righteousness. They had saving faith, and were a regenerated believing people.

The Israelites Sang the "Song of Moses"

Moses and the Israelites sang the Song of Moses following their crossing of the Red Sea and their rescue from the Egyptian army, thanking God for their salvation, praising and exalting Him. This would certainly describe a nation of regenerate believers.

Exo 15:1-2 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: "I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. (2) "The LORD is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.

This generation of Israel believed and confessed that they were saved.

Worship at the Pillar of Cloud

Again we see the Exodus generation as a nation of believers as they stood before the pillar of cloud and worshiped God. There are a number of examples showing Israel worshiping.

Exo 33:10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent.

The Intent of Israel to do All the Lord Asks

The Exodus generation's intent to do all that the Lord asked as they were preparing to receive the Law of Moses is another indicator that they were a regenerated believing nation. The sinful mind is hostile to God, so this intent to do what God says shows their spiritual mindset.

Exo 19:7-8 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. (8) The people all responded together, "We will do everything the LORD has said." So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.

Exo 24:3 When Moses went and told the people all the LORD's words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the LORD has said we will do."

Exo 24:7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey."

Another point related to the Exodus generation is that if they were a nation of hostile unbelievers then God would not have given them the Law with it's copious instructions for worship, the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, all the ordinances and so on. If they were unbelievers they would not have been able to obey these instructions and would not have said they would do them.

What About Israel's Carnal Behavior

Throughout Israel's history, then have engaged in heinous behavior. This sort of behavior does not mean that they are unbelievers any more than the heinous behavior of some of us removes us from God's salvation. The Corinthians provide a clarifying example of this.

The Corinthians were considered Saints, or Holy People.

1Co 1:2-3 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours: (3) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

But like the Exodus generation, they engaged in some pretty bad behavior. And yet, in spite of their poor behavior, God never rejected them. They were considered saints and holy people. The issue was not that they were unbelievers, but that as believers, they were unbelieving towards God's commands. They did not loose their salvation, but the did suffer consequences for their actions.

1Co 1:11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.

1Co 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife.

1Co 6:9-11 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men (10) nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (11) And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1Co 6:12-13 "I have the right to do anything," you say--but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"--but I will not be mastered by anything. (13) You say, "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both." The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

1Co 15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Certainly the Corinthians could identify with the Exodus generation, for like the Exodus generation the Corinthians were a worldly bunch. Indeed both of these groups were mostly new believers, young in their faith.

1Co 3:1-3 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly--mere infants in Christ. (2) I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (3) You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?

Paul States that he is judging the Church (Believers). The same occurred at Kadesh Barnea, the Exodus generation was judged and not allowed to experience the rewards and blessings of the promised land, nevertheless, they were believers in God.

1Co 5:12-13 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (13) God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked person from among you."

R. T. Kendall uses the Passover to summarize the Exodus generation's salvation status well.

"It would be a serious mistake to dismiss the children of Israel in the wilderness by writing

them off as unregenerate from the start. To say that such people were never saved is to fly in

the face of the memorable fact that they kept the Passover. They obeyed Moses, who gave

an unprecedented, if not strange command to sprinkle blood on either side and over the

doors (Exo 12:7). But they did it…If obeying Moses’ command to sprinkle blood on the

night of the Passover was not a type of saving faith, I do not know what is. These people

were saved. We shall see them in heaven, even if it turns out they were “saved so as by fire”

(1Co 3:15).

If R. T. Kendall is correct, and I believe he is, then 1Co 3:12-15 supports the loss of rewards and blessings viewpoint. Paul indicates that those who's works are burned up will be saved, but "as one escaping through the flames". Thus the failure of the Exodus generation to enter the land of Canaan is a work categorized as "wood, hay or straw" that results in a loss of rewards and blessings, or "saved - even though only as one escaping through the flames.

1Co 3:12-15 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, (13) their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. (14) If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. (15) If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved--even though only as one escaping through the flames.

New Testament Evidence of Israel's Salvation

Paul indicates that the Exodus generation of Israel "the were baptized into Moses", "ate the same spiritual food" (as the Corinthians), "drank the same spiritual drink", and drank from the "spiritual rock" who was Christ. Clearly Paul is explicitly referring to the Exodus generation in this passage, as they "passed through the sea". They were believers who were all "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea", "ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink", etc.

1Co 10:1-4 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (2) They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (3) They all ate the same spiritual food (4) and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Hebrews states that "by faith the people passed through the Red Sea, again a reference to the faith of the Exodus generation. They had the same faith as the later generation who did enter the land of Canaan and brought down the walls of Jericho.

Heb 11:29-30 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. (30) By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

Where is Moses?

The claim that the people of the Exodus generation were not saved usually will equate the "promised land" to "God's rest" or "heaven" as opposed to rewards and blessings. The failure of Israel to go into the promised land is equated with a failure to enter heaven.

One of the issues with this is that Moses did not make it into the promised land. If "promised land" is equated with "heaven", and Moses did not make it, then we have a contradiction in scripture.

Moses did not see the promised land.

Num 14:38 Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.

Num 14:29-30 In this wilderness your bodies will fall--every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. (30) Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

Deu 4:21-22 The LORD was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance. (22) I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land.

Of course Moses is in heaven.

Mat 17:2-3 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. (3) Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Moses was a believer that suffered a loss of rewards and blessings as a consequence of his sin. He did not loose his salvation and fail to make it into heaven. The Exodus generation also suffered loss of rewards and blessings, and they also made it into heaven.


The sin of the Exodus generation was not that they were unbelievers, but that as believers, they were unbelieving towards God's command to take the promised land.

The penalty of this disbelief is not the loss of salvation, but the loss of the blessings of the land for a generation. This passage in Numbers 14 shows that they were forgiven, but that they would still bear the consequences of their unbelief.

Num 14:20-23 The LORD replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. (21) Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, (22) not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times-- (23) not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.

It has been shown that the Exodus generation of Israel was already a believing generation, redeemed and regenerated before they ever arrived at Kadesh Barnea. What they forfeited due to their unbelief and failure to take Canaan was not their salvation, but the blessings of enjoying the promised land.

Accordingly, New Testament references to this situation also involves not loss of salvation for those already saved, but loss of rewards and blessings.

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