Understanding the First Generation under Moses

Discussion in 'OT Historical Books' started by JTB.SDG, Aug 7, 2018.

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  1. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore


    I'm wrestling with understanding the first generation that came out of Egypt under Moses. In my mind there are two distinct possibilities:

    1. We read throughout Numbers of members of the assembly falling to various judgments of God for their unbelief/disobedience: When they make the calf, the Lord calls the Levites to put on their swords and many fall (Ex.32:28ff). The Lord struck many who were greedy for meat (Num.11:33-34). A man is put to death for Sabbath-breaking (Num.15). Korah and Abiram and all who were with them, included the 250 leaders of the people, some are consumed by fire and others have the earth swallow them up. The Lord again sends plague to take the lives of those who grumbled (Num.16:46-49). The serpents take the lives of many as a judgment for their sin (Num.21). Leaders were executed (it seems) and many died in the plague because of immorality at Peor (Num.25). Psalm 106 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 refer back to these events as a warning: Don't be like those who thus sinned and thus fell. It seems the implication is that it was those who fell in such ways that were judged--set apart in a special way from the REST of that first generation who were not so judged.

    2. Hebrews 3 seems to implicate basically the entire first generation: Besides a few exceptions, none of them entered into the Lord's rest. In this understanding, it wasn't just those who incurred extraordinary judgments of the Lord (excommunication) that missed out on entering into the Lord's rest, but basically, all of them--the application being that being a "member in good standing" in the visible church never guarantees you anything. Some of them fell by means extraordinary (IE: divine excommunication); others fell by means more ordinary (old age or whatever), but ALL fell showing us that even though many of them were continuing in "good standing" in the "visible church", God wasn't pleased with any of them.

    I know the whole first generation missed out on Canaan. What I'm wondering is: Did God withhold the TYPE from all in order that a good portion of them might not miss out on the REALITY it represented? After they all rebelled in Numbers 14 to take the land, did a good portion of them repent? And they died "normal deaths" in order to signify that the Lord had set them apart from those who experienced the special judgments of God? Does that make sense? Sorry this is so long. Any thoughts?
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2018
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    For my part, I tend to think most of them who fell in the wilderness lacked saving faith, regardless of how they died. I think that many of that generation did have faith, or gained it, repenting. But these all had to bear typological consequences meted out to the whole people for the sake of future generations.

    I don't see distinctions there in the text being spelled out, based on the manner of death. Those who expired of old age or infirmity are still being judged because of a 40yr sentence divinely imposed. What would make a difference would be if this one or that put his faith in what he could not see, or the reality beyond all the visible signs--starting with circumcision.

    God did use the means of grace to promote faith in the rising generation, the one that led the way into Canaan. I think we are encouraged to suppose many of them possessed the reality, and not just the outward forms. Faith is the victory that overcomes.

    Are we to think that those who fell at Ai were singled out by God for judgment because they were comparatively fewer not-elect? (I'm applying the same logic of your argument to the contrasting generation that enters.) I don't think we're meant to make conclusions about the dying ones as individuals; and neither does it seem correct to conclude similar things about the wilderness individuals.

    Israel as a whole was being treated as covenant-breakers, as Lo-Ammi, "Not-My-People." Members of the general public born in the wilderness were not permitted to be circumcised, hence the great ceremony at Gilgal, Josh.5. Only then was the "reproach of Egypt rolled away from you."

    Those are my thoughts...
  3. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Good stuff, thanks as always Bruce.
  4. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Based on how the Bible generally describes that first generation, I too tend to think most of them lacked saving faith. But there are hints of possible repentance among some of them.

    The request of the daughters of Zelophehad suggests some distinction between those who notoriously sinned further after being turned back from the land and those who did not (Numbers 27:3). Perhaps Zelophehad repented, and this is part of the reason his daughters had the faith to ask for his share of the land. We cannot know that, of course, but it would fit God's mercy if he used the loss of the land as discipline, to bring some to repentance.
  5. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Bruce and Jack (and others), do you think this is a fair general application for us today of the warnings of 1 Corinthians 10 and Hebrews 3-4? "There's a very solemn warning here for us: Being part of God's people doesn't guarantee you're destined for Canaan. Being a member in the church doesn't guarantee access to eternal glory. It's a wonderful privilege to be part of God's people, but the question for each one of us is this: Which kind of His people are you going to be? Are you going to be like the first generation of His people in the wilderness? Or will you be like the second?"
  6. sc_q_jayce

    sc_q_jayce Puritan Board Freshman

    I think that encapsulates the first sentence of Hebrews 4 pretty accurately: "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it." There is a call to not harden your hearts, fear God and repent as God has not revoked your entry into His promised rest.

    The great thing about Chapter 4 is how it calls us to enter that rest. Verse 11 points to our needing to strive to enter that rest and throwing off any inclination of disobedience. This is necessary because verse 12 and 13 points to the impartiality of God - "no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." If we stop there, then the reader would exactly be in the same state as the first generation of the exodus. Who could stand before God?

    What's great is verse 14 gives us a way of entering that rest. We have a great high priest who can intercede before us, a great high priest who is without sin and has atoned for our own sins through his perfect sacrifice. We can now "hold fast our confession" because Christ's work has brought confidence that we will enter that rest.

    Calvin in his commentary also touches upon this "confession:"

    "Confession is here, as before, to be taken as a metonymy for faith; and as the priesthood serves to confirm the doctrine, the Apostle hence concludes that there is no reason to doubt or to waiver respecting the faith of the Gospel, because the Son of God has approved and sanctioned it; for whosoever regards the doctrine as not confirmed, dishonors the Son of God, and deprives him of his honor as a priest; nay, such and so great a pledge ought to render us confident, so as to rely unhesitantly on the Gospel."

    I believe 1 Peter mirrors Hebrews 4 in this account, directly comparing us to the first and second generations of the exodus: "And if you call on him as father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing you have been ransomed from the futile ways inherited by your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."

    Here in 1 Peter he points to how God is impartial, how we must fear Him even during the time of our exile (or you can say exodus)... He has separated the "current generation" away from the futility of their "forefathers" even though God is impartial... how? Through Christ. So the call to rest in Christ is the same.

    *edit: fixed a typo
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2018
  7. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    One thought....Did Moses enter the Promised Land?
  8. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    No. Are you suggesting that some or maybe many that were sentensed to die in the wilderness (Numbers 26:65) were also true believers? Or was your question just as it is stated–a question?
  9. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    My understanding is that *on the whole* those who did not enter Canaan were not truly saved. But there were also exceptions to the norm, such as Moses, Miriam and Aaron. Most commentators offer there were probably *many* others along with them, but when compared with the 600,000 overall, Paul tells us that with *most* of them God was not well pleased (1 Corinthians 10:5).
  10. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I am suggesting that a lack of faith does not mean those who were judged temporally did not enter the ultimate Promise Land.
  11. ArminianOnceWas

    ArminianOnceWas Puritan Board Freshman

    I see some using the words "saved" and faith in this thread. What was salvation in the context of the Exodus? What is the role of faith and covenant within said context?
  12. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    When Canaan is viewed as a type of heaven, with our lives as believers and as members of the church in this age understood as a wilderness pilgrimage (still our God is with us, and we are with him), I think your application is unmistakably true.

    Heaven--the reality, not the type--alone is the place where it is true that nothing unclean, no one unclean in the least, will enter. For now, we are all "clean in principle," a condition that both circumcision and baptism signify in Scripture. But for some of us, "in principle" means "in essence;" the train has left the station on rails that terminate at an appointed destination. And for others of us, "in principle" only means "in theory," because there is no election of grace, and there is no change from the Egypt-of-heart; that train is bound to derail.
  13. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Yes, that is certainly a fair application for us today. It's a point I would think ought to be made several times if one were teaching, for instance, from the book of Numbers.
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