The Judgment of Wilderness Death
NOTE: All English translations are NKJV
When "all the congregation" refused to enter Canaan, with "all the children of Israel ... the whole congregation" complaining against Moses and Aaron (Num 14:1-4), except "Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh" (v.6), then God pronounces judgment (emphasis added):
27 “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: 29 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. 30 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" (Num 14:27-30)
Moses and Aaron will also not enter the promised land, but for other reasons (Num 20:12).
From the Numbers 14 passage, one is left with the impression that all but these four men are included in this rebellion and judgment.
There is some evidence that one or two other subset groups from Israel were also not necessarily held accountable (i.e. not just these four men explicitly noted in Numbers 14 were "outside" the judgment of dying in the wilderness for this offense, but that two other groups may have been directly excluded, though still affected by the consequences of the judgment, just not necessarily sentenced to death in the wilderness).
63 These are those who were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. 64 But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest when they numbered the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai. 65 For the Lord had said of them, “They shall surely die in the wilderness.” So there was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.
This passage hints that:
- Perhaps it was only the men held accountable, for it references the census of Num 1:1-46, that the men from then (1:2-3) are not among the men at that time able to go to war (26:2), having died in the wilderness under judgment. That is, those who would go to war but did not were the ones that were judged—which might then exclude women, and...
- Perhaps the male Levites were also not held accountable, because they were explicitly excluded from that earlier census (Num 1:47-49; 2:33), and were not the ones going to war. But more importantly, evidence suggests at least one Levite over 20 survived to enter: Eleazar, Araon's son (see below for further discussion).
Possibly Reconciling the Levites
Levites Not Part of the "Congregation" of Israel
These passages support a reconciliation leaning toward point #2 of the "Problem" discussed above.
Num 8:9 - Levites gathering is separate from that of the "whole congregation of the children of Israel"
Num 8:14 - Levites are "separate ... from among the children of Israel" (also v.19, Num 3:9, 12)
Num 8:18 - Levites taken in place of firstborn of Israel (also 3:41)
Num 8:19 - Levites were a gift to Aaron
Deut 18:1 - Levites have no inheritance with Israel
The above passages point toward a precedent that the Levites would be excluded from the reference of the "congregation" and "children of Israel" in the Numbers 14 judgment.
Eleazar Survived and Entered Land
Aaron's son Eleazar is a Levite, an Amramite, of the Kohathites (Ex 6:18-23). He has a priestly service from the start of the priesthood at Sinai (Lev 9:36, 10:6-7; Num 3:4), one that involved important service in the tabernacle (Num 4:16), and he was also placed "chief over the leaders of the Levites" (Num 3:32). It seems likely that Eleazar was already married at the time of the Exodus (Ex 6:25), and since he was serving in the tabernacle, it would seem that he fell under the restriction of the Kohathites that he be between thirty years and fifty years old to enter that service (Num 4:2-3). He was thus old enough to marry, and if the other restriction was true, this would make him over 20 at the time of Num 14 incident, and yet he does live to go into the Promised Land and die there (Josh 14:1, 24:33).
If the thirty year old restriction was included for Aaron's sons (the Num 4 passage seems a bit ambiguous on this, as Aaron and his sons are also "separate" from the Kohathites in their duties), then this would be further evidence the Levites over 20 were not included in the judgment.
I found this opinion online (accessed 5-26-2014; emphasis added):
When we take a careful look at the listing of the 12 spies, we find the tribe of Levi was not represented. Each spy is named in Numbers 13:4-15. Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s two sons, plus Jacob’s other ten sons, but not Levi, make the number 12. Levi stands apart from what happens. Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons, had to have been at least 30 years old to “minister in the priest’s office in the sight of Aaron their father” (Numbers 3:4). Eleazar succeeded his father as high priest and worked with Joshua after the nation entered Caanan. So Eleazar, like Joshua, Caleb, and probably a great many other older Levites, did not die during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The Levites had not participated in the spying, in the evil report, and it is likely they were also exempt from the judgment of death on those 20 years old and older.
He bases the conclusion largely off the evidence highlighted, but other than the circumstantial evidence above, it is not clear in Num 14 that they were not part of succumbing to "the evil report" (while granted that they were not part of giving it).
Answers Sought (Updated)
NOTE: I updated this to allow more flexibility of answering that women/Levites were included, as my original request favored answers of exclusion (and I don't want to skew toward an eisegetical reading).
I am seeking the following in answers (particularly #4 if the "Excluded" answer is pursued for the Levites).
New Testament references to evidence are okay (since I come from a Christian perspective), though Old Testament references would be better (to help those from a Jewish perspective have what would be for them a viable answer as well).
Of course, the answer might be included for one and excluded for the other (between women and Levites).
If Excluded from Judgment
- Is there other Biblical evidence that women might have been excluded from the judgment (i.e. is there any example of a woman 20+ who survived to enter the land, or some statement indicating not all the women of the older generations may have died).
- More explicit Biblical evidence (a) that Eleazar was over 20 at the time of the Numbers 14 incident (proof that the 30 year age was for the priests as well as just the generic Levite would suffice), and (b) that the Levites were not part of that rebellious act of Numbers 14.
- Any other relevant Biblical evidence that I have not thought of above that may indicate (even if circumstantial) that women and/or Levites were excluded.
- Credible commentaries that argue the Levites were not part of the 20+ year old's dying in the wilderness because of the Numbers 14 rebellion.
If Included in the Judgment
- More explicit Biblical evidence that women were included (more explicit being something similar to what is stated of the men between Numbers 1 and 26, though I don't expect the Bible has anything quite that explicit).
- More explicit Biblical evidence that Eleazar was under 20 at the time of the Numbers 14 incident, and thus that is why he lived to enter the Promised Land.
- Any other relevant Biblical evidence that counters the logic given above that may indicate (even if circumstantial) that women and/or Levites were included.
- There is no parallel request for commentaries arguing they were included, as I think most probably take that position by default based off the Numbers 14 passage exclusions (Joshua/Caleb) noted. However, credible commentaries that assume Levites are included but shed light on answering the apparent exception of Eleazar could be helpful.