“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.”
that the Lord,
The word “Lord” refers to a Christophany–a physical appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Christ Himself accompanied the Israelites through the wilderness.
having saved the people out of the land of Egypt,
Now we come to the first of three illustrations from the Old Testament–unbelief at Kadesh Barnea. After God delivered Israel from Egypt, He reserved the right to discipline them for unbelief and other sins that manifest unbelief. Unbelief kept Israel from God’s promises. God gave them unconditional covenants, but some in Israel would not engage with those covenants.
Both 1 Corinthians 10 and Hebrews 3 and 4 attach great importance to what happened at Kadesh Barnea. Most Israelites who left Egypt were not true to the Lord. A great part of that generation perished because of unbelief (He 3:16-19). God saved some out of the wilderness (Nu 14:26-35). The Israelites did not have the capacity to understand that the doctrine of salvation from physical death delivered them from the Egyptians. Thus, they could not appreciate their freedom. It took forty years for this unbelief to work itself out.
At Kadesh Barnea it became obvious who were unbelievers in Israel. Unbelief was an overt manifestation of their thinking system. Remember that Aaron yielded to public pressure by making a phallic idol while Moses was on the Mount. When Moses came down from the Mount, he destroyed their idol. It is impossible to walk with God and not align ourselves with sound doctrine.
afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
The word “afterward” carries the idea of secondly. In the first instance where they believed God, He saved some, but in the second instance God destroyed those who did not believe. God destroyed all the older generation of Israel except for Joshua and Caleb.
The word “destroyed” occurs twice in this epistle (v.11). The “destroyed” here is physical death (Ac 5:5-11; 1 Co 5:5; 11:29,30; 1 Jn 5:16). They died physically because of unbelief. They were believers but unbelieving believers! All Israelites looked the same but some took God at His Word while others did not. They were all in the same parade and it was hard to tell the difference until crunch time. There is a great difference between a believer who trusts God’s Word and a believer who does not.
There are two forms of unbelief. There is (1) the unbelief of rejecting God’s way of salvation, and there is (2) the unbelief of rejecting God’s way of life. The latter s a qualitative difference. It will keep us from the Promised Land but not from Heaven. These people settle for God’s second best for their lives. They lose quality of life as believers, but they do not lose their souls. This is the argument of Hebrews 3 and 4.
Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses (physical death) fell in the wilderness? He 3:17
Kadesh Barnea was a place of incredible opportunity but became a memorial for lack of faith. These Israelites could not enter the Promised Land because of unbelief:
So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. He 3:19
Christians need catalysts to come along to warn us of the peril we face by ignoring divine doctrine.
We need to accept Jude’s writing as a catalyst of warning against falling into false doctrine. For example, almost no one warns today of the dangerous doctrines of the left-leaning Emergent Church. Sincerity replaces truth because no one can be sure of truth anymore. Once we transfer our value system to something other than God’s values, then we open ourselves to divine discipline. By the time the Judges came along, rejection of God’s values became the order of the day. Then a pattern of apostasy penetrated itself into their way of life.
All apostasy ultimately comes down to rejection of the authority of God’s Word. Unbelief among Christians is an ugly subject, but so is cancer. There are times when it is necessary to expose the lurid reality. This is a reality we must face, for disaster for the church lies ahead. We do not deal with this subject by sweeping it under the rug and pretending that it does not exist. We cannot hope that false teaching will just go away.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Apostasy wormed its way significantly into the church by the end of the first century—even during the days of the apostles. If it could happen with them, it surely can happen with us. There will always be those who bring in destructive heresies. Unbelief among believers is nothing new. It is as old as man. If we stand on guard against this, we will save ourselves from spiritual decline. What is more, if we call sufficient attention to the issue, we may save the church from corporate departure from the faith. Do you tolerate false doctrine because of the hardness of your heart?