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What is the significance of Numbers 14:11?

In the light of the Israelites’ relentless complaining the Lord says to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”

The fact that the Lord continued, for centuries, to try to get the Israelites to not despise him and to believe in him indicates that this passage reflects genuine wonder on God’s part. If everything is certain to God ahead of time, however, such wonder would be impossible. God would exhaustively foreknow the answer to this and every other question about free human behavior.

Some have argued that if we take divine questions about the future literally, we should out of consistency be willing to interpret all other divine questions literally as well. But this, they point out, leads to absurd conclusions. When God asked where Adam and Eve were, for example, was he really ignorant of their location (Gen. 3:8–9)? Obviously not. He was speaking rhetorically as a means of getting Adam and Eve to confess their sin. But why then should we not interpret divine questions about the future in the same fashion?

The answer to this question is quite simple: there is a wealth of unequivocal scriptural testimony teaching us that God perfectly knows all of present reality (e.g. Psalm 139). Hence when God asks a question about a present reality (e.g. “Where are you?”) we have very good reason to assume that he’s speaking rhetorically. However, scripture does not teach that God possesses exhaustive definite knowledge of the future. Hence when God asks questions about the future we have no reason to assume he’s speaking rhetorically.

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