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What is the significance of Numbers 16:20–35?

After Israel’s sin under the leadership of Korah, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from this congregation, so that I may consume them in a moment” (vs. 21). Moses and Aaron pleaded with the Lord to only judge those who were most guilty. In response, the Lord modifies his judgment and gives the people a choice between himself or “wicked men” (vs. 23–35).

This passage represents another instance of the Lord modifying his expressed intentions in response to prayer. If all of the future is exhaustively settled in God’s mind, however, God’s declared intention to “consume” the whole congregation could not have been sincere. He never really intended to do it, for he always foreknew he wouldn’t do it. For all of the godly motives of those who defend the classical view, it has the unfortunate consequence of depicting God as one who toys with us with idle threats he has no intention of following through on.

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