It is generally stated that of all those who left Egypt in the Exodus, only Caleb and Joshua alone were allowed to enter the Promised Land. I want to take a careful look at this.
It is true that God placed a judgment (curse) on the tribes of Israel at Kadesh Barnea after the 10 spies gave an evil report following their spying out the Land. What I want you to consider is whether this curse applied to the tribe of Levi. This is not a subject I will be dogmatic about. I raise it primarily to raise some interest on your part for investigating the Scriptures more deeply.
Before getting into this topic, let's look at a timeline. Just prior to the Exodus, we read about the 10th plague that God sent upon the Egyptians. DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT THAT PLAGUE WAS? It was God slaying the firstborn son of each Egyptian family. The night this happened, the Israelites were instructed by God to prepare and observe what has become known as the Passover. Each Israelite family or group of families sacrificed a bullock, the blood of which was applied to the doorposts and lintel. Then, when the death angel came, every home that did not have the blood applied lost their firstborn son.
The next day is when the Exodus occurred. Moses leads them into the Sinai Peninsula, and after 46 days they arrive at Mount Sinai. In Arabic, the name is Jebel Musa. The Israelites were located in what the Bible calls the Land of Goshen, probably near to Rameses and Succoth. They follow Moses south and east.
Four days later, still at Sinai, God gives the 10 Commandments.
DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG THEY WERE AT MOUNT SINAI?
They were there 11 months and 20 days. That is 13 months and 5 days after the Exodus. This brings us today to the book of Numbers.
WHY WAS THE FOURTH BOOK IN THE BIBLE CALLED "NUMBERS?"
This book records the numbering or the census of the tribes of Israel. The first census takes place in the very first chapter.
Numbers 1:1-3 NKJV
1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying:
2 "Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male individually,
3 from twenty years old and above - all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies.
Note several things here:
o Only men are numbered - 1:2
o 20 years and older - 1:3
o Only men of war were counted - 1:3
o Their total is 603,550 (Ex. 1:46; 2:32)
Levites were not included in the census:
Numbers 1:47-49 NKJV
47 But the Levites were not numbered among them by their fathers' tribe;
48 for the LORD had spoken to Moses, saying:
49 "Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor take a census of them among the children of Israel;"
o God always kept the Levites separate from the rest.
o They were not one of the 12 tribes of Israel.
o The Levites sent no one from their tribe to spy out the land.
Five days after the census is taken, the Israelites leave Mount Sinai. They arrive 11 days later at Kadesh Barnea. Kadesh Barnea is located about 40 miles northwest of present-day ruins of Petra. The 12 spies were sent into the Promised Land from Kadesh Barnea (see Deut. 1:19).
Numbers 13:1-2 NKJV
1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them."
25 And they returned from spying out the land after forty days.
26 Now they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
Ten spies gave a bad report (13:31-33) And the people begin to murmur against the leadership of Moses.
Numbers 14:26-31 NKJV
26 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,
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.
31 But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised.
So who will be allowed to enter the Promised Land?
o Only Joshua and Caleb of the 12 spies will enter.
o All the people who were represented by the census of men of war over 20 years of age will not enter the land.
o Those who had been younger than 20 at the time of the census will enter the land.
The 10 men who came back from the Promised Land with a bad report died fairly quickly of the plague (Numbers 14:36-37) - probably while they were still at Kadesh Barnea.
Deuteronomy 2:14-16 NKJV
14 And the time we took to come from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed over the Valley of the Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war was consumed from the midst of the camp, just as the LORD had sworn to them.
15 For indeed the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from the midst of the camp until they were consumed.
16 "So it was, when all the men of war had finally perished from among the people,
o It took 38 years from the time they were first at Kadesh Barnea until now.
o Verse 14 implies it was the "men of war" that God was waiting to die off before their children would be allowed to cross into the land. I believe the men of war over 20 years old at Sinai are representative of all of their tribes, both female and males who were not men of war. I say this because it was because their people murmured and complained and did not obey God to take the Land. Notice a couple of more verses from the book of Joshua.
Joshua 5:4 NKJV
4 All the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way, after they had come out of Egypt.
This, again, implies that before they entered the Promised Land, the men of war had to die in the wilderness.
Joshua 5:6 NKJV
6 For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD - to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us," a land flowing with milk and honey."
They walked 40 years in the wilderness until all the "men of war" who came out of Egypt had died.
Eleazar the son of Aaron was probably past age 20 when he left Egypt.
HOW OLD WAS MOSES WHEN HE LED THEM OUT OF EGYPT?
He was at least 80. He was in the house of Pharaoh until age 40, then spent another 40 years in the wilderness. Another clue as to his age at the Exodus is found in the passage where Moses dies. He died on Mount Nebo at the age of 120. So it appears that Moses had 3 stages in his life, each having 40 years.
40 years in the house of Pharaoh.
40 years on the backside of the desert taking care of his father-in-laws flocks.
40 years in the wilderness, leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
Aaron was Moses' older brother by 3 years, so He was at least 83 at the time of Exodus. Aaron dies on Mount Hor at the age of 123. Mount Hor is part of the Seir Mountains, which today are the mountains that form the old city of Petra. It would seem that at that age Aaron would already have a family well up in age by the Exodus.
In Exodus 6, we find a recounting of the lineage from the sons of Jacob down to the generation that was then living. We find Eleazar and his son mentioned. His son, Phinehas, was one of the leader of the family of the Korhites. In the very next chapter, we find Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. This is followed by the 10 plagues of Egypt.
What all this implies to me is that Aaron's son Eleazar was over age 20 when they left Egypt.
o Aaron, at over 83 years old, probably already had his family living.
o The grandson of Aaron is mentioned alive prior to the Exodus.
And yet, we know that Eleazar and his son both entered the Promised Land.
Numbers 34:16-18 NKJV
16 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
17 "These are the names of the men who shall divide the land among you as an inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun.
18 And you shall take one leader of every tribe to divide the land for the inheritance.
These 14 people went into the Promised Land prior to the entire nation in order to establish, before-hand, where each tribe was going to be located. Eleazar was undoubtedly more than 20 years old at the Exodus, and, yet, the judgment made to those over 20 did not apply to him.
WHY WERE MOSES AND AARON NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER THE PROMISED LAND?
Numbers 20:12-13 NKJV
12 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."
13 This was the water of Meribah, because the children of Israel contended with the LORD, and He was hallowed among them.
They were both punished because of what happened at Meribah.
IF THAT HAD NOT HAPPENED, WOULD MOSES AND AARON HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO ENTER?
I know that is a hypothetical questions, and can't be answered with 100% assurance, but if they were kept out because of that sin, then they would have been allowed to enter had they not committed that sin. And if they had been allowed, then not all over 20 at Sinai were kept out of the Land. Additionally, those who were not allowed into the promised land because of the evil reports were told not only that they would not enter, but that they would not even see the land. (Numbers 14:23; 32:11). Moses saw the land, so definitely he was not included with the group who had their warriors numbered over age 20.
If Eleazar and Moses were not included in those represented by the census over age 20, it appears that the tribe of Levi might have been exempt from that godly curse.
There is one more reason why it may be possible that the tribe of Levi was not included in the curse. Like Christian following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Levites are a peculiar - or special - people. Though all the tribes around them have rejected the plan of God, and thereby experience the wrath of God, they would not. Though the sentence of death is upon those around them, "There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus."
The Levites, from Sinai and on, were a select and different group of people. The sons of Joseph were allotted two of the 12 tribes of Israel, and with it two portions of the land for their inheritance. Levi formed the 13th tribe, and held a position amongst their brethren much like Paul amongst the apostles.
Under the Egyptians, the tribe of Levi, like their brothers, were under a very hard taskmaster. The Egyptians made life bitter and difficult. Building the treasured cities of the Pharaohs was no easy task. But under the leadership of Aaron, they had a much easier task of bearing the ark upon their shoulders (1 Chronicles 15:15). This reminds us of the living invitation that our Lord gives in Matthew 11:28 to all those who labor and are heavy laden, to come to Him and rest for his yoke is easy and his burden light.