Is it possible that God forgives unrepentance? In Numbers chapter thirteen, ten of the twelve spies, which Moses sent into the Promised Land, returned with an evil report. They told all Israel that though the land was a good land, it was unattainable for them. The inhabitants were too strong.
In Numbers 14:1-5 the people murmured against God and wanted to choose a new leader to bring them back to Egypt, the place where they lived before God’s call. Joshua and Caleb tried to convince them that God would protect them and had already given them the land, but the people wanted to stone both of them (Numbers 14:6-10a). Immediately, God came to Moses and said he would destroy all of them – every last man, woman and child – and fulfill his promise to the fathers through Moses, himself (Numbers 14:10b-12). Moses, however, interceded for the people and God’s glory (Numbers 14:13-19), and got him to forgive his people yet another time.
These same people, however, were not repentant, for they still wanted to return to Egypt. It was not in their hearts to follow God (Deuteronomy 5:29). Yet, Moses pleaded for them, because the nations would believe that God was mighty to save, but impotent to keep what he saves (Numbers 14:13-16). Moses appealed to God’s patience and mercy, not his sense of justice (Numbers 14:18), and asked for his forgiveness for this people, just as he had displayed that forgiveness, since taking them out of Egypt (Numbers 14:19).
God’s response is found in verse-20, which says that he forgave Israel, just as Moses had asked, which evidently had been according to the will of God (1John 5:14-15). However, Numbers 14:22-38 reveals that though they were forgiven, they had to pay a penalty for their unbelief. Ten times, they had tested God since leaving Egypt, though they had witnessed God’s power in a manner that no other people had before them. Nevertheless, God says he forgives them. Their lives were spared, but their children, not they, would see the Promised Land. They could have been the generation to receive the promises, but because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:19), their children, whom they supposed would be a prey to their enemies, would enter and receive the promises. For 40 years, they would wander in the wilderness until the entire unbelieving generation died off. These people did not repent, yet God forgave them, just as Moses had asked. It is important to realize that they had to bear their shame for 40 years, because though God forgives all, we shall reap what we sow. God is a God of love and mercy, but he is not mocked. There is a penalty for walking against him, but forgiveness is never in question.
I skipped over verse-21. It is a promise that God made to us all – the whole world will be filled with his glory! What does God mean when he speaks of his glory? In Exodus 33:18, Moses asked to see God’s glory. God answered by saying he would cause all his goodness to pass before him, and he would proclaim the name of the Lord (Exodus 33:19). Moses could not see God’s glory face to face (Exodus 33:20), but God would cover Moses’ eyes with his hand while he passed by. Then God would take his hand away and Moses would see his back, (Exodus 33:22-23). In Exodus 34:5-8, God passed by Moses and declared his name and Moses witnessed his glory:
And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. (Exodus 34:5-8 KJV)
Therefore, since the whole earth will be filled with the glory of God, the ages to come must be full of God’s mercy, grace, patience, abounding in goodness and in truth, and his forgiveness of iniquity, transgression and sin. Any understanding of the future ages that does not include this, simply does not include God’s glory. Again, it must be noted that God is not mocked. The guilty, though forgiven, do not get off without some form of punishment. They must bear responsibility for their decisions in some way. For example, sometimes my temper gets me into trouble. God is giving me victory, but I am ashamed of myself, because the victory process is not immediate. An alcoholic who comes to Christ may have destroyed his health before becoming born again. Most often, he must bear responsibility for the life he lived before coming to repentance. His lot is to endure the fruits of those years of sinful behavior and abuse, viz. damaged health and relationships. A husband, who led an adulterous life but desires reconciliation, cannot act as though nothing wrong has ever happened. His wife may forgive him, but the relationship has been scarred. Trust must be rebuilt. It is not a matter of just forgiving. It is a matter of learning to walk with Christ and doing that which is good. It a matter of learning to live like God. Integrity is not a gift. It is earned or built up into the character of the believer.
In the book of Ezekiel, there is something we need to consider that concerns unrepentance and the glory of God. Ezekiel was one of the captives taken to Babylon (Ezekiel 1:1). Before the Temple of God was destroyed, Ezekiel saw the glory of God depart from his House, (Ezekiel 11:22-23). In Ezekiel 44 the prophet saw the glory of God filling his House at some future time (Ezekiel 44:4). This was never fulfilled before the rebuilt Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. Where, then, are we to look for its fulfillment? According to the New Testament, Christians are the House of God (cp. Ephesians 2:19-22; 1Corinthians 3:16,17; 1Timothy 3:15). Therefore, Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of the Lord filling the House of the Lord must refer to us, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:15-16; cp. Romans 8:18; Colossians 1:27; 1Peter 4:14). This chapter in Ezekiel is speaking of the glory of God being revealed not in a building but in his people! Notice Ezekiel 44:9 says that no stranger shall enter God’s sanctuary. Ezekiel 44:10, 12 says the Levites (viz. God’s people under both Testaments) wanted to be admired by the people to whom they ministered. They led the people away from God and will bear their own iniquity. What does this mean, except that they shall reap what they have sown? Their reward will be that they minister to the people of God, viz. receiving the sacrifices, teaching etc. Nevertheless, they shall not go into the Most Holy Place to minister to God, but shall bear their shame. Compare this with the parable of the Ten Virgins of Matthew 25.
The faithful, on the other hand, are permitted in the House of God, (cp. Matthew 25:1-13). They are portrayed in Ezekiel 44:15-16 as the sons of Zadok the priest who remained faithful to David when Absalom conspired against his father (2Samuel 15:24-37). Zadok was faithful to David again, when he anointed Solomon King over Israel, David’s choice (1Kings1:32-45), instead of Adonijah, the people’s choice. Adonijah was David’s son by Haggith, the mother of Absalom.
Returning to Ezekiel 44, the sons of Zadok are they who minister to God. They come near to him and sit at his table (Ezekiel 44:15-16). When God’s people went astray, they kept his charge, and they are able to stand before him. It seems to me that God places a great difference between forgiving iniquity and bearing its shame. There seems to be no question that these people who led God’s people astray are forgiven. Nevertheless, their reward reflects their iniquity. They minister to God’s people, but not to God, himself. Thus, their shame becomes evident to all to whom they minister, even though they perform a necessary and godly function in the Kingdom.
How abundant are the mercies of God, may he cause us to see his unfathomable love in the Person of Jesus Christ on the cross. Oh, Lord, have mercy!