William asks a question I’d never heard, and commentaries do not address. It is an excellent question:
In yesterday’s blog, “Was Tanakh Written to Believers?” [see here] you indicate that only a remnant of Israel was born again, and I tend to agree. But Heb 11:29-30 appears to say that Israel passed through the Red Sea and defeated Jericho “by faith.” Perhaps they only had faith that God would deliver them in these two instances? It just seems hard to believe that they are listed among the heroes of the faith, but didn’t have faith in God for salvation. How would you reconcile this?
I found a helpful comment by F. F. Bruce in his commentary on Hebrews:
It might well have been cited as a further instance of Moses’ faith, but here “all those who came out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership” (3:16) are associated with him in this act of faith. Nevertheless, it was Moses’ faith that inspired them to move forward into the sea; they were full of fear and complaint as they saw the water before them and the pursuing Egyptian army overtaking them from the rear, until at Moses’ command, they advanced and saw “the salvation of Yahweh” (Ex. 14:13) (F. F. Bruce, Hebrews, Revised edition, p. 315).
Hebrews 11 talks mostly about individuals like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. Then, in passing, the author lists a number of individuals without commentary about their acts of faith: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel.
I would agree that all the individuals named in Hebrews 11 who acted by faith were born again.
I would say that the entire nation was “saved” in the crossing of the Red Sea and in the battle of Jericho. But that salvation was not salvation from eternal condemnation. That was salvation from Gentile armies.
I do not think the author was suggesting that everyone in the nation was born again. In fact, I do not even think he was intentionally selecting born-again individuals to talk about in Hebrews 11. I think he chose well-known examples of Jews whose acts of faith were notorious. While, hypothetically, an unbelieving Jew might be included, I do not think that is the case.
Consider King Ahab. He was a notoriously evil king with an even more wicked wife (Jezebel). After Elijah told Ahab that God was going to “bring calamity on [him]” (1 Kings 21:20-24), the author of 1 Kings said, “But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up. And he behaved very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.”
But then we read, “So it was, when Ahab heard those words [vv 20-24], that he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his body, and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘See how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity on his house’” (1 Kings 21:27-29).
Was Ahab born again? I do not know. I don’t think there is enough evidence to show that. But he did repent when Elijah confronted him.
Did Ahab repent because he believed God would do what He said and bring calamity on him? That is clear. If the author of Hebrews had wished, he could have included this event in the life of Ahab without suggesting that Ahab was born again.
In answer to the question that is the title of this blog, yes, Heb 11:29-30 does speak of two occasions when the entire Nation of Israel was saved. But that salvation was from Gentile armies, not from eternal condemnation. There is no indication in Hebrews 11 or anywhere in the Bible that all–or even the majority—of the adults in Israel were born again during the time of the exodus, wilderness wandering, or conquest.