Israel’s Warning Example
I Corinthians 10:1-15
I Corinthians while not Paul’s first epistle is the first which was inspired by the Holy Spirit and received by the churches in the canon of scripture. It likely was written in about A.D. 59 at the close of Paul’s extended stay at Ephesus. There are many matters touched upon in this epistle, but the greater point is of Christian conduct. Though Paul touches upon great doctrinal truths such as the resurrection and the Lord’s Supper, the primary problems addressed are the carnality, immaturity, and sin in the church.
The Corinthian church had evidently written a letter to Paul with questions concerning marriage and meat offered to idols. However, his greater focus was upon the divisions in the church prompted by pride, vanity, and carnality. Simply put, the church of Corinth was a fleshly, worldly, and carnal church. But that does not take away from the truth that this book holds for you and I as Christians today! And in our text here tonight, we see an example that is applicable to us as Christians given by the Nation of Israel.
The Nation of Israel is God’s chosen people, they are the apple of His eye, and God despite what some would have you to believe has not taken His hand off of the Nation of Israel. There are still promises to Israel that have yet to be fulfilled but one day will be. That being said, in the Bible it seems as if God’s people, Israel always found themselves in a state of perpetual backsliding. Do a study sometime of Israel and you will find that after a time of blessing, they would backslide, God would have chasten them, they would return for a time but that same cycle would continue.
The tenth chapter of I Corinthians begins with Paul reminding his readers of the failures of Israel, even with their relationship to God. He notes how they are an example for us and specifically that we take heed lest we fall like they did. He then addresses further compromise with pagan temples in regard to the Lord’s Supper. He concludes the chapter, again addressing how such compromise affects others and to therefore glorify God by deferring to others. But for our purposes here tonight we want to look at Israel’s warning example for us as Christians today!
I Corinthians 10:1-15
Paul directs the attention of his readers to the Old Testament. His Jewish Christian converts certainly were familiar with it and his gentile converts were no doubt gaining some familiarity with it. His wish for them not to be ignorant likely is idiomatic. He reminds them that their “fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.” For his Jewish brethren, the fathers was a familiar term referring to the patriarchs of Israel. To a lessor extent the same holds true for gentile Christians. Though not our physical forefathers, they certainly are in a spiritual sense. His reference clearly is to Israel, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, and their crossing of the Red Sea.
His reference to them being “all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” is both historic as well as allegorical. Baptism historically, even prior to the Christian era, had been a means of public identification. Israel was baptized unto Moses at the Red Sea. Whether they realized it or not, they were altogether identifying with him as he led them out of Egypt. The word translated as baptized literally means to be ‘immersed.’ As they crossed the Red Sea and were later led by the cloud, they certainly were immersed in the same. Their immersion in the Red Sea, of course, is allegorical. They never got wet, but they certainly were surrounded by the waters of the sea.
Israel ate of the same spiritual manna and quails. It came from heaven and is the allusion to it being spiritual food and drink. Paul, no doubt is referring to the water from the rock in Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:11, quickly makes it a spiritual application. Throughout the Scripture, our Rock spiritually is Jesus Christ. The thought of Christ following them is based upon a Hebrew tradition that the rock of Rephidim (ref’-i-dim) actually followed Israel wherever they went during their forty year journey providing water for them. Now, there is no scriptural basis for that, only Jewish tradition. Paul, no doubt was aware of that, and poetically used that here. The first point of the case he is building is that Israel then was blessed by God. They were chosen by Him, delivered by Him, and sustained by Him. They were the center of God’s attention.
We now see that even though they were God’s people, God still had something against them. We will start to see a recollection of the Exodus that will bring to mind how that God on several occasions severely chastened Israel. Many thousands of them died in the several times God smote them. He mentions here that they were overthrown in the wilderness. The word translated as overthrown is where we get the English word catastrophe. And indeed, whether it was the uprising of Korah, the complaining about the manna, or the idolatry of Balaam among others, God catastrophically overthrew many of them.
Paul’s point is a simple one. Paul makes clear that they were also an example for us as New Testament Christians. The lesson to be learned is to not desire evil things as they did. In the following four verses, Paul outlines four categories of spiritual error of which Israel was guilty.
The first error that we see here is that Israel fell into idolatry! However, in the course of God’s chastening, Israel would eventually learn their lesson concerning idolatry. Paul may have literal idolatry in mind as well, for Corinth abounded with idolatry. However, his statement seems to direct the application to figurative idolatry. He quotes from Exodus 32:6, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” The context there certainly involved literal idolatry with the golden calf. However, Paul’s focus was upon eating, drinking, and playing. Implied is how that such hedonism becomes idolatry. To live for enjoyment and entertainment has been a god for many down through the ages. Though physical literal idolatry has not been a significant problem in most churches, the more subtle idolatry of ‘enjoy thyself’ remains a false god to this very hour. It affects and infects churches from Corinth to California.
The second error that we see is that Israel committed fornication. Historically, fornication was a major problem at Corinth. As a seaport city, common prostitution prevailed as well as the temple prostitution of the various pagan deities. Corinthian believers had engaged in fornication prior to their conversion to Christ and Paul’s repeated emphasis in this epistle hints strongly that the sin continued. He reminds the church of the matter of Balaam wherein he counseled Balak to send the loose women of Moab into the camp of Israel to entice them to fornication. Balaam knew such sin would provoke God’s wrath which it did and because of that we see that Paul notes how 23,000 died in one day from the plague sent from God. God was not well pleased with Israel and their sexual transgressions, chastening them severely. Paul makes it clear this was an example for our sakes.
Error number three we see is that Israel tempted Christ. Paul refers back to Numbers 21:5-9 where Israel “spake against God, and against Moses.” They complained about their lack of provisions where God sent fiery serpents into the camp, killing many. The sin was not so much their complaining, though that certainly occurred. Rather, they in effect challenged God’s leadership and authority in Moses. The sin was rebellion. Its direct target was Moses. However, it ultimately was against God and God dealt with them via venomous snakes.
The fourth and final error that we see is that Israel murmured. In similar vein, Paul addresses a related error in Old Testament Israel. The occasion seems to be the uprising of Korah as recorded in Numbers 16. There, the murmuring was outright rebellion against God’s ordained leader. The interdiction by God against Korah and his followers was even more severe. The hint to the rebellious spirit of some in the Corinthian church is all too apparent. If they did not catch the point in verse 9, Paul made sure they did here.
Paul’s point once again is a simple one. The examples noted above, as well as other illustrations from Old Testament history, were examples for our benefit. As the old adage goes, they who ignore history are destined to repeat it. God in part inspired the holy record of Old Testament Israel for our advantage as Christians today. It is for our admonition or warning upon whom the ends of the world are come. The word translated as ends has the sense of completion. The word translated as world also has the sense of age which is the likely thought here. Hence, that to which Paul refers to is us, upon whom the completion of the age is coming. He is referring broadly to the church age and its impending completion at Christ’s return. The greater thought is that we might learn from Israel’s errors as the completion of the age arrives.
The zenith of Paul’s argument has arrived. In light of how Israel fell, notwithstanding their special and exalted position, Paul warns of spiritual pride. Obadiah wrote, “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee” in Obadiah 1:3. Solomon wrote, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” in Proverbs 16:18.
Paul concludes the section with this warning, There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man. This admonition is rarely taken in its context. That context is the various sins of Israel, warned about earlier in the chapter. They were idolatry, especially in its more intangible forms, immorality, bucking authority, and even rebellion against divinely appointed leadership.
This no doubt pertains to all forms of temptation as well. The word translated as temptation can have the sense of a trial or testing or an enticement to sin. The latter clearly is the sense here. But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.
What a wonderful realization that God is faithful. He is ever ready to help us overcome temptation. Further we see, He will not suffer (or allow) us to be tempted above (or, beyond) that which we are able to resist. The restraining influence of the Holy Spirit will regulate Satan’s devices such that they will never prevail beyond our breaking point. What a blessed promise.
There is therefore no excuse for sin. We never can claim, ‘the devil made me do it.’ God has placed a limit upon what degree of temptation the devil can inflict. God, however, will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. God has mercifully, providentially, and always provided an exit sign in the hall of temptation. There is always a way out if we will so choose. In any of the examples of Israel’s sin, they could have escaped. Many did. Some did not. And a lesson remains for us as Christians today.
The first example of Israel’s sin was idolatry in verse 7. Paul nears the conclusion of this section by repeating the injunction, Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. It is in the imperative mode and thus a commandment. The word translated as flee has the sense to escape by fleeing. The case certainly is true of physical idolatry. More subtle, but just the same, the injunction remains for figurative idolatry such as entertainment and recreation implied in verse 7.
Paul concludes the section with a hint and a comment, I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. In other words, I am speaking to wise men. Consider what I say.
And that is how we will close here this evening. I am speaking to wise folks here tonight. Most of you have been saved for a good number of years and you know what God expects from you as a Christian. But sometimes we do slip up, we do stumble, and we do still fall into sin just as Israel did. That is why this account is in the Word of God, so that we may have it as an example.
The challenge and encouragement here tonight is this; live the life that God wants His children to live. A life that is honoring and glorifying to Him and Him alone! Heed Israel’s warning example for us as Christians today!