For Our Learning
by Pastor Matt Ritchey, Managing Editor
Estimated Time to Read: 8 Minutes
“Now these things were our examples….”
I Corinthians 10:6
Paul specifically appeals to the post-exile Israelites journeying through the wilderness as an example for how we live in Grace. How many of us have shaken our heads when we hear of the persistent whining and disobedience of those people in the wilderness?
God miraculously secured Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, and the people doubted as they saw Pharaoh’s army coming after them (Ex. 14:11-12). God was thundering on the mountain while the people demanded a calf to worship (Ex. 32:1). God provided them manna, and the people complained about not having meat to eat (Num. 11:4). God provided strong leadership, and the people complained that they wanted a different leader (Num. 12:1-3). We read such accounts, shake our heads in disbelief, and assure ourselves that we would never be so ungrateful.
First Corinthians 10 begins by reminding us that the Israelites had collectively witnessed the presence and goodness of the Lord. He went before them in a pillar of smoke by day; they were under His protection. He gave them deliverance as they passed on dry ground through the Red Sea. Every Israelite was identified with God’s people, the nation of Israel. In the wilderness, the Lord provided food and water for them. He was with them every step of the way.
Trust and Remember
Despite His presence and provision, many of them displeased the Lord through their continued failure to trust in His goodness and blessing. They failed to remember that He was with them and to recall the mighty deliverance He had accomplished for them. They had been given every evidence to trust the Lord; yet many were overcome with temptation and sin.
Then, Paul writes that that history of Israel can be an example for those of us who are living in the Dispensation of the Grace of God (10:6). First is an example that “we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.” The Old Testament record of Israel in the wilderness can remind us to not be distracted by the things of this world (Rom. 12:1-2) but to have our desire set upon eternal things (Col. 3:1-2).
Israel allowed themselves to be so overcome by their physical troubles at times (i.e., Pharaoh’s army, hunger, thirst) that they forgot that they were headed for the land God had promised to their fathers. They desired the things they had in Egypt, forgetting the cost and burden that came with the desired things. We, the Body of Christ, are not headed to a Promised Land on earth, but we are promised that our conversation is in Heaven—that is where we are headed (Phil. 3:20). We need to be often reminded that this world is not our eternal home, and sin and the world should not dictate our desires and actions. We should not be so caught up in worldly comforts that we neglect the eternal service we have in Christ.
Put God First
Another lesson is “neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (vs. 7). None of us would consider ourselves an idolater. Yet, there is a reason that there are two different and yet similar commandments; one regarding graven images and another stating that no gods were to be placed above God. Idolatry is more than statues; anything we honor more than God becomes a god to us. We need to be reminded that placing anything in the position that God deserves is idolatry.
The Israelites were guilty of worshipping a golden calf (Ex. 32:1-8), even while God was on the mountain talking to Moses directly behind them. They turned their attention and adoration to another god. While many of us will not be found guilty worshipping a golden calf crafted by our local preacher, we need to take inventory of how much of our time, talents, and treasures God is receiving from us compared to all of those other things. Does God have first place in our lives? Is the Lord our priority? The Old Testament can remind us of the adoration God deserves.
You Sow, You Reap
Another warning is “neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand” (vs. 8). The Israelites also took wives of the other nations who turned their hearts from the Lord. Paul specifically refers to an incident where Israelites married Moabites, which led to Baal worship. A plague went through the nation as a consequence of their disobedience (Num. 25:1-9). The reminder for us is to be very careful with whom we associate.
We must not let people—spouses, family, friends—turn our hearts from devotion and service to the Lord. We have been given the privilege of representing our Savior here on earth and we should not allow anyone to distract us from our divine responsibility. Paul may have pointed specifically to this incident in Israel’s history to remind us that sin has consequences. While God is not judging us in the same way today as He did Israel then, life still follows the rule that you reap what you sow (Gal. 6:7).
Sin never brings lasting benefit or joy. And, although people may have convinced themselves of good intentions when associating with the unsaved (e.g., “It is okay that my girlfriend/ boyfriend is not saved because I will win them to the Lord.”) the most common result of contracting with an unbeliever is the believer’s heart is distracted from the things of God.
We Should Not Exasperate the Lord
We can also learn “neither tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents” (vs. 9). Have you ever decided to speak back to one of your parents only to receive the warning, “Don’t tempt me, child”? I am so thankful for the Lord’s patience and unending grace because if it were any normal person I would have tested His limits long ago. We should not exasperate the Lord with our lack of trust.
In Numbers 21:4-6, the Lord had just given the nation of Israel an impressive victory over the Canaanites. They showed their appreciation by arriving in Edom and beginning to complain that the journey was too difficult for them. The Lord got their attention by sending fiery serpents to bite the people (Num. 21:4- 6). They had witnessed the Lord’s deliverance time and time again; still, they turned to doubt when the going got tough. Yes, this can serve as a reminder to us. We must not forget the victory we have been given already through the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:37; I Cor. 15:57) and, instead, begin to complain that life and service are too hard.
The Lord may have given us the strength to get through one difficult time, but when the next difficult circumstance arises, we throw up our hands in despair. We need to remember that we can get through every obstacle in life in a similar way as the Israelites. The Israelites were to depend on Jehovah to give them the might and victory. We are told we can do all things “through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). Different circumstance, same source of strength to overcome.
Neither Murmur Ye
Another relevant reminder: “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer” (vs. 10). Despite all that the Lord had done for them, the Israelites never wasted a moment to complain. I give Moses a lot of credit. There were times the Lord declared His desire to wipe out all of the people for their whining, but Moses interceded for the people multiple times. All that the Lord had done for them and they still found cause to complain, and there were times the Lord judged them for their ungratefulness (Num. 16:41-49).
The Body of Christ has been blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies (Eph. 1:3). We are eternally saved from sin, death, and hell (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 1:13-14). We can be forever thankful for the victory given to us through Christ Jesus (I Cor. 15:57). Yet, how many times do we allow our discomforts to distract us from the joy of the Lord? How many times would we be caught murmuring in regards to our circumstances? We should be found constantly living and expressing thanksgiving toward the Savior (I Thess. 5:18).
Written for Our Admonition
Lest we still think the Old Testament has nothing for the Body of Christ to learn, Paul was inspired to write again: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition” (vs. 11). We are holy beings residing in a mortal body; therefore, we need constant reminders of our rich blessings and new life in Christ.
So, the next time you are in the Old Testament reading about Israel, instead of shaking your head and sighing about those ungrateful Israelites, ask yourself what you can learn from their example. Remember, “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (vs. 12). Pride is a result of putting confidence in the flesh, and we know that those in flesh cannot please God (cf. Rom. 8:6-8).
Be encouraged that “there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” The Israelites faced temptation after temptation, and God was always there to offer them the solution. Sadly, Israel often failed by turning from God’s strength and forgetting His promises and, instead, trying to work out a solution themselves or falling into a mindset of despair and fear.
When confronted with temptation, remember the faithful God of the Israelites Who has promised you the strength to overcome and persevere. Until the day we reach Christ-like perfection, may we be trusting the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God in our lives to make us more like our Savior and Lord.
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