I Corinthians 10:1-13
What is the relevance of the Old Testament to believers in the 21st century? Can the experiences of the Israelites teach us anything? Paul seems to think so…
Despite the many differences between the old and new covenants, there are also many things that we have in common with the Israelites – more than we probably realise. The spiritual experiences of the Exodus generation (redemption and liberation, guidance and protection) were equivalent to ours. They even had similar sacraments: the crossing of the Red Sea was a form of baptism (in that their passage through water marked a decisive end to their old life in Egypt), and they were nourished and sustained supernaturally for the whole of their journey by Christ Himself (just as we are, when we partake of the Lords Supper – John 6:32,33) They all tasted the goodness of God – and yet the vast majority failed to complete the course. Out of the thousands who left Egypt, only two individuals (Caleb and Joshua) eventually reached the Promised Land (Numbers 14:21-23).
What could possibly have gone wrong? Basically, they hankered after their old life in Egypt. At the very foot of God’s holy mountain, they made and worshipped an idol (Exodus 32:1-6). They refused to trust God (Numbers 13 & 14), resented His discipline, and rebelled against the leaders that He had appointed (Numbers 16). On the very borders of Canaan, they allowed themselves to be enticed into sexual immorality by the Moabites (Numbers 25) – and paid the price (I Corinthians 10:6-10).
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings to us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” (verse 11) The message is clear: neither a conversion experience, nor participation in the sacraments, nor even the possession of the Spirit, will insulate us from the consequences of ungodliness. Lust, idolatry, immorality, disobedience and unbelief – all these sins, under different guises (and sometimes with different names), are still with us, and they can shipwreck our Christian pilgrimage in exactly the same way. Even though the ‘age of fulfilment’ has now dawned, this does not make God’s people automatically safe from disaster; rather, our greater privileges imply much greater responsibilities. We have to face the same temptations as the Israelites did – but we do not have to make the same mistakes. Since we have the additional advantage of hindsight, we have absolutely no excuse for repeating Israel’s errors.
The Corinthians, so proud of their spiritual maturity, were dangerously complacent. “If you think you are standing firm , be careful that you don’t fall!” (verse 12) Overconfidence will be our undoing, as it was Peter’s (Matthew 26:33,34); we are most likely to succumb to temptation when we feel secure and are off our guard. Nobody is immune to spiritual failure, and no Christian is morally superior to everyone else. And because it can happen to anyone, we dare not feel smug if it happens to someone within our own fellowship (Galatians 6:1). But failure is not inevitable – if only we depend not on ourselves but upon God.