“Written Down for Our Instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:7-10)
Listen to the Sermon:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13, ESV
This is the word of the Lord. This morning we will be studying 1 Corinthians 10:7-10, even though we just read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.
Some people naturally love history. You might be one of these people who love curling up with a book about people, places or events that happened a long time ago. Others of you don’t love history quite as much. Some of you are beloved brothers and sisters in Christ and I’ve heard you express things like, why should we care about history, it’s all over, why dredge up old things?
Our passage this morning gives us at least one reason that we need to study history. History gives us examples which are for our instruction. Paul is telling us that all Christians, regardless of whether you would rather do nothing more than curl up with a history book this afternoon, or whether you would never in your lifetime want to do this, Paul insists that all of us must to some degree learn from history.
Of course, we have to ask why we would want to love history. There are different purposes for loving history. Even lovers of history love history for different reasons. If you have seen the Indiana Jones movies, you know that Indiana Jones loved history for its sake and learning from it. Whereas the Nazis wanted to profit and become prosperous from history. Those were two different purposes for engaging in the study of history.
Why should we study history? Not for the reasons that Indiana Jones had and certainly not for the reasons the Nazis had. We should learn from history really what Paul is saying in this passage for three reasons.
1. People don’t change. Now, as different as someone may have been in the past who lived in a different country and time, nevertheless no matter how far removed that person may be from you today, that person is more similar to you than different from you. At the end of the day, we are dealing with the same kinds of issues, the same sin. People don’t change over the course of history. Individuals certainly do, but over the course of time people don’t change.
2. God doesn’t change. We worship Jesus who is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the immutable, unchangeable God we confess. God doesn’t change. So, to look at the Old Testament and to see his acting and work is to learn about the same God that we worship and serve today
3. God’s plan of salvation for his people doesn’t change. When we read about how sin and salvation worked in the Old Testament, we are reading about how sin and salvation works in the New Testament. As we discussed a couple weeks ago when we looked at verses one through five of this chapter, we see that Paul telling us that the Israelites that they didn’t know who Jesus Christ would be, even though they were dependent upon God’s physical provision for them in the wilderness, nevertheless, we read that when God was providing for them in the wilderness. It was in fact Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God providing for them.
God’s covenant of grace, his merciful dealings toward his people were the same in the Old Testament as they are now. They looked different because one was looking forward to Christ whereas we were looking back to the coming of Christ and forward to his future coming. Nevertheless, there is one covenant of grace. God’s doing the same plan through all of human history.
All of that covenant of grace is because we have the same mediator, the one who accomplishes salvation for us, who brings us into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The same Jesus who is the same yesterday, today and forever, we worship and serve him. People don’t change, God doesn’t change, God’s plan for salvation for his people doesn’t change.
Our big idea as we study this passage in 1 Corinthians 10:7-10 is this, Learn to fear and to follow the Lord Jesus Christ from the whole Bible.
Now we are going to be looking at four sins that Paul warns us against in verses seven, eight, nine and ten. There is one sin per verse there. So, yes once again we will have a four-point sermon.
A couple of notes as we are working through this text. Normally I bundle up the applications and save those for the end and give you a big download for the end. What we are going to do is consider each warning, one at a time, then consider the application right along with it. We will look at how we can apply what Paul is teaching us from each of these sins.
The second note I would give you is to recognize that the first two of these warnings are both just explicit warnings against sin. They teach us something about sin specifically. In the second two points Paul is warning us against sin, but what we are going to see as we study this, is that Paul is pointing back to passage not just that we are categorically wrong. They were wrong in a sense that Israel had a different path that they might have taken. A path that we need to learn from.
So, we are going to not only talk about not sinning, that’s important, but these second two application points are going to encourage us toward faith in Christ, the hope of the gospel. The same gospel that was true in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
Here are our four points that we will look at.
1. Flee from idolatry
2. Flee from sexual immorality
3. Fear the Lord Jesus Christ
4. Follow the Lord Jesus Christ
Flee from Idolatry
Let’s jump right into this in verse seven.
7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 1 Corinthians 10:7, ESV
I want to tell you that it’s not just me paraphrasing what is happening in verse seven. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:14, I’m lifting Paul’s own words,
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:14, ESV
Paul is building this overarching case against idolatry, and all of these have something to do with idolatry in some sense. Where Paul is taking us is to exhort us to flee from idolatry. So, Paul says here in verse seven, that we should not be idolaters as some of them were.
He’s pointing back to the Old Testament. The verse that he quotes in the Old Testament helps us to zero in on the story Paul has in mind. If you look at the notes at the bottom of your Bible, you will see that you are directed back to Exodus 32:6. This is the story of when Israel made for themselves a golden calf. Moses was busy up on Mount Sinai in fellowship with the Lord after the receiving of the Ten Commandments. There was a thick cloud, there was thunder and lightning. The people of Israel were terrified of this.
While Moses was up there the people decided to do something that was a terrible sin. They decided to make for themselves a golden calf to worship while they waited for Moses to come back down the mountain.
Paul is saying don’t commit this same kind of idolatry, learn from this idolatry and don’t do the same thing. Notice the aspect of the idolatry that Paul points to. He doesn’t say, make sure not to make for yourself a golden calf in the same way, don’t bow down to that calf in the same way. He points rather to the feast that they have.
When they made this golden calf, they actually said this is your god O Israel who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Aaron said we are going to have a feast to Yahweh the Lord. They were saying this golden calf represented the Lord. This feast that they pretended they were having was actually rank idolatry. What they did was they sat down to eat, and drink and they rose up to play, that was the kind of debaucher that we will talk about as we discuss the next verse.
What they were doing there is engaging in these indirect, outward activities that weren’t directly bowing down to a graven image, but Paul says it is still idolatry. Why does the Corinthians need to learn about this? Chapters eight, nine, and ten is Paul’s effort to address a problem that was growing in Corinth. Namely that the Corinthians were eating meat sacrificed to idols. They weren’t in the temples bowing down to gods in there. They were simply doing the external acts of participation, the indirect acts of idolatrous worship.
They were sitting down to eat and drink in the temple. Paul is saying don’t you know that is fellowship with a false god. You can’t say you are not committing idolatry just because you stopped short of bowing down to worship these false gods. Don’t be led astray by idolatry. Do not be idolaters is what Paul is warning us of here.
How do we apply this to our lives? We live in a world where there are not many temples that we could find, you would have to go out of your way in this city to find a place where you could find an explicit image to bow down to worship. How are we supposed to connect this?
Let me ask this question to apply what Paul is telling us. What scenes are you connected with? What scenes are you hanging out with, even if you are not participating in all of the sin and defiling debaucher of those scenes? I remember as I was growing up, I had parents and teachers tell me it’s very important that I never attend a party where there was alcohol present.
Before I was twenty-one years old even to be in the presence of alcohol, whether or not I was partaking of the alcohol, was nevertheless something that would make me criminally liable of being a minor in possession. That would be crime that would haunt me and be very difficult. My parents and teachers warned me not to deal with this.
The same principle happens here. It’s not just that you can’t fall down and worship a graven image. There are places and circumstances that we are a part of that even if we are not fully entering into the problem we’re nevertheless defiled by these things.
If you are participating in the Harvest Bible reading plan, yesterday you would have read the story of Lot. Lot is a great example of this. He started off trying to keep his distance but being close to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He starts there, but by the time it comes time for God to destroy the city of Sodom, where do we find Lot, in the time square. He was in the middle of it all. He slowly worked his way in there.
Then when it comes time for Lot to get out of there, the judgement of the Lord is coming upon Sodom, Lot can’t bring himself to leave. He has to be physically restrained and dragged out of the city by the angels. His wife is so entangled in her heart with the defiling sin of that city that she looks back longingly and is turned into a pillar of salt.
These things are written for our example. What scenes can you perhaps justify by saying I’m not doing all the evil I might there, but they nevertheless lead you away from the Lord? Brothers and sisters, Paul tells us don’t just come close to idolatry, flee from it.
Flee from Sexual Immorality
As we come to our second point, as Paul works through his rapid fire of sins to remember as examples, we should remember that there are actually two places where Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians to flee from something. It’s not just that we should flee from idolatry, but if you look back at 1 Corinthians 6:18, we discussed this a few months back.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18, ESV
Now in 1 Corinthians 10:8 Paul says,
8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 1 Corinthians 10:8, ESV
Paul is telling us to flee from sexual immorality. It’s clear where Paul is talking about the death of 23,000 from sexual immorality, that Paul has a very specific case in mind once again. It’s Numbers 25:1-9, which is a particularly sad story of idolatry in Israel that was intimately connected with sexual immorality with Moabite women. It wasn’t that idolatry was one thing and sexual immorality on the other, but they went hand in hand. The Israelites committed sexual immorality with the Moabite women as an aspect of the worship of the god name Baal of Peor.
We don’t have time to look back at this story, but I would encourage you to look at this story later. We read that this story also involves eating, not just sexual immorality and idolatry. In Numbers 25:2 we read,
2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
Numbers 25:2, ESV
Paul is pointing back to this story and saying, Corinthians this is the same thing. They were attending the temple sacrifices and as part of that were bound up in sexual immorality which is also an issue in the city of Corinth that Paul tells us about. Paul tells us that we need to learn from this history. We don’t need to look at that as a dusty museum artifact, say isn’t that interesting and move on. We need to learn from these examples for our own life.
What is the connection between sexual immorality and idolatry? Paul has already explained to us the connection back in 1 Corinthians chapter six. In both idolatry and sexual immorality, what happens there is that we are actually torn from the body of Christ to be joined to another. In the case of idolatry, we are connected to the God spiritually. In sexual immorality we are joined to another human being not just physically Paul insists, but spiritually as well.
Sexual immorality uniquely entangles a human being with the soul of another person. This is why in the ancient world and still in some places today idolatry always involved prostitution. Even today, where most people reject religion, this isn’t a religious worship ceremony, sexual immorality is idolatrous. Even if it doesn’t bow down to a statue of someone, sexual immorality is idolatrous because sexual immorality inflames and stokes sinful sexual desire. The covetousness of someone for your own gratification.
As Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5, covetousness is idolatry. It’s allows your heart to be entangled with someone who is forbidden to you. So, Paul tells us that let us not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did. The Paul goes on to add one interesting note.
He says twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. If you look at Numbers 25:9 to see how the story turned out, it wasn’t twenty-three thousand. It was twenty-four thousand. Some people say you have twenty-four and twenty-three, clearly there is an error, clearly the Bible is not inerrant. That is simple an example of not listening to what Paul is actually doing.
Understand that in the ancient world, numbers where often given in approximate ways. Some suggest that Moses approximated high and Paul approximated low, and both numbers are accurate, but that’s not what I would think. Others have suggested that if you look at Numbers 25:5, Paul is allowing that a thousand was slain by the judges before the plague came and God destroyed them. That’s also possible, but that’s not what I think Paul is doing.
What some Bible commentators point to is the idea that Paul is actually mixing numbers from different stories. It’s not a way that we would use numbers because we tend to be very mathematically precise. Even for us, numbers still have a strong emotional factor to us that we don’t always realize. I’m going to give you two numbers that are slightly different numerically, but have an absolutely different emotional connotation for you, 7-11 and 9-11.
Two very different numbers that were almost the same. Even numbers have an emotions connotation for us that we don’t always recognize in our math and data certainty.
This is what Paul is doing. He’s saying there is roughly twenty thousand in Numbers chapter twenty-five, but where does the three thousand come from? That comes from the same story that we looked at in the previous scene. In Exodus thirty-two, it’s the aftermath of the golden calf. Paul says that twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. Let me read to you Exodus 32:28 and you can see where Paul is pulling these words from.
8 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.
Exodus 32:28, ESV
Paul is taking one story and he’s combining that number with another story to sort of bring out all of the emotional connotations that we have from both of these stories to bring together this impressive way in which the sin of God’s people is so disastrous. Remember Exodus thirty-two involved sexual immorality, Paul has already said that the people sat down to eat and drink, then rose up to play.
That’s talking about sexual immorality that the people of God were committing as a feast as they claimed to the Lord as represented by this golden calf. Paul is saying that we have to learn from their history.
Here is out application. Flee from sexual immorality. If you are struggling with sexual sins, you need to come talk to someone. Talk to a pastor, an elder, a Christian who is more mature than you who you can trust. I know that these things are embarrassing, and they are painful, but it is so important to deal with these things.
Sexual immorality is a way that Satan wants to use to keep you uniquely bound up in sin, death and shame. He is doing two things. He is trying to increase your sinful desires through all of this, while also decreasing your hopefulness that the gospel can apply to you. He’s increasing your sin and guilt and shame while he is trying to show you that you are so cut off that Christ could never love you. That is an absolute lie that the scriptures expose.
Hear this, there is not sin so great that it can bring condemnation to any who truly repent from their sins and turn the Christ in faith. Sexual sins are by nature more complicated because they are more entangling and they bring more outward consequences, therefore we need to flee them. This means that you also need help. Come talk to someone.
Through all of this, remember the gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ is strong and mighty to save, no matter what your idolatry or sexual immorality. Brothers and sisters, therefore, flee from idolatry and sexual immorality.
Now as I mentioned earlier, our first two application points dealt with very specific warnings. In the next two application points, whereas the first two looked at things that were categorically wrong, the Israelites just got bored and they just did something sinful. The Israelites should not have been engaged with the Moabites in the way they were in Numbers chapter twenty-five.
In these next two stories that Paul is pointing back to, there is something to learn. There is another path the Israelites could have taken. These aren’t just black and white wrong sorts of things, though they were wrong. But what they did is that they forfeited a better path that they could have taken. As we start digging into these stories and learn from these examples, this is where we see where the Old Testament points forward to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Fear the Lord Jesus Christ
We are looking at verse nine,
9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 1 Corinthians 10:9, ESV
Our third point is fear the Lord Jesus Christ. Why are we saying the word fear here? The word fear doesn’t appear in this passage. We will get to that. Let’s start by noticing the fact that Paul says we must not put Christ to the test.
Paul is saying the same thing he said back in verse four, that the person of the Trinity who was among the people of God in the wilderness was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, this is before his incarnation. Jesus Christ had not taken to himself a human nature, but we are dealing with the eternal Son of God who is in the midst of his people to lead them and also, in verse nine, to be tested by them.
When we read about the Israelites putting the Lord to the test, what Paul is telling us in verse nine, this means that they were putting Christ to the test. Again, there is only one covenant of grave in the whole Bible and there is only one mediator of the covenant of grace through the whole Bible.
The Old Testament has a different administration of this, because one is pointing forward to Christ and one is looking back to Christ as we wait for the coming of Christ. This isn’t a museum artifact; we are learning how we trust in Christ for our lives.
What did they do to put Christ to the test? That is where we need to look at this text in verse nine, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents.” Serpents clue us in, we know exactly where we are. Paul is just amassing these Old Testament texts. I’m sorry if this is getting complicated. Paul is pointing us back to Numbers chapter twenty-one where the people of Israel complained. Once again, they complained about food.
In Numbers 21:5 they complained,
5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Numbers 21:5, ESV
Paul is very clearly reminding the Corinthians that food was an issue there, they were destroyed by serpents. You should learn from that so that your food, the food that you are eating in the temples of the pagan gods, doesn’t destroy you.
What should we learn from this? We have to ask what it means to put someone to the test. Why is their complaining classified here by Paul as putting Christ to the test? This is where we need to study the Old Testament and how it uses the word test.
In the first use of the word test, it’s actually about how the Lord tested his people. Genesis 22:1 says that God test Abraham when he asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Then in Exodus fifteen and sixteen, right after God brought his people through the Red Sea, this word testing comes up. It’s God’s testing of his people. In Exodus 16:4, God says,
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. Exodus 16:4, ESV
The idea of testing is the idea of evaluating someone, to evaluate how they will perform in a certain situation. When the Lord tests us, it’s to test whether we love him, believe in him and will follow him.
But then we start to see that the tables are turned. No longer is God putting his people to the test and like Abraham the people were following the Lord in faith. They don’t actually do this. Instead of trying to rise to the test of the Lord by grace, they turn things around and put the Lord to the test.
In Exodus 17:2, Israel tested the Lord when they complained and distrusted him to provide water. So, God gave them water from the rock, which Paul talked about that in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4, and he called that place “Massah” which means testing.
When the Israelites should have entered into the land, they distrusted the Lord, and refused to enter into the land. The Lord categorized this as “putting him to the test these ten times” he says in Numbers 14:22. That is actually where we start to understand where Numbers chapter twenty-one, is classified as a test.
In Numbers fourteen, God talked about putting the Lord to the test these ten times. Again, he’s using one of those approximated numbers. There aren’t ten stories in the Old Testament that we read about Israel putting God to the test.
What he is saying is that all of these times that they have distrusted me, even if in the scriptures it’s not officially flagged as a test, all of these times where the people of Israel put me to the test by distrusting me, all of these places are where they are putting me to the test.
In Numbers twenty-one the word test doesn’t appear, but we are meant to understand that the Lord is putting them to the test to see if God can provide for them in that situation. Paul is pointing back to this Numbers nine passage and saying that we must not put Christ to the test in this way.
What do we learn by this? What is the positive path forward? It’s really interesting as you look at all the places where the word test appears, to see how often the idea of fear comes close after or is closely connected with it.
In Genesis twenty-two, when God test Abraham about whether to sacrifice Isaac. When Abraham was about to go through with it and God had to stop him, he stopped him saying, “for now I now you fear God.” Abraham passed the test because he feared God, “Seeing that you have not withheld you son, your only son from me.”
Then again when God gives the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:20, it’s interesting that God says, “Do not fear”, that is don’t let fear be something that drives you away from me.
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” Exodus 20:20, ESV
Here’s the thing, when we are afraid of the Lord and draw back from him in terror or when we are afraid of the people around us so that we cave to whatever the situations and people around us call for; rather than putting the Lord as the one whom we fear in a holy, healthy sense, then we test the Lord.
It means that we are evaluating the Lord and we are saying we don’t find you good enough or trustworthy enough to believe in you right now. You have called me to follow you, you have given us this call to obey you by faith. Yet, I don’t trust you. I don’t think you’re good enough or powerful enough to rescue me out of this situation.
So, in Numbers 14:9, when the Israelites are debating whether or not to enter into the Promised Land, the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, are pleading with the people. they are saying, don’t fear the people of the land. Their protection is removed from them and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them. This the Lord says later is them putting him to the test; they don’t trust him or believe he is powerful enough.
You may remember when Jesus is interacting with Satan, Satan is tempting him to throw himself down from the temple. Jesus says, “it is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” That’s Deuteronomy 6:16, just three verses earlier in verse thirteen we read, “it is the Lord your God that you shall fear.” The fear of the Lord is the antidote for trying to put the Lord to the test.
True holy fear of the Lord, where you trust him, you believe that he is good, where you also recognize that he is strong enough and powerful enough to do undo anything in your path; that’s the kind of the fear of the Lord that we are called to in the scriptures. It’s the antidote to putting the Lord to the test.
Our application point is simple. Fear the Lord Jesus Christ. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of true knowledge and wisdom. You see this in Job 28:28, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111. We put Christ to the test when we don’t give him the respect he deserves. When we look at his strength and evaluate and say Jesus I don’t think you are actually good enough to sustain me here. Jesus, I don’t think you are actually powerful enough for this situation.
Do we recognize what a small view we have of the eternal Son of God almighty? When we give in to sin because of fear, do you know what that is saying about what we think of Christ? Fear of the Lord isn’t the same thing as being scared.
Eugene Petersen says it’s not just the same thing as being scared, it includes all emotions that accompany being scared; the disorientation, the not knowing what is going to happen to me, the realization that there is far more here than I had any idea of, and the more and other is God. When that happens, we beginning to get in on the fear of the Lord.
In this way, as we approach the Lord with fear, he corrects our overly small evaluations and estimations of him.
The same thing happens in Revelation chapter one when the glorified Jesus appears and he’s terrifying, his face shining like the sun. The apostle John, seeing him, falls down at his feet as though dead. Here’s the gospel. Christ responds, seeing the fear, the terror of John at the face of Jesus, Christ responds by saying this,
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Revelation 1:17-18, ESV
He is the one that we must give our fear to, hold him in the highest possible estimation, recognize that we are nothing more than sinners in the hands of an angry God. But we must also believe that he has chosen to be merciful and gracious to us. This one that we must fear is also the one who speaks to us a word of the comforting gospel, saying fear not because he is the one who holds the keys to everything that is scary; to death and Hades. He possesses it he entered into it, he died but is alive forever more. Because we fear him, we don’t have to fear people, circumstances, sickness, death, Hades, or any disasters in our life.
Fear the Lord Jesus Christ.
Follow the Lord Jesus Christ
We should recognize that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That means the fear of the Lord should lead us somewhere, as we will see Paul’s final instruction is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul gets at it this way in verse ten,
10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 1 Corinthians 10:10, ESV
Now again, why are we talking about following the Lord Jesus Christ? We will get to that. We also have to ask where this grumbling appear? Early on in the wilderness wanderings, Israel grumbled because of lack of water and food. In Exodus fifteen, sixteen and seventeen, where those grumblings came up, the Lord didn’t destroy them, he provided what they needed.
There are two possible scenes then to look at in Numbers chapter fourteen when Israel grumbled against entering into the Promised Land. They heard the bad report of the faithless spies who said that it’s full of enemies who are giants, we can’t go in there. So, they grumbled against that and wanted to go back to Egypt.
Then in Number 16:41, there was a rebellion of a man named Korah, who grumbled against the legitimacy of Moses as being a true prophet of the Lord. Well, once the Lord dealt with that issue by opening up the ground to swallow Korah and everything that was with him; it was a rather quick way of dealing with that.
The people of Israel, after seeing that great sign nevertheless grumbled, “you put to death the people of the Lord”, as we read in Numbers 16:41. They thought Korah was a faithful believer. After that we read that there was a plague that destroyed many of them.
We have to ask which story we are talking about. The word destroyer doesn’t appear in either story. He seems to be blending together multiple stories. When we talk about the destroyer, we are talking about the tenth plague against Egypt in Exodus 12:23. There a destroyer when through and struck down all the firstborn of the Egyptians while keeping his people Israel safe because of the Passover Lamb.
Well, that’s the connection, the plague in Numbers 14:37 and 16:46-50. The Lord’s judgement against the grumblers is also called a plague. They died because of a plague. That points to the destroyer who was the destroyer of the tenth plague of Egypt. The same destroyer that God sent against God’s enemy, Egypt, is the same one that God sent through his people when they grumbled against him.
We need to learn from this, but what do we learn? In Numbers fourteen, the Israelites grumbled because they didn’t trust the Lord to follow him into the Promised Land. There was a clear path and they said I don’t want to take it. I’m going to grumble because this is hard.
Then in Numbers sixteen, the Israelites grumbled because they didn’t trust the Lord’s prophet. The same way we grumble when obedience to Christ is unclear, hard, painful, sacrificial, or we have to submit to someone outside of ourselves. The Israelites didn’t want to suffer any more than we do. They didn’t want to do a hard thing or trust any more than we do.
We need to learn from their grumbling. As you look back on this story, that’s one of the benefits of history it gives us perspective, we can say what were you doing? Don’t you see the ways that the Lord is providing for you? Shouldn’t that cause you to rejoice rather than to grumble?
Our application point is to ask this question; where is it difficult for you to follow Jesus? Where is it unclear, where is it hard, where is it painful, where is it sacrificial, where is it messy? When those situations arise, we have a temptation to grumble at the commandments. To grumble at the providential leading of the Lord to lead us into the circumstance that he has brought us into.
You aren’t alone in this, if your first instinct is to grumble. I have the same response, Israel had the same response, but we need to learn from them. We look at these stories and say what were you thinking? One of the benefits we have here is perspective.
If you were reading your story in the Bible right now, God just took what is happening to you and put it in the Old Testament, that’s a terrifying thought, but if he did what would you hope to be reading about your faith? What would you hope to be reading about your attitude and your actions? This is what Paul wants us to learn. To see that people haven’t changed, God hasn’t changed, God’s plan of salvation for his people hasn’t changed.
We need to find, even in the Old Testament, teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. We need to be prodded to repentance when need. We need to be encouraged, challenged and inspired in our faith by the promises of the gospel when we need it. We just as much as Old Testament Israelites need the grace of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV
Lord, I pray that you would give us grace to learn from all of these examples, to see that we are the same kind of people. We are people who have more information, who see more of the plan of your salvation for your people than our Old Testament brothers and sisters did, but who nevertheless struggle. Father forgive us for idolatry, forgive us for sexual immorality. Father forgive us for putting you to the test and for our grumblings. We pray that you would lead us to fear and follow the Lord Jesus Christ all the days of our lives. It’s in Christ’s name that we pray. Amen.