Throughout its history, Israel was unable to put away the sinful behaviors of the cultures in which they lived. It still shocks me that after all the terrible plagues and miracles the Lord had worked on their behalf in Egypt—primary among them their first-born sons being saved from death by putting the blood of a lamb on their door lintels—they did not reject idolatry. I think, “How could they have been so foolish, so sinful after all the Lord had done? Really. I don’t get it.” However, I need to take note of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning Israel’s past.
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 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.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Corinthians 10:6–10).1
When did the Israelites desire evil and commit idolatry? When Moses was delayed a long time on Mount Sinai while receiving the Law from God Himself.
“So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:3–4).
When did the Israelites desire evil and grumble?
“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 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 21:4–5).
When did they desire evil and engage in sexual immorality?
“While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods” (Numbers 25:1–2).
Next, Paul wrote this about these sins: “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. Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).
We are to view “these things” that the Israelites did as examples to us, that we might learn from them, not to desire evil and engage in sexual immorality as they did, be idolaters, or grumble about God’s provision. Notice that Paul at the beginning of the last sentence in the passage wrote, “therefore.” As you may know, whenever a “therefore” shows up, we must ask what it is there for. So, here’s the kicker: Therefore, if I think I will not do the sins Israel did—or be shocked by them—I should take heed lest I fall. In other words, I could do them, too. I could be as sinful and evil as they were.
I don’t like to think of myself like that. But here we are, looking at the truth of God square in the face.
Then, some encouragement.
“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 10:13).
These temptations to desire evil, commit idolatry by doubting God, engaging in sexual immorality, putting Christ to the test, and grumbling are common to all believers. That’s a little comforting.
So, even though it is easy for me, in my pride and self-righteousness, to think that I would not behave like those ancient, sinful people, I very well may. However, the Lord God Almighty will help me and anyone who asks to endure all those temptations.
Lord, help us. We will be tempted to do evil. We are weak. You are strong. Help us walk Your narrow road.
1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Gif courtesy giphy.
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