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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 miracles they had seen in Egypt, they took Egyptian idols with them when they crossed the Red Sea. They continued to turn to idols throughout the histories of Judges and Kings. 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 in 1 Corinthians 10: The idolatries of “our fathers” were “examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (vs. 6) and that we should “not be idolaters as some of them were” (vs. 7). 1

Let’s look at that passage. It’s rather long, so let me attempt to summarize. Please follow along in chapter 10 and the corresponding verses from the Old Testament.

How were the Israelites idolaters? They:

  • Doubted God when Moses was delayed on the mount and made a golden calf to which they offered sacrifices. The people then “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (vs. 7; Exodus 32:1-6).
  • Engaged in sexual immorality (vs. 8). I don’t connect sexual immorality with idolatry, and that light of truth has not shined on me yet. Nevertheless, this sin was committed when “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” and worshiped Baal of Peor. Twenty-four thousand died of the plague in one day (Numbers 25).
  • Put Christ to the test (vs. 9). In this case, the people accused God and Moses of bringing them to the wilderness to die. Some were destroyed by serpents (Numbers 21:4-6).
  • Grumbled, and some were “destroyed by the Destroyer” (vs. 10; Numbers 16:41-49).

The very next thing Paul wrote was this: “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” (vs. 11).

Then Paul wrote a “therefore.” As you know, whenever a therefore shows up, we must ask what it is there for. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (vs. 12).

So, let me get this straight. My brain is starting to burn, and that, well, is usually a good thing as far as God’s Word is concerned. We should view “these things”—stupid things, from my point of view—that the Israelites did as examples to us, that we might learn from their instruction, not to desire evil as they did, nor be idolaters as some of them were. And here’s the kicker—if I think I will not do evil like they did, I should take heed lest I fall.

In other words, I could do these things. I could be as sinful and irrational as they were.

Then in verse 13, some encouragement. We should know that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” In other words, these temptations to commit idolatry by doubting God, engaging in sexual immorality, putting Christ to the test, and grumbling are common to everyone. That’s a little comforting.

I guess.

Then Paul wrote,

“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. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (vss. 13b–14).

So, even though it is easy for me, in my pride and self-righteousness, to think that I would not behave like those ancient, unrighteous fathers, I very well may. I am liable to be as foolish and evil as they and be tempted to engage in all their sins. Therefore, I should be humble and not think I am somehow better than those Israelites. I am to be instructed by their lawless behavior so that I will not desire evil and trust in an alternative power when I’m in trial and trouble. The Lord God Almighty will help me to endure all those temptations.

Please note, however, that although the Lord will “provide a way of escape,” that “way of escape” enables us to “endure it,” not cause it to vanish.

Lord, help me. I will be tempted to do evil. I am weak. You are strong. Strengthen me, I pray.


1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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