Now these things became examples for us so that we won’t set our hearts on evil as they did. Let us stop being idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to play.” Let us stop sinning sexually, as some of them were doing, and on a single day 23,000 fell dead. Let us stop putting the Lord to the test, as some of them were doing, and were destroyed by snakes. You must stop complaining, as some of them were doing, and were destroyed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down as a warning for us in whom the climax of the ages has been realized.1 Corinthians 10:6-11
Notice Paul repeats the idea of these things being examples for us (the Corinthians and us who follow). In fact he sandwiches the examples between the statements that “these are examples”. He wanted the Corinthians to get idea that they are in the same situation as those of ancient Israel. Many of us too will be in the same situation. He chooses five distinct examples from Israel’s time in the wilderness. This is why his mind has gone back to the wilderness experience.
- A particular case of setting their hearts on evil was when they pined for the fish, leeks, etc of Egypt, which they had left (Num 11:4, Num 11:33, Num 11:34). These are included in the “evil things,” not that they are so in themselves, but they became so to the Israelites when they lusted after what God withheld, and were discontented with what God provided. There were many occasions when the Israelites hankered after evil. So too the Corinthians. Let us examine ourselves in the light of this Scripture.
- Idolaters — The Israelites sat down, ate, and drank at the idol feast to the calves in Horeb, so the Corinthians were in danger of idolatry of the same kind, though not specifically worshipping an idol as the Israelites had done. (1 Cor 8:10-11; 1 Cor 10:14, 1 Cor 10:20-21; Exo 32:6). He switches here from the first to the second person pronoun, as they alone (not he also) were in danger of idolatry. He resumes the first person appropriately at 1Co_10:16. Note the difference between “all” and “some” — In this case the multitude follow the lead of some bad men. It is clear that the Corinthians have a major struggle with idolatry. Idolatry can come in all sorts of forms. Anything that takes the place of God in competing for our worship and focus is idolatry. Is it an issue for you?
- Fornication — The sexual immorality (Num 25:1-18) was generally associated with the idol feasts when sexual acts were practised among the pagan religions of the time. While this is not stated in the biblical text in the case of ancient Israel it is most likely. It was part of what was happening around them. Paul seems to infer it was happening among the Israelites by using immorality in these examples. This certainly applied to the Corinthians, sexual immorality was rife in Corinth at the time and it was clearly in the church. (as we have already discussed (1 Cor 5:1, 1 Cor 5:9; 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Cor 6:15, 1 Cor 6:18; 1 Cor 8:10).
- [23,000 — There appears to be a discrepancy with this number. In Num 25:9 “twenty and four thousand” is the figure given. I don’t think this is a real discrepancy. It can be explained in one of two ways. Either Moses in Numbers includes all who died “in the plague”; Paul, all who died “in one day”; one thousand more may have fallen the next day [Kitto, Biblical Cyclopaedia]. Or, the real number may have been between twenty-three thousand and twenty-four thousand, say twenty-three thousand five hundred, or twenty-three thousand six hundred; when writing generally where the exact figures were not needed, one writer likely rounded the number off. At least the seeming discrepancy is not irreconcilable.]
- Putting the Lord to the test — “Why do you tempt the Lord?” Israel’s discontented complaining was putting Christ to the test. Though they drank of “that Rock … Christ” (1Co_10:4), they complained about water (Exo_17:2, Exo_17:7). Though they were eating the same spiritual meat (Christ, “the true manna,” “the bread of life”), they craved for meat. In this case, being punished by the fiery serpents, they were saved by the brazen serpent, the emblem of Christ (compare Joh_8:56; Heb_11:26). The Greek for “tempt” means, tempt or try, so as to wear out the long-suffering of Christ. The Corinthians were in danger of provoking God’s long-suffering by walking on the verge of idolatry, through over-confidence in their knowledge.
Some of the oldest manuscripts read Christ, and other writings such as Irenaeus. Some of the oldest manuscripts read “Lord”; and one manuscript “God.” If “Lord” be read, it will mean Christ. Clearly Paul considers Christ as being present in this time period. There is not a problem with that. A simple reading of Colossians will convince you of that. Num 21:5 has a reference to God [“spoke against God”]. Most probably one NT manuscript was altered to “God” in 1 Cor 10:9, to harmonize it with Num_21:5. Either “Christ” or “Lord” is the genuine reading. I don’t intend to get into the issue of the other variant readings here. This is a small issue.
Murmuring – Upon the death of Korah and his company, who themselves were murmurers (Num 16:41, Num 16:49). Their murmurs against Moses and Aaron were virtually murmurs against God (compare Exo_16:8, Exo_16:10). Factions arose against leadership which led to Miriam’s punishment. Paul alludes to the Corinthian murmuring against himself as an apostle of Christ and factions in leadership and partisanship which was crippling the church.
Although Paul doesn’t refer to it, 14,700 perished at this time. By choosing these examples Paul is inferring to the Corinthians that they are in danger of God’s judgement by continually living on the edge of temptation. A warning we all must heed. Hence Paul spells it out for our instruction too. These examples are for all of us.
Keep worshipping idols and I’ll make rush hour longer.God
The only person standing in your way… is YOU.Thomas Leroy
The man who has no inner life is the slave of his surroundings.Henri Frederic Amiel