November 27, 2005

A History Lesson in Holiness

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 1 Corinthians Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:1–12


A History Lesson in Holiness

1 Corinthians 10:1-12
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Pastor Randy Smith

On September 6th, 1620 the little band of Pilgrims set off from England on the good ship Mayflower. They had a very difficult Atlantic crossing. The Mayflower nearly cracked in two and sank when the main beam broke in a storm. But after two months of rough sailing, the Pilgrims sighted the beautiful grass-covered sand dunes of Cape Cod.

Governor William Bradford wrote in his book Of Plymouth Plantation, "Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element."

Yet despite arriving in the New World, their sufferings were far from over. The first few years in Plymouth were extremely hard for the Pilgrims.

On their first exploring party, the Pilgrims suffered an unprovoked attack from a band of Indians. Additionally, they faced freezing cold, extremely severe disease, acute hunger and a prolonged "starving time" where the daily ration was only five kernels of corn apiece. So many Pilgrims died the first winter; they might have all given up. But the living were strengthened by their sense of mission, uplifted by their faith in God and consoled by their love for one another.

When the Mayflower was set to return to England, and the captain offered to take back anyone who wished, not one accepted his offer. The Pilgrims are a story about trust in God and, as we celebrated this week, thanksgiving for His provisions (Adapted from: Plymouth Rock Foundation).

Though revisionists are changing the story, the account of the Pilgrims once filled the opening pages of every American History textbook. Through this dramatic example of our forefathers we are called to live with courage and spiritual zeal as citizens of this great country. For this reason, history is invaluable to teach us from good examples in the past.

On the other hand, history is also invaluable to teach us from the poor examples as well. We must learn about the infamous, evil and imprudent acts of humankind. We must learn about the Civil War and slavery and the Trail of Tears. Why? What is the purpose of rehashing these "black eyes" of our country's heritage? Because as George Santayana, a famous Harvard philosophy professor, once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." An understanding of history can prevent us from making the same mistakes.

Last week we learned about the Christian race (9:24-27). We are all called to run the race with discipline and focus. We are to aim for the prize of heaven. Yet unfortunately, some professing Christians will be disqualified. They will fall short of spiritual victory.

In two weeks we will learn that some of these Corinthian believers were flirting with idolatry (10:14). Possibly their desire to flaunt their liberty or pride in their knowledge or overconfidence in their human abilities (all tendencies of this church) led them to come dangerously close to this detestable act.

Paul was in grave concern for these people so he decided in chapter 10, verses 1-13 to give them a history lesson from their forefathers (10:1). He laid before them the biblical story of the Exodus. The Exodus illustrated how many could begin the race, but only few actually complete the course as spiritual champions. The story of the Israelites and their wandering in the desert serves as a history lesson to the Corinthians and to us (10:6, 11) about perseverance in the fight for faith. I have entitled this sermon: "A History Lesson in Holiness."


I trust all of you are familiar with the story of the Exodus. Like the voyage of the Pilgrims for religious freedom in American History, the Exodus was the cornerstone of Jewish History. It recalled how the Hebrews were released from their 400-year bondage to the Egyptians.

They were enslaved and subjected to hard work and persecution. However, God supernaturally delivered His people. Beginning with 10 plagues on the Egyptians and culminating with a dry passage through the Red Sea, Israel was on her way to the Promised Land. And during this dangerous journey in the desert, God cared for His people and provided for their every need in such an extraordinary way.

Spiritual Guidance

In verse 1 we see the Israelites were given spiritual guidance. "For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea."

In addition to God guiding them through the Red Sea (Ex. 14:22-29; Heb. 11:29), which I already mentioned, He also guided them with a "cloud" as verse 1 indicates. According to the biblical account, "The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night" (Ex. 13:21).

Faithful guidance 24 hours a day! The pillars of cloud and fire represented God's nearness to His people. He demonstrated that He is intimately concerned for the direction of His chosen flock.

Spiritual Leadership

In addition to spiritual guidance, God also provided spiritual leadership in the person of Moses. Verse 2, "And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea."

When we think of baptism in the church, we commonly think of individuals being immersed in a body of water. While that is true, we must not forget what the actual act of baptism represents. Water baptism is only an outward sign of an inward reality. When a person is immersed in water, it represents how that individual was already immersed, or baptized in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27). In the act of baptism, we illustrate the believer's identification with Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:3-6).

Therefore when Paul remarks that the Israelites were baptized into Moses, what he means is that the people were identified with God's spiritual leader, Moses. They are, as one author said, "dipped" into his leadership (Ex. 14:31). He would be the mediator between God and man in the Old Covenant.

Even to this day, the Jews will often call Moses the greatest Israelite. The Bible says he was a very godly man (Num. 12:3). When God chose to lead His people to freedom, He provided them with one of His finest leaders.

Spiritual Sustenance

Finally, verses 3 and 4 speak of the spiritual sustenance God provided. "And all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ."

Every day of the week save the Sabbath, God provided the Israelites bread from heaven (Ex. 16). It was called "manna" which means, "What is it" (Ex. 16:15). It began the time they passed through the Red Sea and continued 40 years until they reached the border of Canaan (Ex. 16:35; Jos. 5:12)

In addition to the spiritual bread, the verse indicates God also provided water for the animals and the people during their long trek through the desert. A couple accounts are mentioned in Scripture. At Horeb, Moses was commanded to strike the rock that produced water for the people (Ex. 17:6). And how can we forget the other time at Kadesh when Moses was told to speak to the rock. In his anger he struck the rock twice. Though water came forth in God's mercy, Moses' disobedience by misrepresenting the Lord, forfeited his own personal entrance into the Promised Land (Num. 20:1-12).

Since God often provided water from the rocks, Jewish legends in rabbinic sources believed there was a natural rock that literally followed the Jews in the desert. Paul, most likely familiar with this account, plays off the story in the end of verse 3 and identifies the rock that followed them with Jesus Christ.

"Yes," says Paul, "A rock did follow the Israelites in the desert. It was not a material rock - it was a spiritual one. It was the preincarnate Jesus Christ present with and providing for the needs of His people."

Far from God leading the Israelites out of Egypt only to see them die of starvation and thirst in the desert, He gave continual care by supplying the necessary elements to survive.

Verses 1-4 speak of God's ongoing care and gracious provisions for His people. What generosity, grace and goodness! No doubt we should assume they considered themselves blessed and were thankful for the divine benevolence. No doubt we should assume they obeyed the Lord and served Him with love, vigor and gratitude.


Unfortunately this was not the case. Due to their disobedience, verse 5 tragically states, "Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased." And that is an understatement!

Some have estimated that nearly two million people left Egypt. And though the many in the next generation (under 20) entered the Promised Land, only two from the previous generation (Joshua and Caleb) were permitted to cross the Jordan. Is the history lesson beginning to sink in?

What happened to the rest of them? In graphic language the verse continues, "For they were laid low in the wilderness" (cf. Heb. 3:17; Ju. 1:5). The NIV translates this verse, "their bodies were scattered over the desert." YLT says, "They were strewn in the wilderness."

The Israelites experienced the consequences of their disobedience. God poured out blessing after blessing and as the end of verse 6 indicates the people responded not with thanksgiving, but by "craving evil things." The source is an attitude of ingratitude, a general focus of selfishness. Despite all they had been given by the hand of the Lord, the people craved evil in their minds.

Paul identifies four sinful manifestations of their evil desires that would lead to their disqualification:


The first one is idolatry. Verse 7, "Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.'"

The most familiar account of the idolatry is recorded in Exodus 32. You will remember when Moses was on the mountain receiving the Holy Law, the people became impatient and demanded that Aaron fashion them a god. A golden calf was made. Burnt and peace offering were presented. The people boldly proclaimed, "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt" (Ex. 32:4). And as verse 7 indicates (quoting Exodus 32:6), "The people sat down to eat and drink" - they feasted in honor of the god and "stood up to play" - they engaged in licentious sexual activity. They sought base satisfaction in the presence of an idol and displaced the living God with that of a graven image (Ex. 20:4-5).


The second sin mentioned in verse 8 is sexual immorality. "Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day."

This specific account is recorded in Numbers 25. While of the threshold of the Promised Land, the Israelite men engaged in sexual immorality with the women of Moab, which was part of the fertility rites associated with their Baal worship. The Lord's anger burned against Israel and as Paul indicates, 23,000 died before the plague was checked.

Testing the Lord

The third sin is testing the Lord. In verse 9 we read, "Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents."

God had once again provided for His people in the desert. This time after giving them a military victory over the people of Canaan the Israelites became impatient and "spoke against God and (their leader) Moses." They said, "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 miserable food" (Num. 21:5). They limited the Holy One of Israel, and with an attitude of doubt they questioned the extent of His goodness. They dared Him to move. "Can God prepare a table in the wilderness" (Psm. 78:19)?

As a result of their testing God, their pushing Him to the limit, the account in Numbers says, "The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died" (Num. 21:6). But the people repented, and God in His infinite mercy and patience had Moses erect a bronze serpent on a stand whereby those who were bitten could look at it and live.

You'll remember Jesus used this account in John 3 to illustrate those who look to Him in faith for eternal life (Jn. 3:14-15). We are all spiritually sick bitten by the viper of sin. Our only cure is to trust the One who was lifted up on the cross to die for our spiritual disease.


Idolatry, immorality, testing the Lord and finally, complaining. Verse 10, "Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer."

Complaining and grumbling is a general attitude of dissatisfaction with the Lord. Jude calls grumbling the essence of ungodliness (Jude 1:16). Because this sin cast doubts on God's sovereignty and wisdom and goodness, Paul in Philippians 2 tells us to "do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God" (Phil. 2:14-15a).

The Israelites were far from blameless in this area. Chronicled throughout the Scriptures we have the record of their constant complaining (Ex. 15:24; 16:2, 7-9, 12; 17:3, 5, 10; Num. 14:2, 27, 29, 36; 16:11, 41; 17:5; Dt. 1:27). In Numbers 14, "The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 'How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me'" (Num. 14:26-27).

God does not take this sin lightly. Neither should we. Paul in verse 10 reminds us that some were destroyed because of their grumbling.

So after tremendous blessings, the Jews made idols instead of walking by faith in the invisible God. They engaged in sexual immorality instead of purity. They tested the Lord instead of trusting Him. They grumbled instead of demonstrating contentment.

So again, we ask ourselves, why the history lesson from the life of Israel? Why did Paul choose to identify these specific sins and subsequent consequences? I believe he is very clear, but he will make himself even clearer.


As we move to our final point, "Application to this Account," let's begin by answering that question I just posed by looking at verse 6. "Now these things happened as examples for us." Verse 11 says the same thing. "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction."

The Greek word for "example" that appears in both of these verses is the word tupos. It's where we get the English word "type," meaning a representation or example for another. What Paul is saying in these verses is that Israel has become a type or an example for the church.

In other words, the whole exodus story is a picture or example or type of the Christian conversion experience. The true believer has left the symbolic bondage of slavery in Egypt for freedom from sin in Christ. He is guided by the cloud of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. He is baptized into Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27). He feeds off of Christ, the bread of life (Jn. 6:41-58) and drinks off Christ, the rock of living water (Jn. 7:37-39) for eternal satisfaction. And in Christ he has a Promised Land of forgiveness and rest (Mt. 11:28-29; Heb. 4:1-11).

Therefore because of these blessings we have in Christ, far greater than the blessing of the Old Covenant experienced by the Israelites, we should seek to please God and run the race with greater perseverance to avoid the disqualification experienced by the Jews.

The word tupos was also used in antiquity to speak of striking a blow or leaving an impression. The apostle Paul wants to leave an impression on this immature Corinthian church teetering on the precipice of spiritual disaster.

Similar to the Israelites, they lived in a culture immersed in idolatry (5:11; 10:14) and sexual immorality (5:11; 6:13; 7:2). Similar to the Israelites, they tested the Lord with their arrogance (4:6; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4) and grumbled against God and the leaders He sent their way (4:18-21).

Paul is pleading with these believers to learn from the examples set before them in the Old Testament. Learn about the kindness and provisions from our Lord. Learn how He treats sins severely. Learn what happens to those who fail to heed His voice. Learn how many who begin this race with God fail to reach the finish line a champion.

Are we learning from the examples in the Old Testament? Do we realize the Old Testament is "profitable" for us (2 Tim. 3:16-17)? The wise individual heeds God's Word and learns from the examples of others (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1). The fool ignores God's Word and learns in the school of hard knocks.

We like the Israelites can easily presume upon the Lord. We can forget His blessings and mock Him with our feeble attempts of worship. Because we are prone to pride and arrogance, often we are not even aware how far we are falling short of His expectations. Proverbs 21:2 says, "Every man's way is right in his own eyes." We can think we are running well, when in reality of Christian life is a sham.

We need to beware of a false sense of security. We need to beware of self-deception and self-confidence and self-reliance. So, borrowing the athletic imagery from last week, Paul calls the church for a "gut check" in verse 12. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall." Solomon said it this way in Proverbs 16:18. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling."

The world, the devil and the flesh are forever seeking to keep us from running successfully. And even when we think we are making tremendous strides, self-deception and pride often gets the best of us. It happened to Saul, Nebuchadnezzar, Peter the churches of Sardis and Laodicea in Revelation 3. That is why verse 12 is calling us to a continual attitude of self-examination. We must take heed if we think we stand! For during these times we are most vulnerable.

How are we doing? Are we running the race in the strength of the Holy Spirit? Are we running the race with our eyes upon Jesus? Are we running the race for the glory of God the Father? Are there elements of humility and dependence and surrender or do we exhibit like the Israelites pride, overconfidence and arrogance. Have we learned from their example that was written for our instruction?

Hebrews 12:1 also speaks about this spiritual race. "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."

The "cloud of witnesses" mentioned in this verse are all the faithful saints mentioned in the "Hall of Faith" from chapter 11. Just as we are called to avoid following the negative example of the Israelites we are to follow the positive example provided by these faithful children of God. We are to run the race like they did, never giving up regardless of the cost, obstacles or hardship. They all believed the same God. They all ran in the same faith. And they all finished the course victorious.

They were people like Noah who by faith built an ark in the middle of the desert (Heb. 11:7). They were people like Abraham who by faith went to a foreign land and was prepared to offer Isaac according to the word of God (Heb. 11:8-10, 17-19). They were people like Moses who by faith considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt (Heb. 11:26). The writer concludes after his lengthy list. "And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect" (Heb. 11:39-40).

May we learn from the positive example of the Old Testament saints.

Last night after dinner, Julie pulled out a large glass jar containing many little slips of paper that individually recorded blessings God poured into our lives this past year. As we celebrated Thanksgiving three days ago, I'm sure all of you recalled the events for which you are grateful as well.

May God's goodness, love and grace move us to live holy lives pleasing in His sight. And may we learn from the examples, both good and bad, of those who have gone before us to persevere and complete the Christian race a champion.

The account in Exodus reads 24,000, not 23,000. People have sought to harmonize this discrepancy through the following solutions:

1. Paul states that 23,000 died in "one day" whereas another 1,000 must have died on another day or days.

2. 24,000 included the leaders, whereas 23,000 did not.

3. The writers simply used round numbers (possibly Moses the upper limit and Paul the lower limit).

4. Paul followed a variant reading

other sermons in this series

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Apr 15


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Mar 18


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