Study Notes for I Corinthians 10:1-13 (click here for Study Sheet)

Paul begins this section of his letter by including the Corinthians as offspring of Abraham. "Our forefathers were all under the cloud" he says. As Christ-followers, the Corinthians are now inheritors of the promises God made to Abraham. The promised Seed (Messiah) and the blessing of the New Covenant are theirs.
Paul spends significant energy recounting events in the history of Israel, and he makes the astounding statement that "these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come." Israel's history is more than a story; it's there as a warning for Christ-followers who live not "under the cloud" but in the presence of the living Christ and his Holy Spirit.

Baptism by Cloud and Sea

God's presence in the camp of Israel was continuous. He never left them without the pillar of cloud or fire. All Israel could see the literal symbol of God's tangible presence in their camp. At first glance such tangible evidence of God's presence seems miraculous; it seems much more real than the way we live in God's presence. In reality, however, God's presence with us is far more intimate and accessible. The Holy Spirit actually indwells each person who believes in and accepts Christ and his sacrifice and resurrection.
To the Israelites God was external. To Christians, He is internal. He makes us spiritually alive; Jesus' death made it possible to heal the chasm between us and God that sentenced each human to spiritual death. The Holy Spirit in us brings life to our souls, and we live in intimate communion with the living God.
The cloud which was the presence of God and the Red Sea through which Israel passed on dry land were, Paul said, the Israelites' baptism into Moses.
Baptism is a symbol of a new beginning, of a commitment. John the Baptist's baptism was a baptism of repentance, Paul said. Jesus' baptism is a baptism of the Holy Spirit. A Christ-follower's baptism is a symbol of his or her renouncing his life as a natural, sinful human and accepting the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ and the new birth He gives.
The Israelites were "baptized" into Moses. They passed through the sea and the cloud and emerged as a group of people who were being trained to become a nation. They followed Moses, their leader, who communicated God's laws and God's will to them. Unlike those who later were baptized by John, the Israelites' "baptism" was not one of repentance. It was one of loyalty to Moses' leadership and to the law which organized them. The Israelites were "baptized" into order and obedience. Their baptism was a new beginning. Instead of being self-serving pagans, they were now beginning training to be the people of God through the leadership of Moses.

Spiritual Food and Drink

Paul continues his history lesson by stating that Israel "all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ." In this great metaphor Paul is referring to the manna (bread from heaven) which the Israelites received in the desert and to the water which gushed from the rock in the wilderness when Moses struck the rock.
Even though the manna and the water sustained the Israelites' lives, they were more than physical sustenance. God specifically gave these things to Israel as symbols of himself. "I am the bread that came down from heaven," Jesus said. (John 6:41) From the earliest days of Israel, God sent them symbols of the life and salvation that Messiah would finally bring. When Israel ate the manna, they were eating symbols of their Bread of Life. They were participating in a foretaste of communion, sharing the symbols of their life and freedom from bondage. But Israel was not able to see the significance of their manna.
When the people complained in the wilderness and wanted water, God told Moses to strike a rock, and water gushed forth. All Israel drank and lived.
Later, when they complained again, God told Moses to merely speak to the rock for water. But Moses was angry with the people, and in rage he struck the rock again. Again water poured out, but God told Moses that because of his disobedience, he would not go into the Promised Land.
The rock, Paul tells us in v. 4, was Christ. God told Moses to strike the rock the first time as a symbol of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The Water of Life is available to everyone because of Jesus' death. When Moses struck the rock a second time instead of merely speaking, God punished him because in effect Moses acted out the death of Jesus a second time.
After Jesus died, he healed the rift between God and man. On this side of the cross, we can each approach God individually and merely speak to Him. No longer do we have to approach him with ceremonies and sacrifices. Jesus' death is "once for all"; no longer do we or any animals have to participate in a death in order to approach God. We can speak to him, person-to-person. Moses' disobedience to God's command to speak kept Israel from experiencing the metaphor of the personal relationship with God which would be possible in the New Covenant.

The Warning of the Golden Calf

The next episode in Israel's history which Paul addressed was their building a golden calf under Aaron the priest's leadership while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Commandments. So soon after their "baptism" by the Red Sea, while their new leader was engulfed in clouds on the mountain, talking with God, they begged for a pagan god, and they "indulged in pagan revelry".
Pagan revelries for us are not golden calves. For us, pagan revelries are any things in which we indulge which put us in Satan's territory. Those things can include anything we do which is not motivated by the Holy Spirit in us. Even things which appear good can be pagan revelries. For example, compulsions about food, worship, clothes, or addictive habits can all be pagan revelries. Anything we do which is motivated by compulsion, blind habit, or rationalizing is not coming from the influence of God. Internal bondage, whether to good things such as healthy diets and days of worship or to obviously destructive things such as pornography or a fantasy life, is a bondage to Satan.
Israel's example of the golden calf is a warning to us to submit our compulsions and habits to Jesus and to let his redeeming sacrifice and resurrection heal our souls and set us free.

The Moabite Warning

Paul's next warning from Israel's story was the episode recorded in Numbers 25:1-18 in which the Israelites men "began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods." (This event, we learn in Numbers 31: 8, 16, occurred because of Balaam. When he failed to curse Israel, he seduced Israel with the Canaanite's fertility rites.) As the men pursued the Moabites' seduction, they began to worship Baal with the women. A plague broke out in Israel during this time as an act of judgment from God. God told Moses to publicly put to death all the leaders in Israel in order to turn God's anger away from the nation.
While Moses and the people were gathered in front of the tent of meeting, weeping before God, an Israelite man named Zimri brought a Moabite woman named Cozbi, the daughter of a tribal chief, to his family, right in front of Moses and the whole camp of Israel. Aaron's grandson Phineas saw the man and the woman go into the tent, and he took a spear and followed them. He drove the spear through the man and into the woman, killing them both with one strike. God then removed the plague from Israel, but 24,000 people had already died.
As barbaric as this story sounds, God still uses it to send a message to New Covenant Christians. Just as Paul points out in I Corinthians 10:18-22, we, as believers filled with the Holy Spirit of God, may not "drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too."
By consorting with the Moabites and engaging in the Baal rituals, Israel was becoming weak. They were taking demons into their camp, literally, by engaging in the pagan temple rites and prostitution. God could not be their Lord and leader when they were voluntarily aligning themselves with demons.
As Christ-followers we must keep ourselves pure. We must choose to be loyal to our Savior, and we must refuse to be seduced by promises of power, money, or pleasure which would compromise our integrity and our loyalty to God. Our choices must always be to honor and glorify God. If we choose to do anything less than glorifying God, our choices become self-serving and eventually draw us into failure, depression, and despair. We end up living under Satan's control instead of in God's victory.

The Warning of the Vipers

Another warning from Israel's history was the reminder of their repetitive grumbling. Perhaps the most memorable grumbling episode was the one in Numbers 21:4-9. The people began to complain to Moses, griping about being brought out of Egypt-out of slavery.
They slandered God; they slandered Moses, and they said, "There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" referring to the manna which fell every morning. God punished them by sending poisonous snakes into their camp which bit and killed many Israelites. Then the people begged Moses to pray that God would remove the snakes.
God told Moses to cast a bronze serpent and mount it on a cross. All who were bitten by the poisonous snakes should look at the bronze snake, and they would be healed and live.
This story reminds Christians that refusing to accept the sovereignty of God results in destruction. Complaining about our circumstances and slandering God's leading will only result in our own destruction because we will not be able to receive the blessings God has already planned for us. When we take matters into our own hands, we will not be successful. We will ultimately destroy ourselves.
This story, though, also contains a promise. The bronze snake represents Jesus who was crucified for our salvation. (John 3:14-15) Snakes have, since the Garden of Eden, been a symbol of evil. When God sent them into the camp of Israel, they were a metaphor for the sin that sentenced the people to death.
Paul tells us in Galatians 3:13 that Christ "redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" Jesus did not "just" die. He became sin for us that in him "we might become the righteousness of God." (II Cor. 5:21)
When Moses made the bronze serpent in the wilderness, he made a tangible symbol of the eventual reality that Jesus would actually become sin, become a curse-the very essence of what had to be destroyed-and die in order to destroy the curse that sentenced us to death. When the Israelites looked at the serpent, they were saved from the death sentence of the snakes' bites, and they lived.

Don't Fall if you think you're Standing Firm

Paul concludes his history lesson with an apparent paradox: "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" The message is clear; at the moments when you believe yourself to be standing firmly in God's will, those are the moments when deception can make you trip and fall.
By definition deception looks like the Real Item. If we could predict or foresee it, deception would not deceive us. The only way we can escape being taken in by any deception is by praying for God's protection from it. We must be continuously willing to lay every idea and plan before God. He will help us know his will even in the daily details of our lives.
Paul doesn't leave us just with a warning, though. He ends this passage with a promise: "But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
Temptation doesn't have to bring us down. This promise doesn't say that the temptation will go away; it says that God will provide a way for us to "stand up under it," or "endure it," as it says in the NASB. We can expect to be besieged by deception and temptation. Satan would love to destroy our freedom in Christ and to compromise our ability to speak for God. Satan would love to destroy the work God gives us to do. But God will provide discernment if we seek it; God will help us to know whether or not our plans or thoughts are His will or merely our will.
When we commit ourselves to God and open ourselves to him for his directions and his marching orders, we can expect attack. But we have no reason to fear. Fear is Satan's tool to make us resist doing God's will.
We can rest in the promise that "God is faithful; he will not let [us] be tempted beyond what [we] can bear." And we can know that God will protect and sustain us as we learn to submit to him.

Walk in Love

God calls us to be honest with ourselves. He asks us to let him reveal to us the broken places in our hearts that are the likely places where we will be tempted and will fall. God knows that we cannot resist temptation by deciding to resist. He knows that only his indwelling Holy Spirit can provide the resistance that we need, and he knows that only as we allow the Holy Spirit to heal our broken hearts can we become strengthened for a life of true service.
God calls us to respond to his loving revelations. When he reveals to us some sin or hurtful habit, he asks us to be willing to let it go. He asks us not to claim our right to keep it, but to submit it to him. He calls us to give up our tendency to say, "That's just the way I am" or "I don't do that" when we're confronted with personal and relational flaws in ourselves.
God calls us to a life of victory and freedom. He calls us to trust his discipline and his guidance, and he promises that he will never leave us, regardless of what we have to give up or learn.
God calls us to himself. When we accept him and he gives us his indwelling Spirit as our guarantee and seal of belonging, our souls come alive and enter eternity with him. We have eternal life.
We can trust the God who gave Life itself for us, and who in turn gives us Life. We can rest in his freedom. We can live in peace.
We can walk in Love.

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