God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 10:5-7 They got up to dance
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 9, 2023
5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; they were struck down in the desert. 6 Now these things happened as examples not to covet evil things as they coveted. 7 Do not become idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to dance.”
God rescued his people from out of Egypt, but his people continued to sin. Paul says God “was not pleased with most,” but he means “he was angry, even furious, with all but two of them.” Even Moses and Aaron found ways to sin so that they were kept from entering the Promised Land. Only two (Joshua and Caleb) were allowed to enter in. The rest rebelled; every adult who was twenty or older when the rebellion happened during the first census (Numbers 14:29) was condemned to die in the desert. But they rebelled more than once.
Paul is going to recount four episodes of their rebellion; the first is the incident at Mount Sinai when the people got tired of waiting for Moses to come down the mountain and forced Aaron to make a golden calf for them. Aaron tried to keep their attention on the Lord, and even announced: “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord,” (Exodus 32:5), but the people were ready to go wild, and they “got up to dance.” The Greek verb means either “play” or “dance.” Neither playing nor dancing are sinful of themselves. Since playing is more often associated with children, I have translated the word with “dance.” Here the dancing was obviously sinful.
In the Hebrew text of Exodus, we learn a little more about this word. Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul simply quotes the Greek translation of the Exodus text, and we are left remembering that what they did was profane, sexual, indelicate, and eager to sin; these things are all certainly true. God’s response to their sin was to correct them. He punished them and chastised them.
Paul says that they coveted evil things. I have said “coveted” in the translation because it is the same Greek word that is used in the translation of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. We usually define coveting as sinfully wanting something that we cannot have (that is as a prelude to stealing it), but we see here that coveting also means a sinful desire for something that, in itself, is sinful: lust and other cravings fall into this word.
Therefore coveting has three sides:
1, To sinfully desire something, a good thing, that we cannot have, such as another person’s house or an ordinary item that is not for sale.
2, To sinfully desire something that is a sinful thing, such as an idol, or holy communion with those we are not in fellowship with, or a sexual relationship with someone we are not married to, but which is offered to us.
3, To sinfully desire something that is a sinful thing, such as stolen goods or sex with someone with whom we are not married, that is not ours and which is not offered to us in any way.
What Israel did was the second of these. The evil things that Israel coveted were idols, the idols of the neighboring nations, but they were available freely without any bounds or exceptions—except, of course, that they were forbidden by God. The Israelites could not hide behind any excuse, not even, “But the Ten Commandments had not yet been delivered to them, Moses was still up on the mountain,” because they had the command from Israel, Jacob himself: “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes” Genesis 35:2). And before the Passover took place, the Lord had proclaimed: “I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12). They knew the first commandment already in their hearts without having to wait for the stone tablets.
Out holy Father forgives even sins such as these. What grace is his! What compassion he has for us! What a loving God he is! David was bold enough to say, “Forgive my iniquity, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11). Whatever our sins are, we can’t help but be crushed by God’s law, by the knowledge that we have fallen short of his glory, by the terror that we have earned nothing but hell and its terrible, lonely punishments. But we pray for ourselves and for all who sin: “Redeem your Church, O God, from all their troubles!” (Psalm 25:22).
I should not be your sheep, dear Savior;
I stray in sin’s accursed terrain.
And yet you pardon my behavior;
My faithful Shepherd you remain.
Lord, may your body and your blood
Be for my soul the highest good.
(I Come, O Savior, to Your Table, verse 2)
Pastor Timothy Smith